Can You Swim with a Cold Sore?

Swimming is a great way to stay fit, have fun, and relax, so it’s understandable to look forward to getting in the water and feeling refreshed. But what if you have a cold sore on your lip? You might feel self-conscious, uncomfortable, or even worried about infecting others at the pool. You might wonder if you can swim with a cold sore at all, or if you should stay out of the water until it heals.

can you swim with a cold sore

It’s safe to swim in a chlorinated pool with a cold sore because chlorine can kill the cold sore virus, meaning that you are not likely to transmit or pick up the virus from the pool water. However, you must be cautious of surfaces or objects that the public touches because physical contact is the most common way it spreads. 

In this article, we will answer some common questions about cold sores and swimming, and give you some tips on how to deal with them.

Understanding Cold Sores

Symptoms and Stages

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are tiny, fluid-filled blisters that usually appear on or around your lips. These blisters are often grouped together in patches and might cause redness, itching, or burning sensations. After the blisters break, a scab forms which can last several days. Cold sores usually heal in 2 to 3 weeks without leaving a scar.


Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The transmission of HSV-1 occurs through direct contact with the virus, usually through saliva or contact with an active cold sore.

Simple acts, such as kissing someone with a cold sore or sharing their personal items can spread the virus. Cold sores can even be passed to your eyes or genitals if you touch a cold sore and then touch these sensitive areas.

To reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, avoid skin-to-skin contact with others when you have an active cold sore, as well as refrain from sharing personal items, like towels or eating utensils.

Swimming with a Cold Sore

Risks and Precautions

Swimming with a cold sore might make you feel worried about viral infections, especially if you’re in a public pool. While it’s true that cold sores are contagious, there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk.

If your cold sore is still in its active stage, where the blister is oozing or has an open wound, it’s best to avoid swimming. Once the cold sore has moved to the scabbing stage, the risks are considerably lower, and you can swim with more confidence.

To reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, always keep your cold sore clean and dry. You can apply a layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, to protect it. Remember not to share towels, goggles, or other pool items with others, as these could potentially spread the virus.

Exposure to Public Pools

Public pools use chlorine to keep the water sanitized, and the good news is that chlorine can kill the cold sore virus. This means that it’s unlikely for you to transmit the virus through the pool water, providing your cold sore is already in the final stages of healing.

Even though chlorine can eliminate the cold sore virus, it can prolong your cold sore’s healing process if you already have one. Additionally, viruses can take some time to be killed by the chlorine, so do not assume that the water is completely clean just because it’s chlorinated.

With that said, taking a swim in chlorine-treated water is generally safe when swimming with cold sores, as long as you take the necessary precautions to ensure your cold sore doesn’t come into direct contact with other swimmers.

Does Swimming in Chlorine Help Cold Sores or Make it Worse?

The effect of chlorine on cold sores can vary from person to person. While chlorine can help kill the virus, it can also make your skin dry. The drying effect might worsen the appearance of your cold sore or delay the healing process in some cases. To minimize this effect, be sure to moisturize your skin and cold sore after swimming to keep the affected area hydrated.

Reducing the Risk of Spreading Cold Sores

The contagious period usually lasts around 15 days, during which a person can pass on the virus, especially while the cold sore is present. Physical contact is the most common way of transmitting the virus to others.

To minimize the risk of spreading cold sores to others, it’s important to take some precautions. Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact: When you have a cold sore, try to avoid close physical contact, especially with the area affected by the blister.
  • Don’t share personal items: Sharing items like towels, razors, and utensils can transfer the virus to others. Make sure to keep your personal items separate, and avoid using objects that come into contact with the infected area.
  • Manage stress: Stress is known to trigger cold sores and weaken your immune system. Try to keep your stress levels under control through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Protect your lips from the sun: Sun exposure can sometimes cause cold sores, so using lip balm with SPF can help protect your lips and minimize the risk of an outbreak.
  • Wash your hands: If you touch your cold sore, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly. To apply topical treatments, use a cotton swab instead of your finger to prevent further spread.

When it comes to swimming with a cold sore, don’t worry too much. Chlorine and other chemicals found in public swimming pools can usually kill the virus, making it unlikely for your cold sore to infect other swimmers.

And by following the tips above, you can drastically reduce the chances of spreading the cold sore virus or getting a cold sore yourself so you can go swimming with peace of mind.