These Are 8 of the Grossest Spots at the Gym, According to Experts
The place at your gym vying for the "Most Germs" award might not be the one you'd expect.
It's no secret that exercise is good for you. It has the obvious health benefits of getting you in better physical shape, as well as the ability to elevate your mood and improve brain function. And in order to get our workout on and enjoy those benefits, most of us head to one logical locale: the gym. The only problem? Gyms are crawling with germs. So to help you better your chances of reaping the rewards of exercise without having to call in sick to work the next day, we spoke with doctors and other experts about the grossest gym spots. Here are the areas where germs like to work out the most. Warning: You'll never look at that yoga mat the same way again!
Locker room benches
You should probably change at home before and after your next visit to the gym. According to a 2018 study from FitRated, a fitness equipment review site, the average bench in a gym locker room has six times more bacteria than an animal crate. "To protect themselves from potential harms, sports enthusiasts should cover any open wounds or cuts they have, or lay down a towel before sitting on the bench to minimize the contact with contaminated surfaces," says Lily Cameron, a domestic cleaning expert and supervisor at Fantastic Cleaners.
The lockers where people store their personal belongings—along with all germs they carry—aren't as clean as you would hope they'd be, Cameron says. Clothing, backpacks, shoes, smartphones, and pretty much everything else you store in a locker while working out are all covered in germs that can be easily transmitted to the locker's surface and lurk there for a while. "To ward off further contamination, gym lovers can simply pack their personal items in a plastic bag before storing them in a locker," she says.
Whether you are working towards six-pack abs or going for a light jog on the treadmill, the exercise machines you use at the gym are all teeming with germs. What's more, all that contaminated sweat can linger on equipment for hours, sometimes even days, says Michael Hall, MD, founder of the Hall Longevity Clinic.
"Unfortunately, most fitness centers and other activity areas are not properly sanitized after patrons use them," he says. "Studies show that there is a tremendous number of bacteria that can reside on equipment after usage. There is even something very harmful called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, that can cause eruptive boils on any body part that it comes in contact with." MSRA is especially bad because it can cause systemic infections that can lead to sepsis. "Some people are hospitalized for months with erosive necrotic tissue from coming in contact with this very bad bacteria," Hall says.
The best thing you can do is use a towel on all the equipment that you're going to place your body against, that includes bench-press tables and seats. Also, Hall suggests wearing protective clothing that covers the entire body, avoiding short sleeve shirts and shorts. And of course, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you're done.
Whether it's for yoga, stretching, or other exercises, if you are using a mat provided by your gym, you are probably lying in a cesspool of microbes, says Harriet Jones, a cleaning supervisor at Go Cleaners London. According to Jones, mats can also cause colds, flu, infections, and hepatitis A. "Definitely invest in a personal mat and take it to the gym," she says. "After each use, clean the mat with a disinfecting spray and let it dry."
Hot tubs and spa areas
Let's be honest and just admit that for some of us, the best part of going to the gym is enjoying relaxing amenities like hot tubs, saunas, and other spa-related perks. That is, of course, until you learn that gyms are notorious for not maintaining these areas in compliance with standard sanitation regulations, according to Hall. And they are definitely not washed regularly after being used, either.
"They can be breeding grounds for all sorts of things, including fungus," Hall says. Not that you needed to be further convinced of the high level of grossness when it comes to these places of relaxation and rejuvenation, but Hall also notes that some unsavory gym members will use these areas, instead of toilets, to relieve themselves. Disgusting.
You probably never think of the floor as an especially clean area, but gym floors are in a league entirely of their own. According to Lauren Mochizuki, a nurse and blogger, it's important to keep your shoes on at the gym to avoid things like fungal infections, including ringworm and athlete's foot. Hopefully we're all keeping our shoes on while working out, but there are exceptions, of course. If you're going to use your gym's showers or sauna—or go shoeless for really any reason—make sure to at least wear sandals to help lessen the risk of getting these unpleasant skin conditions.
While weights fall under the larger gym equipment umbrella, they warrant their own special spot on this list. "You can't assume that the last person that used the weights cleaned them," Mochizuki said. That's why it's crucial to wash your hands, only use your towel, and clean equipment before and after use.
That's right, the thing you use to wash your hands and rid them of all those gross gym germs you came in contact with during your workout just may be the germiest place of them all. According to the aforementioned 2018 study from FitRated, the average gym sink has a faucet handle infested with 545,312 bacteria colony forming units, or CFUs, per square inch—that's more than any other surface tested in the study, including gym shower handles and locker room benches. One faucet handle even had more than 7 million CFUs. For additional context, the typical gym faucet handle is infested with eight times the amount of bacteria found on the spigot of a school cafeteria drinking fountain. Yuck!