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Original Article: CNN   |   By: Elisabeth Sherman

The 12 best kiddie pools for babies and toddlers

Swimming and splashing around in the water is one of the best summer activities for little ones, which is why its essential to make sure you have one of the best kiddie pools on hand. Kids can stay occupied in the water for hours, enjoying much-needed time outdoors with family, not just building memories but also moving their bodies and taking a break from screens. Children of almost any age can benefit from getting out of the home and playing in the water. Even for kids under 3, it’s a new sensory experience that kick-starts their motor skills. Luckily, giving the kids in your life the gift of water-based play is as easy as getting a kiddie pool.

Kiddie pools are essentially small versions of aboveground pools that can fit backyards of almost any size, and they can be easily filled with a hose and emptied via a drain plug. While most are inflatable, some versions are made of rigid plastic or vinyl, which is more durable and requires less setup. However, it’s important to pay attention to the material of the kiddie pool you choose.

“You want to avoid anything with sharp edges or materials that can crack to avoid kids getting skin lacerations if they slip in the pool,” says Dr. Lois Lee, a pediatrician who works with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Most kiddie pools are made with PVC, which is preferred because it is resistant to puncturing and extends the life span of the pool. Keep in mind that PVC contains phthalates, and some studies have shown that repeated exposure to these chemicals can pose health risks to kids. However, the research is generally conflicting regarding the true dangers of exposure to PVC, so there is no guarantee that a kiddie pool labeled “nontoxic PVC” or “phthalate-free” will actually be safer. And because the term “nontoxic” is not regulated, brands aren’t obligated to use safer ingredients in products that they label this way.

Ahead is our roundup of the best kiddie pools for little ones to play in this summer, along with everything you need to know about keeping kiddie pools clean and some important safety considerations.

Best inflatable kiddie pools

Grip A Pool Inflatable Baby Pool

At just $20, this is one of the most affordable kiddie pools on our list. Handles on the sides make it easy to transport around the yard if needed and offer unsteady kids an easier way to get in and out. Measuring 34 by 34 by 10 inches, this inflatable pool has enough space for one young child. (The brand advises that it is appropriate for children 1 to 3 years old.) The padded bottom is also comfortable for active little ones.

Intex Inflatable Family Pool

This rectangular family-sized pool gives siblings plenty of space to splash around — three kids or two adults could lounge comfortably inside. Thanks to its 22-inch depth, it can hold up to 277 gallons of water, but don’t worry: the drain plug allows water to drain away quickly when you’re done. The heavy vinyl walls are less susceptible to punctures too. This one is recommended for kids ages 6 and up.

Minnidip Pool in That’s Banana(leave)s

Minnidip Pool in That’s Banana(leave)s

Minnidip claims that its inflatable pool is made from nontoxic vinyl, which might be appealing to parents with concerns about phthalates (but there’s still no guarantee that it’s any safer). It’s suitable for kids 6 years and older, and at 5.5 feet wide, it can fit up to three adults at a time.

The stylish pink and green banana-leaf pattern is a departure from the cartoonish prints that embellish some kiddie pools, making this one an appealing place for the adults to lounge when the kids aren’t using it. It also comes in orange jungle and multi-colored wave patterns.

Intex Sunset Glow Baby Pool

This mini wading pool has just enough space for a 1- to 3-year-old toddler to splash around on a sweltering summer day (though you’ll probably need to invest in a bigger version as your child grows). Measuring 34 by 34 by 10 inches with a 15-gallon capacity, its size accommodates families with small outdoor spaces and those with limited storage space. Plus, the padded bottom will be especially comfortable for little ones who tend to be unsteady on their feet and need the cushioning in case of a fall.

Vivi Mao Inflatable Swimming Pool

Vivi Mao Inflatable Swimming Pool

This simple inflatable pool measures 48 by 48 by 12 inches, so it’s spacious enough to fit three small kids. It’s made from BPA-free PVC material, and the soft bottom provides plenty of cushion for all the jumping and bouncing that will likely be happening once the kids hop inside. In the off-season, it can be converted into an indoor ball pit.

Evajoy Inflatable Play Center Pool

All the kids in the neighborhood are going to flock to your backyard the moment you set up this inflatable pool. It features a built-in slide and sprinkler that sprays jets of water into the pool area, plus a palm tree-like shade. This pool measures 110 by 71 by 53 inches, so you’ll need a larger outdoor space to accommodate it, but it’s sure to keep kids occupied and entertained all afternoon while the parents relax nearby. According to the brand, it can also be inflated in just one minute with an electric pump.

Best hard-plastic kiddie pools

Vistop Hard-Plastic Portable Swimming Pool

Vistop Hard-Plastic Portable Swimming Pool

This hard-sided wading pool is made from thick plastic, making it durable and difficult to damage (it’s even recommended for dogs!). This is the kiddie pool that my family uses, and it’s sturdier than soft inflatable options. But the large size of this pool takes considerable patience to fill up, and until the water is high enough to cover the drain plug, the sides will remain collapsed, which means impatient kids won’t be able to jump in immediately.

The cap on the drain valve snaps shut to help prevent leaks and can be connected to a hose to make fill-up go by a little faster. The bottom isn’t cushioned, so setting it up on a grassy area is ideal. Plus, it collapses into a conveniently compact square for easy storage when it’s not in use.

Bestway Fill-N-Fun Paddling Pool

Bestway Fill-N-Fun Paddling Pool

There’s no need to inflate this rigid hard-sided pool with a thick vinyl bottom. As it’s filled with water, it expands and stands up on its own once it’s ready to use. It’s best suited for ages 3 and up and can fit three kids at a time.

Monobeach Baby Beach Tent

Monobeach Baby Beach Tent

Parents of children under 3 will appreciate this beach tent that doubles as a shallow pool for babies. (Though technically this pick is made of polyester rather than hard plastic.) The attached shade offers protection from wind, sand and sun, and the base can be filled with a few inches of water to give your baby a safe place to splash without getting fully soaked. It automatically springs open when unfolded for seamless assembly, and it comes with a carrying bag that makes it easy to bring to the beach or park.

Bestway H2OGo My First Frame Aboveground Pool

Bestway H2OGo My First Frame Aboveground Pool

Rather than inflating or using hard plastic sides, this kiddie pool is built around a sturdy steel frame, making it more like an aboveground pool. It measures 48 by 48 by 12 inches and can hold up to 96 gallons of water, so there’s plenty of space for play. Plus, you don’t need to worry about it deflating overnight when it’s not being used.

Tubtrugs Flexible Tub

Tubtrugs Flexible Tub

This kiddie pool is made from rigid phthalate-free plastic and doesn’t require any inflating. Handles on either side make it especially portable. It might look like a storage bin, but fill it with water and it instantly transforms into a kiddie pool for young toddlers. It’s one of the most durable options on this list, with sides that can’t deflate, puncture or collapse inward as it’s being used. Perhaps the only downside is that it doesn’t fold up when not in use.

How to keep a kiddie pool clean

Although the CDC advises that chemicals like chlorine are necessary to sanitize in-ground pools, kiddie pools don’t have the same strict requirements. That being said, whether it’s inflatable or hard plastic, your kiddie pool needs to be cleaned daily to prevent the growth of bacteria and the spread of germs.

The CDC recommends rinsing dirt off the inside of the pool with water, then letting it air-dry. In addition, children who are sick should not be allowed in the pool. However, according to CDC guidance, it’s not safe to use bleach or other disinfectants to clean your kiddie pool. Because the amount of water in a kiddie pool is typically not precisely measured, you risk using too much bleach, which can seriously irritate the skin and eyes.

“Since these types of pools do not provide circulation and filtration of water, fresh water should be [added] each time a kiddie pool is used,” says Dr. Adam Katchmarchi, CEO of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. “Letting water sit in these types of pools can also pose a risk of the water becoming contaminated with a variety of waterborne diseases that can make kids sick.”

Kiddie pool safety

Once you pick out a kiddie pool that your family will love, there are several safety concerns when it comes to using it that you’ll want to keep in mind. While fun and play should be a priority, any time kids are around water, there is always the risk of drowning: Kids can drown in up to one inch of water, just enough to cover their nose and mouth.

Stay close enough to touch them

“The most important thing for young children to have is touch supervision,” Lee says. “This means the supervising person is close enough to the child that they can touch the child, in case the face becomes submerged underwater. It is essential that the supervising person does not get distracted or walk away. This is because toddlers can drown in shallow water even in a short period of time because [the child] won’t always realize they can pick their head up out of the water.”

Be mindful of pool toys and flotation devices

Lee adds that you might want to avoid throwing too many hard pool toys (like toy boats and plastic fish) into the water to “avoid a laceration or other injury if a child slips in the pool and lands on the toy.”

And while you may think that strapping a kid into a personal flotation device is insurance against an accident, there is absolutely no replacement for supervision.

“Even though a flotation device will provide added buoyancy for the child, many parents use these devices as a single strategy or as a babysitter in place of adult supervision,” Katchmarchi says. “This type of practice can give both children and adults a potential false sense of security. Given that there is only a small amount of water in the kiddie pool and ensuring that adults practice close, constant and capable supervision, a device to provide flotation is not needed.”

Make sure they take breaks

While most kids would prefer to play in the water until their lips turn blue, keep in mind that once you see them starting to shiver, it’s time to take a break. Maria Rezhylo, a professional swim instructor at Danswim, which provides private swim lessons to adults and kids in New York City, says kids should “avoid spending more than 30 minutes in the pool.” As long as it’s sunny enough (and you’ve coated their skin in another layer of mineral sunscreen), once they are dried off and warmed up, the adults can think about letting the kids jump back in.

When you’re finally able to convince the kids that it’s time to head inside for a bath and dinner, never leave standing water in the pool. In fact, it’s preferable that you not just empty it but collapse and store it when it’s dry. “When pool time is done, the water must be emptied because you don’t want to risk a child accidentally falling into a pool and drowning when unsupervised,” Lee says.