The Unsanitary Swim Diaper: Not in My Pool, Please!

Posted on May 22, 2017


Time for Lila’s annual public safety and health announcement:  even the manufacturers don’t claim that “swim diapers” will contain a mess.

Memorial Day is fast approaching, and that means the neighborhood pools will soon be opening for business.  As we wrote last year, the whole concept of a diapered child in a communal swimming area is  revolting, and for good reason!  Every summer, we hear of outbreaks of E. coli infections traced to swim parks and pools.  I don’t think that adults, teens, or even kids are pooping in the pool; no, I suspect that the vast majority of these infections are thanks to that incomprehensible invention, the “swim diaper.”

The very term “swim diaper” implies – wrongly! – that it is actually possible to poop in a waterlogged diaper and expect that none of the fecal matter will leak into the pool.  It is not possible, and the manufacturers themselves have said so.  Poop + water = poopy water.  Fact.

I give you Exhibit A, a letter from Kimberly-Clark.  It would seem that Little Swimmers were developed as an alternative that does not swell, shred, and clog pool filters (why is a diaper anywhere near a pool?).   “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.  Which calls into question why manufacturers, or parents, would ever think it was a great idea to take a non-toilet-trained person into the pool in the first place.

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.

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.

Sorry, but that’s not good enough, either.  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, infection-free  experience.

Think I’m harsh or intolerant?  Fair enough.  Try this experiment:  roll up a dirty diaper.  Toss it in the pool.  What do you suppose the reaction will be?  Uh-huh.  A child wearing a dirty diaper in the pool is exactly the same.

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.