Are Gym Saunas Safe (7 Ways to Protect Yourself from Gym Germs)

Gym equipment is typically immaculately clean because the staff ensures regular cleaning for health and sanitation purposes. This is great – until the shirtless guy using the weight bench doesn’t wipe up his sweat. Is it the same in the gym sauna? Exactly how safe and sanitary are they anyway?

Gym saunas are safe to use because of the high standards placed on gyms to maintain a sanitary environment, especially in warm, moist areas that are ideal for bacterial growth. Inquire about your gym’s cleaning and maintenance schedule, and take certain personal precautions such as always wearing shoes and sitting on a towel during your session.

Keep reading to learn more about potential sanitary concerns in your gym sauna, plus seven tips you can do to protect yourself.

Are gym saunas sanitary?

Any reputable gym will have cleaning routines in place that help keep all areas of the gym as sanitary as possible. However, allowing the general public to use the sauna freely can create some situations that are conducive to mold, mildew, and bacteria growth. 

A well-maintained gym sauna will be clean and in good repair, minimizing any potential risks. However, even regular use between cleanings can introduce any number of unsanitary conditions. Patrons who are ill, have an open wound or infection, or are simply still sweating from working out can spread bacterial and viral infections to others even after they’ve left the sauna.

Trusting your gym’s maintenance and cleaning schedule goes a long toward being comfortable in the sauna, but there are also things you can do personally to minimize your risk of picking up any contaminants that might be present. For example, you should also bring your own towel (not the gym’s!) to sit on and make sure to sanitize your hands with Purell as soon as you exit.

Are there a lot of germs in gym saunas?

It probably doesn’t surprise you that gym equipment has a fairly high concentration of germs. If you consider that some people will go straight from working out to the sauna, it makes sense to assume that surfaces in the sauna may also be contaminated, especially if they’re not being cleaned regularly

Sauna users who sit directly on the bench, or walk barefoot inside, may transfer water to the porous wood interior, making bacteria growth more likely. In a busy gym, these benches may need cleaning as often as every hour.

The proper venting of a sauna room is also necessary for air circulation which will help prevent mold growth. Mold can be detrimental to those with allergies and respiratory issues. 

If possible, you’re better off visiting a sauna that doesn’t have wood flooring as it is very difficult to fully clean.

How to stay safe when using gym saunas

Ultimately, your actions are the most important component of staying safe when using a gym sauna.

Here are some of the most important tips for safe gym sauna use:

  • Ask questions about the cleaning and maintenance schedule
  • Take a cleansing shower
  • Wear shoes
  • Bring a clean, dry towel
  • Practice safe distancing
  • Be aware of any open wounds
  • Sanitize regularly

Ask questions about the cleaning and maintenance schedule

Most states don’t inspect gym saunas unless a consumer requests it, or there has been some type of outbreak so you have to be proactive to ensure your sauna is being cleaned properly. Unfortunately, gyms aren’t like restaurants and don’t have a help A rating by the door.

Speaking with gym management to get a feel for their knowledge of needed sauna maintenance may keep you safe during use. Pay specific attention to whether they routinely use a mild detergent under benches where sweat is likely to drip. 

The daily wipe-down may not be enough depending on how heavy the sauna use is. Some gyms may need to deep clean daily, if not more often. If the floor is made of wood panels, they will need to be removed to clean under them. Even then, keeping them free of stains and other issues may be impossible.

Take a cleansing shower

Whether you’ve worked out or not, you likely have accumulated some sweat, dirt, or food particles during the course of your day. 

Taking a brief shower before and after your sauna session can wash away skin bacteria and sweat that will improve the safety of your experience. 

It can also wash away toxins that the sauna helped you sweat out.

Bring a clean, dry towel

If you take a shower, bring along a different towel than you used for drying off from the sauna. 

Sitting on a clean towel will create a barrier between you and anything left behind from the last user. Always sit on a clean towel while using a gym sauna. Your towel will also help to absorb the sweat you expel, helping to keep odor at a minimum. 

If your gym provides towels, opt to bring yours from home anyway. That way you know it’s clean.

Wear shoes

A pair of slides, flip-flops, or other sandals may go a long way toward keeping your feet protected from transferable infections. 

While the temperatures in a sauna are high, heat does rise, meaning the area around the floor maintains a much lower temperature. This allows some infections like athlete’s foot, impetigo, and yeast-based skin rashes to survive.

Protecting your skin from direct contact with the floor will likely eliminate any worry of contracting these conditions. 

Practice safe distancing

As we all learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining a little more social distance can reduce the risk of contracting an illness. 

Keep at least 3 feet of distance between yourself and other sauna users, to minimize your risk. If you notice anyone with a runny nose, cough, or other symptoms, exit the sauna immediately. 

Using a gym sauna to sweat out an illness is also not advised. Not only could you have something (like a fever) that would be adversely affected by the high heat, but you may also spread airborne illness to others. 

Be aware of open wounds

It’s a good idea to check your body for any wounds prior to entering a sauna. 

Uncovered areas of broken skin are more susceptible to germ penetration. Make sure any open wound is tightly covered with a bandage prior to sauna use.    

Additionally, entering the sauna with an open wound could cause you to become to the source of unsanitary conditions as any potential bacteria or infection will thrive in the warm, moist environment of the sauna.

Sanitize regularly

At this point, everyone has a little bottle of Purell with them most of the time, right? Right after handling money and pumping gas, the gym is probably the place you need it the most.

Sanitize your hands with a liquid or gel sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after exiting the sauna even if you’re heading directly to the shower.

Any time you’re coming into contact with surfaces that others – especially sweaty others – are likely to have touched, you should wash or sanitize your hands.