Mind & Body

Gym Equipment Is Covered in Germs

You have to go to the gym. It's good for your health. At least, it is if you make sure you don't touch any of the equipment. It turns out that most things you touch, from the barbells to the yoga mats, are teeming with germs. The good news is there's something you can do about it.

Gym Shady

Here's the bad news. According to a study carried out by Elliptical Reviews, much of the equipment at your local gym is teeming with microbes. FitRated performed a similar study and came up with similar results. It makes sense. After all, there are germs all over our hands, and when we leave sweat behind, we leave bacteria and other hangers-on behind as well. The intrepid researchers swabbed the equipment from their gym's most popular classes and ranked each sample by the number of bacterial colonies that formed (measured in "colony-forming units per square centimeter," or CFU). For reference, a toilet seat has about 3,200 CFU of bacteria. Here's a round-up of both the studies' findings — where we found contradictions, we went with the more disgusting number, but we still note the discrepancy.

  • Treadmill: 1,333,432 CFU. That's right. Those treadmills at the gym? They're probably 416 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Even worse, about half of those microbes are gram-positive cocci, the most common cause of skin infections, and about a quarter are gram-negative rods, almost all of which are harmful to humans and many of which are resistant to antibiotics.
  • Exercise Bike: 1,333,418 CFU. Trailing just behind the grody treadmills are the stationary bikes, although it should be noted that the Elliptical Reviews study only found 13.3 CFU on the bikes' resistance knobs. In any case, they were found to have the same harmful bacteria as the treadmill, but at a lower rate.
  • Weights: 1,158,381 CFU. It makes sense that the stuff you put your hands on the most is the stuff that turns out to be the dirtiest. Too bad that's also the stuff that you'd want to be the cleanest. Anyway, Elliptical Reviews ranked barbells as its study's filthiest, but they only measured about 153,410 CFU.
  • Hot Yoga Rental Mat: 25,533 CFU. It almost seems like the absorbent mat that sits in a hot, wet, sweaty room all day would be the worst of all, but it ranked considerably lower than any of the aerobic machines. Still, look at that number compared to your average toilet seat. Yeah, we're going to be bringing a mat from home from now on (and cleaning it regularly).

Lean, Mean, and Squeaky Clean

So what are you supposed to do about the fact that your local temple of physical health is surrounded by a barricade of harmful germs? Simple. Just stick to some common sense cleanliness guidelines, and you be able to should get out of the Y in one piece.

First things first, always wipe down your gear before you use it, and make sure you wipe it down again afterward for the next person. Most gyms have wet wipes for this purpose, but if yours doesn't, consider bringing some from home. Also, look for sanitizing sprays, especially ammonia solutions. They're a reliable and safe way to de-bug your yoga mat before you get face-to-face with it. Finally (and we really hope we don't have to tell you this), every time you go to the gym, you should wash your hands immediately afterward and take a shower as soon as you can. It's not just good for your health — it's good for your social life.

To be the most considerate gym-goer you can be, check out "The Little Book of Gym Etiquette: A Handbook for Dealing with Annoying People at the Gym" by Lori L. Pines. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Workout Equipment to Avoid at the Gym

Written by Reuben Westmaas April 3, 2018

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