As an integral part of the overall fitness club experience, the locker room can differentiate a facility from its competition in many ways, perhaps most importantly by its cleanliness.

The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) reported in its 2008 Guide to Health Club Cleanliness that 69 percent of members assess cleanliness of a club by visiting its locker rooms, and only 11 percent view locker rooms as the cleanest area of a facility.

Cleanliness can impact retention as well as make a facility more appealing to new members. A clean facility increases members’ likeliness to renew their membership. IHRSA reported 90 percent of respondents were likely to renew if the facility is clean, and only 52 percent said they would renew if they perceived their facility to be unclean.

“It takes two seconds to tidy, but those two seconds can cost you a membership,” says Bruce Sherman, president of GymValet, Beachwood, OH. “The cost of cleaning is much less than the cost of acquiring new members.”

Having previously worked as a fitness center director and personal trainer, Sherman says clubs need to have a cleaning manifest and timetable beyond the cursory walkthrough. In an active facility where the locker rooms get a lot of use, something always needs cleaning, vacuuming, sanitizing or picking up.

“As a professional and consumer, I have certain expectations of what I would like to see to make my total gym experience pleasant and pleasurable,” Sherman says. “There is nothing more of a turn-off than a smelly, unkempt locker room.”

A firm believer that cleanliness is one of the best sales and marketing tools a club has, Sherman says facility operators do not think about club cleanliness as much as they should, but regular cleaning throughout the day means members are less likely to be concerned about germs causing health concerns and clutter causing safety concerns.

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After cleaning clubs as a janitor, owning his own facilities and eventually designing them, Bruce Carter, president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, Weston, FL, says certain design choices—such as the color of grout, placement of floor drains, type of materials, placement of ventilation and hands-free fixtures—make all the difference in maintaining a locker room.

“Initially from a design perspective, if you choose certain materials, it’s going to automatically allow the locker room to be easier to clean,” Carter says. “By taking the time to consider your materials and layout of your locker room, you will find it will look better longer as well.”

The current trend of an all-tile locker room can be more easily maintained by choosing colors that require lower maintenance and are more inviting to members, Carter says.

“The really light color tile and grout look nice, but it asks for more maintenance because it is going to turn dark with dirt and mildew,” he says. “Even more importantly, tile needs to be nonslip. Instead of nonslip, many times people will place rubber, vinyl or plastic mats on the floor, and that becomes a cleanliness issue because the dirt gets caught on the mats to create odors, mildew and bacteria.”

Locker rooms also require extra ventilation to remove the moisture that can lead to mildew, bacteria and odors accumulating on the walls and floors.

Even with these specific design choices, locker rooms can quickly show signs of deterioration because tile and grout absorb moisture. Products such as Sani- GLAZE put an overlay coating on tile and grout to create a nonporous surface that eliminate the places that bacteria can thrive. The shield over the old grout and tile can even increase the coefficient of friction on the surface to create a safer floor with less slippage.

“We eliminate the inherent problems that are a part of a tile and grout design to recreate the floor in a way you can maintain it,” says Joel Mitchell, senior vice president of SaniGLAZE, Jacksonville, FL. “We are able to take a floor that’s probably had 24/7 showering or activities and tremendously minimize the amount of abuse that floor takes on the surface. When our coat goes on, you don’t have to use acids, pressure washers or bleach to get down into the grout anymore.”

The coatings require rejuvenation each year, taking between six to eight hours for a 700-square-foot area.

“We aren’t really cleaning the floor but rather are making it easier for the cleaner to do his job,” Mitchell says.