Swimming with a Shirt On? 6 Facts You Should Know


Swimming without a shirt may be the norm, but there are still plenty of people out there that swim with a shirt on. If you’re considering wearing a shirt in the pool, there are a few things you should know beforehand.

Read further below to uncover the answers to the most frequently asked questions about swimming with a shirt on.

Can You Wear a T-Shirt While Swimming?

Since most people do not wear shirts while they swim, the first question that pool-goers typically ask is whether or not wearing a T-shirt in the pool is even feasible. Nobody wants to unintentionally break the pool rules or jeopardize anyone’s safety just because they weren’t aware of the effect that wearing a T-shirt in the water would have.

Normal T-shirts cannot be worn while swimming at public pools. For one, they increase drowning risk by soaking up water and weighing swimmers down. They also pollute the pool water by bringing in germs and cluttering the filtration system with loose strands. Only designated swim shirts are allowed.

Safety takes precedence over everything else at community swimming pools. The prohibition of regular T-shirts in the pool is enforced to keep you and the swimmers around you as safe as possible. This rule does not exclusively apply to T-shirts, however. All kinds of normal street clothes are banned for swimming pool use to minimize the danger of drowning and maintain the quality of the pool water.

If you’re still curious about the logic behind why regular clothes are banned for swimming pool use, click over to Why You Shouldn’t Wear Normal Clothes in Swimming Pools for more information.

Of course, if you have the luxury of your own private swimming pool, you don’t necessarily have to follow such rules. It’s your pool, after all, so you can do as you please.

Nevertheless, it’s still recommended that you avoid wearing regular T-shirts in the water, particularly if you’re not the best swimmer. Unskilled swimmers cannot afford to lose maneuverability in the water, no matter how petty that reduction in mobility may seem. Plus, unclogging tiny T-shirt clothing fibers from your pool filtration system can be a hassle to fix.

So if you’re set on wearing a T-shirt in the pool, be sure that it’s been specially designed for water use, not land use.

Does Pool Water Ruin Shirts?

Although normal shirts are not meant for pool use, there are still people who decide to wear them anyways. These swimmers, in particular, are often curious as to how the pool water will impact their shirt quality.

Pool water does ruin shirts, especially those not designed for swimming. The high concentrations of chlorine within pool water weakens clothing fibers and fades color. The extent of the damage depends upon the shirt material, the pool chlorine levels, and the duration of chlorine exposure.

The water itself does not pose a real threat to shirt quality. The disinfecting chemicals—such as chlorine—are the primary culprits.

Believe it or not, chlorine progressively eats away at clothing threads and compromises their structural integrity (source). With prolonged chlorine exposure, these clothing threads eventually reach a point where they’re in such a weakened state that they fracture completely. Once enough of these fibers break, you can kiss your favorite shirt goodbye.

As if that weren’t bad enough, chlorine also noticeably dulls shirt color since one of the main components of chlorine is bleach (source). Unsurprisingly, this results in a mild “bleaching” effect that becomes more apparent over time.

Every kind of shirt succumbs to these negative chlorine effects with enough time, regardless of whether they were designed for the water or not. The only major difference is their level of resistance to these negative chlorine effects. Certain clothing materials—like nylon and polyester—are more resistant to these negative chlorine effects relative to others.

Needless to say, chlorine does not bode well with clothing material. So if you plan on wearing a shirt in the pool, make sure to pick one that you’re fine with losing!

Why Do People Swim with a Shirt On?

There’s actually a considerable amount of pool-goers that are not familiar with the logic behind why certain swimmers wear shirts in the first place. There are actually a few reasons that could explain why swimmers do this.

The main reason why people swim with a shirt on is to protect themselves from excess UV exposure and public scrutiny. The extra clothing layer is an effective aid to those that are especially susceptible to sunburn. Shirts also provide comfort to swimmers that are self-conscious about their body.

Excess UV Exposure

Not everyone sunburns at the same rate. The rate at which a person sunburns varies depending upon their skin type and melanin levels. As a quick reference, melanin produces a brown pigment that safeguards the body from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light (source).

Individuals with darker skin tones naturally have higher melanin levels than individuals with lighter skin tones. Since light-skinned individuals have less skin defense against sunburn, they must rely on alternative methods of protecting themselves, like sunblock and long clothes.

Unfortunately, swimmers are not always comfortable with the greasy, oily feel of sunblock. I, for one, have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of how sunblock feels on my skin. Despite all those summers spent in the water, my skin still isn’t used to the sensation!

Plus, applying layer upon layer of sunblock can be a tedious process, especially for swimmers that like to spend hours out in the water. Even remembering to buy sunblock can be a hassle!

Since sunblock is not ideal for these individuals, the only real viable option is long swim attire. It’s either that or severe sunburn, which isn’t much of a choice at all.

Public Scrutiny

It’s a well-known fact that standard swimming attire is far more revealing than any other kind of social outfit. At the beach or pool, people show off way more skin than they would otherwise. In some cases, it reaches a point where it’s hard to tell the difference between a person’s swim outfit and their underwear!

If you’re still uncertain about what people typically wear while they swim, click over to Dress Code for Public Swimming Pools (Easy Checklist).

Quite a few people have trouble coming to terms with this status quo. For one reason or another, they have difficulty putting their body on public display in this manner.

Typically, any individuals that struggle with bodily insecurities prefer to wear shirts while they swim. Some common sources of bodily insecurities include the following:

  • hairy
  • overweight
  • scarred
  • severe acne
  • skin marks
  • underweight

Since these individuals do not feel comfortable looking at themselves in the mirror, it’s only natural for them to believe that others feel the same way. In reality, this is often not the case, as the vast majority of people are really only focused on themselves and their own time in the water.

Nevertheless, wearing a shirt helps self-conscious individuals to work up the courage to swim without being overly anxious about what others think about them.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that some people are too modest to showcase themselves publicly. These individuals prefer to wear a shirt while swimming simply because they’re not accustomed to the idea of drawing attention to their bodies.

Is It Weird to Swim with a Shirt On?

Speaking of public scrutiny, it’s worth noting that some self-conscious swimmers still have lingering concerns over what people think of them for wearing a shirt in the water. The last thing that a self-conscious individual wants to be is a public spectacle.

Swimming with a shirt on is not weird. While it may be true that swimming without a shirt is the most common fashion, swimming with a shirt on is still perfectly acceptable. It is seen as a sensible practice since swim shirts offer much-needed protection against harmful UV light and contact rashes.

Most people are all too familiar with the unpleasant consequences of getting sunburned. It’s a dreadful experience to deal with, no matter who you are.

Thus, most people will understand if you decide to wear a shirt to the beach or the pool. Everyone needs to give their skin a break at some point, especially those spending all day out under the sun. Even the people that don’t yet understand will learn soon enough once they get sunburned themselves!

The same goes for those that wear shirts—more commonly known as rash guards—for water sports, such as (source):

  • bodyboarding
  • bodysurfing
  • free diving
  • kayaking
  • kitesurfing
  • scuba diving
  • snorkeling
  • stand up paddleboarding (SUP)
  • surfing
  • wakeboarding
  • windsurfing

With all these physically demanding water sports, shirts can come in handy. This thin layer of clothing material greatly minimizes chaffing caused by excessive contact with sand or wax residue. Nobody wants to deal with skin rashes once they’ve come back from a lengthy session out on the water.

Plus, with some more extreme water sports, wearing a shirt can protect against scrapes and cuts from wipeouts. Anybody that’s been around water sports for long enough won’t expect you to swim without a shirt just to appease the masses.

Is It Better to Swim With or Without a Shirt?

Now that you’re somewhat familiar with the different benefits of wearing a shirt while swimming, you’re probably curious as to whether it’s better to swim with a shirt on or off. Truthfully, the answer really depends on the context of the situation.

It is better to swim with a shirt on if you’re particularly susceptible to sunburn, self-conscious of your body, or heavily engaged in water sports. Under these circumstances, wearing a shirt will provide the bodily protection and boost in confidence needed for you to enjoy your swimming experience.

Aside from these circumstances, you may find that it’s better to swim without a shirt on.

If you’re intent on working up a tan, for instance, swimming without a shirt will help you to achieve that goal. Of course, this does make you more vulnerable to sunburn, but that’s the price you have to be willing to pay. Sadly, swimming with your shirt on will only create odd, uneven tan lines.

Moreover, some people like taking advantage of the opportunity to show off their bodies at the beach or pool. These individuals work unbelievably hard to achieve appealing physiques through strict diet and exercise. It’s a nice reward to be appreciated for such hard work come summertime.

Whatever your situation may be, the decision to swim with your shirt on or off should be based on your personal preferences. It should go without saying, but you shouldn’t let social norms dictate what you wear.

What Kind of Shirt Can You Wear in the Pool?

With normal street clothes being banned for public pool use, finding a swim shirt to wear can be a lot harder than it seems. Luckily, the kinds of shirts permitted at public pools have a few easily identifiable markers that differentiate them from a normal T-shirt.

Swim shirts that are primarily comprised of lyrca, nylon, polyester, and spandex bode well in pool water. These materials do not soak up water and weigh swimmers down like other common clothing materials, such as denim, flannel, cotton, and wool. Normal T-shirts should not be worn in the pool.

If you’re curious about what other items that should be kept away from the pool, click over to What Not to Wear in the Pool (Simple, Easy Checklist).

It can be tempting to think swim shirts are not any different from normal T-shirts from appearance alone. However, there are subtle differences between the two, even though they may not be that obvious at first glance.

As you browse through prospective swim shirts, take special care to look at the clothing material and check that it meets the criteria listed above. As a general rule of thumb, you should not take any shirt made primarily from cotton into the pool water.

Sources: 1 2 3 4

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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