By Phillip Bird
“This happened to me”
Like many Americans, I often spend time at a public gym. In between sets, when I’m not
on my phone, I typically engage in a small amount of people watching. As health has become
ever more prevalent in the news, I began to focus on people’s sanitation habits. I watched as
people finished their exercises and no longer needed their gym equipment. Many wiped down
their benches and the handles on machines; however, I noticed only seldom did individuals wipe
down their barbells, weight plates, and dumbbells. It appeared to me as though people wanted to
look like they cared about sanitation but then never actually cleaned the areas of equipment that
received the most contact. I was shocked to see the similarities in my own behavior. I decided
from then on that I would be thorough and not simply wipe my equipment down to look like I
was doing the right thing.
“My story is not unique, here’s the problem”
Unfortunately for everyone that uses a public gym, my story is nothing out of the
ordinary. Germs are more common in the gym space than people think. A study commissioned
by Fit Rated (2021) revealed that free weights can contain 362 times more germs than a toilet
seat. According to Elba & Ivy (2018), roughly a third of people actually thoroughly clean their
gym equipment after use. A survey by Healthline found that 35% of men admitted to not wiping
down gym equipment after use (Cassata 2019). Additionally, roughly half of gym goers observed
bathroom users not washing their hands. Unclean equipment places avid gym goers and athletes
at risk for infection or illness.
Many harmful germs and bacteria reside in unclean gym environments. According to
Healthline, staph bacteria and MRSA can be found on free weights, machines, benches, and
other gym equipment. Fungal infections such as athletes’ food and jack itch can also be found in
gyms. Additionally, viruses like herpes and HPV can be found on benches or the ground.
Walking round barefoot or having open wounds can increase the spread of these diseases. The
common cold and flu are also often spread in gyms as many people are in close contact and
touching the same equipment.
“Here is a non-profit working to solve the problem”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is a private non-profit organization that is
responsible for monitoring, researching, and improving public health. They fight infectious
diseases and work closely with the government. The CDC has set guidelines out for disinfection
and cleaning. The CDC recommends using EPA approved cleaning products on high traffic
areas, in this case gym equipment. Hand washing is recommended to be for 20 seconds at a
minimum. Sanitizing gym equipment is important to reducing the spread of diseases that can
remain on a surface for extended periods of time.
“Here’s what you (the reader) can do to help, right now!”
Fortunately, this is a problem you can help solve with your next gym visit. Washing your
hands for at least 20 seconds, wiping down your gym equipment before and after use, placing a
towel between you and a bench, wearing shoes, and staying home when sick are just a few easy
ways to make a difference. Gyms should be a place to improve personal health, not put oneself at
risk. Do your part to make your gym a safer place and exercise proper sanitation habits.
Examining gym cleanliness. FitRated. (2021, August 21). Retrieved October 2, 2022, from
Elba, I., & Ivy, J. W. (2018, February 26). Increasing the post-use cleaning of gym equipment
using prompts and increased access to cleaning materials. Behavior analysis in practice.
Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6269393/
Cassata, C. (2019, December 29). Germs at the gym: How to work out without worry. Healthline.
Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/poor-gym-
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Cleaning and disinfecting your facility.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from
What do you think?