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The Dirtiest Spots In Your Gym

By Alex James

Its well known that germs always have a party where there are a lot of people. An environment where there are a lot of people who get hot and sweaty together is a germ’s paradise. For example, one study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found rhinoviruses, a virus that causes the common cold, on 63% of all gym equipment covered in its study.

Since you can’t punch germs away, you need to consider strategies to prevent exposure or reduce the likelihood of infection. So the next time you hit the gym, bring your own towel, flip-flops, water bottle and disinfectant, and make sure to cover any open cuts or sores with Band-Aids.

If you’re feeling sick and want to “sweat out” your fever, be considerate to others and sweat it out at home where you won’t risk infecting others, even if you don’t think you’re contagious.

There's no need to become a full-on paranoid germaphobe, but you'd be wise to take precautions after you read our list below.


Spinning Bikes
Although most people wipe down their cardio equipment after they sweat all over it, there’s something extra on spinning bikes that you need to careful of. The handlebars and seats are usually made from a soft foamy material that can contain a slew of germs ranging from staph to E. coli. One study found staph, fungi and yeast on spinning bike seats, giving us one more reason not to work out in a thong. Make sure to thoroughly wipe down the seat and handlebars before and after use. When we say "thoroughly," we mean, take a tissue, pour on some alcohol gel and apply it liberally to the seat and handlebars. Let the alcohol air dry for a few minutes since germs are destroyed when alcohol dries and evaporates. Use this time to wipe down the other parts of the machine you usually touch, as well as your hands.

The Pool
Hello, staph infection! Although most pools use chlorine to disinfect the water, the majority of pool-related diarrhea outbreaks are caused by cryptosporidium, a bug that is spread by fecal matter (it definitely happens) and is resistant to chlorine. Other bacteria, like pseudomonas, are also found in dirty pools and can cause eye and ear infections. Make sure to wear goggles and a swim cap or earplugs when you jump in. And before you put on your nose plug, take a good whiff of the water. Chlorine gives off its distinctive smell whenever it reacts with microorganisms, so the more the pool smells like chlorine, the dirtier it is. And ask around for information on the pH testing and pool cleaning, which should be done throughout the day.

Aerobics Class
Zumba, aerobics and any other fitness class that has a large crowd can increase the risk of spreading germs. Respiratory infections caused by influenza are a perfect example since it is spread through large droplets released during heavy breathing. If you hear anyone coughing, better be safe and run to the other side of the room. You can give them a look of disgust if you wish, but this has never proven to be an effective method of prevention. Instead, use soap and water to wash your hands or alcohol-based hand gels to avoid catching anything.

Your Gym Bag
Generally speaking, most of your stuff contains your own germs and are therefore harmless to you. But your gym bag can be a risky place for your health aside from your stinky sweaty socks. Every time you place your bag on the floor, on a bench, or in a locker, it picks up organisms like Salmonella, E.coli and pseudomonas that can cause skin and eye infections. Germs can also be transferred from your water bottle, wet flip-flops and bathing suit. Choose a gym bag made from vinyl or plastic since these are harder surfaces for bacteria to grow on. Stash your germ-y, sweaty clothes and shoes in a plastic bag to separate them from your clean clothes until you get a chance to wash them. If you’re carrying food in your bag, make sure you don’t leave the wrappers or fruit skins/cores in there. At home, shake your bag upside down to make sure all the crumbs are gone, and wipe down the inside and outside with disinfectant wipes.

Soap And Shampoo Dispensers
Who knew? Soap is an obvious antimicrobial agent, but the container it’s stored in can also harbor harmful germs. Some bacteria can form a thin layer on top of the alcohol in the dispenser, and when this seeps out from the spout, the alcohol evaporates and allows the germs to concentrate and multiply. The worst of these are members of the genus pseudomonas, bacteria that can attack any part of the body. This usually isn’t a concern for people with a healthy immune system, but if you want to be careful, use a paper towel to touch the dispenser instead of your hands. If your gym has showers with shampoo and conditioner dispensers in them, use a clean washcloth to push the button. Or better yet, bring your own shampoo.

The Locker Room And Showers
The hot, humid and sweaty locker room is the perfect incubator for staph, strep, and even the superbug MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which can cause a very aggressive and difficult-to-treat skin infection. This bacterium is spread through close contact with other people, so make sure to keep your hands (and other body parts) to yourself. The locker room floor is a good place to catch athlete’s foot, ringworm and warts, and sometimes guys walk in from outside with their shoes and track in dirt and fecal matter (it happens) containing germs that cause stomach flu and hepatitis A. So make sure to wear a pair of flip-flops around the locker room and showers. And avoid sitting down on benches with your naked bum. Traces of vaginal yeast have been detected there ladies and trans folk, and can put you at risk for an infection. Sit on a towel instead.

Exercise Mats
Mats used for fitness classes, stretching, or yoga can be teeming with Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of staph infections. Not everyone wipes them down properly, so make sure to give them a good cleaning with a bleach-based wipe or a 60% alcohol disinfectant spray before and after your training session. Better yet, bring your own mat. If you use the gym’s mats, bring your own towel and mark on ‘X’ on one side to indicate the dirty side, and lay it on the mat.

Weight Machines And Free Weights
Equipment that is used in quick succession, like cardio machines and free weights, are usually the hardest to get clean. Most people wipe down cardio machines after they use them, but hardly anyone wipes down their free weights or weight machines. Cold and flu germs tend to stick around longer on hard surfaces than fabric and rugs. Wipe down equipment with disinfectant before and after you use it, or rub your hands with antibacterial gel before and after your workout. Also, be aware of how many times you touch your face. People touch their faces up to 18 times per hour, which increases their risk of picking something up.

The Water Fountain
One study found more bacteria on the drinking fountain than on the toilets; not only around the spout, but also on the button or bar to turn it on. Stop touching the metal with your mouth and use a bottle. And when you buy your bottle, make sure it’s a good quality one. Every time you take a sip, bacteria moves from the rim to the bottom of the bottle where they reproduce super fast. If you don’t wash your bottle daily, it’ll only take a few days for your water to turn into the same stuff you’d drink from a public swimming pool. Choose wide-mouthed bottles with a screw cap instead of one with a pull-up spout or a built-in straw. Those tough-to-clean gizmos are a germ disco.

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