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In the new era of COVID-19, where does equipment cleaning responsibility fall? 

Have you ever been to a gas station bathroom that was so dirty it made your stomach do backflips? Ironically enough, that may just be how our members feel coming back to a gym. Looking back at pre-pandemic cleaning standards versus those we are now expected to uphold in a post-pandemic world can be quite overwhelming. On one hand it could be concerning how much trust we put in our members to keep our facilities safe, on the other the expectations we have set for our self now could easily bankrupt us. So how do we find the happy medium of keeping our members safe without spending all of our labor costs on cleaning staff?

When most facilities were permitted to reopen in summer 2020 we were primarily outdoors, with little to no equipment. As locations moved indoors the task of single handedly managing deep cleaning multiple times quickly became a daunting task. Our organization specifically reversed all expectations that were ever put on members. Members were encouraged to not rerack their weights, wipe down their cardio equipment after use or put their group exercise equipment away at the end of class. Our staff would take care of all of that. We even closed the facilities mid-day for a deep clean.

On top of that, layer massive staffing reductions due to revenue loss and we were in a pickle. Vice presidents and executive directors were working the fitness floor and scrubbing equipment. It felt as if we were blasted into the twilight zone. But, it worked. Members could tell that we truly and genuinely cared about their safety and would do anything to make sure they were comfortable to come back. What we didn’t know was how long that would be sustainable as membership numbers grew.

So now the pendulum has swung the other way, it’s the perfect time to discuss how to find the middle ground in this dichotomy. There is no need to have employees doing all the cleaning and it is unreasonable to expect members to keep each other safe as well. Below are a few guidelines to help with equipment cleaning responsibility:

Members Need to See You Cleaning

  • Regardless of whether or not your facility chooses to put the responsibility on your members to clean their own equipment, they need to see employees cleaning as well. Perception is reality folks. Even if you do a large deep clean every night with a monthly Electrostatic UV Disinfection, they need to see you clean. If they don’t see it, they won’t believe it’s happening.
  • Pro Tip: If you’re doing a deep clean or hiring a company to come in with an electrostatic sprayer, take a photo or video to show your members how much you’re doing to take care of them on social media.

Wear a Mask, No Matter What

  • Regardless of your facility’s state and local guidelines, having staff wear a mask, no matter what, is vital. This is a symbol of being welcoming, caring and thoughtful to those who may be unsure if they are ready to come back to a fitness facility, as well as those who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

Signage, Signage, Signage

  • Members need to know what is expected of them. Should they wipe down before they get on equipment? After? By spraying the towel? By spraying equipment directly? Do they leave their equipment as is? Communicating with them will be integral to helping them assist you in the cleaning process.

Have Cleaning Supplies Ready

  • This goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway. Now more than ever it is extremely important to having additional cleaning supplies ready. If a member has to look for a spray bottle and towel, search for wipes or can’t find the trash can to throw the used supplies in, they are just going to avoid the task all together. Make it annoyingly easy for them and it will be rewarded.

Don’t Get Lackadaisical

  • It’s easy to settle in and go back to pre-pandemic habits. Let’s all work together to keep this from happening. For our industry’s sake it is painfully important that we all do our part in comforting the general public and do everything we can to avoid having fitness facilities become a hot spot for COVID-19 cases. The safer we are, the quicker we can get people back to working on becoming their healthiest selves.

What guidelines are you following in your facility that could be pivotal for other recreation centers?

Shelby Saylor

Shelby Saylor is an experienced YMCA leader and wellness advocate with over 11 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. With a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology and years of experience as a group exercise instructor, personal trainer, business development consultant, nonprofit and for-profit manager, she is dedicated to developing those in her network to help move the fitness industry forward. After transitioning from her role as the executive director of Healthy Living for The YMCA of Greater Houston, she joined the Les Mills US team as the YMCA national customer experience manager where she gets to work with improving retention, member engagement and so much more with over 900 YMCAs in the US. Want to connect? Follow Shelby on LinkedIn!

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