Surveys consistently show that a clean club is one of the most important things people look for when choosing a fitness facility and deciding whether to stay. So it makes sense for club management to make cleanliness a priority. After all, a new-looking facility can be a key part of a club's marketing.

Club owners have three choices. First, their clubs can be dirty and look worn. The second is to focus on cleaning and maintenance with little attention to future maintenance planning. The third is to create a low-maintenance club that is an attractive marketing tool and requires less cleaning and payroll expense.

Here are some proven tips to help keep new and existing clubs looking their best:

Walls: Dirty, beat-up walls are common in health clubs. Some areas, no matter how many times you paint them, quickly look worn again. Choosing the right colors for walls can help significantly. Stay away from light colors in heavy-traffic areas. This does not mean that you can only use dark colors. It just means that lighter colors work best on large walls and where traffic is light.

Also, I recommend covering walls in high-traffic areas with materials and finishes that require little or no maintenance. The use of laminates, tile or heavy-duty vinyl wall coverings helps minimize a worn look. One tip for laminate on walls is to properly prepare the walls before applying the laminate, especially in locker rooms. More tile on the walls also allows for better maintenance because it lowers the possibility of moisture damage — as long as the tiles are installed properly. Granite or other hard surfaces cost more initially, but they save on maintenance costs in the long run.

Floors: Once again, light-colored flooring, including most carpet, makes little sense because it gets dirty quickly and is hard to keep clean. Lighter-colored vinyl floors and stair treads also show dirt quickly. White or light grout around ceramic tile turns dark and is impossible to keep clean, so it's best to choose darker tile and grout colors that interact with lighter colors.

Some club owners eliminate carpet in the workout areas altogether, going with rubber flooring instead. If this is done and mostly black rubber flooring is used, then it is important to use energetic colors in other places around the club.

Group exercise flooring: For many years, wood has been the standard choice for group exercise floors. However, today's classes often use more accessories, which means more wear and tear for wood floors. As a result, a growing number of owners choose an absorbent-backed vinyl floor that looks like wood.

Lighting: Lighting options now allow for long-lasting, energy-efficient fixtures and bulbs. The long-lasting bulbs are especially desirable in lighting fixtures that are difficult to reach.

Furnishings: A key point with furnishings is to stay away from fabric-covered chairs. Instead, use darker vinyl or leather. Also, glass tables look dirty more often than they look clean. Make sure to spend the money upfront on commercial grade furniture because most home-oriented furniture wears out quickly.

Plants: You have two types of plant options: real and silk. Real plants are best for a healthier environment, but they require regular attention. Silk plants require dusting, but they don't deteriorate like real plants do. Often in clubs, real plants look half dead, and silk plants look dusty. Either keep them healthy and clean or don't have them at all.

For club operators and cleaning people, simple steps can make day-to-day club operations easier. Many club owners unknowingly let their clubs go because they get used to the environment and don't see how bad their clubs look. But just imagine the effects of having a dirty, worn club when your competitors' clubs look clean and refreshing.

Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $600 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.