A gym is an abnormally damp environment where sweat creates moist conditions ideal for germs, bacteria, mould, mildew and viruses. You can’t stop the sweating (after all is the reason for a gym), you can make sure premises spotlessly clean.

Common germs found in gyms

Typical microflora found in gymnasiums can include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph) – bacterium that lives on the skin, capable of causing a range of mild to severe infections.
  • Staphylococcus saprophyticus – a bacteria that is a leading cause of urinary tract infections.
  • Salmonella – a gastrointestinal illness with symptoms including fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Influenza – an airborne virus that, when inhaled, spreads to the respiratory tract where it multiplies.
  • Rhinoviruses – viruses that cause many types of common colds and upper respiratory infections.
  • Dermatophytosis – fungal infection of the skin also known as ringworm, tinea, jock itch or athlete’s foot.

Gym hygiene regulations

There are currently no enforceable industry standards regarding gym cleanliness in Australia. Gyms have duty of care to provide a safe environment for their clients and staff, and most fitness industry associations.

For example, one of the objectives of the NSW Fitness Industry Code of Practice is ‘to set a standard of service that protects the health and well-being of the consumer’. One of the standards industry members must adhere to is to ‘ensure that all wet areas are cleaned frequently. In order to maintain a high standard of cleanliness and comply with occupational health and safety legislation.’

Hygiene tips for gym goers

Belonging to a gym is important for general health, members can take steps to prevent contracting an illness or infection:

  • Scope out any new gym before you join. Make sure it is a registered fitness facility that belongs to an industry association and have hygiene standards.
  • Cover any cuts. If you have any cuts or broken skin, cover them with a bandage before you go to the gym.
  • Take your own towel. This will help reduce your sweating and provide a barrier between your body and the equipment. You should always wash your towel between visits.
  • Wipe the equipment down. Use the wipes and surface cleaner provided by most gyms to wipe down the equipment before you use it and afterwards as a courtesy to the next user.
  • Wear thongs when showering. This will help to protect you from infections such as athlete’s foot which are often contracted in shared shower areas.
  • Shave at home. Don’t shave at the gym or immediately before going there, as this exposes your face to the risk of infection.
  • Clean your mat. If you use a yoga or fitness mat, make sure you clean it regularly. A quick wipe down is fine between uses, with a more thorough clean recommended at least once a week.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve been to the gym, particularly before eating or preparing food.
  • Separate dirty clothes. Keep your dirty gym clothes and sneakers in separate gym bag compartments or in a plastic bag.
  • Stay away when you’re sick. Don’t go to the gym if you’ve got a cold, flu, gastro or any other contagious illness to avoid spreading it to other gym patrons.

Hygiene tips for gym owners

There are a lot of gyms out there seeking to claim the same clientele, so gym owners need to promote their facilities in the most positive way they can, and ideally set themselves apart from the competition.

One way to do this is to promote the high standards of cleanliness your gym insists upon. As we have seen, good hygiene is directly linked to customer satisfaction and retention rates, so making your gym the cleanest and by definition the healthiest, is likely to pay dividends.

And there are other good reasons for maintaining a clean gym environment as well. Keeping your gym equipment clean and well maintained will prolong its overall working life, whilst keeping surfaces clean and sweat-free might just prevent a slip or fall which could have public liability consequences for your business.

So, given that there’s plenty of incentive for running a spotless gym, what’s the best (and most cost-effective) way of achieving this?

As a gym owner, you may find some of the following tips useful

  • If you’re building a new gym from the ground up or remodelling an existing building, try and incorporate elements in the design that will contribute to cleanliness and overall health.
  • Create a cleaning schedule and adhere to it strictly. Hourly cleaning tasks could include checking for rubbish, spot cleaning equipment and making sure towels and coverings are being utilised. Daily tasks might include vacuuming, wiping down and disinfecting equipment and cleaning showers, toilets and changing rooms. Weekly tasks could include checking for wear and tear in seats and coverings, checking fixtures and fittings and mopping and scrubbing floors and deep cleaning carpets.
  • Educate your staff (and particularly your cleaning staff) about the importance of ultra-cleanliness. Show them the correct way to clean and maintain gym equipment and make sure they know about and pay particular attention to hot spots where bacteria, viruses, and fungi can accumulate, such as door handles, mats and hand weights.
  • Educate your customers as well. Make it known that your gym is a clean and healthy facility and post signs requesting that patrons make use of the hand sanitiser and use the wipes provided to wipe down equipment after use.
  • Pay particular attention to showers and locker rooms in your daily cleaning schedule. This is where steam creates the damp environment that germs, mould and bacteria love. If possible, install a ventilation or dehumidifying system that will dissipate steam and keep the air relatively dry.
  • Have the right cleaning equipment. Use hospital-grade cleaners containing at least 10% bleach, but ensure they are not corrosive on metal or sprayed or wiped too close to sensitive electronic components in your gym equipment. If you have large hardwood courts and open floor spaces, consider purchasing heavy duty polishers and scrubbers to make you’re cleaning as cost-effective as possible.