Swim Season is Here. How Sanitary are Swim Diapers?

Posted on May 28, 2012


Answer:  they’re not.

So there I was, clipping coupons, and ran across the one for swim diapers.  I find the whole concept of a diapered child in a communal swimming area a little… revolting.

A healthy person’s urine is sterile upon exiting the body, so I have no fear of urine-borne disease (although the idea of pee in the pool is still pretty gross).  No, what I worry about is the poop.  Chlorine doesn’t kill everything, at least not immediately.  Giardia and cryptosporidium, for example, are pretty resistant to chlorine and can survive for hours or even days at the chlorination levels considered safe for human exposure.

So back to the swim diapers.  Do they or do they not safely contain a baby’s poop in the pool?  No.  No, they do not.

I give you Exhibit A, a letter from Kimberly-Clark which some kind soul has posted to the internet.  It would seem that Little Swimmers were developed as an alternative that does not swell, shred, and clog pool filters.  But “When the child is in the water, urine, BM, and water will mix, as they would with any other type of swimwear… We are not aware of any swimming apparel, rubber pants, swimsuits, or diapers which will prevent the spread of bacteria in swimming pools.”  So, NO, they make no claim that their swim diapers will prevent poop from leaking into a swimming pool.

If I had any doubts, or wondered, “How bad could it really be?” the parental voices of experience have conclusively convinced me that the only way to reasonably keep poop out of a public pool is to forbid non-toilet-trained individuals from going in the water.  And lest anyone cry “age discrimination against the children,” this applies equally to Grampa in his Depends.  As I read comment after comment to the article, “Swim Diapers – Yes or No?” I reeled from horror at some of the colorful descriptions of exactly what happens when Baby poops in the swim diaper:

… what amazed me more was that as she’d have a bm/pee, the extra fluid just poured out as if she was in undies. No joke. The poop left brown fluid dribbling down her legs (yet her stools were firm, just water-logged). It was disgusting trying to clean up the mess!

Then I reeled with more horror at some of the chirpy intentions to bring cloth-diaper-clad babies to the local swimming pool, and the blithe discounting of the contamination risks:

I worry about it a bit but really what can you do short of forcing your kid to sit poolside all summer? I am planning on trying out one of the nicer cloth style swim diapers now that we live near a pool because those things get expensive to wear and toss.

We cloth diaper our daughter and that’s no different at the pool. I trust our cloth diapers (with built-in leak proof outer shell) more than I trust a disposable swim diaper!

And much, much worse than these was the “combination category” remark discussing the repeated failures and filth of the swim diaper.  This is the parent who recognizes the problem, but repeatedly takes the diapered child swimming in the public pool anyway:

I use the disposable diapers in the pool. They do not work well. When my daughter gets into the pool she feels the need to poo. The poo always ends up in the water. I have even tried a size smaller then her weight class but it still falls out. The idea was good but the product is not.

Always ends up in the water?  Still falls out?  Stop trying.  Please.  Give up.

I used to use disposable and cloth swim diapers and my daughter used to poo quite frequently in them. Whenever it would come to taking them off the poo was everywhere. I really don’t think it kept that much in and it definitely didn’t keep pee in. What’s the point really?

Used to poo quite frequently in them?  Uh, the point would be that the rest of humanity does not want to swim in your child’s sewage.

And finally, the voice of authority on matters of infectious diseases, the CDC:  “…swim diapers do not keep these germs from contaminating the water.  No manufacturers claim these products prevent leakage of diarrhea into pools.”  Sadly, the CDC stops a little short in my opinion, only stressing that diapers must be checked often and changed away from the pool area.

I much prefer the approach taken by some hotels and cruise lines:  no diapers, period.  A child is not allowed in their pools until he is toilet-trained.  Is this too restrictive?  Should the rights of the parent and baby to have some fun trump other swimmers’ rights to a reasonable expectation that the pool will not be contaminated with fecal matter?  In short – should non-toilet trained children be banned from swimming in public pools?  I say yes.  One person’s right to enjoy the pool does not trump other people’s right to a sewage-free experience.

UPDATE:  The CDC published a report in May 2013 that says some 58% of public pools have fecal contamination.  The CDC tends to blame poor hygiene (could this be another argument in favor of bidets everywhere?), but I suspect that just one poop-filled “swim diaper” in the pool far outweighs the smears that some people might have on their rear ends.

UPDATE 2:  See this hilarious article by Momicillin on her experience and opinion of the “swim colander,” as she puts it.