Cleaning, Disinfecting, & Sanitizing Your Gym During COVID-19

Keep your staff and members safe by staying on top of your cleaning schedules and adding new preventative measures.

Reopening plans are being put in place as businesses brace for a changed world following the COVID-19 outbreak. There are many aspects to consider, but the first and most important is to create a clean and safe environment for your health club’s staff and members.

To achieve that, cleaning is not enough—you’ll have to add more disinfecting and sanitizing to your regimen as members return to your gym.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing are defined differently:

  • Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.

With these definitions in mind, it’s easy to see that only cleaning won’t cut it. You’ll have to put steps in place that disinfect and sanitize equipment, door knobs, and other high-touch areas.

Colin Grant, CEO of Pure International Group—based in Hong Kong with clubs also in Singapore, Shanghai, Taiwan and New York—discussed in a webinar how important new cleaning practices were as government restrictions relaxed, allowing limited reopening at his facilities.

“It was important for us that members … could see cleaners walking around the clubs [and] studios actively cleaning on a regular basis,” Grant said. “Having a lot more cleaners being active around the club was very helpful. At the same time, we increased the number of hand sanitizing stations around the club. That also was very popular.”

Make Staff Part of the Solution

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Hand sanitizing stations and signs reminding members to wipe equipment after use are good ideas as well—but members can only do so much.

“Members don’t do as thorough of a job as club staff. So it’s also more efficient to have staff clean than members,” says Jeff Lakers, co-owner of BC Luxury Amenities, a California-based company that provides bath and body care products for health clubs, hotels, spas, and country clubs.

Lakers advises clubs to start their sanitizing process from where all cleaning begins: the cleaning closet.

“I would start with making sure housekeeping/laundry areas are kept clean and maintained as if they were the locker rooms. It all starts there,” he says. “Mops, brooms, rags/towels, chemicals, soaps all over the place create a breeding ground for bacteria and germs, especially on the floor, which staff then transfers to all other areas of the club.”

Then it’s time to maintain.

As part of Pure Group’s reopening plan, members were able to book 90-minute appointments at the club. Between those time slots, staff wiped down equipment.

“After the time slot of 90 minutes, everyone had to leave,” Grant said. “And then we would have to clean the club for 30 minutes, clean everything, and then the next group will be allowed in.”

Lakers emphasizes that the majority of this work will be placed on club management and staff.

“Member cleaning should be kept to a [minimum] in my opinion,” he says. “Placing chemicals into members' hands is not a good idea and increases the potential risk for liability.”

For example, the Injury Liability: An IHRSA Briefing Paper goes over how an Illinois Court of Appeals held that exposure to cleaning solution fumes that injured a member’s respiratory system was not an expected risk related to the use of a health club, so the club was held liable for negligence.

Steps for the Future

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Your club will have to increase cleaning practices and develop relationships with vendors and companies that can keep your facility spotless and safe.

Grant, in a second webinar, relayed an example from his facilities, where a club member tested positive for COVID-19 after visiting several facilities.

“We had a company come in and disinfect the club. We actually had them on standby,” he said. “Have a company on standby, so that you can quickly mobilize them and get them into their club.”

A crew from the company Ecolab, he said, came in at midnight and used a “fogging method” to disinfect the facilities. They were able to open the clubs at 6 a.m., Grant said, “fully disinfected.”

Many vendors are offering useful cleaning and maintenance recommendations. Be sure to check with your vendors to determine if they have created any guides relating to products you already use in your club.

As plans to reopen form, many questions will arise. Find your answers by connecting with others in the industry to discuss sanitizing strategies, cleaning protocols, and ideas for the future. Head to the IHRSA Forum using your IHRSA Account to connect with other fitness industry professionals.

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Rachel Valerio

Rachel Valerio previously served as IHRSA's Digital Content Editor—a position focused on collecting and reporting on fitness industry news, staying on top of IHRSA's social media accounts and website, and hatching new plans to expand the association's digital footprint.