5 Shockingly Gross Realities Of Cleaning Swimming Pools
When you think about it, it's kind of weird that we consider holes in the ground filled with chemicals and pubes to be status symbols. Society dictates a lot of weird things, though, so here we are. The cleaning of those holes known as "swimming pools" comes down to brave souls like David Hart, who talked to us about the more alarming aspects of a job that apparently isn't quite as sexy as decades of "pool boy" erotica would suggest:
Pipes Get Clogged With Sex Toys And Semen
I cannot tell you how many times I've been cleaning a pool and found a dildo or a wad of condoms. Once, I was working on a guy's pool I thought had busted piping, because I kept pulling metal and plastic rings out of the skimmer and drain. In one month, I found over a dozen, so I called my boss, worried the pool might have a serious problem. I showed them to him, and he took one look at me, put a hand on my shoulder, and said with the gravity you'd expect from an officer telling you your child just died in combat, "Dave, those are cock rings."
Apparently, the owner kept losing them in the pool when he had sex, and they just built up each month. It would sure as hell explain why he was never home when I cleaned it.
"If you find any 'balloons' ... my kid had a party."
But picking up the odd renegade cock ring is nothing compared to a busted hot tub filter, particularly those used by the general public. Whenever a hotel employee called me to change a "busted filter," that was code for "the accumulated money shots of dozens of traveling couples have finally overwhelmed the filter." So I'd have to drain it, disinfect the whole thing, and put in a new filter.
You might find this alarming if you've ever been in one of those hot tubs, but look at it this way: Better for it all to wind up in the filter than floating around in the water with you and your family. Still: Really try not to let public pool water get in your mouth. And not just because of the semen, either ...
But, you know, still a lot because of the semen.
There Are Dead Animal Bits In Your Hotel Pool
Small critters drown in swimming pools all the time: Some little geckos and rats just can't resist the siren's song of, uh, chlorine. Most dead animals scoop out pretty easily, but some pools have overnight vacuums or power intake suctions for their pool, and the more powerful ones can suck up animals happily swimming/flailing for their life in the pool. I had to remove a dead goose once, but the absolute worst was a bunny. The vacuum stopped working; I came by to fix it and saw rabbit feet sticking out of the hose. The cleaner and the bunny had met in the shallow end near the stairs, and the cleaner won.
Lucky foot my ass.
The bigger problem is disinfecting the pool afterward -- or, rather, convincing the owners to let us do it. I've had to pull dead birds out of hotel pools and been told not to clean it further. They said they'd do it later, despite the fact that I clean your pool, dude, and I know you don't own any pool-cleaning products. But we can't force owners to clean the pools, and as long as no one pops by for a surprise inspection, no one will ever know. That invisible bacteria just tags along to your pool party like that random dude you assume is someone's friend until you realize nobody seems to know him. They're not going to just drink all your beer and puke on your towel, either: The bacteria found in seldom-cleaned pools and hot tubs can give you infections like a particularly deadly form of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease.
My company doesn't do deals with these motels anymore -- we now require a full cleaning after every de-corpsing -- but I'll guarantee you plenty of other, sketchier pool cleaning companies exist to serve the cheap and gross among the hotelier population. Nice hotels tend to shell out for pool disinfections more often, but their hot tubs are still teeming with deadly, deadly bacteria. Hot plus wet is pretty much the ideal equation for a bacterial orgy.
And human ones, see above.
Porn Has Given A Generation Of People Unrealistic Expectations Of My Job
Most people who move out to Arizona come from the East, where a pool-cleaning service is a novelty. This is often the first time they have met people like me. Since they don't know much about my field, they make assumptions based on their, ahem, viewing experience. Of course, every field battles with misconceptions from movies: Archaeologists get asked about Indiana Jones; paleontologists, Jurassic Park; etc. There aren't many blockbuster movies about pool cleaners ... but there are pornos.
Because I Did My Garbage Collector doesn't quite have the same ring.
While nobody actually thinks dino-scientists spend all day splicing frog genes, a few people honestly believe that pornos about pool cleaners get the impromptu bow chicka bow bow part right. Some paranoid male customers have given me uncomfortably clear instructions not to talk with their wives or daughters. Apparently, these guys fear that the raw sexiness of a man who smells like he dipped his sweaty nutsack in chlorine will overwhelm the fragile virtue of their spouses and children.
On the other hand, some female customers have tried to seduce me. Not many, but it's happened. One woman, I remember, came out in a bathrobe and asked if I wanted a cold drink. I politely said no as I went to work on the pool. She proceeded to ask me to come inside five times in a somewhat seductive voice before she came out in a bikini and asked me if I could put sunscreen on her. "No -- that's against company policy," I said, doing my darnedest to focus on the job at hand. She watched me the whole time I was there. Every time she'd pass by she'd say, "Just enjoying the view."
"Why, yes, my skimmer is extendable. Why do you ask?"
Finally, when I was done, she tried to get me inside again and asked a few more obvious pickups, all while I was going through my spiel on what I did. After I left, I told my boss what happened, and he said she had tried that on other pool cleaners. We wound up having to send an all-female work team out to her place on future calls. Which, now that I think about it, also sounds like a porn plot.
All right, now that we've got the sexy part out of the way, let's get back to the horror ...
To Get A Pool Really Clean, You Need Some Truly Awful Chemicals
You've heard of chlorine, of course, and you may have heard of bromine: We use both to keep your pool fresh and clean. But sometimes pools get truly, horribly filthy, and we need to do something a little more intense: the acid wash. No, not like your jeans -- it's the acid process we use to do a chemical peel of the pool.
"Wait, that wall was white?"
We do these pretty regularly, since dirt routinely builds up. We need to put on masks and rubber boots, but sometimes we need to don a full acid-proof plastic suit (think hazmat minus the helmet). We also always do this in teams. That's because, if by chance a mask fails and we breathe in the fumes, we are going to be lying on the bottom of a literal pool of acid struggling to breathe.
The chemicals we use for an acid wash can cause respiratory problems and instant chemical burns. I've been burned a few times, and those chemicals hurt a lot. If you try to do this at home -- and for the love of God, don't -- make sure there is no chlorine around. Wash over the pool to get rid of any residual chlorine, remove any chlorine from the pool area and lock it away, and do not ever bleach clothes in your pool. (Yes, people do this for some reason.)
"But it has a 'P' on it."
All of those precautions are necessary, because if you spray something acidic on chlorine, you get WWI-style chlorine gas. An accidental gassing actually happened in Canada a few years ago and sent over 70 to the hospital. The Kaiser would've been proud.
Chlorine Gets Nasty When It Reacts With All The Other Awful Shit In The Pool
Whether I'm facing a dead animal, a million dead ghost babies, or just a plain old case of peeing in the pool, you bet your ass I'm pouring a metric shitload of chlorine in there. This is necessary to kill off any pathogens that you definitely don't want up your nose. But because Poseidon has a sense of humor, the more chlorine I add to kill the bacteria, the more disinfection byproducts are added to the water. DBPs are the result of skin cells, hair, semen, feces, etc. reacting with chlorine, and they're carcinogenic as fuck. At least one study says spending just 40 minutes in a pool loaded with DBPs can introduce genetic changes that increase your risk of cancer. Meanwhile, urine mixed with chlorine produces its own special chemical compound capable of injuring your lungs, heart, and nervous system, so be a goddamn adult and stop peeing in the pool.
Indoor public pools are the greatest danger, just because there are more people shedding their shame into it on a daily basis and all those fumes are trapped with nowhere to go but your lungs. There's not a whole lot of data on it, though, so even outdoor and private pools should be given a smell test. That's how you can tell if a pool is one of these mutant-makers.
"Hey kids, get out of there. It smells like cancer."
And no, we don't mean you should want your pool to smell "clean," i.e. smell like chemicals. Fresh, chlorinated water is actually odorless -- it's these byproducts, not the chlorine, that give pools that chemical smell. Stay the hell out of a smelly pool until the owner's had a chance to drain it, which will probably be a while, because my company charges $600 for a pool drain/clean. It's only about $50 a month to keep adding chemicals, so most just do that until it becomes a crime against humanity. In the meantime, more and more DBPs accumulate, probably whispering to each other about who in the pool most deserves cancer. Have a great summer, everyone!
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder guy for the Personal Experience team. Have an awesome experience/job you would like to see up on Cracked? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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