Disinfecting equipment protects you and everyone else.

By Deanna deBara
January 08, 2020
Getty / FatCamera

It's considered proper gym etiquette to clean your equipment when you've finished your workout. And while it's well and good to do the next gym-goer a favor by cleaning your mat or wiping down your treadmill, you need to prioritize your own health, too. In order to do so, you'll want to disinfect that equipment before you begin using it. "I consistently counsel my patients about the need to clean gym equipment before coming into direct contact with it," says triple board-certified infectious disease specialist Dr. Alexea Gaffney-Adams. "This includes weights, machines, benches, mats, and other gym equipment."

The reason for this is obvious: Just because you always wipe down equipment after use doesn't mean everyone else is doing the same. "Because the machines are used by multiple people, they are often covered in multiple germs, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The individuals infected or colonized with these pathogenic (disease- and infection-causing) microorganisms unknowingly transfer them to the equipment when the touch or lay on it," says Gaffney-Adams. "Subsequent users pick them up when their hands and skin [come in contact with] the contaminated surfaces."

Related: How to Clean Your House to Avoid the Flu

According to Gaffney-Adams, there are a host of infections that are commonly spread at the gym—and through the sharing of equipment—including ringworm, impetigo, herpes viruses (including chickenpox and shingles), and cellulitis. To effectively prevent contracting these ailments, wiping down all your gym equipment both before and after you exercise is a must. Cleaning your gym equipment before your workout helps protect you from those germs (especially since not everyone thoroughly cleans weights or machines after using them)—and a post-workout clean helps protect the person who comes after you.

However, staying healthy at the gym goes beyond cleansing equipment, notes Gaffney-Adams. She also advises bringing your own towels and using them to cover benches or mats "rather than laying directly on them." Showering immediately after a workout is also critical—as is washing exercise clothes and towels in hot water (and drying them on a high-heat setting to kill infecting microorganisms) as soon as possible. And if you're the one experiencing a cold or other illness, the responsible thing to do is stay home, to avoid spreading those germs to your fellow gym-goers. "Use of public gyms should be avoided during periods of fever, acute infections, and in the presence of any skin infections to avoid spreading them to others who use the gym," explains Gaffney-Adams.

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