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Safety / Injuries

The Best Safe and Effective DIY Disinfectants for Your Gym

Whether you run or work at a large gym, a small boutique studio, or out of your own home, keeping equipment and other services clean is essential for preventing illness and disease. Gym equipment gets touched, a lot. And, we all know that not all fitness enthusiasts stay home when they feel unwell. 

Keeping clients safe is about more than just preventing injuries. You also have a responsibility as a trainer to protect clients from each other’s germs. Reasonable measures to clean and disinfect will protect them and you. 

But do you have to rely on commercial products, like bleach and other harsh chemicals? Not necessarily. Try some of these DIY disinfectants, both for gym equipment and at home. 

Why is Cleaning the Gym So Important? 

What do these have in common? 

  • Common cold
  • Flu
  • Stomach flu
  • Pink eye
  • Athlete’s foot
  • MRSA

These are all infections and illnesses caused by germs that are probably on your gym equipment right now. And these are just a few. Studies have found all kinds of germs on equipment, mats, handrails, and other surfaces in fitness facilities. (1)

This doesn’t mean people should avoid the gym. It just means owners, employees, and patrons of gyms need to be aware of the issue and take proper precautions. For the fitness professional, that means cleaning regularly. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning equipment and allowing it to dry after every use. Any equipment that is torn or damaged should be replaced, as it can harbor more germs. (2)

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world, people are more aware of cleanliness and germs than ever before. Here’s our guide to keeping staff and clients safe at the gym during such an outbreak

Should You Make Your Own Cleaners or Rely on Commercial Products? 

When cleaning gym equipment and surfaces, it is important to strike a balance between effective disinfecting and additional health hazards posed by cleaners. 

Commercial Cleaners Pose Health Risks

The CDC, while recommending regular cleaning with products that can kill bacteria and viruses, also acknowledges that these cleaners can cause health problems. Bleach, for instance, can irritate the skin and eyes, and even asthma. (2)

Commercial cleaners, like those containing bleach, are effective at reducing the concentration of germs. If you are going to use them, follow instructions and use protective equipment, like gloves, a mask, and safety glasses. 

Avoid These Risks of DIY Disinfectants

If you do choose to make your own homemade cleaner, avoid mixing things together without following a recipe. There are some risks of doing so. For example, these cleaner combinations can be problematic

  • Bleach and vinegar mixed together create a gas that is irritating and harmful.
  • Bleach and ammonia also combine chemically to make a harsh, harmful gas. 
  • Bleach with rubbing alcohol produces chloroform and hydrochloric acid, dangerous, corrosive chemicals. 
  • Vinegar mixed with hydrogen peroxide creates a severe irritant, peracetic acid. 

Easy DIY Disinfectants to Try

There are many reasons to choose alternatives to the harsh chemicals commonly used to clean and disinfect gyms. Sometimes supplies are hard to find. And commercial cleaners can cause irritation to skin, lungs, and eyes. 

Here are a few recipes for DIY cleaners that have disinfecting capabilities. In some cases, the risks of using an inadequate cleaner, such as during the coronavirus outbreak, may outweigh the benefits of a DIY product. Use caution and if in doubt about effectiveness, use a proven sanitizing cleaner. 

The only DIY ingredients that truly disinfect are 70 percent (or higher) alcohol and 3-to-6 percent hydrogen peroxide. Your regular household bleach will also disinfect, but it is much more irritating and is already the base cleaner in many commercial products. 

Rubbing Alcohol

That bottle of rubbing alcohol in your first aid kit can disinfect surfaces as long as it is at least 70 percent. Make reusable disinfecting wipes you can use once and wash to avoid waste. Cut rags or old t-shirts into wipe-sized pieces for your disinfectant wipe. Soak them in rubbing alcohol and store in a sealed container. Use these to wipe down any hard surface. There is no need to wipe excess moisture off the surface, as the alcohol will evaporate. When it’s time to wash the wipes, use the hot water setting. 

You can also make a DIY disinfectant spray cleaner by mixing rubbing alcohol with some antibacterial dish soap and water. Fill a spray bottle with one-third of each. Use it as you would any other disinfectant spray cleaner: wet the surface to be cleaned and wipe off with a rag or paper towel. This won’t be as effective as the wipes, but it does make a good DIY cleaner for some services. 

Hydrogen Peroxide

Alcohol is safe but can still be harsh on the eyes, skin, and airways. Less irritating is hydrogen peroxide, another first aid staple. It’s an effective disinfectant too, just be sure to look for formulas concentrated between three and six percent. To make a DIY disinfecting spray, simply put it in a spray bottle. Spray surfaces and let it sit for about five minutes before wiping clean. Be aware that hydrogen peroxide can break down finishes on surfaces with prolonged use. 

White Vinegar

Vinegar is a great natural cleaner that is much less irritating than commercial cleaners. It disinfects to some degree, but don’t rely on it to eliminate all bacteria or any viruses. Use basic white vinegar full strength to wipe down surfaces. You can also dilute it with water for a less potent cleaner. Just add to a spray bottle and use as you would any cleaner. Be aware that, as an acid, vinegar may damage some surfaces. Test it out on a small, out-of-the-way spot first. 

Essential Oil Disinfecting Spray

Many essential oils have disinfecting properties, such as tea tree oil, but don’t rely on these for heavy-duty anti-viral cleaning programs. There is some evidence they have anti-viral properties, but don’t rely on these to protect you from stomach flu or coronavirus. Here’s a good recipe for a cleaning product that may disinfect to some degree: 

  • One quarter cup white vinegar
  • Three quarters cup water
  • Seven drops of lavender essential oil
  • Seven drops of tea tree essential oil

The recipe can be scaled up for bigger batches. Other essential oils to try include peppermint, any type of citrus, geranium, and rosemary. 

Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

Cleaning the equipment regularly is essential, but also important is good hygiene and hand washing. Keep hand sanitizer in strategic locations to encourage regular use in the gym. And, if you can’t find any hand sanitizer in the stores, consider making your own. The following homemade hand sanitizer recipe is approved by the World Health Organization. (3) You need: 

  • Ethanol (96 percent) or isopropyl alcohol (99.8 percent)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent)
  • Glycerol
  • Sterile or boiled water

To a ten-liter container, add 8,333 mL of ethanol or 7,515 mL of isopropyl alcohol, 417 mL of hydrogen peroxide, and 145 mL of glycerol. Fill to the 10-liter mark. Close and shake the container to mix. You can then dispense it into smaller containers. 

DIY disinfectants are easy to make, and you probably have the ingredients you need in your kitchen, cleaning cabinet, and first aid kit. These are great for when you’re in a bind trying to find cleaners or you just want an alternative way to clean gym equipment. When protecting clients from germs, be sure you are using a cleaner that will truly disinfect a surface. Some natural cleaners aren’t effective enough, but they do clean surfaces and make disinfecting easier. 

Gathering insight from exercise, health, and nutrition experts is an important part of developing successful programs. The ISSA offers a wide variety of resources to help such as the Nutritionist course. Check it out and see how you can take your clients’ fitness to a whole new level!

    ISSA

    References

    1. Mukherjee, N., Dowd, S.E., Wise, A., Kedia, S., Vohra, V., and Banerjee, P. (2014, December). Diversity of Bacterial Communities of Fitness Center Surfaces in a U.S. Metropolitan Area. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 11(12), 12544-61. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276630/
    2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, January 24). Athletic Facilities. Cleaning and Disinfecting. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/environment/athletic-facilities.html
    3. World Health Organization. (2010). Guide to Local Production: WHO-Recommended Handrub Formulations. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf

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