Can Pee in a Pool be Revealed by Chemicals?

A swimmer swims the butterfly stroke. (Image credit: Swimmer image via Schmid Christophe, Shutterstock)

Childhood is filled with seemingly arbitrary rules about what to eat, when to sleep and how to behave. No wonder we become so good at finding loopholes, and no wonder we relish getting away with something – especially right under out parent’s noses. Add to that the trials, taboos and dirty tricks common to public swimming pools, and you have a recipe for some micturition mischief.

Of course, sometimes you just can’t be bothered to stand in line at a bathroom.

Parents know they can’t watch their children all the time, so they let youthful gullibility work for them instead. It’s psychological warfare and kids, who revel in spreading such hoopla, unwittingly do half the work. Of course, they dispense a lot of questionable and outright false lore along the way, which is why we remain convinced that Little Mikey from the Life cereal commercials died from mixing Pop Rocks and Coke, or that Ring Around the Rosie contains references to the Black Plague.

The legend that public swimming pools contain a chemical that blooms purple or red when someone pees in the water is tailor-made for kids, to whom any technology involving embarrassment sounds plausible, especially coming from an adult. That plausibility is probably why many of us go on believing the idea into adulthood. There’s no such chemical, however, and making one would be extremely tricky because it is difficult to isolate urine from other chemicals in the water, such as ammonia.

By the way, if such a chemical existed, every public pool out there would look like a Kool-Aid disposal tank. In a survey conducted by the Water Quality and Health Council, one in five adults admitted to urinating in swimming pools, and seven out of ten said they did not shower before jumping in. According to a Slate article by Carly Geehr, former USA Swimming national team member, “Nearly 100 percent of elite competitive swimmers pee in the pool. Regularly. Some deny it, some proudly embrace it, but everyone does.”

By the way, you might think that a smelly pool or some red eyes after swimming result from overchlorination, but in fact the opposite is true: A properly balanced pool gives off only a slight whiff of chemical, and red itchy eyes are caused by chloramine, a chemical byproduct produced by the urine, perspiration and health or beauty products present in a dirty pool. [Public Swimming Pools: How Dirty Are They?]

Still skeptical? One additional piece of incontrovertible evidence proves such a dye does not exist: If it did, YouTube would be overflowing with videos depicting pee-dye stunts, and our clouds of shame would follow us onto Facebook.

Life's Little Mysteries Contributor