Why you can’t wear street clothes in the swimming pool! – By Sarah Barnett

All-About AquaticsMy last blog talked about why swimmers are required to shower prior to entering the swimming pool.  See my January blog here!  This month’s blog I want to talk about why swimmers must wear swim suits into the pool.  Aquatics professionals and lifeguards constantly have to turn away swimmers who aren’t in proper swimsuits!  While it is not our desire to turn away patrons from our swimming pools, or discourage people from getting exercise in an aquatic environment, it is our number 1 goal to keep all our patrons safe, and our water clean and clear. 

So what does swim suit material have to do with keeping our patrons safe and our pools clean.  The short answer is A LOT!  But don’t think you are getting away that easy from the real explanation!  Much like why showers are an important part of your PRE-Swim routine, by wearing a swim suit, you reduce the risk of contaminating the pool with waterborne illness and contaminants.  Cotton and some other materials can hold detergents, germs, and bacteria in them, which can be released into the water.  This can cause swimmers to get sick and even affect the water chemistry and clarity.  Cotton also tends to absorb a lot of water and pool chemicals, requiring the pool to use more disinfectant. Additionally, when the cotton absorbs the pool water, it can become pretty heavy, which can weigh down swimmers and make swimming more difficult.  Cotton T-shirts also tend not to fit tight to the body, which can increase your risk of underwater entrapment. Finally, cotton breaks down in the water, which clogs the pool filter system.  Certain dyed material can also release some of the dye into the pool water, causing poor water clarity and water balance.

So… what is allowed and what’s not!

(Update: swim attire policy image has been placed below to replace broken links)


  • Tsuchan
    / Reply

    These look a lot like excuses to justify an adopted policy rather than genuine reasons. I’ll explain why, and maybe you can tell me why my reasons are invalid:
    1) You say swimsuit material is connected to keeping pool clean and specifically name cotton.
    1a: Swimwear is commonly available in cotton. Here’s a main-brand example: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/162015093251
    1b: People urinate in the swimming pool, as a matter of fact. No doubt you will take periodic measurements to establish how much and adjust chemicals accordingly. Are you seriously making an argument that contamination from a clean t-shirt would be consequential next to that?
    1c: You effectively argue that cotton filters chemicals from the pool so you have to use more. So if I take a swabs of nylon, cotton and polyester, and immerse them in a pool of a period of time there will be a significantly higher residual amount of pool chemicals in the cotton swab. Could you link a test where some such test has been done, and show how much extra chemical (in litres and cost) that implies?

    2) You say that because cotton is heavier and t-shirts are not tight-fitting, and that because of this they are dangerous:
    2a: Swimming pools are a controlled environment, which could prepare swimmers for the more hostile conditions in nature where they are likely to be in a real drowning risk. That’s the essence of why the life-saver’s certificate has to be done in real clothes: to be better equipped for the situation.
    2b: In any case, I argue that you’re not talking about heavy and light: the density of water actually holds around 2/3 of the weight. You’re talking about drag.

    An example I found from Flintshire Council giving these kind of spurious reasons about safety (https://goo.gl/W3EJdE) also said, “Exemptions are granted, based on medical and/or religious reasons”. And this shows the truth: it is actually a policy of enforcing social conformity. In Victorian times, women would have been arrested and imprisoned for swimwear which today they are literally required to wear.

    • / Reply

      Hi Tsuchan!

      I am an Aquatics Manager at a resort in Virginia and hopefully provide you with some clarifications on these topics!

      Swim wear is specially made to be non-absorbent. this doesn’t mean it wont break down, because it will after exposure to chlorine, but FAR LESS rapidly against cotton. Nylon and lycra are the best options for swimming in but will still have some components of cotton im sure. Dyes in a swim suit also dont bleed out as dyes in cotton would. Cotton is mostly used because it is a common absorbent material.

      Yes, people urinate in pools constantly. it takes a few minutes for chlorine to disinfect that, so the argument would be that you would want the chlorine to be “free” and able to disinfect that first and foremost, but will an abundant of “street clothes” its going to be delayed in getting to the urine because of the other non-organic material it’s trying to disinfect. so it’s best to try and avoid those non-organic materials altogether.

      in terms of extra chemicals, when you introduce all those non-organic and organic things into the pool, your chlorine levels do drop because it’s being used to disinfect. which, is a job of a pool to properly keep track of but say a bather load of 20 people all wearing proper swim material will not affect chlorine as much as 20 people who are all wearing denim, cotton and other absorbent materials.

      If you took an actual swim shirt and compared it to a cotton or other absorbent tshirt after constant use in a summer pool over the summer, you’ll find the cotton shirt to have holes, color has faded and breaking down. those fibers get into the pool equipment and can actually clog filters and strainer baskets. i’ve written a blog on this that provides pictures of what the filters can look like if measures aren’t taken to avoid this.

      you also need to think of the matter of how clothes are used – i never wear my bathing suit as normal clothes, so its is not exposed to as much pathogens as “normal” clothes are. sweat, fecal matter, perfumes, etc. if you workout in the gym and then go to the pool, it’s best to shower off and change into a bathin suit because everything you are currently wearing will be dropped into the pool.

      it’s mostly for commercial pools who see high bather loads. im sure residential pools and spraygrounds wont have to worry about outside clothing in pools. but it’s crazy to see the impact a mere cotton tshirt can have! especially when dozens and dozens of people try to wear them. it’s best to just use a spf swim shirt and appropriate swimwear.

      i don’t have much experience to say on the clothing for entrapment purposes, but with my staff i would hope they would notice the potential hazard a child wearing an xxxl shirt might cause if that shirt were to get wrapped around his/hear head while under water.

      here is the link to the blog i had written with pictures of the filters: https://www.wpresort.com/blog/2017/10/4/no-shirt-no-jeans-no-problem

      hopefully i’ve helped you better understand this!

    • Mike
      / Reply

      Nobody does the lifeguard exam in street clothes. . . Partly because lifeguarding in street clothes would be foolish. You don’t want to give victims something extra to grab you with, nor do you want the extra drag or weight of clothing when you’re already trying to drag a victim up and out of the water. This is my primary reason for opposing the wear of street clothes or “modest” swimsuits.

      • Tsuchan
        / Reply

        Most lifeguards I’ve ever seen wear t-shirt and jogging pants, or t-shirt and shorts. I assume that if there’s a lifesaving incident they would just jump in the pool. But maybe they’d undress and fold their clothes neatly first?

        And lifesaving exams _require_ wearing clothes in the pool… at least in my country. I guess the majority of public pools host lifesaving lessons from time to time, and therefore permit wearing clothes in these occasions.

        These are just excuses to enforce a ‘fashion’ in swim wear. For myself, I have a deformity in my legs which is unpleasant to look at, and draws attention that I don’t want or need. The policy you support means that I don’t ever get to go in a swimming pool. Thanks Mike.

        • Mike
          / Reply

          No – we do not do the lifesaving test in street clothes. Not here. Not sure what country you live in (but if it’s not the US I’m not sure why you’re concerned about our social norms anyway).

          Guarding in a T-shirt and jogging pants??? Not too smart. For EXACTLY the reason you suggest: you don’t have time to undress before jumping in to make a save. And, the DRAG (weight is essentially the same thing in this regard – you’re arguing over semantics) would make it very hard to swim. You guard in what you’re going to jump in with. That’s not going to be long pants and a shirt in most cases. I actually *will* take off my shirt before I jump in – IF I were ever wearing a shirt to begin with, which is RARE – because I can do it in about 2 seconds which I make up by being able to swim faster without it. I guard in trunks , with my whistle, tube, and waist-kit. That’s it. No shoes, no shirt, and certainly not jogging pants.

          As a guard, it’s not about what makes *you* comfortable. It’s about what it takes to do the job.

          • Tsuchan

            I don’t know whether you’ve seen the examples of disallowed swimwear by Manassas Park. The links are very difficult to follow: clicking doesn’t go to the right place: you’ve got to copy and paste a URL, and then some of them work, some don’t. But I’ve never seen anything like it…
            – A regular female swimming costume: BANNED
            – Nike swimming shorts: BANNED

            And yet health+safety is trumped by religious dress:
            – Full burkini: ALLOWED

            It’s just a joke.

            I’ve never seen any swimming pool guard wearing just trunks, but if you say that’s what you do, so be it. The guards I’ve seen wear what I said they wear. And about where I live, I’ve lived in many countries across three continents.

          • Mike Collins

            Took me exactly 3 clicks to get to the swim attire, which I found to be very, very clear as to what is allowed and what is not allowed at the Manassas swimming facility. Their website clearly states that the full burkini is limited to specific types of fabrics and nowhere does it even suggest that a “regular female swimming costume” is banned. The fact that you had such a hard time finding that information and so grossly misinterpreted it makes me a bit suspicious of your intentions here. The fact that you also claim to have lived all over the world and have never seen lifeguards who guard in nothing but trunks. . . that pretty much seals the deal for me. You can’t have been too many places and still not seen this done. It’s VERY common. So, with all due respect, I’m discounting your comments here.

          • Tsuchan

            Seals the deal? Suspicious of my itentions? What on earth are you on? What on earth do you think my intentions are, except to discuss about wearing street clothes in swimming pools, the subject of this page? You’re just incredible!

            I see that an image has now been placed on the page, as well as a note “(Update: swim attire policy image has been placed below to replace broken links)”. So why on earth would you say such things about me?

            In fact, with effort, some of the individual images I could see before, but not with any ticks, crosses or text. The red swimming costume appeared under the heading of things that are not allowed. And there was a link to some black Nike swimming shorts which are not in the new composite picture.

            Anyway, I’ll submit this now, and brace myself for the next tirade.

          • Mike Collins

            Tirade? I suppose you need to be reminded of your opening line in your first post: “These look a lot like excuses to justify an adopted policy rather than genuine reasons. I’ll explain why, and maybe you can tell me why my reasons are invalid:”

            You *asked* to be told why your reasons are invalid. Consider it done.

  • Cherie
    / Reply

    Bottom line, people urinate in public pools and hot tubs. Disrupting the pool’s chemical componets makes this bacteria more prevelant. I know I would rather enjoy a public pool or hot tub without the risk of unwanted health risks.

  • Kat
    / Reply

    Some interesting comments. I can see why it would not be advisable to wear cotton clothing in the pool. However, I don’t see the issue with gym wear, as long as it is clean. The fabrics are practical and fibres won’t clog filters. I attend several aqua aerobics sessions where this type of clothing is recommended over swimsuits. I certainly find them to be more comfortable.

  • Diane Vieira
    / Reply

    Well, I have to agree with Kat. I love to be in the water myself and, I have to admit, there are occasions where I’m feeling spontaneous and when that happens I simply kick off my shoes and dive into the pool with my clothes on. Yes, I realize it’s crazy for a lot of people but for me personally, Diving into a pool with regular street clothes has always had a mysterious pleasure. For me it’s always good and liberating to just break the rules and doing this every so often always makes me smile.

  • / Reply

    Who would want to wear street clothes in a swimming pool? I’d rather be in my favorite somewhat tight fitting speedo swimsuit in a swimming pool. They fit and certainly fit and feel so much better than baggy men’s baggy board shorts.and street clothes aren’t to wear for swimming.

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