Drinking Swimming Pool Water in an Emergency | Safe To Drink?

You may be surprised to discover how many residential swimming pools there are. Just for fun, open up Google Earth and zoom into your neighborhood and see how many pools are around you. City dwellers probably won’t see many, but many parts of suburbia are dotted with pools.

I originally wrote this article way back during the early days of this blog. It has always been a popular hit on internet searches for this general question. So I thought I would update it to an extent.

According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation there are approximately 10 million Swimming Pools in the United States.

There are about 6 million in-ground pools and 4 million above-ground pools based on percentages discovered in a pool marketing report.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics there are about 105 million households in the United States. So, on average, there is one swimming pool for every 10 households in America.

The statistics listed above are approximately 10 years old as of this update. However I’m sure that it’s still very close today.

The average size in-ground swimming pool holds about 20,000 gallons of water. The average size above-ground swimming pool holds about 10,000 gallons of water.

How Much Water In Swimming Pools?

can-i-drink-swimming-pool-water-in-an-emergency

That’s approximately 160 billion gallons of water stored in swimming pools across America – the equivalent of 1,500 gallons of water for every household in America. To put it in perspective, that’s theoretically enough water to sustain each household with 4 gallons of water per day for a year.

The notion of relying upon swimming pool water for a backup source has flaws and caveats. City dwellers will not find many residential pools nearby. Swimming pools are more concentrated in geographical areas with a hotter climate. They are more often found in areas where people can afford the luxury. Additionally, one cannot assume that all swimming pools have been treated such that it’s safe to drink pool water…

But, as you can see there is quite a resource of water available in many locations. Enough to ‘get by’ during a disaster that brings down the municipal water supply, or power grid shutting down everything including all well-pumps.

Are Drinking Pool Water Dangers Overblown?

Drinking swimming pool water can (potentially) be safe in an emergency, but not particularly recommended in general.

That said, most swimming pools are maintained and treated properly for it to be technically safe to drink. Years ago I had a in-ground swimming pool where I used to live. I maintained it perfectly and it could have been used as a backup if needed. Here’s what one commenter here had to say:

The dangers of drinking pool water are often blown out of proportion. I’ve owned and maintained an in-ground pool for 40+ years, and am a facility engineer specializing in ultra-pure water production for the semiconductor industry.

Four years ago I bought my current home, with an in-ground 12,000 gallon pool, which I filled at that time and have had no issues with. I maintain the chlorine content at ~3 ppm, the same as my municipal water supply. I maintain the pH at 7.4, slightly below my tap water which is 7.8. A large cartridge filter takes care of the rest.

I’ve seldom if ever needed shock, have not added stabilizer, salt, or biocide. The only thing that would give me some pause is the elevated mineral content, since water evaporates constantly and leaves the dissolved minerals behind.

Personally, I would not hesitate to drink this water “as is” in an emergency, and honestly I have done so inadvertently more times than I can remember with no ill effects.

Of course, lack of daily circulation will cause fairly rapid degradation without some sort of action on the owner’s part. This would include continued chlorination as needed, with manual agitation. Also, putting on the cover would be wise.

Using something like a Lifestraw, the similar Sawyer product, or even better a Berkey water purifier (which can remove viruses, plus bacteria and protozoa) would add another layer of protection.

~Ron S.

Given the choice and depending on the length of time a particular emergency might manifest, dedicated potable water storage would be the preferred solution. Still, in a pinch, I most certainly would not write off the reservoir in the backyard…

Drinking Pool Water | Cautions

If you know what’s in your own pool water, then you know. But if you’re thinking about your neighbor’s pool water, you don’t know.

Some things in that water may not be good for you if there’s “too much” of it.

Too much chlorine (greater than 4 ppm not recommended for drinking). 3 ppm or less, okay. You can easily test this with chlorine test strips.
(recommended test strips on amzn)

Bromide in the water. This is an alternative that some use for sanitizing pools.

Cyanuric acid. It’s a chlorine stabilizing agent sometimes used by pool owners.

Salt water pools. Some pools have a salt chlorination system which converts salt to chlorine. It’s not recommended to drink salt water.

Algae. The water will rapidly turn green if not treated properly.

Drinking Pool Water in Emergency | Recommendations

If you are going to consider drinking pool water in an emergency, consider the following:

Pool Cover | Tarp

Hot and Sunny conditions will degrade chlorine levels quickly. A pool that sits idle without chlorine replenishment or filtration will begin to grow organic algae.

The degradation process will be minimized by covering the water, blocking the sunlight. Some pool owners already have covers. But if you don’t, try using a big tarp during the event. A cover will help keep sunlight from breaking down the existing chlorine in the water.

Supply of Chlorine & Test Kit

The chlorine in swimming pools will break down fairly quickly when exposed to the Ultraviolet UV rays from the sun. Normally, the chlorine level of a properly maintained pool is kept at about 3 ppm (parts per million).

Check this, and other levels, with a multi-functional swimming pool test kit.

Keep a supply of chlorine. I always liked the tablets in a floater dispenser.

Water Purifier Filter

It’s also a great idea to filter the water with a quality drinking water filter. This will remove bacteria and organic pathogens, and will make it taste better.

One of the highest quality drinking water filters I have found, is the Berkey water filter system. I’ve used the Berkey for over a decade. All of our daily drinking water goes through it. If you’re ever considering one, I highly recommend using this particular authorized distributor, USA Berkey Filters.

If the swimming pool is being used as an emergency water source during a disaster, and the water is becoming green with algae, this filter will remove it, along with bacteria and virus.

Pool Water May Be Reasonably Safe, But…

In summary, it may be reasonable to use pool water as a drinking source if it was (is) well maintained, properly and safely treated, and for extra protection – filtered through a quality drinking water filter.

Note that unless the pool is your own, you will not know what someone else may have put in their pool besides chlorine. I’m certainly not advising that all swimming pools are safe to drink from. Although when you think about it, how many people end up inadvertently drinking gulps of water from a pool – and surviving just fine… When’s the last time you heard of someone keeling over sick because they drank water from their swimming pool? That’s what I thought – probably not…

The “But”

With all of that said, I recommend that pool water be utilized for “gray water” uses. Sanitation, flushing toilets without electricity, cleaning, etc.. during an emergency.

It’s better to have a unique plan and method for safe drinking water and water storage that you know will not have other chemicals in it besides safe levels of chlorine.

Continue reading: How To Make Drinking Water Safe With Bleach

Water Management After SHTF | What You Need To Do

Drinking Water For Long Term Storage

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39 Comments

    1. Hot Tubs (the stand-alone variety) may be more likely to have other chemicals in them. I have not had a stand-alone hot tub so I’m not sure. I had a swimming pool with a attached hot tub, but that’s different and treated the same way as the pool (pictured above).

  1. While do not have an in ground pool, we do have one we set up sometimes when the grand kids come over. It is a fairly cheap 12′ by 30″ round above ground pool and very easy to get set up quickly. A few years ago when we were due to be hit by a big storm “remains of Sandy” , I got the bright Idea to set it up next to the house and fill it with rain water coming off the roof and normally going into our 4 100 gal rain barrels. Well it filled in NO TIME (approximately 1800 gallons) and when the electric went out, we used it for our grey water needs for a few days. We are on a well, but why waste fuel pumping water when you can just use a bucket??

  2. I have a 600 gal. stand alone hot tub. I will say this: the chlorine that is used in a hot tub is at a minimum 3-4x higher than a pools chlorine level. Reason being is that the creepy crawlies like the warm water. So to keep them at bay, one uses more chlorine. If the power goes out there will be no circulation or filtering, like a pool. I would use the water after filtering and boiling it. Filters don’t get everything. Boiling will kill what the filters don’t catch.

  3. In a grid down situation I will be pulling my empty hot tub outside to fill up with rain water.

  4. A big percentage of homes in the Hawaiian Islands use a rainwater catchment system.
    The old ones used to be made out of wood. There’s concrete , corrugated metal ,plastic and quite a few above ground pools(low boys and such) being used. Most common now are round corrugated metal with a food grade liner(10,000gallon is code now). They put a stand off frame made from 1″ conduit with a black debris cover to keep the sun mosquitoes and other nasties out.
    Most but not all treat the water with chlorine.
    The big issue they are having there now(at least on the Big Island) is a problem with slugs and snails spreading rat lung disease. Nasty business that.
    The Hawaiian people have used water catchment systems forever and they are still surviving so it is doable in pool for sure.
    It’s what your comfort level is that will determine how you deal with the water’s quality.

    1. 😎🤙🏻
      Rubber lined reservoir, snail and slug bait around perimeter offset, on line chlorinator+Berkey

      1. Kula ,
        An inline chlorinator is a good idea.
        I use the 12 volt pumps around the homestead with 55 gallon water drums. I have stand alone water system at my shop and our homestead “laundromat.
        My cabins pull from a central water source. They each have 12 volt water pumps. They work well and really don’t need alot of battery power to run them.
        I wonder if I will lose any pressure if I install inline chlorinator.
        I chlorinate the central tank right now. I set the cabins up like a wagon wheel with the water tank and common area as the hub. Iwill have to do some research.
        Hope all is well on your homestead…

        1. While on the water subject…
          I watched a YouTube video a few days ago where Lionel talked about “hydro imperialism” and the weaponization of water.
          It reminded me of the paper I wrote in college. I wrote about how wars will be fought over drinking water in the future.
          My professor gave me lower grade on it saying he didn’t ask us to write science fiction.
          Water is life…secure yours while you can.

        2. Bill Jenkins Horse if you don’t mind what brand-model of 12 volt water pump are you using?

          Also could you pass on some details about your “laundrymat”? How are you dealing with grey water from it? Looking to improve my field laundry procedures.

          To stay on topic: A cheap above ground pool with some large tarps and trees for rainwater collection keeps me in garden water, flush toilet water, and field laundry water. Ken’s article about rainwater collection was inspiring as I hated to use my sometimes limited well water for the garden and fruit trees. Amazing what a solid rain or two will do to fill up a pool.

          1. Me2,
            I bought a bunch of Flojet pumps on sale years back.
            Bought rebuild kits and extra pressure switches.
            They are the model 4300 series.4.9 gpm.at 45 psi max.
            They have worked well for me.
            When I first did our laundry area I used a small above ground pool that held about 1200 gallons. Got it at the end of summer clearance sale.
            I pumped water to it from the well and filled it up. But it was 12′ round and took up space.also had to work to keep birds chickens and vermin away from it.
            Anyone with an inground pool has an awesome water source. Just have to be vigilant in keeping the water from turning grassy green.
            I run the grey water down to an area with trees. They sure seem to like it.
            I will post more over in the off topic thread..

        3. – Bill Jenkins Horse.
          Many, many moons ago I helped my Dad install an inline chlorinator for his employer’s company swimming pool (Dad was a chemical engineer). We were using the gas-type like is typically used for city water. The biggest problem we had was drilling the concrete for the pump installation. We had no loss of water pressure, and it only took about four hours to get the levels set for chlorination. The entire install was pretty straightforward, not quite cook book but not difficult either. Good luck with yours.

          – Papa S.

  5. Other uses for a pool
    Thinking this as a level 4 prep… you could convert that pool into a fish farm… You would have to wait until the chlorine and other chemicals degrade over time. Catch local wild fish and stock the pool also collect water plants pot them up and add to the pool. Build a pond ecosystem. They do make 12v pumps for circulation. Just think easy fish fry… Your own stocked pond right out the back door. Probably have other critters that would stop by too… I would only implement this idea as a level 4 prep planning.

  6. I got one of them above ground yard pools and it is a part of the plan even if it’s laundry (which the chlorine can be good for), watering the garden after the chlorine burns off and flushing the toilet.
    Algae can be beneficial if used on the garden.
    Recently got a hot tub for medical reasons with the wife and it is now part of the plan too. The chemicals will have to be dealt with but still it’s usable. I’ll pull the cartridges and let the water breath a few days then filter it or use it as non potable cause it’s close to the house. I also know that’s one area that can absorb a few rounds and not penetrate the house.
    The hottub itself might be used to garden later on or pushed around to collect roof rainwater. The pool (blow up ring on top kind) once empty will probably be set up in the back of a pickup bed to collect rainwater (neighbors got a broke down one I’ve eyeballed) or cover equipment as a waterproof tarp.
    The pump (I think) can be rigged on solar or battery/invertor to pump into the house when it’s warm.

  7. One can make filter for water and after filtration boil it more than 30 minutes and water is safe for use. It is same for spring water or pool water.
    Filter you can make form several levels of stones, sand, charcoal, sand, textile and stones.

  8. – I have a 10′ round stock tank the kids use as a pool, it’s roughly 10000 gallons if I remember correctly. If SHTF, it will probably become a backyard aquaculture tank. In the mean time, I try to keep it chlorinated and clean (great fun with the two boys and the dog LOLOL) But yes, we will use what we have if we need it.

    – Papa S.

    1. What a great idea! I have few options for storing water but one of those small rectangle roundish stock tanks with some water plants etc would certainly fit the bill- of course I’d still be chipping ice in the winter. : )

      1. PS: There is one type of chlorine that is supposed to be better if drinking – maybe someone else would have that info.

      2. My dog wouldn’t get in it. Sniff it -yeah – jump in? no way. : ) If I got a heater I could probably do a few gold fish. Looking locally there is a couple of inexpensive options that would hold around 70 gallons. Have to think this over a bit more.

    2. – Jump in? No, Daisy (my Lab/Boxer mix) won’t get near it. Dragged by two little boys? No telling what you might find in the water. It’s doable, but I generally only use it for gray water in a pinch. The tank has a drain near the bottom on the side that is not too hard to open if you keep Vaseline on the threads. I generally drain it during cold weather. I think I could probably keep it thawed with a livestock water heater, if I had to. Covered, possibly even an aquarium heater. Doesn’t take a lot of heat. Don’t care as long as there is some open water.
      – Papa

      1. I live close to ‘canal water’ which is just untreated irrigation water. The trouble with that is it is only available from roughly April to October so water for storage is mostly needed during the frozen winter months. A stock tank pond would work, as least as far as I can tell right now, but it would be under a juniper tree so would be fighting that too.

  9. Yes – field-tested by the guv.

    The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 resulted in our staff at the Embassy being held hostage in place. I had left just a few months earlier for a new assignment, but had played everyday after work in the pool with beloved offspring. That’s what folks had to drink until they were permitted to depart.

  10. In Southern California, some locations used to be set up with above ground pools established by fire fighters for the purpose of refilling dump-buckets of helicopters. These “pools” were made of waterproofed canvas with pockets on the side where we used to pound in wooden stiffeners and use guy lines in order to stake it out. If memory serves me right, these pools were roughly 10-12′ in diameter, circular in shape and about 6 feet deep. We had at least 1 set up next to the helipad at the park I used to work at.

    These pools were filled with water from a firehose close to a standpipe and in times of severe wildfire alerts, we were busy setting up a few more of these “pools” for the purpose of refilling the dump-buckets.

    It was kind of weird setting up these tanks because it was like setting up an inverted tent. If there were no fires burning and the helicopter was not in service, we used to jump into the pool from the roof of the dispatch trailer and climb out using a ladder. I cannot verify if there was in inner tube holding an ice-chest containing inexpensive Mexican beer in said tank.

    ( the combination of hot weather, young and rowdy men and women working a tough job- we worked hard and played harder. Our supervisors just shook their heads and left us alone- most of the time.)

  11. I wonder about plastic pools and the possibility of PCBs and other bad things leaching into the water. I’m also intrigued about the possibility of raising fish in them. Consuming fish from PCB infused water is also a concern.

    I’m fortunate to have year around access to a small natural pond but algae is a concern. Some algaes produce toxins that can not be filtered and are very hazardous to ingest. Copper is a known algaecide and bactericide. Tossing a piece of copper pipe into the pool might be beneficial but too much copper in the drinking water could also be harmful.

    With the plastic pools a fairly new concept has been the inflatable ring pools. As the water level rises so does the ring allowing a larger capacity. I can see these being very useful in a flood situation as they would keep the contents separated from the all of the nasty stuff in the flood water. Floating off would be a concern as would puncture from floating debris. Maybe some kind of fence around it?

    In my area bears using it as a drinking source would also be a worry. I doubt that the ring would stand up to bear claws on it.

  12. My dumb ass son, heavy on the dumb ass,lives in a large city in the desert.DA as I prefer to call him put in huge in ground pool costing over fifty thousand dollars.
    I was really happy because now dumb ass daughter-in-law could cook up their one week supply of food for the grand children!
    Wrong!! The pool is sanitized with some kind of salt solution that makes the water undrinkable no matter what you do.
    If anyone has an idea that could possibly make this water drinkable please respond.
    They say that”you can’t fix stupid,but you can slow it down with a club.”
    In this case I’m not so sure.

    1. Do you have the name of the product? Or even the chemical name? If all else fails, they can do solar distillation as long as the product doesn’t off-gas with the steam.

    2. – Not just solar distillation, but regular primitive distillation is a possibility. A couple of poles, lots of fuel and a pot for the pool water and another for the water distilled off. you can use a shower curtain or a large plastic painter’s drop cloth/tarp. Let us know what caliber of club proves efficacious.
      – Papa S.

    3. Keep a hand/gas-powered reverse-osmosis device on hand w/ post-mineralization and you will be perfectly fine.

      Your dumb-ass son is pretty smart with the salt-water system. Saves a lot of money on chemical and transportation. Big pain in the neck averted.

  13. Jane Foxe, For salt water I am pretty sure you would need to use a distiller for potable water. from salt treated water. Friend had problem when his 220 ft well decided to take a 2 week vacation, early in the summer. The quick answer fro them was we hauled them filtered water from our home, Using mostly kitty litter jugs..( They were not physically able @ the time) DH and I got on on replacing the pump and all the pipe, fun part was removing the well head.

    1. Just Sayin’ — wonder…After I suggested a distiller, am thinking that salt would be very tough on the distiller parts. Might not last very long?

  14. For salt water reverse osmosis is an option. PUR makes some for the marine industry. We had one of their early models on our sailboat (Power Survivor 35) and it worked very well. PUR also makes manually operated reverse osmosis water makers for the Navy. The larger Survivor 35 models are included in the ship life raft survival kits and a smaller model 06 is include in pilot ejection seat kits.

    At the moment there are 8 of the Survivor 35s and 4 of the survivor 06s on eBay. Prices vary and I wouldn’t trust any of them without being rebuilt or checked by PUR. Rebuild kits are available from PUR for the 35 and the 06 needs to be returned to PUR annually. The 35 will make over 3.5 gallons an hour and the 06 about a quart an hour. If not used the seals in the 35 will dry out and need to be replaced. If it is used the membrane needs to be treated with a biocide and on occasion may need to be replaced. The 35 can be owner maintained. As I said though the 06 needs factory support.

    They were originally made by Katadyn then PUR. I think they might now be made by Recovery engineering. There are other makers of R.O. systems but none that I know of that are manually operated. Lots of 12 volt systems for boats. Support for the 35 and the 06 should continue since the military has so many of them.

    These remove solids from salt water including bacteria. There are some toxins that will probably get through and I believe this is also true for Berkey filter. Berkeys will not remove salt.

  15. I refer to my above-ground pool as “an emergency source of water I occasionally swim in.” Y’know, like those babes on Petticoat Junction used to do. If the makeup of the pool water is unknown, I wouldn’t drink it unless it was distilled and filtered. There’s a myriad of chemicals sold at pool stores for algae control, Ph control, cloudy water, and the like. I minimize chemical use in my pool to keep it as potable as possible. One thing more on the mineral content front; chlorine breaks down to salt over time. If the pool is chlorinated and the water wasn’t cycled through it via backwashing the filter or partial water replacement, the salt content in the pool is going to be pretty high.

    Keep a BLACK winter pool cover handy in case the SHTF. One of these will keep algae from growing once the filter has stopped circulating. Tarps, even dark-colored ones, let in enough light to foster algae growth. I live in the desert Southwest. Even after being covered from October to May, the water in my pool is crystal clear.

    I would NOT use a stand-alone hot tub as a drinking water source. They don’t call those things “people soup” for nothing! Between the chemicals and the concentrated “human contributions” of dander, sweat, and skin oils, that water is rendered useless, except for flushing the toilet.

  16. I contacted USA Berkey Filters on their online forum and was informed that their filters are not recommended for the swimming pool to potable water treatment. Any other recommendations?

    1. Klaus,
      If, and only if you KNOW the pool, and the chemical treatment thereof (just chlorine and ph balance? Or other harsh chemicals), should it be considered in an emergency. Gray water use is fine. There are other ways to procure water…

      A water filter company is going to cover their butt and not recommend it as a source.

  17. so is filtered and distilled pool water usable if it is not being circulated. Like if i cover it and just have a hose to syphon water i need out to filter and boil. Would it then be drinkable? What about if i use sterile tablets?

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