Poolside Misconceptions: Is there really a dye that turns the water blue in the presence of urine?

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Above Image: Swimming Pool in Junction, Texas Image Credit: Billy Hathorn: Source: Wikimedia Commons; Sourced for this blog in 09/2013. Image is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 UnportedLicense.

Since I was a small child, I’ve heard that if you tee-tee in the pool the water will turn blue, exposing your actions to everyone around you, especially the lifeguard. While it is true that this very misconception kept me from peeing in any pool in just about every occasion, it is still something that simply doesn’t exist. On top of that, it is a frivolous idea because the real reason peeing in the pool should be discouraged can stand on its own. Not that either would stop some people…

Above Video: Clip from Grown Ups Credit: Sony Pictures Source: youtube; Sourced for this blog in 09/2013. Video is available under Fair Use.

The dye doesn’t exist, there are just way too many organic compounds that live on or in us humans that get into the water we swim in. We could make a dye that reacts to those organic compounds, but it would be pretty difficult to make the dye ONLY react when in the presence of urine. In other words, the pool would have blue patches in it all of the time.

That said, it’s still not a good idea to tinkle in the swimming pool, ESPECIALLY if it is a public swimming pool. Imagine if everyone present at a public swimming pool all peed within the same half hour time frame. That would be pretty gross, it reminds me of that episode of South Park where they go to the water park. While it is true that chlorine is put into the water to kill the majority of the germs so we don’t get sick when we swim, many people don’t realize that chlorine can actually be used up by pee-pee. That’s right, besides the fact that it’s gross, the more you go potty in the pool, the less chlorine there is to kill the top offending germs.

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Above Image: Pool Rules Image Credit: tano_d’ereSource: flickr; Sourced for this blog in 09/2013. Image is available under the Attribution Share Alike 2.0 GenericLicense.

I admit that the dye story is a handy way to deter children from relieving themselves in the pool, but I think it’s a better idea simply to tell the truth. The pee-pee itself isn’t actually the dangerous part, the other germs that the chlorine should be killing are. There are a few nasty little germs that can cause some pretty bad digestive issues in people, which can pose a significant risk on certain individuals with compromised immune systems, including children and elders. It’s also common to experience discomfort in the eyes, ears, and on the skin if infected with something in pool water. The CDC has a web page that covers the most common recreational water illnesses in depth.

Everyone that gets into a pool has germs all over their body, especially on their hands, faces, and bottoms. These germs get into the water and can cause an infection risk if someone swallows the contaminated water, or gets it into an open wound. While chlorine is effective at killing most germs quickly, it still takes time. I advocate focusing on why it isn’t OK to piddle in the pool and reminding patrons upon every single visit what should be done prior to and during a fun day in the pool.

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Above Image: Pooping in the Pool is not Cool Image Credit: J Mulhaup Source: flickr; Sourced for this blog in 09/2013. Image is available under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

  • Shower with soap and water BEFORE entering the water (paying close attention to your bottom), and continue to wash your hands after using the bathroom as well as before eating or touching your face or mouth throughout the day.
  • Never, under any circumstance, drink swimming water. Try your best to avoid even accidentally swallowing it, because even a small amount of water from a contaminated swimming pool can prove to be infectious.
  • Make sure to alert the people in charge of the facility if someone defecates, bleeds, or vomits in the pool or anywhere on the deck surrounding the pool. These accidents should be cleaned up accordingly, and in most circumstances the guests should remain out of the water for a certain amount of time after the contamination to give the chlorine time to kill the germs.
  • Make sure everyone in your party has bathroom breaks every hour, especially children, to reduce the risk of accidental contamination. Remember that no diaper (even a swimming diaper) is leak proof, check the diapers frequently and change them as soon as they are contaminated.
  • Make sure that the people in charge of the pool check the chlorine and PH levels regularly, or purchase an at-home kit and do it yourself upon entering the water. If it isn’t at the right level, alert the pool authority and make sure the proper actions are taken.
  • To avoid various skin irritations caused by swimming be sure to shower with soap and water again shortly after the fun has finally come to an end.

So, remember these steps next summer when you take your friends or family to the pool. Whether or not it is a public pool, there is still a risk of infection if proper steps aren’t taken to avoid contamination.

About Dani Johnson

I am 26 years old and I live in a college town with my boyfriend, our 2 dogs and chinchilla, 4 additional room mates and the house cat. Since I share financial responsibilities with my boyfriend I am waiting on him to finish college before I go back (he's almost done!). I will then focus my studies on Science Writing. I want to write particularly about Astrophysics, Cosmology and Planetary Science. Until then, I spend my free time listening to various podcasts about science and skepticism to inspire deeper research on potential writing topics. I also enjoy sewing, drawing, writing fiction, spending time with the boyfriend and pets, amateur astronomy and some girly things like nails, hair and makeup.
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10 Responses to Poolside Misconceptions: Is there really a dye that turns the water blue in the presence of urine?

  1. John says:

    Obviously I could be mistaken/misinformed, but I’ve always thought that with occasional exceptions due to illness, urine is sterile. Not saying the chlorine wouldn’t react with it chemically, but it shouldn’t need to kill any bacteria from it. Right?

  2. Pat Berry says:

    Yes, but does urine actually contain germs? My understanding is that it is virtually sterile.

    • Justin Nnoix says:

      Urine is sterile until it reaches the urethra

    • Urine is in fact an excretion from your blood, carrying e.g. unused B-vitamins but also other waste cleansed from your blood (one reason why not to pee if swimming with sharks, as this by-blood product invoke similar shark curiosity). Bacteria can therefore not find its way to urine as it has to go though the liver, kidney etc. to get there, and thus One could consider it sterile. Of course, we can imagine the urine of a sick individual to be different. That being said, most urine does hold contaminations of the bacteria kind, but those are not gained in the urine production but during the transportation, and different kinds of bacteria is often added during the trip through the e.g. urethra – even in healthy persons.

      In other words; urine is a waste product, but in principal it is sterile from bacteria. Practically it is however almost never.

      A side note; those who drink their own urine for health benefits does this out of poor logic. As far as I can see, only the b-vitamin, c-vitamins etc. will benefit – although, if they are in Ones own urine, means they are already in abundance and so drinking the urine is sticking it to the body… there is a reason the urine is excreted. Keep it out of pools and morning bitters, and all will be well

      Another side note: The scientist Hennig Brand, known as the discover of the Phosphorus element, believed he could produce gold from human urine. He did not succeed.

  3. Moral Dolphin says:

    its pH…..

  4. Anonymous says:

    I love this post just wish I had thought of it great information. Just don’t show the kids in my neighborhood:)
    @ Pat that is a complicated discussion urine is sterile until it is in the lower portion of the urethra. There is a significant difference in bacterial/fungal contamination in male and female urine due to anatomy. It is really insignificant compared to going into the pool unwashed.

  5. simonthegrey says:

    Constantly referring to it as “pee-pee” made this piece juvenile.

    • SwimFreak says:

      Really? Pee-pee makes the article juvenile? I trust that you don’t dismiss the validity of the discussion on that basis. Pee-pee or dump, urinate or defecate: teach your children that you don’t do it in the pool, as well as the need to shower before and after.

  6. chathu says:

    what is the chemical used to indicate the urine???

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