Keeping gym facilities clean is an essential part of staying in business. Harmful bacteria and fungi can spread if you don't keep them in check, endangering your members and ruining your reputation as a safe and clean environment. In our post-pandemic world, the stakes are even higher for instituting thorough cleaning procedures. As restrictions ease and as people start returning to the gym, you'll want to make sure you have a handle on how to keep your gym clean.
We want to help you become an expert on gym cleaning standards, the best supplies and how to educate your members on participating in the effort. By the time you're done, you'll have all the tools you'll need to keep your fitness facility in top shape.
The Importance of Cleaning Your Gym
It'd be hard to find someone who wants to use dirty gym equipment. At the same time, it might also be difficult to find someone who actually cleans equipment properly after using it. It's one of those situations where everyone wants what no one is willing to work on. However, that doesn't mean gym owners should shrug their shoulders and hope for the best. Keeping a clean facility will have implications for your business's success.
According to an annual report from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), gym cleanliness was a major factor in member satisfaction and retention, as well as business revenue. Patrons that perceived their gym to be clean were more likely to recommend it to friends and family. Conversely, members that considered their gym to be unclean were not likely to recommend it. In fact, 10 percent of canceled memberships were due in part to an unclean environment. That's why educating yourself, your staff and your patrons on the risks of unhygienic habits may be just what the custodian ordered.
Common Gym Infections
Gyms are a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. While sweat doesn't carry germs or transmit viruses, heat and moisture are prime environments for growing bacteria. Frequent contact with equipment is a great way to deposit skin flora and viruses. No equipment is exempt from exposure. One 2017 investigation found that cardio equipment was the germiest, while a 2014 study found that everything in the examined gyms was covered in staph, whether it was the ellipticals, medicine balls or weight machines.
That's why infections can spread so easily. For instance, if one patron were to leave the free weights without cleaning them, the next patron will pick up whatever germs they left behind and risk infection, especially if they touch their eyes, nose or mouth afterward. These sorts of scenarios can lead to three common gym infections.
Staphylococcus and MRSA infections can be dangerous. Oftentimes, staph is already present on people, especially their skin, nose and mouth, which is how it ends up on gym equipment in the first place. However, an excess of this bacteria making its way further into the body can cause serious problems. Touching one's face and leaving open cuts and abrasions exposed can lead to any number of staph infections.
Fungi love dark, damp environments, an environment easily produced in a gym shower or locker room. The most pervasive fungal gym infections are caused by dermatophytes, which are responsible for infections such as athlete's foot, jock itch and ringworm. Sweaty shoes and clothes, along with the moisture that can accumulate in showers, make it easy for fungi to proliferate if left unchecked.
COVID-19 taught everyone just how fast viruses can spread, so it should come as no surprise that viral infections are abundant in gyms. The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that 63 percent of all gym equipment hosted rhinovirus, the virus responsible for the common cold. Respiratory viruses are transmitted via contact, droplets or aerosols, and can survive anywhere from 24 hours to seven days. The risk of non-respiratory viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes gladiatorum, which cause plantar warts and mat herpes respectively, can also live in wet environments and on gym mats.
Despite the possibility of various infections, it's important to strike a balance between prudence and paranoia. These risks are real but manageable if everyone participates in infection prevention.
Preventing Gym Infections
Everyone has a part to play when preventing gym infections from spreading. Proper cleaning techniques, personal habits and cleaning supplies are sufficient for keeping your clientele safe. Advise your patrons to follow cleanliness guidelines, including:
- Properly wiping down equipment after each use.
- Staying home when sick or after exposure to an illness.
- Practicing proper personal hygiene.
- Wearing sandals in the locker rooms and showers.
- Covering cuts and abrasions.
Your patrons are only half of the equation. Educating yourself and your staff is the other.
Understanding Cleaning, Sanitizing, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing
Before we dig into the ins and outs of proper cleaning techniques, it's important to understand the differences between these four words — cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and sterilizing. While they may seem interchangeable, there are important differences between these terms. Each provides a different standard of cleanliness according to government guidelines. Let's break them down.
Cleaning is the process of removing debris from a surface or object, whether it be dirt, dust or other substances, with soap or another detergent. Typically, cleaning removes what is visibly dirty. While cleaning does not go so far as to kill or inactivate any bacteria or viruses, it can remove the germs to dissipate any infectious spread. Cleaning is often an important precursor to the other processes. When you remove the outer grime, other products have better access to the harmful germs that may be teeming underneath.
Sanitization is a process that uses chemicals to reduce the number of bacteria on a surface or object to an amount in accordance with safety guidelines. Sanitizing, like cleaning, simply removes the germs from a surface or object without necessarily killing them. These products tend to be less abrasive and are better for day-to-day use. It's important to choose sanitation products approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Disinfection is a cleaning process that kills both viruses and bacteria on surfaces and objects using chemicals. According to the EPA's website, disinfecting products differ from sanitation productions because they have more thorough, rigorous testing requirements and must pass a higher bar than products that simply sanitize. Therefore, while a sanitation product may use a disinfecting process, a disinfectant is a more powerful product for eliminating both bacteria and viruses. Disinfecting will likely be the best process to use in your facility. It's important to choose disinfectant materials with the CDC or EPA's stamp of approval as well.
Sterilization is the most thorough form of cleaning. The process kills all microorganisms in addition to bacteria and viruses. Sterilization can be performed with chemicals, radiation or either dry or wet heat. It's commonly used in hospitals and laboratories where sterile conditions are crucial for safety or the integrity of experiments and equipment. It's unlikely that your gym will need to undergo any sterilization processes.
5 Tips for Keeping Your Gym Clean
Cleaning an entire gym is quite an undertaking. With hundreds of surfaces to disinfect, it's easy to get overwhelmed. However, we have good news. It may be a lot, but it doesn't have to be complicated. With consistency and education, your facility can stay polished and germ-free. Here are our five tips for keeping your gym clean.
1. Properly Clean Gym Equipment
You can properly clean gym equipment with a simple, five-step process:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds.
- Use proper personal protective equipment, such as gloves and a mask.
- If necessary, remove any visible dirt or debris from surfaces or objects with a cleaning solution, such as soap and water.
- Use a disinfecting spray or wipe, following package instructions. Be sure to leave the spray solution on for the appropriate amount of time before wiping it down. If using a wipe, wipe in the same direction as opposed to back and forth. Leave the solution on the surface for the allotted time as well. If necessary, use clean water to remove any residual chemicals that may cause skin irritation.
- Remove and discard any PPE and wash your hands again.
It's really that easy and effective — as long as you actually abide by these guidelines, which leads to our next tip.
2. Train Staff
The real barrier to proper cleaning is infrequency and cutting corners, such as using old rags, forgoing gloves or not waiting for disinfecting solutions to take effect. That's why it's crucial to teach your staff how to clean surfaces properly. Additionally, you'll also want to cover adequate personal hygiene, such as hand-washing, and how to put on and remove PPE correctly.
3. Establish a Cleaning Schedule
In addition to training your staff on cleaning properly, creating a cleaning schedule ensures that cleaning is done frequently. Assign different areas to different staff members or rotate cleaning between shift workers to keep the cycle going. Staff should use documentation logs to keep track of times and the conditions of any and all surfaces or objects.
Commercial Gym Cleaning Checklist
Here's a simple checklist to use as a guide for your staff:
- Entrances: Disinfect door knobs regularly, along with any communal seating and counters. Ensure entrances are unobstructed, welcome mats are straightened and vacuumed, and window glass is wiped clean.
- Floors: Dry and wet mopping floors are another important part of a clean gym, especially in rooms where patrons are lying or seated on the floor. Be sure to regularly change the water and mop when cleaning.
- Equipment: Members aren't the only ones who should be cleaning the equipment. Ensure that your staff does thoroughly wipes down gym equipment at least once if not twice a day, including all stationary equipment, free weights, mats, benches, bands, balls, rollers, ropes and anything that a patron touches. While you're at it, wiping down mirrors and reorganizing misplaced equipment is a great way to keep the gym looking neat and shiny.
- Offices and break rooms: Gym equipment isn't the only place where dust and germs can accumulate. Make sure you clean and disinfect offices and break rooms regularly, too. Emphasize regular touchpoints, especially kitchen surfaces.
- Bathrooms and locker rooms: Disinfecting bathrooms and showers requires the same steps as properly disinfecting equipment. Emphasize the importance of PPE if you use bleach or other abrasive cleaners on tiles and toilets.
Depending on your gym, you may also need to include pools, saunas, tanning beds and hot tubs on your cleaning list.
4. Educate Members
When onboarding new members, go over the basics of equipment cleaning with them. Point out where they can find cleaning supplies and demonstrate how to properly clean equipment, emphasizing the importance of letting the solution remain on a surface for the allotted time. Posting signs and reminders is another good way to keep things clean.
You can also post personal hygiene pointers in locker rooms, along with the tips we already laid out for preventing common gym infections. No one wants to use dirty equipment, so setting community expectations for cleanliness is a win for everyone!
5. Use the Right Supplies
Even with proper technique, trained staff and compliant members, you won't be able to keep infectious bacteria and viruses at bay without the proper cleaning supplies. In this next section, we'll do a deep dive into choosing the proper cleaning supplies for your gym, why it matters and how you can incorporate them into your fitness facility cleaning regimen.
Gym Cleaning Supplies
Now that you understand the four fundamental terms for cleaning and the proper way to clean your facility and equipment, it's time to take a look at the supplies you'll need to keep your gym germ-free. It's not enough to just visit the cleaning aisle at your local market. Proper gym disinfection is only as good as the products you use to get the job done, so let's look at some essential characteristics of cleaning supplies.
Choosing Disinfectant Products
Disinfecting your facility and equipment starts with using a CDC- or EPA-approved commercial cleaner. The most common products are either sprays or ready-to-use wipes. These organizations recommend using a low-level or intermediate-level disinfectant containing 70% to 90% isopropyl alcohol. Here are their definitions, according to the CDC glossary:
- Low-level disinfectant: "Agent that destroys all vegetative bacteria (except tubercle bacilli), lipid viruses, some nonlipid viruses, and some fungi, but not bacterial spores."
- Intermediate-level disinfectant: "Agent that destroys all vegetative bacteria, including tubercle bacilli, lipid and some nonlipid viruses, and fungi, but not bacterial spores."
Additional CDC qualifications for disinfectants include:
- Broad-spectrum: It should be able to eliminate most forms of bacteria and viruses (think of the "kills 99.999 percent of germs" distinction).
- Nontoxic: It should not be harmful to the user or other persons.
- Water-soluble: It should be soluble in water.
- Fast-acting: It should kill or inactivate bacteria and viruses rapidly.
- Non-corrosive: It should not be corrosive to metal or cause damage to cloth, rubber, plastics, and other materials.
Following these guidelines are a great way to ensure that the products you choose are on par with government-grade cleanliness.
Disinfecting Spray vs. Wipes
While disinfecting products come in many forms, sprays and wipes are the most common in gyms. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each and which is best for your facility.
Sprays are contained in bottles with lever-equipped nozzles that allow the user to spray and cover a surface in a disinfecting solution. The solvent needs to sit on a surface for an allotted amount of time to kill or inactivate bacteria and viruses before the user wipes it away with a towel or rag. The product's packaging will tell you how long you should leave the solution on a surface before removing it.
Sprays are easy to use and contain enough chemicals to use on many surfaces. This versatility can make spray products great options for gyms, which is why many facilities use them.
However, there are two barriers that prevent sprays from doing the best job. The first is user error. Often, users will spray the solution and immediately wipe it away, preventing the solution from killing anything at all. The second is recontamination. Even if the chemical has sat for the appropriate amount of time, using a dirty rag to wipe a surface clean makes that decontamination process moot.
A wipe is a disposable towelette that comes pre-soaked in a container filled with a disinfecting solution. Users remove an individual towelette from a container, wipe down a surface or object and then discard the wipe after use.
This form of cleaning is convenient and simple, especially for one-time use on surfaces. Rather than bringing a spray bottle and a suitable amount of paper towels to a piece of equipment, members can simply take one or two rags, wipe down the equipment and throw away the towelettes after. There's no need to wipe the moisture away after since most solutions should remain on the surface for 30 seconds to 4 minutes, allowing them to do their work.
Wipes are effective and have few substantial barriers. However, if users attempt to clean too many surfaces with a single wipe, the solution becomes less and less potent. Despite this concern, most people will notice the moisture leaving a wipe and replace it when necessary. Storing wipes improperly can result in the solution drying out, rendering them useless. You can ensure the wipes' container lid is closed or purchase specially designed wipe dispensers to mitigate these potential risks.
Which One Is Best?
When looking at the differences between wipes and sprays, both offer the disinfecting power necessary to keep your gym clean. However, when researchers compared disinfectant sprays versus wipes, they found that wipes disinfected the best. Here are some additional considerations that make the wipes the better option for gym disinfection:
- Electronics: While sprays can harm electronic equipment, wipes can disinfect surfaces without dripping liquids on wires and circuits.
- Rounded surfaces: Sprays are great for expansive, flat surfaces, but they may not do as well around rounded bars, knobs and handles (common shapes on gym equipment). A wipe can apply even amounts of solution along these curvatures with ease.
- Cross-contamination: When everyone uses the same spray, the bottle could end up harboring more germs than the equipment! Using individualized wipes keeps things contact-less for your patrons.
If your gym is already equipped with spray, you can still use up those products to effectively clean your facility. Just remind patrons and staff how to use them properly and consider transitioning to wipes as you run out of spray materials over time. If you're ready to stock up on disinfectant wipes, then we have just what you're looking for.
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