During my run at the gym today, I couldn’t help but notice the poor sanitation system our school acquired for cleaning the machines at the gym. I watched as students quickly walked over to the cleaning station, squirted the spray bottle once onto an already sweat-soaked rag, and quickly and carelessly wiped down their machine. After seeing that, I couldn’t help but wonder what germs were left on my machine – and if any had been actually killed at all.
I know we learned from class that germs like to live in damp, dark places, so I knew that the damp navy blue towels had to be crawling with germs. But what kind of germs? And does the disinfecting spray that we use actually kill all the germs found on the machines?
Time to do some research.
Although our gym doesn’t list what is in the spray bottles, I’m assuming that it contains some sort of ammonia mixture or some other common disinfectant (by the smell of it, I knew it couldn’t be bleach, and it smells like regular household cleaner). So, since I couldn’t find any information on what our gyms actually use, for the sake of argument, I’m going to write this blog as if the cleaner contains some amount of ammonia, like most do.
According to this website, ammonia works by taking a proton from water (H2o), and leaving the hydroxyl ion in water so only OH- is left. Since they each have a positive and negative charge, they attract each other, creating a base that can react with oils and fats. This base then can remove the oils and fats when used as a cleaning agent with a towel. Thus, since I know our sweat consists of generous amounts of oil, it’s successful in cleaning most of it up.
So, now that we know how ammonia works, I wanted to see what it actually is working to kill. I found a source that lists the most common germs found at the gym, including staphylococcus, E. coli, yeast, and fungi.
I think most of us are familiar with staphylococcus, commonly known as a “Staph infection.” Since most of us are familiar with this form of bacteria, I researched it in greater depth. According to the University of Chicago Medical Center, the Staph bacteria is carried in 25-30% of healthy people (just the harmless bacteria, before it causes an infection), and it is one of the most prevalent skin infections we can have. Staph can be attained by using mats that have been used by other people, using showers without shower shoes, or by touching your nose, eyes, or mouth after touching an unclean piece of equipment.
Out of the sources we have looked at so far, it is recommend that using bleach is the best way to kill the staph infection, and using sanitizers (such as the one we have at our gym), only will reduce the number of germs, not get rid of them entirely.
However, I wouldn’t fret too much. Although the towel method is inefficient (since we are basically wiping a machine with a dirty rag), you can still prevent getting sick. Staph Infections usually only occur if you have an open wound, or if you are constantly touching your eyes and nose while you’re working out.
My recommendations for you, so you don’t obtain Staph or other germs found in our gym, is to take a shower as soon as you are done working out, limit the amount of time you are touching your face, and, in order for the sanitizer to be most effective, try cleaning your machine before you work out and make sure you allow it to completely air dry before you begin your workout.