Those who take part in combat sports aren’t averse to risk or pain. Cuts, bruises, muscle strains, and even broken bones are the cost that many martial artists pay for participating in the sport that they love, and scars tell a story about the fights that they took part in. However, although the risks of injuries are high, there is something that can be much more dangerous to those who attend your gym. After constant use, the equipment at your gym—boxing gloves, bench presses, and especially the mats that your athletes train on—are teeming with bacteria and other germs.
In sports that involve bodily contact between two fighters, there’s bound to be transmissions of infections and diseases. And, in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic, sanitisation is even more important, as you strive to limit the spread of the transmission of diseases among the athletes, trainers, and your employees. By following a strict cleaning regime, you can limit exposure to dangerous bacteria and germs. Diligence is key to setting up a cleaning schedule to limit the spread of bacteria.
Anatomy of an MMA Mat
There are many types of martial arts mats available on the market, each of which has its own specific cleaning and maintenance needs. The most common of which are EVA foam mats, which is an extremely versatile and durable substance able to cushion falls and spring back to its original shape. EVA foam is a closed-celled foam, and this means air is trapped inside of the mats in pockets, and this provides cushioning. EVA foam is easily cleaned and disinfected, and can hold up in harsh environments. Sometimes referred to as foam rubber, EVA mats feel almost like rubber, and have a bit of spring to them.
The next major type of MMA mat that you may use is a rollout mat. Rollout mats are made from XPE foam, a closed cell foam that is strong, durable, and dense. Rollout mats are wrapped in a layer of vinyl, which is a great surface to train on. Equipped with Velcro connectors, rollout mats are easy to set up and tear down.
The last type of mat available are judo mats, which have a core made from reconstituted polyurethane foam. This foam protects those falling from critical heights over 1.5 m. Wrapped in a vinyl surface with a tatami texture, you’ll notice that these mats have great traction.
The main reason we mentioned all the different types of mats is because each mat has a different way of cleaning them and disinfecting them. Cleaning your mats is an important step in the proper upkeep of your gym, and can help prevent the spread of staph infections and other viruses.
Bacteria and Skin Diseases Among Martial Artists
According to the article “Infectious Disease in Contact Sports, ” the most common bacterial infections that martial artists suffer include conjunctivitis, head lice, and warts 1. Some other more dangerous viruses include the herpes virus, hepatitis C, and, less common than others but more dangerous, HIV. Recently, the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) has become a major threat to the health and safety of martial artists.
Staph infections pose a great threat to athletes, especially those who engage in skin to skin contact. Staph infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which is bacteria that thrives on the ground, on martial arts mats, and on human skin2. Almost a third of the population has been colonised with the bacteria that causes staph infections but are asymptomatic. The reason so many people are unaffected by the bacteria that causes staph infections is because it is usually harmless unless it gets under the skin, through cuts, scrapes, or lacerations.
Martial artists experience the perfect storm of factors that lead to staph infections. Here’s an example: your training partner hits you with a perfectly timed strike, which opens the scar tissue next to your eye. After cleaning the cut, you practise arm locks with your sparring partner, and your head touches an infected portion of your sparring partner’s body. Bacteria has now found a way into your body through the cut next to your eye.
Once staph bacteria gets under the skin, it can cause an infection which may manifest itself in blisters, boils, and skin rashes3. These infections are usually minor and can be easily treated with antibiotics. However, if the bacteria reaches your bloodstream, the infection can be much more serious, possibly even life-threatening, and can spread to your lungs, bones, joints, or heart.
Elite martial artists suffer from the effects of staph infections all the time. In 2007, Cole Escovedo, a featherweight who fought at UFC 130, battled a spinal staph infection that temporarily paralyzed him from the waist down and nearly ended his career4. But professional martial artists aren’t the only ones at risk of staph infections. In 2016, there were 103 000 adults taking part in martial arts programmes in England5, and a comparable number of young athletes training. Each one of these athletes may be at risk of staph infections because of their training. Proper cleaning and sanitising procedures can limit the spread of bacterial infections and viruses.
Cleaning and Covid-19
The Amateur Martial Association (AMA UK) released the document “AMA COVID-19 Policy Guidelines and Recommendations”6, which is an incredibly helpful set of recommendations on how to adhere to the government guidelines, like social distancing, hand washing, and sanitising surfaces.
Here are some cleaning tips gleaned from the article:
- Clean the mat surface before each use.
- Provide hand sanitiser for athletes and encourage them to wash their hands.
- Cleaning punching bags, strike pads, or shields after each use.
How do mats get dirty?
Regularly used training surfaces can get covered in dirt and grime, including blood and sweat. Also, when athletes spar against each other, they leave behind hair, fingernails or toenails, and even skin. Sometimes things can be trapped in between the mats or seep between the gaps.
By being diligent, you can create a safe training experience for the athletes who attend your gym. No athlete wants to see a fingernail sticking out of the corner of a mat or dust building up in a corner, as that can show maintenance issues at the training centre. Conversely, by keeping a clean gym and sanitising the mats after every use, you build the confidence of those who attend your gym, and they’ll recognise that you pursue excellence in everything that you do.
How often should MMA Mats be cleaned?
MMA mats should be cleaned after every single use in order to prevent the buildup of dirt, dust, and bacteria. It should be noted that cleaning your mats isn’t a long, time-consuming process. Depending on the size of your training centre, it may take you a small amount of time to sweep off and sanitise your mats. At the end of every night, you may want to do one last deep clean of all the mats in your training centre, including the mats used for the training surface, as well as the mats used in change rooms, walkways, and wall pads. Try your best to clean any surface that people have walked on or touched.
Also, once every six months, clean in between the gaps of all the mats in your training centre. Pull up the mats, vacuum and mop underneath the subfloor, and clean the bottoms of all the mats before you put them back. This helps prevent against mould and mildew growing underneath the foam mats, as water and sweat can still seep through even jigsaw connector pieces.
Best practices for cleaning Jiu Jitsu mats
One of the best practices to get into is to regularly clean your Jiu Jitsu mats after every session. Regular upkeep of your gym not only helps to keep the athlete safe, but it also builds and enhances your reputation. Clean and pristine mats show the athletes who attend your gym that you take pride in your training centre. Here are the three things you should do to clean your mats thoroughly:
- Remove dirt and debris
As mentioned above, dirt, debris, and grime build up on top of the mats. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is to remove all the dirt from the top of the mats before you can start cleaning. If you’re looking for a low-tech, inexpensive solution, use a broom and a dustpan to sweep all surfaces that receive regular foot traffic. Another helpful tool to use would be to use a dust mop, like a Swiffer, to pick up any lint or dust on the mats.
Vacuum cleaners are probably the easiest ways to clean the mats in your gym. They easily clean sizeable areas, and help to minimise the amount of cleaning that you have to do. Here are the major types of vacuum cleaners, and the advantages of each:
-Upright vacuums- Upright vacuums come in both cordless and corded varieties, and are probably the cheapest and easily available vacuums on the market. Consider purchasing a corded vacuum cleaner for large training centres, as the cordless variety may run out of battery before you finish cleaning.
-Canister vacuums -These are best used for multi-surface use, from hardwood floors to small carpeted areas. Many canisters provide increased suction ability when compared to other upright vacuums, and this is primarily because of the innovation of separate units for motors and the receptacle.
-Backpack vacuums- Although backpack vacuums are more expensive, they have been shown to increase productivity over four times from traditional upright vacuums, providing more value from the unit. This would be especially helpful in large training centres where more square metres need to be covered.
-Robotic vacuums- Robotic vacuums are probably the most expensive type of vacuums available on the market. But what sets them apart from the other vacuums is that they are autonomous, and can be set to clean your training centre at different times during the day. You can even set the vacuums up to automatically clean your training centre in between classes.
- Clean with a mild disinfectant
Once you’ve got the mats completely clean of dust and debris, then you can set about disinfecting them. What you’ll need for this is a mild cleaner, and a cloth to wipe down all the mats. A helpful tip would be to invest in a microfibre spray mop, as this cuts out all the bending that you need to do if you were wiping down the mats by hand. Check out this article about the 10 best microfibre mops in the UK to help you narrow down your decision. Consider purchasing a wide microfibre mop over 1m in length to minimise the time to mop the surface.
The best cleaners for foam, vinyl, and rubber mats
There are many cleaners you could use for your martial arts mats, but you should purchase a cleaner which is non-toxic, safe for skin contact, and will not cause damage to your mats. Foam, vinyl, and rubber mats are incredibly durable, yet some cleaning agents may react with the materials in the mats, causing them to deteriorate. Always spot test a new cleaning product you’re using on a single mat before using it on the whole training surface. This allows you to check and see whether the cleaner will cause discolouration or deterioration to the mats.
- Sugar Soap– This soap is an excellent general-purpose cleaner around a home, and can clean painted surfaces. The soap gets its name because in its powdered form it resembles sugar. This soap is an emulsifier which can lift dirt and grease out of foam mats, allowing you to wash away grime. Sugar soap is a mild cleaner which can be used safely on martial arts mats. It should be noted that sugar soap isn’t a disinfectant, and may leave traces of bacteria on the mats after cleaning.
- Mild Mould and Mildew Disinfectant- Invest in a mild disinfectant to clean the mats in your gym, as only an anti-bacterial spray will remove harmful germs and bacteria that cause the spread of diseases like HPV, staph infections, mould, mildew, and ringworm.
The Opal Eco – All-Purpose Antibacterial Disinfectant is a plant infused antiviral solution which is safe for contact with skin and eyes. It is made from only the best ingredients, and lasts up to 24 hours after application. It is safe to use on carpets or other fabric materials, including foam mats.
- 5% Bleach Cleaner- Sometimes, simple sugar so or a mild mould and mildew disinfectant won’t do the job, and this is where you may need to use a more hard-core cleaner. For example, a bleach solution may be best to use on rubber mats in your change rooms to get rid of stubborn bacteria. Bleach is especially hard on foam and vinyl surfaces, so you may not want to use a bleach solution to clean all the mats in your gym.
The Dettol Antibacterial Mould & Mildew Remover Spray is a great mild bleach cleaner which removes 99% of bacteria that causes viruses, including the Covid-19 virus.
The chores at your gym may not be the most fun or exciting duties that you perform, but it is an important part of regular upkeep and maintenance to clean and disinfect your martial arts mats. The way that you clean your gym will show how much pride you have for it, whilst also communicating to all the members of your gym how important you think their health and welfare is. A proper cleaning regiment dovetails into an overall hygiene and safety policy, and can help to prevent the spread of viruses like Covid-19. There is no better way to show that you care then getting your hands dirty and cleaning your gym.
1.Peterson AR, Nash E, Anderson BJ. Infectious Disease in Contact Sports. Sports Health. 2019;11(1):47-58. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6299350/
6.”AMA Covid 19 Policy Guidelines and Recommendations – 6-230620,” The Amateur Martial Association, accessed athttps://amauk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/AMA-Covid-19-Policy-Guidelines-and-Recommendations-6-230620-1.pdf