Wipe Away Germs

Jessica joined a Chicago gym right after Christmas 2009. She had gained a few pounds over the holidays and was determined to shed them quickly. She decided joining the gym, along with eating properly, was the way to do it.

Every day at 7 a.m., she ran on the treadmill for about 20 minutes then rode the stationary bike for another 20 minutes. She finished up with free weights. With time, the weight was gone, and Jessica was so impressed with her body and the way she felt about herself that going to the gym every morning became like breathing.

Another part of her routine was cleaning any piece of gym equipment before using it--and very often after as well--with a disinfectant wipe provided by the facility.

Having cleaning or disinfecting wipes readily available for gym members or in a park and recreation facility is not a reflection of inferior cleaning and maintenance of the facility.

“Gyms are like any environment that caters to many people,” says Paul LeBlanc, president of Zogics, a manufacturer of gym wipes and other cleaning and disinfecting products. “There are going to be germs, and these germs can spread from one person to another.”

In fact, because gym users tend to perspire when working out, there is an even greater possibility that germs can spread. Perspiration, which is warm and moist, is a perfect breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

According to a recent paper on skin disease published by the National Athletic Trainers Association and reported on CBS Network’s The Early Show (Aug. 7, 2010), “It is imperative that gym users wipe down machines and mats if they want to guard against infection.”

As for exercise machines, the report indicated, “There are usually a lot of resident bacteria [on these machines, and] studies show that this is the germiest place in the gym.”

Know "What” You Are Working Out With

One of the greatest germ concerns in these facilities is Streptococcus. It can cause skin infections and can result in strep throat, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever and even pneumonia.

Staphylococcus, which often tags along with Streptococcus, can cause folliculitis, which occurs when hair follicles become infected. Folliculitis can spread across the body and may also cause staph infections on the skin.

According to Dr. Kavita Mariwala, a New York City dermatologist who was interviewed on The Early Show, some of the other germs left behind on gym equipment that can also lead to illness include:

• Influenza, which can also cause ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia

• Flu and cold viruses, often located on the handlebars of machines after infected users sneeze or cough

• E. coli, which has been known to lurk on the black foam coatings on handlebars

• Rhinoviruses, sometimes called the “guiltiest” viruses, because they are so common and can cause colds as well as throat infections.

When you realize all the potential health risks in a gym, it almost makes you wonder why people would want to be in one. Fortunately, the use of wipes, either by gym users or staff, is often all it takes to eliminate these health risks.

Understanding Wipes

The effectiveness and use of wipes has spread far and wide for gym goers, park and recreation facility users and the average consumer. According to the market research firm The Freedonia Group, wipes have been averaging a 7-percent annual growth rate since 2007, and this is expected to continue through 2014. Further, the group reports this growth rate is nearly double that of other types of cleaning products.

For gym as well as park and recreation facility managers, there are essentially two types of wipes to consider. The first type, according to LeBlanc, is pre-treated or pre-moistened.

These wipes, which can be used to clean workout machines, mats, counter tops, restroom fixtures and other surfaces, are moistened with a cleaning agent along with antibacterial disinfectants in order to eradicate many of the germs noted above.

“Some are available with no phenol, bleach, citrus or alcohol, making them safer for the user and the environment,” LeBlanc says.

Another option, which is relatively new, is dry wipes.

“They are made of a very durable, commercial-grade fiber but are not moistened with chemicals, antibacterial disinfectants or other chemicals,” says Matt Morrison, marketing communications manager for Kaivac Cleaning Systems Inc. “Managers often select this type of wipe especially for cleaning surfaces and equipment in gym and recreation locations because they tend to be very cost-effective and because of their versatility.”

By versatility, Morrison means that the dry wipe can be used for regular dusting “or whenever or wherever a cleaning chemical is unnecessary. But it also allows managers or users [the ability] to apply exactly the type of chemical or disinfectant they want on the wipe. This is especially handy now because so many facilities only want Green cleaning chemicals used in their locations.”

Make Them Handy

Whichever type of wiping system is selected, gym and park and recreation managers are encouraged to make them handy. Having a ready supply of pre-moistened wipes in a gym encourages users to take advantage of their health-protecting benefits. And when it comes to actually cleaning and maintaining the gym/recreational facility, some dry-wipe systems come with a belt holster.

“This way cleaning professionals can grab them whenever they need them and quickly clean high-touch points, gym equipment and anywhere they are needed throughout the facility,” Morrison says.

Robert Kravitz is a writer for the professional cleaning, building, hospitality and recreational industries. He can be reached via e-mail at rkravitz@rcn.com


Stop The Spread Of Gym Germs

1. Use wipes to clean equipment and workout areas before and after use.

2. Encourage patrons to wear flip-flops when taking showers and walking in locker rooms to prevent contacting germs on the floors.

3. Wash hands frequently and after workouts.

4. Use clean towels and do not share towels.

5. Encourage attendees to bring their own yoga mats.

6. Avoid touching eyes or mouth during a workout.

7. Bring your own water bottle to the gym to avoid germs at the fountain.

8. Cover any skin abrasions or cuts before using the gym.

9. Bring your own sanitizer in case wipes are not available.

10. Tell management if something looks “germy” or potentially unhealthy on a machine or surface.