Can You Drink Pool Water?
Water is one of the most difficult things to store when you’re trying to prepare for emergencies. What if you have a pool, can you drink the water in it?
The FDA says you can drink pool water as long as the chlorine levels are 4 parts per million or less. In order to be as safe as possible, you can boil the water to get rid of bacteria or filter the water to get rid of the chlorine and bacteria.
Let’s go ahead and get it out of the way from the start – no, ideally, you really should not be drinking pool water. At all. Of all the potential water sources out there, pool water is not exactly great.
Well, can you drink pool water?
Yes, but you know it can’t be as simple as that. No, you really shouldn’t be drinking pool water, but if you absolutely must do so in a pinch, there are ways that you can attempt to do so in a way that is safe.
Make sure you take the precautions we list below before you decide if you should be drinking pool water.
Before we get to those methods, however, let’s give a quick rundown as to why, extraordinary circumstances aside, you really shouldn’t be drinking pool water.
For one thing, even the best-filtered pool water is still likely to be a lot filthier than water that we would tend to consider of drinking quality today. After all, this is the water in which you and your friends go swimming after stripping down to your swimsuits – that’s hardly a recipe for clean drinking water.
Then there’s the fact that when we do get around to cleaning our pools, we do so with a little thing called chlorine – not exactly the kind of thing you want to be gulping down. Sure, an accidental mouthful or two while swimming won’t hurt you, but drinking it regularly or in mass quantities, is a great way to get sick, and potentially seriously so if you keep it up.
With that being said, there are roughly 10,000 gallons of water in the average above ground pool and 20,000 gallons of water in an in-ground pool. That’s a lot of water to simply write off, especially if you consider that 10% of U.S. households have a pool.
This 10% average takes the entire U.S. into account. There are some areas where pools simply aren’t commonplace and there are others where pools can be seen behind nearly every home. Keep this in mind if you’re going to make swimming pools part of your plan to access water in an emergency.
Pool water can definitely make you sick. If the water hasn’t been properly treated or it’s been contaminated with feces or other chemicals it can make you very ill.
Properly treated pool water normally won’t make you sick but it is possible for some forms of diseases to still survive.
The CDC lists cryptosporidium (aka crypto) and giardia as the two leading causes of pool water-related illnesses.
Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Both the parasite and the disease are commonly known as “Crypto.”
There are many species of Cryptosporidium that infect animals, some of which also infect humans. The parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it very tolerant to chlorine disinfection.
While this parasite can be spread in several different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common way to spread the parasite. Cryptosporidium is a leading cause of waterborne disease among humans in the United States.
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal illness known as giardiasis. Giardia (also known as Giardia intestinalis, Giardia lamblia, or Giardia duodenalis) is found on surfaces or in soil, food, or water that has been contaminated with feces from infected humans or animals.
Giardia is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it tolerant of chlorine disinfection. While the parasite can be spread in different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common mode of transmission.
After a pool has been sitting for a long time and has not been maintained, then you run the risk of contracting even more water-borne diseases.
Diarrhea is the most common sickness associated with recreational water activities. This is because it’s the most common side effect of contracting the most common waterborne illnesses.
There’s no real reason to be worried about it unless it lasts for several days or is accompanied by a fever or other symptoms.
If you experience these symptoms with diarrhea seek medical attention right away:
- blood in your stool
- lasts more than 5 days
- fever or chills
It is a signal that you need to treat or filter the water better. Don’t keep drinking water that’s giving you diarrhea without taking action to clean it up.
That’s why, if you are going to make the leap to trying to drink pool water, you’re going to need to take some steps to make sure it’s safe. This also underscores the point that drinking pool water should only be undertaken in an emergency.
Pools are typically maintained at chlorine levels of 3-5 parts per million (ppm). A safe chlorine level for drinking is right around 4 ppm according to the CDC. This means that pools are pretty close to being at a safe level for drinking even if they’re maintained on the high side.
The first thing that you’re going to want to do is check those chlorine levels. These are some of the biggest potential health risks in drinking pool water, and so this is something you’ll want to see addressed from the get-go before you start guzzling that water supply, emergency or otherwise.
This means that you’re going to want to make sure that the chlorine levels are at “safer” levels before drinking. While you shouldn’t be drinking chlorine at all, if you check your filter and find the levels to be at the severe lowest side, that’s a sign that your pool water is one step closer to being okay to drink in an emergency.
If you need to test a pool that isn’t yours, you can use your own pool testing kit or you can search the area for one. There will probably be one in a shed or poolhouse closeby if the pool is well maintained. If the pool is overgrown with algae and not well-maintained, you can pretty much assume that the chlorine levels are low enough that you only need to worry about the cleanliness of the water itself.
Pool water usually isn’t a great place to find clean drinking water, but in an emergency, it’s better to find water that is “pretty good” than not have any water at all. Most pools fall into the “pretty good” category.
Traditional water filters will work well at removing the things that will make you sick from pool water. If you just need to filter water for yourself, then something as simple as a LifeStraw will probably be fine for you. If you’re filtering water for a whole family, however, you may want to look into something like a Big Berky or Platypus GravityWorks filter.
Most water filters will remove chlorine from water as well, so you don’t need to worry about the chlorine levels of the water which is nice. Just be sure to check the manufacturer’s data to make sure that your filter will remove chlorine.
One of the best ways to combat the aforementioned bacteria problem is, of course, by boiling water before you drink it. If you have the means available to do this, you should definitely take advantage of that so as to reduce the likelihood that you are drinking water that is contaminated.
Filter the water through a cloth or similar material first to get out any chunks or insects, then, bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 60 seconds to kill off most microorganisms that can make you sick.
You’ll probably want to avoid any water that’s green with algae and instead opt for water that is clean. Unfortunately, it’s chlorine that often does that cleaning, so you’ll need to find a very delicate balance between pool water that’s chlorine-free enough to be safe to drink but algae-free enough as well.
You can still drink pool water that has started to grow algae and other things in it, but you’re going to need to run it through a water filter first.
Drinking pool water is okay in a survival situation, but you need to know what you’re doing before you just grab a glass and start drinking straight from the pool.
Pools are normally kept between 3 and 5 ppm of chlorine. The CDC says that you can safely drink water with 4 ppm of chlorine in it. This means that you’re right around the safe level of drinking water in a normal pool.
As time goes by the chlorine levels will drop on their own and you can safely drink the pool water if it doesn’t contain any microorganisms or contamination. To be safe, you should always filter pool water before drinking it in a survival or emergency situation.