Jeremy White, a graduate student in the geology department, was excited to try the new exercise equipment in the USF Campus Recreation Center (CRC), where he has worked out for 10 years.
Yet, White’s excitement was dampened by more than just sweat when he looked around and realized he was the only person in the facility using a workout towel, he said.
“It seems like it could contribute to a hygiene problem at the gym,” he said. “Cleanliness will always be something at the back of my mind.”
Previously provided by the fitness staff at the CRC, free towel service had come to be commonplace for White and other users of the facility. Yet, the convenience, which cost the facility $20,000 annually, was cut in the face of budget tightening over the summer, said Eric Hunter, director of the CRC.
The service, which allowed students to take a towel from the fitness room, use it while on the equipment and drop it in a laundry hamper where CRC employees would later wash it, is not common practice among other Florida universities or even private recreational facilities, he said.
“We started reviewing all our potential areas we could cut back in, and this area surfaced so easily because this was an area we could cut back in without really affecting the overall services we offer in the building,” Hunter said.
Hunter said hygiene will not be compromised as a result of this decision. The center is still within industry standards and is “probably taking more precautions than most in having cleaning equipment available,” he said.
The facility has increased the number of medicated wipes available for users on site, placed spray bottles in areas that allow users to wipe down equipment, created a campaign to encourage users to bring their own towel and instructed staff to “be more diligent” in wiping down machinery, Hunter said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, improper gym hygiene can lead to MRSA and staph infections, in addition to other bacterial infections and viruses.
Hunter said center users will now simply be expected to adhere to the typical standards of a gym in order to allow the facility to operate without cutting back in other areas.
“The onus is on the user of the equipment to have proper gym etiquette and wipe it after they get done,” he said. “A lot of people will wipe it down before they get on, because they don’t trust the person who used it before them, but proper etiquette is to wipe it down before you get on and after you get off. We leave that to the responsibility of the user, but if we see some area that has been grossly ignored, our fitness staff has been instructed to try and wipe that down.”
Though he understands that cutting the service saves money, White said he does not think the decision is worth the possible risk. However, he said he still frequents the gym four to five times a week.
“I can’t see the benefit of saving $20,000 a year on towel service, if somebody did come down with something,” he said. “It would be a nasty public relations affair.”