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Fitness clubs face ongoing hygiene battle

Fitness clubs face ongoing hygiene battle
February 23, 2016

As one of the sweatiest places a person willingly spends time in, gyms and fitness clubs have to battle to maintain hygiene standards.

A 2013 study by University of California Irvine found that even after being sanitised twice a day, germs in gyms can survive on hard surfaces for 72 hours.

According to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association, research has found that gym equipment regularly carries germs like E. coli, Candida and Staphylococcus and skin diseases like human papillomavirus. For places created for people to get healthier, all those germs and diseases don't sound very healthy.

Unclean gyms can also put off current and potential customers.

A survey by Cintas Corporation, reported on by Australasian Leisure Management last year, found that the top cleaning issues that deterred people from using gyms included lack of cleaning products to wipe down equipment, dusty surfaces, dirty changing rooms and unpleasant smells.

Germ-infested items and areas in fitness clubs include:

• Cardio equipment
• Showers and locker rooms
• Weight changing levers
• Sports/activity equipment
• Exercise/stretching mats
• Free weights
• Water fountains
• Entertainment devices
• To improve hygiene and reduce germ levels gyms need to:

Establish a cleaning schedule
To keep germ levels as low as possible, regular and repetitive cleaning is required. Paul Conway and Sarah Bolitho’s The Complete Guide to Fitness Facility Management, published in 2014, recommends that staff wipe down equipment with disinfectant spray at regular intervals during the day, and add in extra cleaning times after peak times of use. 

Mats should be wiped down throughout the day, and left to dry in a ventilated room separate from the gym area, and mirrors should also be cleaned daily. 

Once a week, facilities need a complete antibacterial clean, including door handles, reception desk areas, stair banisters and rails and other high-use fixtures. 

IDEA also recommended that changing rooms are regularly power-washed, since warm temperatures and moisture from showers creates a breeding ground for bacteria. As for sweaty towels, use hot water and bleach to clean them and dry them on the highest temperature setting.

Clean comprehensively
However, it's not enough to just wipe down the front of a machine and call it a day. Cutting corners when cleaning equipment means germs can continue to grow. The Complete Guide provided recommended cleaning methods for each main type of gym equipment:

Resistance machines: Wipe all upholstery and any sweat marks on the frame, then dust all areas.
Free weights: Wipe handles with antibacterial cleaner.
Cardiovascular machines: Wipe sweat marks on the consoles, bases, outer casings, upholstery and handrails and safety bars. Dust the sides of treadmills.

IDEA noted that while many gym managers and staff are diligent about cleaning large equipment, smaller equipment also falls by the wayside. Make sure that any and all equipment is regularly inspected and cleaned.

Help customers fight germs
Reducing germs is a group effort, so make it easier for customers to keep equipment and facilities clean. Install hands-free antibacterial hand gel dispensers throughout the facility, with extra dispensers located around the gym equipment and locker rooms. Install disinfectant wipe dispensers near equipment and next to signs that encourage customers to clean the equipment after they're done using it. Additionally, The Complete Guide also advised patrons from using facilities when they are sick and for a full 24 hours after diarrhoea or vomiting.

IDEA advised that managers post signs that remind patrons to regularly wash hands, always wear shoes or sandals in the changing room and shower and refrain from sharing towels. 

Also post advice by pools, spas and saunas that discourage users from jumping in if they have open scrapes or cuts.

Choose the right disinfectant
Not all disinfectants and antibacterial sprays have the same effect and work across the board. 

Many sprays today are made with quaternary ammonium compounds, which are targeted germ fighters. There are disinfectants made with other chemicals as well, some containing substances that are considered more eco-friendly, like phenol- and alcohol-based cleaners and citrus oils. 

However, these two eco-friendly products, among others, can damage and corrode equipment so it's important that gym facility mangers and cleaning staff research and understand the ingredients in their cleaning products to make the safest and most effective choice for their facilities. 

In conclusion, clubs need to step up germ-fighting by establishing a comprehensive cleaning plan, involving customers in germ prevention and choosing the right cleaning products.

The Complete Guide to Fitness Facility Management is published by Bloomsbury. Click here for more information.

Images used for illustrative purposes only.

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