June 9, 2015
It’s Not the Chlorine in the Pool That’s Making Your Eyes Red…
(Salt Lake County)—Have your eyes ever started to sting and turn red when you were swimming in
a pool? Did you think it was because of the chlorine in the water? Have you ever walked into an
indoor pool area, gotten a whiff of a strong chemical smell, and thought “There’s a lot of chlorine in
However, it’s actually not the chlorine giving you the red eyes or causing that chemical smell.
Rather, it’s certain types of “chloramines,” or what you get when chlorine combines with what
comes out of (e.g., pee or poop) or washes off of (e.g., sweat, dirt and germs) swimmers’ bodies.
These chloramines irritate the eyes and respiratory tract and cause a strong chemical odor at
Chlorine and other disinfectants are added to a swimming pool to destroy germs. Contaminants in
a pool—like urine, sweat and dirt from swimmers' bodies—depletes chlorine and produces the
irritant that makes people's eyes turn red," said Rick Ledbetter, swimming pool supervisor with Salt
Lake County Health Department. "Preventing the irritation isn't rocket science; it's common
courtesy: swimmers should use the pool to swim, the restroom to pee and the showers to wash up
before getting in the pool. It's that simple."
Every year, thousands of Americans get sick with recreational water illnesses (RWIs) such as
cryptosporidium or e-coli. Healthy swimming depends on what we swimmers bring into the pool—
and what we keep out of it. We all share the water we swim in, and we each need to do our part to
keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy. To help protect yourself and other swimmers
from germs, here are a few simple and effective steps all swimmers can take each time we swim:
- Keep the poop and pee out of the water
- Don’t swim when you have had diarrhea within two weeks.
- Shower with soap before you start swimming.
- Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Don’t swallow the water you swim in.
Parents of young children should take a couple extra steps:
- Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60
- Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not poolside, where
germs can rinse into the water.