Dear Gym Rat,
What’s really in those sprays?
That’s a good question, and one I believe the public has the right to know. Full disclosure of ingredients is paramount for making wise decisions as to which cleaners are acceptable, and which should be avoided.
Most disinfectants are considered pesticides. Many are also listed as corrosives, especially those that are concentrated. Some even contain ammonium chloride, which, if accidentally sprayed or splashed into the eyes, can cause permanent eye damage. Chlorine bleach, used frequently as a disinfectant, is also a powerful lung and skin irritant. The list of potential ingredients is formidable, and your best defense is arming yourself with knowledge and some healthy alternatives.
What protection do disinfectants offer?
Disinfectant sprays are meant to protect against a variety of bacteria, viruses, and germs. A gym environment has all the elements for breeding potential bugs and bacteria. Moisture, limited sunlight, poor air circulation, shared equipment, less than stellar hand washing, and a bunch of dirty bodies. All of this makes for a cesspool of probable infections. Here are a few possible health concerns to keep in mind and take precaution against:
- Athletes Foot: Fungal infection of the skin of your feet.To learn more: http://orthopedics.about.com/cs/footproblems/a/athletesfoot.htm.
- MRSA: Flesh-eating bacteria. To learn more: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mrsa/DS00735.
- Ring Worm: Fungal Infection of the skin/ scalp/nails. To learn more: http://www.mamashealth.com/skin/ringworm.asp.
Are there safer options?
Some simple and intelligent gym practices to incorporate include:
Wash your hands thoroughly before, during, and after workouts.
Cover all blisters, scrapes, cuts, and open sores of any kind with a bandage.
Wear weight-lifting gloves for protection.
Bring three towels to the gym, one for laying on benches, gym equipment, and seats, one for carrying on you, draped over your neck for wiping sweat from your own body, and a third towel for use after showering. This is one time that being an environmentalist takes a back seat to protecting your health.
Bring your own cloth, sprayed with non-toxic disinfectant cleaner. Either from a reputable company that you can purchase from your local health store, or one you make yourself from the following recipe:
1 cup white distilled vinegar
10 drops essential oil of tea tree
8 drops of essential oil of lavender
8 drops of essential oil of rosemary
8 drops of essential oil of oregano
8 drops of essential oil of thyme
5 drops of essential oil of peppermint
Shake well, apply to cloth, and wipe surface. This mixture combines the antibacterial qualities of vinegar, along with some very powerful anti-fungal and anti-bacterial essential oils. Please keep in mind that the use of this spray will not protect you from all potential illness or bacteria, but is a natural first step to protecting your health at the gym. Prior to use at your gym, check to make sure that bringing your own equipment cleaner is permitted.
Take a shower before leaving the gym, wearing waterproof foot protection (flip flops or Crocs are good choices).
Do not share towels, personal care products, or razors. Do not lay personal care items directly on bathroom counters.
Wash all gym clothing immediately and thoroughly with your normal amount of natural detergent, 1 cup of baking soda, and one cup of white distilled vinegar.
Ask about your gym’s cleaning procedures for taking care of equipment, locker rooms, towels, and their awareness and care against serious infections such as MRSA.
Take it Outside
As a workout fanatic, I have found the great outdoors to be my favorite location for a bevy of fitness routines. After all, what’s better than open spaces, breathing fresh air, and the diversity of scenic routes to choose from? If you are fortunate enough to live by a park, trail, river, lake, or country road, your workout experience will be significantly healthier than most indoor gym environments simply by removing yourself from the toxic overload of off-gassing carpet, paints, adhesives, traditional cleaning products, and yes, even that lovely spray meant to protect you from germs.
A routine of common-sense practices combined with arming yourself with the knowledge you need to protect yourself will set you on the fast track for healthy living—and give you peace of mind.