Club owners take heed, the internet is inundating your customers with scary stories that detail the deadly infections one can contract at the gym. The headlines are riddled with words like "gross" and "disgusting" and warn that terrible diseases and germs lurk in every crack and crevice of every piece of equipment on the cardio floor. Just last year a report made the rounds that gym equipment is "dirtier than public toilet seats."
Taken at face value, your customers might get the impression that it's healthier to stay out of the gym than to spend an hour working out in a 10,000-square-foot petri dish teeming with superbugs. However, regular cleaning with the right products not only affords your customers peace of mind, it can extend the life of the equipment itself.
Brian Nelson, manager of technical training and field service for Matrix, recently wrote a letter to his customers expressing the importance of keeping fitness equipment clean and maintained. "If you ever wonder if the restaurant owner cares about your experience and what the chef is preparing for you, just go into the bathroom. If they care enough to keep the restrooms clean and fully stocked, think about how they care for the kitchen, what the kitchen looks like, and what ingredients they use to prepare your meal," he wrote. "It's the small details that keep customers coming back. Your fitness club is no different. Cleaning and performing preventative maintenance at your club will not only extend the life of your equipment but will increase member loyalty through maintaining a clean and safe facility."
Here are some suggestions from experts in the industry on how to do just that.
Easy on the chemicals
Nelson says there are a lot of misconceptions around how exactly to go about caring for today's high-end equipment. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends ammonia-based quaternary compounds (also known as "quat cleaners") to kill truly dangerous germs such as Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA, Nelson suggests they're of little use throughout the day. "Those are actually what is really bad for paint and plastics and touchscreens," he says. "Those you have to spray on the surface and let it sit for five to 10 minutes, and in a fitness environment, people aren't going to do that."
Harsh chemicals containing bleach or ammonia may be hard on equipment if used too often. "When Matrix was just getting going and we were rather small, we'd see a treadmill sitting in front of a window in a hotel, and you'd have constant sun baking on it," Nelson explains. "People would be using disinfectants. The chemicals in the disinfectants dry out the plastics when left to sit in the sun."
Today, Nelson tries to steer customers toward using a mild soap-and-water mixture in the spray bottles that hang on the equipment throughout the gym. He recommends one part soap to 10 parts water. Even diluted vinegar (one part vinegar to 20 parts water) is effective at wiping away germs in the short-term, he says.
Matrix's cleaning guidelines for customers recommend spraying the milder solution on a towel and then wiping down the equipment, as opposed to spraying the equipment itself.
Karl Barton, general manager at Capital Fitness in Madison, Wis., agrees. Barton says his gym used to use spray bottles but has since switched to wipes, as some customers tended to use too much spray on the equipment. "Spraying the equipment isn't the best thing," Barton says. "It can get too much liquid on the screens and can sometimes even cause problems with the heartrate monitors and those kinds of things."
The CDC suggests you check the labels on cleaning products to learn:
• How the cleaner or disinfectant should be applied
While a milder solution is best for repetitive cleaning throughout the day, whether with wipes or a towel and a spray bottle, scheduling a regular deep cleaning of all equipment is still advised.
"Members will clean what they see, or what they touch — handrails and buttons," Barton says. "They don't necessarily think about all the sweat dripping off of them onto the floor and the rest of the equipment. So we have a cleaning crew that comes in and wipes down each piece of equipment every day."
While some public facilities — colleges, universities and rec centers — are required to use quat cleaners, a cleaning schedule where build-up of those chemicals can be washed off can also be beneficial. "When they have that monthly maintenance done, we try to get [our clients] to go over the equipment with the soap-and-water solution," Nelson says. "That way, they're at least cleaning the chemicals off the equipment instead of letting them just sit and build up. We've also found that the soap and water just kind of rehydrates the equipment a little bit. It puts life back into the seat pads and other materials that take a hit from the chemicals."
The touchscreens on today's cardio machines are similar to the screen on your smartphone and can get smeared with unsightly fingerprints and smudges. Octane Fitness product manager Josh Parah advises the use of a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth to clean the console lens. He also suggests avoiding abrasive materials, such as paper towels, which can damage the surface. As for chemicals, Parah says to refrain from using window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia or abrasive cleaners, as they also may damage the lens.
How often should this be done? On its website, equipment manufacturer Precor recommends a weekly cleaning of the electronic console on all machines with a damp, lint-free cloth before thoroughly drying the surface. Precor suggests that the touchscreen itself be cleaned weekly with a diluted solution of one part isopropyl alcohol (91 percent) to one part water on a damp, lint-free cloth and then dried completely.
IHRSA recommends club owners implement 5 steps of maintenance awareness:
• Know and communicate to staff the reasons for club cleanliness
The importance of clean
Beyond ensuring that your equipment isn't transmitting diseases, keeping your club and the equipment in it clean and presentable is also a good business practice. A report from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association found that 90 percent of gym members were more likely to renew their membership if their club was kept clean and well-maintained.
Mike Lederer, the programming manager at Wisconsin Athletic Club in Milwaukee, says that cleanliness is one of his club's primary selling points. "Cleanliness is just as important as providing the state-of-the-art equipment," Lederer says. "We have a relatively high membership rate, and that's one of the things we highlight on our tours — that we're known for cleanliness. I'd say that's in the top two or three of the most important things we provide for our customers."
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "High-end fitness equipment deserves a rigorous cleaning routine." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.