If you’ve shifted your workout routine from the gym to your living room in these past six months, you’re far from alone. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact daily life, some fitness facilities remain closed or operating at limited capacity. And while open gyms are likely well-stocked with disinfectant spray and wipes, many people still feel more comfortable sweating with a home workout.
Thing is, you probably don’t clean off your home workout gear as diligently as you would the machines at the gym. But just because you’re not sharing germs with other gym-goers, that doesn’t mean you should overlook a proper cleaning routine.
Here’s what you need to know about how often you should be wiping down your at-home equipment, the best way to do it, and more.
If You Sweat Alone
Your approach to cleaning your yoga mat, dumbbells, or whatever home gym equipment you use depends on who uses it.
“If you are working out at home and not sharing your workout equipment, you do not need to disinfect it,” says Dr. Erica Hartmann, Ph.D., assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University. “The point of disinfection is to inactivate pathogens (germs) that might remain after cleaning to prevent the spread of disease. If you’re not sharing equipment, the equipment itself won’t be getting anyone sick.”
If this is the case for you, you simply need to thoroughly clean your equipment about once a week to get rid of bacteria, germs, dirt, and grimy sweat that might have amassed during your workouts.
For that, all you need is soap and water. “I recommend cleaning with a mild detergent, or soap and water,” says Hartmann. “And I look for products that don’t have strong scents.”
If you’re still tempted to disinfect, know this: Overusing disinfectants can negatively impact your cleaning efforts.
“The problem is that our disinfectants do not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes,” says Hartmann. “So, in trying to get rid of viruses, we expose bacteria to disinfectants. The more we expose bacteria to disinfectants, the more likely they are to develop resistance, both to the disinfectant itself and sometimes to medically-necessary antibiotics.” When this happens, bacteria, which may otherwise be harmless, can become very problematic.
If You Share Your Equipment
If multiple people in your household are using the same equipment, then disinfection may be more necessary.
“The point of disinfection is to inactivate pathogens (germs) that might remain after cleaning to prevent the spread of disease,” says Hartmann. “If there are multiple people in your household and you’re all going out and about separately, each person might individually come into contact with the virus on their own. Let’s say one person has to go into work and another is working from home. The person who leaves the house might then become infected and (obviously unknowingly) spread the virus at home.”
In that case, you want to disinfect between every use.
That said, if you and whoever you work out with are staying home and seemingly healthy, disinfection doesn’t need to happen.
“My partner and I both work from home and aren’t going out much, so we’re both pretty low risk,” Hartmann says. “We are probably far more likely to infect each other while snuggled up on the couch watching endless hours of TV and laughing (so generating a lot of aerosols while in close physical proximity for an extended period) than by using the same yoga mat on separate occasions, so our workout gear never gets disinfected.”
Instead, Hartmann cleans her equipment as it accumulates dirt and dog hair.
Of course, though, “if you’re working out at home and sharing equipment, do not share it with someone who is sick,” says Hartmann.
The Best Way To Disinfect Workout Equipment
If you need to disinfect your workout gear, there are two common ingredients you can use: bleach and alcohol.
To disinfect with bleach, the CDC recommends creating a solution of five tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach in a gallon of water (or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water).
To disinfect with alcohol, use a solution that contains at least 70 percent alcohol, says the CDC.
Which method is best for your workout equipment depends on whether the surface is porous or non-porous, says Hartmann. Certain disinfectants can break down certain materials faster.
For example, rubber is a porous surface, and bleach can break it down. The same goes for foam (i.e., your yoga mat or foam roller). If you’re not sure of your equipment’s surface, do a quick Google search to be certain it’s compatible with your cleaner.
“You may want to do a spot check to make sure the product doesn’t damage your workout equipment,” says Dr. Hartmann.
Beyond that, “regardless of what cleaning product you use, read the ingredients and use as directed,” adds Hartmann.
“It’s also important to remember that cleaning products and disinfectants can also themselves be harmful to humans,” Hartman says. “For example, bleach is an irritant for your skin, eyes, and lungs, so you want to make sure the area you’re cleaning is well ventilated. Too much exposure to cleaning products can cause immediate adverse reactions.” Case in point: Calls to U.S. poison centers have increased by 20 percent since the start of the pandemic.
Another tip to keep in mind: Your equipment isn’t disinfected the moment you spray or wipe it down.
“Household bleach, for example, needs to sit on a surface for 10 minutes before you wipe it off,” says Hartmann. Alcohol-based cleaners, meanwhile, need anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes to do their job.
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