Don’t Wipe the Equipment

Anyone who has visited a gym in the past five years has seen the policy of wiping down the equipment.

Signs on the walls have motivational messages, “No one wants to sit in your sweat”, or “Stop the spread of germs”, even “Cleaning up after yourself is a great way to burn calories”, and so on.

This is a symptom of what I call the “Purel Industrial Complex”, a cynical plan to sell more of their gawd-awful chemicals. This is the idea that germs are to be avoided at all costs. There are problems with this approach. I’ve also written about this here.

You know when you shook the hand of that person just before coming into the gym? Did you wash right after that? No. In fact, you probably rubbed your eye with that hand or stuck a finger in your mouth for some unknown reason. The other person’s germs went right there, and that’s probably OK. Any foreign germ that made its way in will exercise your immune system, making it stronger.

We all know that certain germs will kill you, but we are also finding out that the DNA of all the myriad bacteria in our bodies exceeds our own DNA by ten times. We need these “germs” to do our dirty work. Antibiotics and sanitizers kill these and that could be why we are getting sick so easily.

I think a gym’s policy of “wipe after use” is ineffective, unnecessary, and even harmful. And it’s not just because I’m lazy. Here’s my rationale:

  1. You can’t trust that everyone who used a machine before you will wipe. We’ve all seen that guy who sweats all over the treadmill and just walks away. Even though there is a policy, what policy has 100% compliance? It builds ill will and judgmental attitudes towards fellow gym members.
  2. Knowing that the person before you might not have cleaned the equipment, you’ll wipe before you use anyway if you think it’s important. This could double the amount of wipes used because the previous user could already have wiped it. But you don’t know. This leads to wasted resources and higher costs for gym owners.
  3. Some people don’t mind being exposed to germs to improve their immune system. Let them decide whether or not to wipe before using the equipment.

I do have an exception to this policy, however. If you know you are highly infectious, certainly wipe the equipment. Otherwise, you are a douche. So if you woke up this morning with pink-eye, then everything you touch gets those germs and the infection spreads. Better yet, just stay home and don’t come in contact with other living things.

The best policy, then, for gyms is not to have a policy on mandatory wiping. Make wipes available as a service for those who are concerned. But don’t judge those who don’t wipe. They might be lazy, but they also might be philosophically opposed to the practice.

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