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Sink or Swim? Why Do Some Poops Float, While Others Sink?

Plus, the strange case of the doodies in swimming pools.

We want your poop; our customers never disappoint.

Each and every day, our San Francisco laboratory receives sacks full of samples, obligingly collected from customers’ used toilet paper.

Of course, one small smear is all we require.

We certainly don’t expect what you might call the whole enchilada to be sent to us in the mail.

Although if we did, we guess might be forgiven for starting each morning with a rallying cry of “Doodie!!” – perhaps one of the best-loved lines in the movie Caddyshack.

In one of its most memorable scenes, a Baby Ruth candy bar is accidentally knocked into the swimming pool at the Bushwood Country Club, where anguished swimmers mistake it for a piece of floating poop, resulting in that Doodie!! exclamation.

It causes the entire pool to be drained, scrubbed, and sterilized.

Enter greenkeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) in a white decontamination suit, who locates the offending floater on the floor of the empty pool, then, to the horror of the bossy woman supervising the cleanup, picks it up, sniffs it…

And bites a chunk out of it.

It’s a great scene, and when one of us re-watched Caddyshack a couple of days ago, it got us wondering about why some poop floats, while other examples sink to the bottom of the toilet.

In general, objects float in water if they are less dense than the surrounding liquid. So wood floats, but rocks sink.

Most health experts agree that the normal place for a piece of poop is at the bottom of the bowl.

Floating poop is the exception rather than the rule, but this doesn’t mean there’s anything to get worried about when you spot a floater after you’ve done your business.

When poop bobs about on the surface of the water, it’s generally the result of something you’ve eaten.

A common cause is insoluble fibers, such as bran, or foods that can cause gas, like artificial sweeteners or starch.

Extra gas in a stool makes it lighter, a bit like a marshmallow, with the result that it floats.

A fuller list of gas-producing foods includes large amounts of sugar, lactose, starch, or fiber – which might be accounted for by beans, milk, cabbage, apples, soft drinks, or sugar-free candies.

A rarer cause of floating stools is a condition known as steatorrhea, occurring when poop contains an overabundance of fat.

This may happen if the body isn’t processing nutrients properly, a situation doctors label malabsorption.

The name “steatorrhea,” by the way, comes from the Greek words “stear” and “rhoia,” which mean “fat” and “flow” respectively.

The rarest of all floating stool situations, experts say, is that it may be a sign of gastrointestinal infection.

In general, floating poop is almost always nothing to be concerned about but, as ever in such situations, if something is worrying you, it makes sense to talk to your doctor.

In a completely different vein, we can’t let this subject go without acknowledging that floating stools aren’t necessarily confined to bathrooms.

It’s something that swimming pool operators occasionally have to deal with, rather like those responsible for the  Bushwood Country Club.

In fact, pool floaters are common enough for the CDC, no less, to have issued official recommendations for what they rather coyly describe as “fecal accidents.”

For those interested in venturing into these curious guidelines, fecal accidents divide into two categories: “formed stool,” and, uh, “diarrheal.”

So how common are such occurrences?

Well, in 1999 the CDC asked select staff (note, select, not all) around the U.S. to collect formed stool samples, using a net.

If you pardon the phrase, they “logged” around 300 incidents, which feels like a lot to us.

Standard operating procedure for pool operators is to try to remove the offending material, aiming not to break it into pieces.

This is done, of course, after making everyone leave the pool.

Diarrheal accidents are altogether messier affairs, necessitating shutting the pool for a full day, while also substantially raising the chlorine level for at least eight hours.

When it comes to pool pooping, however, there seem to be legitimate accidents, and other incidents that appear to be far more intentional.

In 2014, a British newspaper reported on what it described as a disturbing new craze known as “logging.”

Apparently this involved individuals deliberately fouling the swimming pools in holiday resorts.

This very antisocial behavior resulted in one resort, Holiday Village, in Turkey, threatening to fine offenders almost $2,000.

It also issued a letter to guests, which began, “There have been numerous instances of excrement being found in the pools lately. We understand that accidents can happen, but the frequency of this suggests that it no longer remains accidental.”

Strong words indeed.

So, just how many enforced pool closures prompted this action?

Two?

Three?

No, in a single summer the Holiday Village pool had to be closed no fewer than nine times.

 

More reading

Classic “Caddy Shack” doodie in pool

Code Brown: Hotel threatens £1,400 fines to rowdy Brits caught pooing in swimming pools

Fecal accidents in swimming pools: no big deal

Floating Stools

Revised Recommendations for Responding to Fecal Accidents in Disinfected Swimming Venues

Stools – Floating

What Causes Stool Floats?