The 5 least hygienic items a runner owns

Runners can claim to be pretty healthy overall, but they certainly can’t boast about being the cleanest. You know it’s true because we all blow our noses on shirtsleeves when out on a run and sometimes rock seven toenails after tough outings (and brag about them).

Still, when you take a look inside the average runner’s gym bag, you can’t help but get the heebie-jeebies. Check out this list of the five least hygienic items a runner owns, and then stock up on anti-bacterial everything.

1/ Running shoes

It’s obvious - to everyone within nose shot - that the inside of your running shoes are gross. Hot, sweaty and with minimal ventilation, running shoes are a germ’s dream. Luckily, since your foot is the only thing going inside it, the risk of picking up infections is pretty minimal. Still, it’s not a bad idea to wear anti-microbial socks, especially if you have a history of fungal toenail infections, athlete’s foot or warts. At the very least, anti-microbial socks can make the stench slightly less nauseating for your running buddies when you peel them off after a run.

Still, the inside of your shoe is nothing compared to your soles, according to one University of Arizona experiment that found the outsides of shoes contain more than 140 times as much bacteria as the insides. Even if you spend your runs on pavement or well-established trails, it’s likely that the soles of your shoes are going to come into contact with bodily secretions, including animal and (sorry to break this to you) human fecal matter, says Philip Tierno, Jr., Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. 

READ: 4 fixes for happier feet

That’s why you should leave it at the door. In the Arizona experiment, more than 90 percent of bacteria on shoes - including E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonia - transfer onto tile flooring when worn inside. Tierno recommends slipping your shoes off and either spraying the soles with a germicide or putting them in some sort of a container that will keep them from rubbing against and infecting your other belongings. And, whatever you do, don’t touch your shoes and then eat a protein bar.


2/ Phone

Even if you aren’t a runner, your phone is disgusting. But then you add tons of sweat and trips into race-day portable toilets to the mix, and you’re cranking up the dial on the dirty for your phone, explains runner Dr Ella Martin, a pathologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and member of the Microbiology Committee of the College of American Pathologists. 

In an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, scientists found that phones were consistently covered with micro-organisms that could result in the flu, conjunctivitis and diarrhoea. And that sweaty armband you put your phone in? It’s pulling in all those germs as well. (And when’s the last time you washed that armband?)

READ: 4 running social media mistakes to avoid

While you don’t have to go crazy cleaning your phone in a germaphobic panic, it’s a good idea to clean it regularly, Martin says. Try running the bristles of a dry toothbrush along the phone’s crevices to remove buildup and giving the phone’s surface a quick rubdown with an antibacterial wipe. (Note: don’t spray any cleaners on your phone that have alcohol or ammonia! Find a mobile cleaning spray and uses a microfibre cloth instead.)
 


3/ Sweaty running clothes


Not getting those exercise clothes off ASAP after your workouts can cause more than backne and yeast infections (although those are bad enough). When fitrated.com took bacterial samples from 27 common pieces of workout equipment at large fitness chains around the country, it found a breeding ground that could move directly to you.

Take the treadmill as an example. It was covered in 79 times more bacteria than a sink tap in a public toilet. Even worse, free weights were covered in 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat - and roughly 70 percent of the bacteria were potentially harmful.

When you take your workouts indoors, pushing buttons on the treadmill, wiping your hands on your shorts and using your sleeves to wipe sweat off of your face, those germs spread all over you and your clothes. Next time you head to the gym, use those disinfecting wipes on everything, not just your cardio machine. And when you get home, put yourself in the shower and your sweaty threads in the wash. The sooner you wash them, the less any germs present will be able to multiply, says Tierno, explaining that when your workout clothes hang out in the hamper for days and weeks on end, bacteria is able to feast on all of the dead skin cells that you sloughed off during your workout.


4/ Water bottle

How often do you wash your water bottle? When treadmillreviews.com had athletes use water bottles for a week without washing, many of them came back with several times more bacteria - and right on the mouthpiece - than a pet’s food or water dish. 

“Wherever germs have a moist environment, they are going to thrive,” Martin says. “Our own mouth flora is getting on the mouthpiece and marinating there.” Funnily enough, Martin admits to being just as guilty as the next person of not washing her water bottle every day. “I’m more concerned about sharing my water bottle with someone else than ingesting my own germs.”

READ: 17 household items runners should chuck out

To keep from drinking anything but your own mouth germs, try to avoid touching the mouthpiece directly with your hands. For cleanliness, get two (or more) water bottles, she says. That way, you’ll always have a newly cleaned one at your disposal after washing the other one. 


5/ Earbuds

Can’t run without music? The more often you use your earbuds, the greater your chances of an ear infection, according to one study from Indian researchers. It found that, by increasing the temperature and humidity of the ear canal as well as causing small skin abrasions within the ear, earbuds create the perfect introduction for microorganisms to enter the body. Plus, think about it, where are your earbuds right now? Crumpled up in the bottom of a sweaty gym bag, perhaps?

You could use an anti-microbial wipe or clean off those earbuds with a paper towel using just about any cleaner.  Don’t drench the device as you don’t want extra moisture to get inside and cause them to go on the fritz. Also, for earbuds that have silicone tips, you can take them off and clean then separately.

So, obviously earbuds aren’t for sharing. And if the germs don’t gross you out, the earwax they are covered in should.