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Wiping Away Towel Myths

As I speak with fitness industry professionals around the country, and around the world, I am frequently asked about towels that are used to sanitize fitness equipment.  Or to be more specific: Doesn’t a towel that gets used repeatedly to wipe away sweat become germ-laden from all that sweat?

Actually, the opposite is true.  A spray bottle and towel equipment cleaning system proves to be a very effective method for sanitizing just-used exercise equipment surfaces.  Why?  Because the towels are progressively absorbing sanitizing cleaning solution.  In other words, they are continuously refreshed with the disinfectant.  Therefore, there is a concentrated/significant amount of disinfectant that remains on the towel at all times.  The reusable spray-towel, when not in use, is sanitized; it is at “work” even while the towel is “at rest.”

 Another important point to consider and understand is that per use, the volume of cleaning solution that is sprayed on the surface to be cleaned, or sprayed on the towel prior to wiping the surface, is generally much greater than the volume of body fluids that are wiped up.  The ratio of the volume of disinfectant on the towel to the volume to sweat is generally in favor of the disinfectant!   

 Still need convincing? Then consider a little sweat science:

  •  Picture the average nude human body coated head to toe with sweat.  How much of that sweat actually “sticks” to the body?”  The answer is about two ounces–not too much.
  • In a fitness facility setting, equipment surfaces are NEVER exposed to full sweat-laden nude body surface contact (at least now at any club I’ve ever been to).   An exerciser stands on, sits on, or lies on a machine with a relatively small portion of their total body surface area actually contacting that machine.  However, the major point that can’t be overlooked here is…it doesn’t take much contact (sweaty or not, drops or not) to spread germs or viruses.  The good news, on the other hand, is that it doesn’t take much disinfectant solution to effectively kill germs and viruses!
  • Speaking of drops, excessive sweat at any one spot on the body can turn into a “drop.”  What is the volume of a drop?  It is generally accepted that 20 drops equal 1 ml.  Interestingly, the average amount of cleaning solution dispensed with one pull of a trigger-sprayer is approximately 1 mL. The average person pulls the trigger 3 to 4 times to clean a piece of equipment. That’s the equivalent of 60 to 80 drops of sweat – a lot of sweat! 

 Hopefully you now see the reasons why we say a towel based cleaning system is a safe and effective way to go: 1) The cleaning solution to sweat ratio is strongly in favor of the solution, 2) the cleaning towel is truly clean and safe to reuse—a very effective method for sanitizing just-used exercise equipment surfaces, and 3) a cloth towel-based equipment cleaning system can save you a lot of money versus pre-moistened wipes and paper towel based systems…and don’t forget, you won’t be generating environment polluting paper and wipes waste, either!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • charlie August 1, 2011, 4:00 pm

    what about those towels used by players in professional tennis matches? players are forever toweling off between points, then throwing the towels back at the ball kids, who handle the sweaty towels with ungloved hands. are those kids at risk with germs?

  • Dr. Bruce August 1, 2011, 4:29 pm

    Interesting observation and comment. The “technical” answer to your question has to be YES. Any germs that are on the player(s) would, basically, stil be alive and viable when the towel is thrown back to the ball kids. Will anything be “transmitted”…that’s another question. Watch the ball kid after EACH time the towel is thrown back to them: Do they touch/rub their eyes, nose, or mouth? Do they have any (minor) abrasions on any part of their body that comes in contact with the towel, or with their hands after catching the towel? How healthy are the ball kids; a good, strong immune system is a good first line of defense against germ transmission.

    A few years ago I went to an NBA game with the same concern in mind. So, I followed the trail of the towel that was thrown to the player headed to the bench. Interestingly, it appeared that there was one use per towel per player. And, the trainer/manager who threw and caught the towel was wearing gloves. Good preventive action on behalf of this NBA team (I hope all of the teams use this protocol).

    On the negative side, follow the trail of towels used at the high school level. Generally, it’s a different story. Towels are passed from player to player, in an already vulnerable population! I once asked a head football coach: 1) If he was aware of the lifecycle of the sweat towels used by his team, and 2) Was it a concern to him that the towels may be reused by several players. Unfortunately, the answer to both questions was NO. There’s still a lot to learn and a lot to improve on!