It can be tempting to resort to a swimming pool or hot tub for drinking water during an emergency. However, is it safe to do so? I checked with the experts and decided to share my findings with you.
Pool or hot tub water is only safe to drink in small doses. In order to convert it to everyday drinking water, you would need to dechlorinate it through one of several methods. The easiest ways are through boiling, distilling, or using a filter that has activated charcoal.
Let’s take a closer look at the details of whether or not you can rely on pool or hot tub water as a viable source for drinking and how you can make it safer for consumption.
Why You Can’t Drink Pool or Hot Tub Water in Large Amounts
The biggest issue with drinking pool water is the amount of chlorine in it. It’s expected that during a regular session of swimming small amounts of the water may be accidentally consumed which will not pose any harm. However, this water is not intended for consumption in large dosages.
However, chlorine is not the only thing you have to worry about being in the water. Here are a few other things that might be in your pool or hot tub. First, we’ll talk about chemicals and then things that can accumulate once the chemicals become removed over time.
Chemicals that can be found in many pools or hot tubs:
- Ammonia – I know this is gross, but the reality is that people urinate in pools. Also, decaying organic material or fertilizer can also leech into the pool. These also contain can contain ammonia.
- Bromide – A lesser-known chemical that is sometimes put into pool or hot tub water. It actually is much better at killing bacteria since it takes a lot longer to dissipate than chlorine. Bromide is likely no more or less dangerous since it is chlorine-based.
- Cyanuric Acid – It actually sounds worse than it really is. It is simply a pool conditioner and just helps chlorine last longer. Even so, you also don’t want to drink too much of it.
Non-chemicals that can accumulate in pools:
- Animal Waste – This is another thing we often don’t think about. Whether from humans or animals feces and other nasty waste products can get into the water. Once the chemicals are gone, this is a major issue just like trying to drink untreated lake water.
- Harmful Bacteria or Protozoa – Similarly to finding water in the wilderness, dealing with microscopic organisms is the biggest threat to your health.
Making Pool Water Safe to Drink
Pool or hot tub water can be made drinkable by using one of many methods of sanitizing and dechlorination. There are three major ways to do this:
- Boiling – This might seem obvious, but I actually wasn’t sure about this before my research. But boiling does actually moderately dechlorinate water. However, only the 2nd method can actually remove most of it.
- Filter with Activated Charcoal – If you have access to activated charcoal, you can make a simple filter with a water bottle.
- Distilling – This one takes a bit of work but is doable if you have a heat source and time. It is the method that guarantees the full removal of chlorine and any other harmful substances from the water.
Personally, I recommend just using a simple two-step process to treat pool or hot tub water before consumption.
The first thing you’ll want to do is filter the water. In an emergency or disaster, it is unknown what kind of debris may have entered your pool so you will want to get rid of both large and small sediment and other junk. If you have no filters available, you can use several layers of clean clothing stacked together as a makeshift filter.
Next, boiling the water will remove most of the excess chlorine. In the case that the power is out, you will want to use campfire types of heating to boil your water. It goes without saying that the taste will not be pleasant, but it will now be mostly safe to drink.
It also goes without saying that you should do your best to ensure your pool remains as uncontaminated as possible. Covering your pool will not only prevent other undesirable materials from entering but also reduce sunlight from reacting with the chlorine. Yes, I know we want to remove excess chlorine before drinking, but that same chlorine is what prevents algae and other bacteria from festering.
Other Ways to Dechlorinate Water
You may have heard that leaving tap water out in the sun will naturally cause chlorine to disappear. This is true, UV rays will get rid of chlorine BUT in most modern water treatment facilities stabilizers are added to slow down the dissipation process.
And this is with tap water. Consider that with a pool there is considerably more chlorine and depending on the pool maintenance the amount of stabilizer added can greatly vary.
With that being said you can still leave tubs of water out in the sun to get rid of the chlorine. Though I recommend using multiple smaller containers to increase surface area and reduce the time to days as opposed to weeks. If available, I recommend using chlorine strips, like these found on Amazon, to test the pH of the water which you should already have if you’re a responsible pool owner.
You can also use distillation. As water evaporates it will leave behind any physical compounds and be collected in this pure form. All you need to do is have a sheet of material such as metal, plastic, or glass that completely covers the source of water and allow nature to do its thing. As the water evaporates, it will collect on the sheet and can be transferred to a vessel of your choice.
The only problem is that this method can take a very long time to get any amount of water, especially if you’re just leaving this out in the sun. A faster method would be to heat the water and collect the steam on the sheet and then transfer it to a proper container.
Note that both of these methods are significantly harder to do in colder climates due to less sunlight and heat.
Why Other Pools Are Not Safe to Drink From
In the United States of America, there is on average 1 swimming pool for every 10 households. And with the average swimming pool containing anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of water, it would be reasonable to assume that you can use your neighbor’s pool once your own pool has been exhausted.
The biggest problem is that you don’t know how well your neighbor or anyone else maintained their pools. It’s impossible to know how often it was cleaned if the appropriate amounts of chlorine and other chemicals were regularly added, and what kinds of debris may have entered the pool during or since the emergency or disaster.
The next thing to consider is that even your own well-maintained pool will begin to grow algae after a few days if the water is not circulated. Assuming your pool still has chlorine tablets and chemicals used for disinfection available this means that they probably are not being properly distributed within your pool.
Let alone your potentially poorly maintained neighbor’s pool.
Why Not Just Use a Life Straw?
If you can drink swamp or even fecal water with a Life Straw, like this one found on Amazon, then clearly you can safely drink weeks old pool water as well.
And you can. Just make sure to use your final mouthful to “backwash” into the straw to flush out any residual debris in the straw. Otherwise, it will harden and become difficult to use in the future.
The big disadvantage of using the Life Straw, however, is the inability to transport clean water or use the water for other purposes such as cleaning or cooking. And even in an emergency setting, I doubt most people will want to share Life Straws so everyone would likely need a straw of their own. But if you’re on the go or only have Life Straws available they’ll do in a pinch.
Other Sources of Water During an Emergency
Each household should have at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for both drinking, cleaning, and cooking. More if you’re in climates with higher temperatures or if you have sick, elderly, pregnant, or children in the household. Whether you do this with bottled water or other storage methods is irrelevant so long as the water will be uncontaminated when needed.
In the event of a disaster, assuming you are home the first things you should do is fill as many sinks and bathtubs with tap water as possible before water is shut off to your area. These sources of water should be used first, followed by your emergency supply.
Only if all these sources of water have been exhausted and rescue is not imminent should you then consider preparing pool water for consumption. Otherwise, use that water for cleaning or bathing.
Your pool or hot tub could actually save your life in a disaster scenario, but only if you’re smart about it. A good rule of thumb when evaluating whether or not you can drink from any unknown water source is to just treat it as if you are in the wilderness.
Always filter and/or boil any water you come across in order to minimize your exposure to getting sick from it.
Can chlorine kill you? By itself in concentrated form, chlorine is toxic to humans. Whether ingested or breathed it can cause serious damage or death. It is best to avoid drinking excess amounts of pool or hot tub water for this reason.
How to make saltwater pools drinkable? Unlike freshwater pools, you would need to desalinate saltwater by distillation. The easiest way is to boil the water and capture the evaporation. If you don’t have access to a heat source, you can also create a solar still.