Have you ever felt like the minute you've finished filling up the kiddie pool with water, your kid suddenly loses interest and is ready to move on to the next activity? At that point, you might be wondering long you can leave water in a kiddie pool without having to worry about it turning into a bacteria bath, especially since your little one will inevitably have a meltdown if you drain it in front of them (whether they had any intention of going back in or not). Since kiddie pools don't have pumps and you can't treat a few buckets' worth of water with chlorine, you can end up with a stagnant, swampy mess before too long.
"Leaving pool water out too long or not cleaning the pool appropriately between uses increases the risk of infection by a 'recreational water illness,'" pediatrician Colin Orr, M.D., tells Romper via email, which "can lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea." If you've never heard the term "recreational water illness," it refers to those nasty bugs you can pick up from places like public pools, the beach, or the water park. These infections are caused by "E. coli, Shigella, and Cryptosporidium [and] are easily spread," Whitney Casares, M.D., a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health, tells Romper, particularly "when kids swallow or come in contact with water in kiddie pools." There is an even greater risk of exposure to these germs "when [the pool] is used by more than one child at a time," she notes.
Before you start thinking you might be better off spraying your kids off with the hose and calling it a day, it's actually not that hard to keep an inflatable or plastic pool safe, provided you follow a few basic tips. Dr. Orr says to give kids a bath before they get in and to make sure sure that both children and water are removed from the pool if there's any type of "accident" (particularly of the poop variety); according to the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), kids should avoid getting pool water in their mouths (good one, CDC!), and that children harboring any sort of lingering stomach bugs or other contagious illnesses should not swim with other kids. (Again, solid advice, but not the most pleasant question to ask another parent before inviting their kid over for a pool playdate.)
Assuming all the proper precautions have been taken, how long can you leave the water in your kiddie pool before it's time to dump, clean, and refill? The answer will make your back hurt: Kiddie pools should be drained or emptied after every use, according to the CDC.
This might come as a surprise, particularly since it's not uncommon to see coverings on kiddie pools overnight. Alas, "using a tarp cover does not increase the length of time water should be allowed to sit in a kiddie pool," says. Dr. Casares. And if you've heard parents talk about using chlorine tablets or bleach solutions as a way to keep kiddie pool water clean, the CDC says this isn't a "practical" way to kill germs in small pools, because "the chlorine dose cannot be easily determined or safely monitored to ensure that the right amount of chlorine continuously stays in the water."
"Medium and larger-sized inflatable and plastic pools that cannot be emptied daily should have filters and appropriate disinfection systems that meet the same codes and requirements as full-sized swimming pools," the CDC guidelines continue.
After your pool is drained, Dr. Orr says to clean it completely, allow it to dry, and then set it in the sun for at least four hours before using it again (in keeping with the CDC).
Kiddie pools might seem lot more high maintenance than they used to, but they're no doubt a lot cleaner, too, and that means kids are healthier. Just remember, no amount of fun in the sun is worth a "recreational water illness" (gross).
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One and founder of www.modernmommydoc.com
Colin Orr, M.D., pediatrician