Pool, Hot Tub, & Sauna Safety During COVID-19

Many health clubs have pools, hot tubs, or saunas. Learn how to keep members as safe as possible while using those facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated September 29, 2020

Note: Important further updates have been made to this article as more research and data becomes available around COVID-19. Visit the IHRSA Forum to get more information from IHRSA members and experts around the globe.

Kilian Fisher, IHRSA’s International Public Policy advisor, and Paul Hackett, a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and OSHCR Registered Consultant, contributed to this article.

The COVID-19 outbreak has fitness and sports facilities around the world taking additional measures above and beyond standard protocol to ensure their facilities are safe and clean. Industry experts Kilian Fisher M.IoD, Dip.M, FCIMSPA, DMS and Paul Hackett MSc, CMIOSH, PIEMA, FCIMSPA, MISPE, MIIRSM shared their insights on pool, sauna, and steam room safety measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Fisher is IHRSA’s International Public Policy advisor and has extensive experience operating pools and spas in the U.K. and Ireland. He also led the development of National Guidelines and Training in both the U.K. and Ireland and formerly chair of IHRSA Board Standards Committee. Hackett is a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and OSHCR Registered Consultant.

These guidelines should be read alongside the Key Considerations and Risk Assessment Tools produced by a global experts group led by IHRSA. View also the webinar featuring a top advisor from the World Health Organization discussing these tools to help keep your club open/reopen and show your local health authorities that your club is safe.

Pool sauna saftey during COVID 19 column image

Pool Safety

A well-run, clean swimming pool with appropriately treated water using chlorine at internationally accepted levels should provide adequate disinfection to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

Operators should ensure chlorine levels in pools and spas are kept between 1-3mg/l with the pH between 6.8-7.4. Spa pools that use bromine need to maintain their water at 4-6mg/l bromine or 3-5mg/l chlorine. Routine tests for microbiological quality should also be undertaken in line with national guidelines.

Given that the virus is a new one, experts cannot say with absolute certainty that it will be safe. However, most authorities believe that pool and spa waters that are adequately disinfected should not spread the disease. A bigger risk will be the face-to-face interaction between individual users of the pools and spas.

Continue following all the regular advice about not shaking hands and coughing/sneezing into a tissue and disposing of it immediately.

Operators will need to maintain diligent hygiene standards in changing areas, toilets, and showers. Operators need to ensure pool water standards are at their best by regular water testing and taking actions if they are not in acceptable norms.

Here are some other best practices when it comes to pool safety:

  • Swimmers and spa users who feel unwell should not use public facilities and under no circumstances spit or blow their noses in the water.
  • Swimmers and spa users should wash their hands with soap and water often. Do this for at least 20 seconds.
  • Everyone should wash their hands when entering the facility. Use hand sanitizer gel if soap and water are not available. Health authorities recommend solutions with 60% alcohol or more.
  • Everyone should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow (not their hands) when they cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterward.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

It is important to remember that users can introduce a variety of germs into pools and spas by not abiding by a thorough pre-swim/treatments/spa regime. Personal care products like perfumes, hair sprays, creams, etc. can introduce “bad” chemicals into swimming and spa pools and hot tubs, which can cause adverse effects on pool treatment chemicals and systems.

“Ever since my start in the industry as a swimming teacher and coach, I have always advocated for all customers (adults and children) to wear flip flops from changing rooms to poolside to avoid picking up potential infections including common fungal infections such as veruccae,” says Fisher.

In some European countries and many clubs, it is normal and often mandatory to shower before using the facilities, and some require a swimming cap.

“It is important to remember that users can introduce a variety of germs into pools and spas by not abiding by a thorough pre-swim/treatments/spa regime.”

Fisher points out that “if pre-swim/spa showering were the norm, swimming and spa pools and hot tubs water would be cleaner, allow for more effective disinfection, and be more pleasant to use.”

Steam Room and Sauna Safety

Saunas operate at higher temperatures (70-100°C or 158-212°F) and have porous wood furniture that could make it difficult for any virus to survive for long. It is recommended that people do not go in them if they are feeling ill in any way and should not, for example, “sweat out a cold.” Normal cleaning with moderately degreasing cleaning agent (mild soap) should be suitable. However, safe distancing is going to be proportional to the size of the sauna. This means that most commercial saunas will have a maximum of two people, which might make them commercially unviable especially when it would be necessary to clean them between users. The time necessary for the sauna to cool down to make it safe for the operator to enter and clean would be difficult to be commercially viable.

Steam rooms operate at a far lower temperature and are not warm enough to interfere with the lifecycle of the coronavirus, so they could be a potential source of contamination. Hygiene arrangements after each use would need to be thorough and bather use would need to be controlled to the size of the unit. Not many steam rooms in the modern format would be operable with social distancing and enhanced cleaning. Turkish/Russian style steam baths can be very large and consequently have many customers simultaneously without infringing on social distancing recommendations. Also the operating temperatures being lower should enable almost continuous cleaning. The risk assessment would be weighing up the ability to clean versus the number of potential clients. Activities in steam rooms such as massage would need to be curtailed.

Risk Assessment

Each operator will need to look at their own circumstances and operating protocols and decide whether it is reasonable to reopen sauna, steam, and other thermal rooms. Some will be able to without much change to normal day-to-day procedures, others may find it is not safe enough or commercially viable to reopen. Social distancing of at least 1 meter and possibly up to 2 meter may well be the key determination. If it is not possible to keep distance and the facilities cleaned, then it may not be practical to open to the public.

For more information on coronavirus, visit IHRSA’s Coronavirus Resources for Health Clubs.

Related Articles & Publications

  • Coronavirus Resources for Health Clubs

  • Social Distancing In Your Health Club

  • 4 Reasons to Keep Exercising

Kilian Fisher

Kilian Fisher is the International Public Policy Advisor for IHRSA.