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With temperatures continuing to soar across the country and record-breaking heat waves dominating the Pacific Northwest, many people are focusing on ways to keep cool this summer, whether that involves hitting the beach or simply cranking up the AC. When it comes to a typically affordable and accessible way of cooling off in the backyard, social media has been influencing an uptick in inflatable pools — including so-called kiddie pools — since the start of the season: A few from Walmart and Target went viral on TikTok earlier this year, causing them to fly off the shelves, while inflatable splash pads (usually meant for kids) made rounds on the app to keep dogs cool this summer.
Inflatable pools “are especially appealing because of ease of installation,” said Greg Canfield, a pool expert at Leslie’s Pools. “You can purchase a pool and have it shipped to your home within a week, [and] setup is generally one day or less and in some cases only a couple of hours.” You can typically use a hand pump or an electric or battery-operated pump to inflate them.
SKIP AHEAD Best inflatable pools to shop
While most people envision inflatable pools as the small, round kiddie pools from their childhood, they’ve really evolved over time — some have built-in seats and slides, while others come with their own pumps and filters. Whether you choose the simple route or go for a more bells-and-whistles option, we consulted experts to see what you should consider before buying one and how to keep it safe and sanitary for the whole family.
Shopping for an inflatable pool: What to consider
Inflatable pools tend to be much more accessible, cost effective and easier to set up than in-ground pools, which typically require professional installation and can cost upwards of $30,000 to install in an appropriate-sized location. Major retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot and Target offer a wide selection of inflatable pools, water slides and even hot tubs for the summer. But before giving any inflatable option a go, experts recommend considering where and how it will be used.
“Make sure you’ve got a location identified that is large enough for your needs, flat on compacted and firm ground with enough clearance from balconies, decks, platforms, and identify potential sources of electricity,” said Canfield. Other considerations, especially for larger inflatable pools, include the cost of filling up your pool with water and the cost of supplies needed to maintain your pool’s condition and your water’s health.
Best inflatable pools in 2021
The elephant-shaped sprinkler in this inflatable pool adds an additional element of fun as kids (and adults) can splash around and stay cool — you simply need to hook the water hose to get it started. The pool also features three individual air chambers on the base — with each chamber containing two air valves — to prevent air leakage and water penetration, according to the brand.
To encourage some lounging, this Intex pool features a built-in inflatable bench. It also has two cup holders on either side, a drain plug for convenient drainage and 12-inch-high walls. The pool also comes with a repair patch for quick maintenance when necessary.
If you’re hoping to bring the water park to your backyard, this Little Tikes option stands at 7 feet high and features a large, inflatable slide along with an inflatable “rock wall” to get up there — kids can then slide into a small splash pool. And to add to the fun, it also includes a basketball hoop and ball. Included stakes help the pool anchor in place when inflated, and the slide and pool can easily fold for compact storage when deflated.
If you have young children and are looking for a classic circular kiddie pool option, this one from Intex is made from durable vinyl and features 12-inch-high walls to hold the water (and your kids) safely inside. It measures 58 inches around, making it small enough to easily empty and fill up throughout the day.
On those extra hot summer days, a little bit of shade can be a necessity to keep kids sheltered from the sun’s strength. This inflatable pool by Intex comes with a removable sun shade that can be secured by velcro tabs at each corner of the pool. It also includes a convenient drain plug and a repair patch in case there are any holes.
This larger inflatable pool is 15 feet across, meaning it can likely fit both kids and adults at the same time. Constructed from durable yet lightweight PVC material, the 960-gallon pool includes a 330-gallon filter pump and filter cartridge to keep your pool water clean. The brand recommends setting the pool on a flat surface, inflating the top ring with an air pump (not included with the set) and then filling the base of the pool with water.
The Sable Inflatable Pool has a 312-gallon capacity and measures 10 feet long by 7 feet wide, allowing for multiple family members to lounge and cool off. According to the brand, each of the three air chambers can be inflated in as little as a minute using an electric pump, while the two water valves are able to double the drainage speed when you’re done.
Featuring two inflatable seats with air-cushioned backrests, this pool can be a good option for relaxing with the kids or conversing with friends. Like most of the other options on this list, it includes a drain plug and a repair patch for any holes or punctures.
Inflatable pools and water safety
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), germs can easily spread within inflatable and plastic pools and inflatable water slides because they lack the same protection as other water-based areas like in-ground swimming pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds. What’s more, the CDC states it can be unsafe to add “germ-killing disinfectants, such as chlorine or bromine, to the water” in small inflatable pools for a few reasons:
- The amount of required disinfectant would largely vary since water can easily and quickly splash or spill out of the pool.
- Most inflatable pools don’t have filters to remove debris, including leaves, dirt and skin cells, which can use up the disinfectant needed to kill germs.
However, the CDC ultimately recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions — some larger inflatable pools will require a filter and include instructions on how to properly disinfect them. “Be sure to also clean your filter regularly, if you have one,” added Canfield. He noted that you can sometimes use a wall-mount skimmer on larger soft-sided pools since it attacks most debris at the water’s surface, along with a battery-powered vacuum to keep the pool’s walls and floor clean.
To help prevent the spread of germs, the water in small inflatable pools should be emptied at least daily, according to the CDC. After emptying the water, you should remove any debris, rinse the pool out with fresh water and let it air dry completely.
Experts say a common reason for contaminated water is diarrhea or vomiting, typically from children who are sick, and germs like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, Shigella, and Escherichia coli can easily spread.
“From a microbial safety perspective, fecal materials would be a major cause of contamination of the water,” said Dr. Xu Li, a professor within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. “The fecal materials could be from children or pets playing in the pool and from birds that happen to leave droppings in the pool.” Li echoed that replacing the water frequently with fresh water would help keep the pool safe.
Inflatable pools and child safety
Setting up an inflatable kiddie pool for your child this summer can be a great way to keep them cool in the heat, but supervision is always the key when water and drowning risks are involved.
“Young children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water and children ages 1–4 years are at a greater risk of a fatal drowning,” said Emily Samuel, the program director for Safe Kids Worldwide. It’s “essential that parents and caregivers watch kids when they are in or near water without being distracted” and to teach children to only go near water when an adult is with them. When there are several adults present at the pool, Samuel recommended that parents designate an adult as “Water Watcher” for a certain amount of time, such as 15-minute periods. Older children should also always swim with a partner, “so if one of them gets into trouble in the water, the other can call for help,” she said.
Inflatable pools can pose similar drowning risks to larger above-ground or in-ground pools. Samuel noted the safest option is to surround the inflatable pool with a fence that is at least 4 feet high with a self-closing and self-latching gate. This will prevent young children from accessing the pool if it’s filled with water without someone present. If applicable, you should also remove any pool steps or ladders when the pool isn’t in use.
While using the pool, you should also make sure to gather appropriate items like towels, extra clothes, water toys, sunscreen and water to stay hydrated so you don’t have to leave children unsupervised to get these items later.