The 3 Best Inflatable Kiddie Pools 2022

A plastic inflatable pool brimming with ice-cold hose water is as synonymous with summer as the jingle of the ice cream truck and the smoky smell of burgers on the grill. Inexpensive, easy to set up, and even easier to pull down, kiddie pools offer a respite from the heat and provide hours of outdoor entertainment. They’re the pinnacle of summer fun in the sun, a no-brainer for anyone looking for a way to keep cool at home.

Until, of course, you realize that they can be kind of gross.

Inflatable kiddie pools can pose health risks. If improperly maintained, they can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria. Because disinfectants aren’t added to the water, bacterial infections (like the kind that cause vomiting and diarrhea) spread easily and quickly. And after a summer of frequent use, cheap inflatable pools become slimy, grimy heaps of plastic headed straight for the landfill—because vinyl, the type of material most kiddie pools are made from, is hard to recycle.

This doesn’t mean you have to scrap your kiddie pool plans, though. As long as it’s properly and carefully maintained, a temporary backyard blow-up pool can be the refreshing escape you and your children are seeking this summer. If you plan on investing in a nonpermanent swimming solution, we’ve gathered the information you need to keep it clean and safe for your kids—and how to get rid of the pool in an environmentally friendly way, once it’s done the job it set out to do.

What exactly is a kiddie pool?

Plastic inflatable pools come in all shapes and sizes, from super-tiny setups with barely enough room for two toddlers to enormous, semi-permanent pools that require a filter, chemicals, a large patch of flat land for setup, and ample storage space for the off-season. For this piece, we’re focusing specifically on smaller portable pools that hold up to 170 gallons or less because they’re typically cheaper, smaller, and easier to maintain than their behemoth counterparts.

Most inflatable plastic kiddie pools are made of polyvinyl chloride, commonly referred to as PVC or vinyl, which can be really difficult to recycle. And because most portable pools don’t last beyond the summer (whether that’s because of rips and tears or just general grunginess), they often get chucked into the garbage.

If you’d like to steer clear of vinyl kiddie pools altogether, a pool made of hard plastic is a good alternative. Because they’re not inflatable, durable plastic pools will last longer than their flimsier counterparts. With the right maintenance, they can last a few summers before they need to be replaced.

“Inflatable pools quickly end up in the landfill, at least the kiddie kind,” says senior editor Kalee Thompson. “The advice I’d give? Go to your local hardware store and pay $20 for the hard plastic one with fish on it.”

Don’t be afraid to think outside the, er, pool, either. “The best pool we’ve ever used is the Little Tikes Turtle Sandbox that I fill with water from the hose,” says senior editor Jen Hunter. “It’s not inflatable, but that’s why it’s good—it’s super-sturdy, no popping, and fits a child under 6 years old or so.”

Hard plastic pools (or repurposed sandboxes) are typically cheaper than inflatable options, and they require less setup—no hand pumps, blowers, or excessive lung power required. But they’re fairly bare-bones. With limited color, design, and capacity options, rigid pools are basic basins that’ll work in a pinch, but they likely won’t offer the type of fun many inflatable pools can deliver. Inflatables come in all different shapes and sizes, some with higher sides and varying depths, others with attached slides or built-in seats. With a hard plastic pool, you’ll also need the space to store it during the off-season, so this might not be the right option for every family.

Keeping it clean keeps it safe

Kiddie pools can morph from a fun summer escape to a slimy germ pit frighteningly fast. Unlike a traditional swimming pool, a small inflatable pool doesn’t have the benefit of chemically treated water or a pump filter that clears debris and keeps the water circulating. Letting that water sit stagnant for days can attract mosquitoes, as well as encourage algae and bacteria growth—all of which you probably don’t want around your children.

The best way to keep your kiddie pool clean is to empty it at the end of every swim session. Heather Murphy, PhD, director of the Water, Health and Applied Microbiology Lab at Temple University, recommends thoroughly disinfecting the pool before leaving it to dry.

“I would recommend cleaning with soap and water first to wash off any film, then spray with a chlorine disinfectant,” she said. “Let it sit for the suggested inactivation time on the cleaning product [before rinsing out the pool]—it’s often at least one minute. In order for the chlorine product to work and disinfect, the surface first needs to be as clean as possible.”

Senior staff writer Nancy Redd’s kids play in a Little Tikes Slam ’n Curve Slide, which remains inflated by the continuous airflow provided by a heavy-duty blower. She has developed her own sanitizing method for her large and unwieldy kiddie pool and slide. “To prevent mold and mildew buildup between uses, turn the blower off and deflate the pool to drain the water out,” she said. “Then reinflate the pool, and let it dry out for an hour or two before deflating it again and packing it away.”

It’s important to keep your kids out of the pool if they’re feeling under the weather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the germs that cause diarrhea or vomiting (which include Cryptosporidium, norovirus, Shigella, and E. coli) spread easily in untreated water. (According to the CDC, germ-killing pool disinfectants like chlorine and bromine are unsafe for kiddie pool use because it can be hard to gauge how much disinfectant should be added as water sloshes from the pool throughout the day.)

Dumping the water from your pool each day can also help mitigate any potentially disastrous accidents. The CDC mentions that some state or local laws in your area may require fences or barriers around inflatable and plastic kiddie pools and slides. And the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you either fence, cover, or empty your portable pool (PDF) to ensure your child’s safety.

Inflatable pools we like

Wirecutter doesn’t formally test or recommend portable kiddie pools, but that doesn’t mean our staffers don’t like to splash around with their kids during their off-hours. These are the pools they have in their backyards (and the ways they keep them in good shape for the summer).

A durable, spacious, good-enough pool

Two adults and two children enjoying the Play Day 120 Deluxe Family Pool.
Photo: Play Day

Play Day 120 Deluxe Family Pool ($42 at the time of publication)

I know inflatable pools are poorly made, get gross quickly, and will likely end up in the trash by summer’s end. We’ve still bought one nearly every summer since we had kids. I don’t feel great about it—there is a real guilt that goes along with wadding up a giant ball of slimy plastic and shoving it in a garbage can come September. But we’ve made peace with the fact that it’s worth it to us for the fun our kids have from April through August. Last spring, we bought this “deluxe” (ha, nope) inflatable pool. It was relatively durable, spacious, and easy to inflate and empty. Our children, then 4 and 2, spent dozens upon dozens of hours squealing and splashing in it. We still had to toss it come fall. Would I recommend this particular pool? Meh. It’s really no better or worse than others we’ve owned. My advice for an inflatable pool goes something like this: If you want a relatively cheap way for your kids to splash around and cool off in your yard during the summer, an inflatable pool will do the job. But lower your expectations. This is not a buy-it-for-life situation. Find the cheapest option that will serve your purposes, and be ready to call it a win if it survives the summer. If that sounds wasteful and otiose, an inflatable pool probably isn’t for you.

—Ben Frumin, editor-in-chief

An easily assembled pool and water slide

The Little Tikes Slam 'n Curve Slide, shown set up in a yard with five children playing and one adult supervising.
Photo: Little Tikes

Little Tikes Slam ’n Curve Slide ($444 at the time of publication)

If you have both the space and a kid (or kids) between the ages of 2 and 10, this Little Tikes Slam ’n Curve Slide is a satisfying and safe investment. We tried a couple of other smaller, underwhelming inflatable pool water slides and bouncy houses before finally going for this behemoth, and we’re glad we finally caved. My kids are obsessed with it, and we pull it out at least once a week. It is surprisingly easy to assemble and disassemble—one parent can do it all alone, though the draining of the pool area is certainly easier with two sets of hands. We inflate the slide atop two extra-large, heavy-duty tarps to protect the slide from punctures and the grass from getting waterlogged.

—Nancy Redd, senior staff writer

Small, affordable, and easy to empty

The Intex Kiddie Pool, an easy to fill and store inflatable pool.
Photo: Intex

Intex Kiddie Pool (about $19 at the time of publication)

While visiting my mom last summer, we bought this Intex Kiddie Pool. Because it’s relatively small, it’s easy to empty—which is a daily necessity in the summer where my mom lives. In her neighborhood, wild raccoons run rampant, and these playful jerks love nothing more than popping blow-up pools and yard toys. We usually fill the Intex in the morning, so the sun can warm up the pool water by afternoon. The girls get in a few hours of play. Then we empty the pool—watering the yard and garden—before tucking it into the garage, safe from raccoon destruction. Emptying the pool nightly also saves us from the inevitable accumulation of sludge that can form in a kiddie pool overnight.

—Christine Cyr Clisset, deputy editor

Can’t reuse? Recycle

By summer’s end, your kiddie pool may be looking a little worse for wear. Consider why you’re tossing your pool. Is it because it’s gotten grimy after a summer of splashing around? Try deep-cleaning it with soapy water first, followed by a disinfectant spray. Let it dry completely before you assess whether it should stay or go. If you’re battling leaks and rips, ask yourself whether they’re repairable. Vinyl patch kits are inexpensive and fairly easy to use, and they can breathe new life into a pool that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. Be sure to choose a kit that uses vinyl patches and comes with a vinyl glue that works underwater. And, though not essential, patches with a rounded edge will reduce the chance of peeling and help keep everything airtight.

But sometimes no amount of soap or DIY repairs can save a kiddie pool. Unfortunately, not all plastic is easily recyclable. If you check the bottom of your kiddie pool, you’ll likely see a recycling symbol in the shape of a triangle with a 3 inside. That’s the resin identification code, which denotes the kind of plastic the item is made from. According to The New York Times, No. 3 plastics are particularly bad because of their chemical composition, which “can contaminate large batches of plastics in the recycling system that would otherwise be acceptable.” This is why vinyl is so difficult to recycle: You can’t just toss it into the recycling bin as you would most other plastic waste.

Instead, you’ll need to ask your local waste management center if its recycling facility accepts PVC materials; if it does, you may need to drop the pool off at a collection center yourself. The Vinyl Institute, a US trade organization that represents vinyl manufacturers, has a Recycling Directory on its site; this includes an interactive map of all the PVC/vinyl recyclers in the country.

Vinyl kiddie pools can also be repurposed by adventurous DIYers. Many crafty bloggers have shared ideas of all the things a plastic pool can be turned into—some creative projects crowdsourced on Recycle This include using panels of the vinyl to repair other inflatables, like pool toys, air mattresses, and bike tires. If you’re not the arts-and-crafts type, you can send your inflatable pool over to Wyatt & Jack, a UK-based company that creates bags and accessories from salvaged bouncy castles, deck-chair canvas, and plastic inflatables.