Gym germs: Clean and disinfect your yoga mat
Ever feel like you should be wearing a hazmat suit instead of yoga pants when you work out at the studio or gym? If not, maybe you should. From Human papillomavirus (HPV) and E.coli to influenza and strep, gyms and equipment used in them are loaded with gross germs, fungi, bacterial and viral organisms.
The creepy crawlies are so prevalent, in fact, that one in three people in the U.S. suffers from a contagious skin disease, picked up where they work out. Which is why Jack Foley, Lehigh University’s director of sports medicine recommends that anyone who uses a public gym should always assume they are being exposed to at least skin infections.
Yoga and Pilates practitioners are especially susceptible if they use high-traffic mats. Even your personal mat, however, can pick up the gunk.
The first rule in mat hygiene is “don’t borrow a mat.” The second rule? Clean your mat after every practice.
What to use to clean your yoga mat
Cleaning, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency involves “water, a cleaning product and scrubbing. Cleaning does not kill bacteria, viruses or fungi.” They go on to say that the way cleaning products get rid of germs is by “washing them down the drain,” not destroying them.
To actually kill the nasties requires sanitizers and disinfectants. And, the latter kills more germs than the former. But here’s the quandary: Most disinfectants only work on hard, nonporous surfaces.
A product that will work contains “alcohol or quat-based disinfectants that are commonly used in detergents,” Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology at NYU Medical Center and author of the book “The Secret Life of Germs” tells the New York Times’ Abby Ellin. He adds that simply using soap and water isn’t enough because the solution won’t kill bacteria. Chlorine, on the other hand, will. Alcohol? Chlorine? Quat-based disinfectants? Yikes! We do yoga to get healthy, not drown in chemicals. If you can stand the thought of alcohol, several companies manufacture alcohol-based disinfectants that will work on a porous gym mat. One of these is Germ Blitz and it’s available at Amazon.com. It’s EPA approved and 99 percent effective against staph, H1N1 Influenza, MRSA, ringworm, herpes and impetigo, among others.
Clear Gear is another product and, since it’s water-based, it doesn’t leave a residue behind. It’s also available at Amazon.
Still too harsh? While the evidence that tea tree oil is an especially good fungal treatment are primarily anecdotal, recent scientific studies show promise. In a June 2015 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tea tree oil beat out two commercial cleaning agents and an ethanol/vinegar solution when it came to remedying fungal contamination.
Tests in Australia have suggested that tea tree oil may have broad-spectrum qualities, antibacterial and antiviral as well as antifungal. The NIH says that the broad-spectrum data is promising, but “thus far, inadequate.”
If you decide to go the tea tree oil route, ensure that what you purchase is actually from the plant Melaleuca alternifolia. Products that list “ti tree” as a source may not be from M. alternifolia, so read the label before purchasing.
As well, there are many different species on Melaleuca, so ensure that the label lists alternifolia as the species. The solution should contain at least 2 percent of tea tree oil, according to the NIH.
Whatever you finally decide to use, it’s important to clean the mat after each use (some experts say once a week is fine) and to clean both sides.