How Gross Equipment At The Gym Really Is

by Kat George
MoMo Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Prepare to be grossed out: the gym is much grosser than you first thought it was. Of course, you've got a basic understanding that human sweat and other body trimmings like hair and skin is all over the gym. How can it not be, when people are basically just rubbing their perspiring bodies all over everything? The gym is a disgusting place, and not just because of the aforementioned sweat and other bodily detritus. If you don't know yet, the gym is crawling with illness-causing bacteria, some of which will make your skin crawl to know just how infectious, and prevalent, they are. The following list is going to make you rethink using a shared yoga mat, that's for sure.

Gyms are basically a cesspool of disease, but the good news is that can be totally avoided if you're diligent about cleaning the equipment you're using. Unfortunately, sometimes a quick wipe down with a towel won't suffice, and you'll have to clean a little more thoroughly. Meanwhile, having watched Broad City's Abby at the gym, it's totally understandable if you don't trust gym staff to clean properly or often enough to kill bacteria. It will be worth it, though, especially when you avoid athlete's foot, pink eye, or a staph infection. Yeah, that's the kind of stuff you can pick up at the gym. Nasty, isn't it? Here's some things you need to know about how gross gym equipment really is, and how you can clean it yourself.

1. Squishy Things Are The Worst

While things like free weights and the grips on machines do get dirty, they're not as likely as squishy things like yoga mats, ropes, resistance tubes, and anything else that might be porous to grow bacteria. Bacteria thrive in moist environments, according to Dr. Pritish Tosh, M.D., infectious diseases physician at the Mayo Clinic, and these squishy things are most likely to absorb users' sweat and stay moist longer than a flat plastic or metal surface. Rather than trying to clean these things, bring your own. A yoga mat and resistance cords are great investments anyway, because you can use them to exercise at home on lazier days.

2. Skin Infections Are Your Biggest Concern At The Gym

Community-acquired MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) is a strain of staph infection that has evolved to become resistant to antibiotics, and it's commonly documented among athletes and teams who share equipment. Skin infections are difficult to get rid of, so it's important to keep the equipment you're using clean. You can also do things like wash your face before and after you work out, use hand sanitizer at while at the gym, and wear moisture wicking clothes. Also be sure to shower soon after you work out to stop bacteria festering on your body.

3. Don't Use Your Personal Towel To Wipe Down Equipment

Keeping the two previous points in mind, you absolutely should not use your personal towel to wipe down equipment at the gym. Your towel is warm, moist and squishing (point one), so therefore likely to harbor bacteria. With all the nasty staph and other bacteria hanging around on gym equipment (point two), you probably don't want to be rubbing the perfect breeding ground all on that business. Use the gym's provided sanitizing spray, wipe, or towels to clean equipment, and keep your towel for personal use only. If the gym's provisions aren't great, you can also use your personal hand sanitizer to rub down the equipment you're touching and kill germs.

4. The Locker Room Is Just As Gross As The Equipment

The locker room is steamy and humid, so airborne illnesses like strep and the common cold can float through the air right into your sinuses. Meanwhile, people traipse in all kinds of crap on their shoes from the street, so walking around barefoot could get you a nasty fungus like athlete's foot (and don't forget that staph that's all over the equipment is in the locker rooms, too). Get yourself a pair of flip flops for your time in the locker room and showers. And be sure to disinfect them with warm soapy water at home, too!

5. Beware Of Shared Shoes

If you like cycling classes, chances are you've put your feet in shoes provided by the studio — as have countless other people with sweaty feet, or worse, fungal or other skin infections. Studios, of course, are supposed to clean their shoes and keep them hygienic, but how sure are you that they're diligent about doing this between every wear? Dr. Phillip Tierno Jr., professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University, says, "You don't know what sanitizing agent they use or how often they sanitize," and that you could risk transferring some seriously gross bacteria to yourself by sharing. To avoid this, you can bring a disinfectant spray to give the shoes a spritz before wearing them. If you're at cycling class regularly, it might be worth investing in your own shoes rather than renting.

6. The Common Cold Is On EVERYTHING

A study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine at UC Irvine has found rhinoviruses (which cause the common cold) on 63 percent of gym equipment they tested. They also found that weight equipment was grosser than aerobic equipment, with 73 percent of weight equipment being contaminated compared with 51 percent of aerobic equipment. The study also found that twice daily cleans had a negligible effect on this. For gym rats, avoid touching your face while working out, and be sure to double down on the hand sanitizer.

Images: MoMo Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images; Giphy (6)