It’s a common phenomenon: You emerge from a pool or lake, and you feel sticky! What’s causing this?
If you feel sticky after swimming, it’s likely because your pool is dirty and needs treatment. Stickiness can also be due to pH imbalances, chemical changes, or various contaminants in the water. Taking a shower can help reduce feeling sticky after swimming.
In this article, I’ll delve into some of the most common reasons why you feel sticky after swimming, whether you’re swimming in pools, lakes, or oceans. I’ll also share how you can help prevent potential stickiness before and after you jump in the water.
10 Reasons Why You Feel Sticky After Swimming
Whether you’re swimming in a chlorinated pool, a freshwater lake, or the ocean, the chances are that you’ll emerge stickier than you were when you got in. This stickiness may happen for one of many different reasons or a combination of multiple reasons.
1. Chlorine Breaks Down Keratin and Strips Your Hair of Oils
Most pool water is treated with chlorine because it kills bacteria and sanitizes the water to make it safe to swim in.
Chlorine causes hair to become sticky, frizzy, and discolored, soaking into hair and breaking down the keratin inside. Keratin is a protein responsible for building strong hairs, and without it, hair loses its strength and becomes brittle.
Chlorine also strips hair of its natural oils, which changes the texture of the hair.
One way to keep chlorine from seeping into your hair during a swim is to put oil in your hair ahead of time so that the water can’t get into the hair.
A swimming cap can also prevent chlorine from getting into your hair. Try ones like these silicone swim caps from Aegend; these are made to be extra durable to not break down in the chlorine over time.
2. Bromine Changes the Chemical Composition of Your Hair
Bromine is another common chemical additive in pools.
Bromine, like chlorine, strips hair of its natural oils and breaks down the keratin in the hair. The hair then absorbs more pool water, increasing the amount of damage done.
These changes in the composition of your hair lead to a feeling of stickiness.
To prevent stickiness from bromine, you can wet your hair before swimming to seal it. This makes the hair less likely to absorb as much bromine.
3. Carboxylates From Suntan Lotions Form a Yellow Goo
Carboxylates are potassium salts found in suntan lotions. When they enter a pool, they combine with the chlorine to form a sticky yellow or beige substance that sticks to the chlorinator or sinks to the bottom of the pool.
Carboxylates usually don’t accumulate quickly, but they can build up over time if you don’t clean your pool properly. You should shock your pool regularly, and if possible, enforce a showering rule so that swimmers don’t bring lotions with them into the water.
4. Vinyl Liners Accumulate Plasticizers
Most pools come with a vinyl liner made with plasticizers. Plasticizers prevent the vinyl from deteriorating over time, but they also seep out onto the surface of the liner and accumulate when the pool water isn’t circulating.
This layer of plasticizers is usually clear but can have a dark appearance when brushed or deposited on the hands and feet.
To prevent your liner from becoming sticky with plasticizers, you can recirculate your pool water. New liners are more likely to become sticky with plasticizers, so don’t be surprised if you see more of this when you have your pool open in the first couple of seasons.
5. Algae Accumulate and Decompose on the Top of the Pool
When your pool isn’t being used, algae tends to grow on the surface. Algae can even seep through a pool cover.
Many pool owners choose to treat this issue with algaecides, which are effective but form a dark brown or black goo when combined with algae.
To make this less likely to happen, carefully remove your pool cover to avoid unnecessary contamination from algae. If the top of your cover touches the water, you’re likely to see an increase in algae and algal goo.
Algae are more likely to grow in your pool if organic materials are in the water, like leaves and dirt. By keeping your pool free from contaminants, you can make algal goo less likely to develop.
6. Foreign Contaminants Get Into the Water
Many kinds of contaminants cause stickiness, be it air pollution, tree sap, or something added as an act of vandalism. Sweeping your pool regularly and treating it with chlorine and enzymes is a good way to ensure that these contaminants are taken care of before they can become an issue.
BioGuard Pool Complete, is a great choice for clearing your pool of contaminants. It’s made with enzymes that digest organic matter and removes phosphates from the water.
7. Bacteria in the Water Change Your Skin Microbiome
If you’re swimming in the ocean, the chances are that you’ll emerge covered in bacteria from the ocean water, even if the water is relatively free of pollutants. This changes the nature of your bacterial microbiome and can make you feel sticky.
These changes in the bacterial composition on your skin can make you more vulnerable to infections because they wash off healthy bacteria and deposit new foreign bacteria.
After about six hours, the bacteria on your skin return to their normal state.
8. You’re Using Soft Water in Your Pool
Soft water has low calcium hardness, making it more likely to form a sticky layer of foam. If you’re using soft water in your pool, you can try adding calcium chloride to the water to see if it fixes the issue.
To check the calcium hardness of your water, try filling a clean, empty bottle with pool water and liquid soap and then shaking it for several seconds. The more bubbles you see, the softer your water supply is.
9. The Water’s pH Balance Is Off
Ideally, a swimming pool should have a pH between 7.4 and 7.8, neither acidic nor basic. If the water becomes basic or has a high pH, it can cause a sticky feeling in the water, dry skin, and stinging eyes.
A high pH also causes the pool to become hazy or cloudy.
Chlorine is less effective when the pH is too high in a pool, so be sure to treat the issue as soon as you can if you notice stickiness from a high pH.
The best way to lower pH in a pool is by adding a chemical compound to restore balance. Chemical additives for balancing pH in pool water include sodium bisulfate and muriatic acid.
Sodium bisulfate comes as a powder that dissolves in the water over ten to fifteen minutes. When you add it, be careful not to get the powder on your skin or clothes.
Muriatic acid comes as a liquid that you can add to your pool directly; just make sure that you allow the acid to settle at the bottom of the pool before turning the pump on to circulate it.
After treating your pool with a pH-balancing chemical, wait 6 hours and then test the water again. Make sure that you don’t wait more than 24 hours before testing again.
10. Seafoam Has Formed on the Surface of the Ocean
Seafoam is commonly found on the surface of oceans near the coastline where the water churns.
Tiny particles in the ocean gather together and form bubbles when agitated. These particles include fats, dead algae, pollutants, and dissolved salts. Each coast has its particular composition of particulate matter, meaning each coast has a unique seafoam. Some are stickier than others.
Algae blooms cause especially thick and sticky sea foams and can be harmful to ocean ecosystems.
Usually, seafoam isn’t harmful to touch, but it can make you feel sticky if you swim in it.
When seafoam bubbles pop, sometimes algal toxins are released into the air, which means that people with asthma and other lung conditions shouldn’t breathe air affected by seafoam.
How To Reduce Feeling Sticky After Swimming
You can reduce the feelings of stickiness by taking a shower before and after you swim and by using special swimmer shampoos like this Triswim Chlorine Removal Shampoo. This shampoo pulls harmful chemicals out of your hair and moisturizes it to alleviate any dryness or stickiness caused by chlorine.
Taking a shower before you swim is also a good idea because it can reduce the likelihood of introducing contaminants into the water. Contaminants make the water feel stickier in many cases.
Usually, stickiness is harmless, but it can be a sign that your pool is unclean and needs to be treated. Make sure that you figure out why your pool causes stickiness just in case there’s an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.
- Healthline: What You Need to Know About Ocean Water Before You Swim in It This Summer
- Very Well Health: Keratin: Types, Structure, Conditions, Uses, Risks
- New Scientist: Swimming in the sea completely changes the microbes on your skin
- Home Water 101: How to Test Water Hardness | DIY Water Hardness Test
- National Ocean Service: What is sea foam?