A Common Sense Approach to Effective Equipment Cleaning

In recent TV news features and magazine articles, we have learned of the threat from germs and bacteria in health clubs and gyms. Cleaning products make claims: “disinfects,” “sanitizes,” “kills germs,” and more. But what do these terms really mean? What do they have to do with your club?

These buzzwords relate to chemical solutions used to kill bacteria and viruses (microbes). Oddly, these antimicrobial solutions are considered pesticides and are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). So words such as “deodorize,” “disinfect” and “sterilize” have specific meaning depending on the ability of a solution to inactivate (kill or suppress the growth of) certain numbers and types of microbes. Sanitizers are the least aggressive solutions, while sterilants are the most effective against the broadest range of microbes. Within each of these categories are a wide variety of chemical solutions and processes. A few of these solutions contain such things as alcohol, quaternary ammonias, and chlorine compounds which are found in products used in our homes and in clubs.

Effective cleaning of exercise equipment in health clubs and gyms involves more than simply applying an antimicrobial solution to the equipment. The question shouldn’t be, “Which solution should I use?” But rather, “What is the most practical way to clean the equipment to maximize member health and satisfaction?”

Establishing an effective program for minimizing germs and bacteria on exercise equipment sends a clear message to your members that their health and satisfaction are a priority. The best program should be both effective and practical. To achieve this, consider the following:

Frequency of cleaning
The more often something is cleaned, the less dirty it will be between cleanings. This is true for both dirt as well as microbes on surfaces. The more frequently equipment is cleaned, the fewer microbes that will be present that must be killed or removed each time. With fewer microbes, a milder antimicrobial solution may be used. This is a strong argument for involving club members in cleaning the surfaces of equipment that are routinely touched during use. Not only are the germs and bacteria removed more easily by members’ frequent cleaning, but members gain control and satisfaction in knowing firsthand that the equipment they use is clean.

Cleaning method
Although solutions may be sprayed directly onto equipment surfaces, the use of disposable pre-saturated wipes offers several major advantages over sprayed chemicals. Physically removing microbes by wiping is as important, if not more so, than the actual antimicrobial effect of the chemical. Cleaning equipment surfaces with a pre-saturated wipe can dramatically reduce the remaining quantity of microbes. Unlike re-usable towels, the use of disposable pre-saturated wipes allows the removed microbes to be safely discarded, and prevents contamination of other surfaces.

Disinfectants are grouped into three categories: low, intermediate, and high-level. Low-level disinfectants kill vegetative bacteria, fungi, and lipid viruses including HIV and Hepatitis- B. Intermediate-level disinfectants additionally inactivate mycobacterium tuberculosis, and both lipid and nonlipid viruses, but not bacterial spores. High-level disinfectants destroy all microorganisms with the exception of high numbers of bacterial spores.

An ideal disinfecting solution should meet these criteria:

• Safe to handle without gloves

• Safe for repeated use on equipment

• Effective against microbes commonly found on equipment

• Free of objectionable odor

• Stable in storage

Most disinfecting products for home or club use, that meet these criteria, involve low-level solutions containing quaternary ammonium or chlorine compounds. Solutions containing alcohol should be avoided as they can damage equipment soft surfaces over time.

Solution contact time
Disinfectant solutions must remain wet on a surface for a specific period of time. In order for disinfectant solutions to be effective, they require long dwell times – ranging from 10 to 30 minutes. This makes disinfecting during working hours impractical. For this reason, effective use of disinfectants is best done after hours or during off-peak times when the equipment can be left wet (for the disinfectant to work properly). This after-hours approach also minimizes overexposure of your membership to these harsh chemicals (pesticides). One major drawback of using disinfecting solutions properly is that the heavy dose of liquid disinfectant on health club equipment may cause degradation of equipment padding and soft surfaces, short-circuiting of electronic components, as well as rusting of metal surfaces.

While the problem of spreading unseen germs and bacteria in health clubs is real, it doesn’t have to be mysterious. A little knowledge and some basic precautions can be very useful. With these few considerations in mind, an effective and successful equipment cleaning program is possible – one in which member participation leads to member satisfaction, cleaner equipment, and greater member retention. Dave Nobile is the Senior Technical

Service Engineer for Athletix Products, a division of Contec, Inc. He can be contacted at 909.484.1115, or by email at dnobile@contecinc.com.

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