Dangers at the Gym

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?


An image of Staph bacteria

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.

Ammonia you could buy in the store

Ammonia you could buy in the store

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.

Gotta catch 'em all (the germs)

Gotta catch ’em all (the germs)

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.


5 thoughts on “Dangers at the Gym

  1. Brandon Ross Armitt

    This topic is definitely a topic that needs to be addressed, especially here at Penn State where you see a lot of the students fall victim to sickness at one point during the year. Personally entering the gym, I expect to come out feeling better about myself, and don’t get me wrong I do, but not as good as I would expect to be. There is going to be no way to control the people that are entering the gym to check to see if there actually are sick or not. This will definitely cause an issue because everyone in that gym is sharing approximately 4-5 towels, and its almost guaranteed that one person is going to be sick. So these germs are going to be easily spread around, with no one knowing what is actually going on. There needs to be some type of initiative to stop this because it will only continue to get worse and worse. Back home at my personal gym, everyone was giving a towel when the walked in to use throughout there visit. Part of the responsibility of using this towel was to clean of the machines after working out, hoping to keep the gym a safer place. A policy like this needs to be implemented at Penn State, because a something as simple as lending a towel to everyone could dramatically increase the sanitation of the gym.

    Attached is a link that discusses some of the research behind sanitation in gyms and simple ways to prevent them : http://healthnews.uc.edu/publications/findings/?/7284/7306/

  2. Michael A Lupo

    Although people normally hit the gym to maintain a healthy lifestyle, due to the sanitation described in your post, it seems they could leave unhealthier then the way they arrived. I always notice this problem with the rags at the gym. Some people will give the machine a quick once over and others won’t even clean it. While I certainly don’t expect people to waste all of their time at the gym cleaning the equipment, it is just common courtesy to wipe down the machine after you use it. This problem seems similar to the one many schools have with wrestling mats. Because they are constantly being rolled around by sweaty, germy people, they become a common ground for many bacteria and diseases. Wrestlers, while normally in good shape physically, always seem to be sick to me. Maybe this is because of the lack of cleanliness of the mats. Here you can read about all of the diseases associated with wrestling and the mats. Here is an article on how coaches keep the mats clean to try to avoid some of the bacteria mentioned in the previous article. People as a whole need to realize that their lack of sanity may be suitable for them, but in a public place like the gym, others wants and health needs to be considered.

  3. Jackson Grey Hope

    I go to the gym frequently, and whenever I catch a cold or sickness, I am strongly convinced that it is from the germs crawling in the gyms. Think about it, hundreds of thousands of people have touched the same machine that you are using. A good way to avoid these germs is to always use hand sanitizer when leaving the gym to kill the germs that are attached to you. Especially for those of us that like biting our nails or putting our hands close to our face. That is how germs enter the immune system. Also, we do not know what products are used to clean these machines, if any are used at all. I used to bring towels to the gym to wipe my sweat, but I usually put the towel I use to wipe my face with on the bench that I am using which thousands of other people have had their sweat on. It’s gross to think about it, but when you do, this is a clear reason why people catch colds and get sick.

  4. Olivia Anne Browne

    Great post!
    Although I have always been a bit grossed out about these rags to begin with, I think now I am even more of a germaphobe. At my gym at home we use disposable wipes. Although I realize this might not be the most “eco friendly” alternative, I do believe this is highly more effective regarding cleanliness. I definitely think we should adopt this idea here at Penn state. This was very interesting and relatable being student here considering the vast majority of us most likely feel the same way.
    Check out this article on germs at the gym!

  5. Abigail Louise Edwards

    Hi Rachel!

    Wow, I wish I would have thought of this topic myself. I loved reading this because I, as an avid gym goer, can relate. In all honesty it made me feel a tad disgusted and never want to actually touch the equipment at the gym again, but then I started to think about the rags themselves. Do you think that by picking up the sweat soaked, germ filled, soggy rags we are getting more germs on our hands? I know I get grossed out by touching the rags at all.


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