How to Clean Workout Gear You Didn’t Know You Could (or Should) Clean

Cleaning common surfaces is more important than ever. And when it comes to gym gear, you have a lot of surfaces — and types of materials — to consider. You may already know how to clean your yoga mat, but you may not be familiar with the best practices for cleaning and disinfecting other gym gear. Whether you hit your local fitness studio or workout at home, it’s vital to understand which surfaces may harbor harmful germs and how to safely disinfect them.

Safe Sanitizing and Disinfecting

In general, high-touch surfaces in recreational environments such as gyms may require regular disinfecting. In one study, researchers collected samples from fitness centers and discovered bacteria from 17 bacterial families and 25 bacterial genera, including pathogenic and potentially pathogenic bacterial genera. 

But when disinfecting, you may want to be careful to make sure fitness centers don’t become home to drug-resistant bacteria. In another study, researchers discovered 462 S. aureus isolates on 45 exercise equipment surfaces in university gyms, and 43 percent of them were resistant to the antibiotic ampicillin. Many were resistant to multiple other drugs, too. 

Why do gyms teem with antibiotic-resistant germs? Researchers think it’s because many people use cleaners and hand sanitizers containing triclosan, an antibacterial agent. When germs become resistant to triclosan, they may become resistant to other antibiotics as well.

Even if you don’t go to a gym, any equipment you’ve borrowed or purchased from a gym runs the risk of harboring these germs. If antibiotic-resistant bacteria finds its way into your bloodstream through a skin abrasion, it can be dangerous for some people. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 120,000 s. aureus bacteremia cases led to 20,000 deaths in 2017. Once antibiotic resistance emerges, it can spread to different bacteria and different settings. So it’s a good idea to be savvy about which disinfectants and sanitizers you use at the gym.

How to Clean Your Workout Gear

Use these tips to keep exercise accessories clean and safe. 


Many people spend a significant amount of money on gym shoes to make sure we get just the right amount of support. But how often do you clean them? Regularly use a mild soap or specialized footwear cleaner to get the dirt and mud off of the uppers. Remove the laces as well as the insoles or liners, softly brush off dust and dirt, scrub them with a mild soap and water solution, and then rinse them thoroughly with clean water. To clean the outsoles, let mud dry and scrub them hard, using a hose and brush if anything is stuck. To clean the insoles — which absorb a lot of sweat — scrub them with either mild soap, a baking-soda-and-water paste, or a vinegar-and-water mix; then let them air dry. Avoid putting shoes in a washer or dryer, which can cause irreparable damage. 

Free weights 

Many hands touch equipment such as dumbbells, plates, medicine balls, and kettlebells in a gym environment. Even in your own home, you can transfer pathogenic germs to these surfaces, so regular cleaning remains important. 

The best way to keep this gear clean is to start with clean hands. Soap and water works best. If you use hand sanitizer, make sure it’s designed for use on skin, not surfaces. As mentioned above, it’s best to avoid hand sanitizers that contain antibacterial agents; instead stick with ethyl-alcohol-based sanitizers

Use a disinfecting spray or wipe to clean equipment. Look for a disinfectant on the EPA’s list of cleaners that work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

In general, if you opt for a spray, it’s best to apply it to a paper towel (not your gym towel) and use the wipe on the equipment rather than spraying the product onto the equipment directly. Aim to cover the entire piece of equipment, not only the part you see and touch. When using equipment with multiple pieces, such as a barbell with weighted plates, clean all parts of the equipment, including the barbell collars that keep the plates from sliding off. Let the cleanser dry completely. It must stay in contact with equipment for a specific amount of time to kill germs. 

Gym bags

Keeping your gym bag clean starts with prevention. Organize it to contain spills. And don’t just toss in your dirty shoes and stinky clothes, which can take a toll on any bag. Instead, consider the following steps.

  • Put a teabag inside your shoes to combat the smell, and wrap the soles in shower caps to prevent dirt from getting all over your bag.
  • Use a wet bag to keep sweaty clothes separated from the gym bag.
  • Shake loose dirt from the bag, and use a lint roller if dirt has collected in crevices. 
  • Many bags are machine washable. If yours isn’t, routinely wipe it with a soapy rag
How to Clean Workout Gear You Didn’t Know You Could (or Should) Clean

Earbuds and headphones

Even if you don’t use them for workouts, you should wipe your headphones down with a mixture of soap and water on a damp cloth once a week. Dry them with a soft cloth, and avoid using alcohol, which can be damaging. If you use them for workouts, clean them after each session. Use a small, soft brush or a specially designed tool to get debris (such as earwax) out of the inside of your earbuds. 

Watches, fitness trackers, and wearable devices

We use them to track our health, so fitness trackers can get dirty with dead skin, body oils, sweat, and more. Cleaning them weekly should do the trick. If you have a detachable band, remove the electronic part. Wipe the band with rubbing alcohol, then wash it with dishwashing or laundry soap. Soak it in the sink for 15 minutes, then roll it in a dish towel and press dry. If your watch is waterproof and doesn’t have a detachable band, use the rubbing alcohol approach; then bring it into the shower to wash it.


Phones are must-have fitness gear now; we use them to listen to music, podcasts, and to stream workouts. If you set yours down on common surfaces, it’s probably grimy. To disinfect your phone without causing damage, follow these recommendations.

  • Turn off and unplug the phone.
  • Stick with cotton balls and lint-free cloths to avoid scratches.
  • Apply 70-percent rubbing alcohol to the cloth or cotton ball (never directly to the screen) and wipe down the phone. Avoid bleach.
  • With a waterproof smartphone, use soap and water on a damp cloth.

Sweaty and stinky clothes

A hard workout may result in soaking wet, sweaty clothes, but avoid the urge to put them straight in the wash. To help your gym clothes stay fresh, try the following techniques.

  • Allow them to dry and air out first — away from your clean clothes.
  • Pre-soak them for an hour or more in half a cup of white vinegar mixed with cold water.
  • Use cold water to wash gym clothes to avoid breaking down the fabrics. Turn them inside out before submerging.
  • Hang them to dry and skip fabric softener, which is damaging to gym clothes.
  • Consider a sport-specific detergent if you still can’t ditch the stink.

Mats (including yoga mats)

Follow any instructions your mat’s manufacturer provides, and aim to wipe it down with a mixture of half and half vinegar and water after each use. You can also get specially-designed cleaning solutions to spray on and rinse or wipe off. To deep clean it, wet your mat, scrub it with detergent, and rinse it. Also, consider soaking it in a bathtub if possible. Hang your mat to dry, but keep it out of direct sunlight, which is damaging. 


By cleaning your gear appropriately, you’ll help keep yourself and your fellow fitness fanatics safer and healthier. 

By Kristen Seymour

Kristen Seymour is a freelance writer and editor who has spent the last 15 years covering topics ranging from food and fitness to pets, tech and travel for outlets including USA Today, Women’s Running, Fit Bottomed Girls (where she’s a co-owner), and many more. She works from her bike desk (highly recommend!) in sunny Sarasota, Florida. When she’s not writing, you can often find her walking, running, or drinking coffee at the nearby beach.