Surface cleaning has always been an integral part of sanitation in fitness centers, particularly when it comes to wiping down machines or equipment that people have used. But as these facilities started to open again after pandemic restrictions eased, cleaning the air has become an important part of the hygiene regimen. While surface cleaning remains an important tool for fighting infection, better air quality through filtration and ventilation has come to the forefront of health and safety in helping mitigate COVID-19 and other airborne contaminants.
For fitness centers and gyms especially, improving air filtration makes sense because of the constant huffing and heavy breathing from exercising members. In fact, these facilities were specifically flagged by the CDC as high risk for COVID-19 transmission. Recent data has shown that the air quality at gyms and fitness centers needed attention even before COVID-19.1 The use of cleaning products, heavy breathing and sweating from members plus high humidity levels can create a “cocktail” of chemicals in the air.
“Cleaning the air will not only help keep your members safe, it will give them peace of mind,” said filtration expert Mark Davidson, Manager of Marketing and Technical Materials at Camfil USA. “This will allow them to enjoy their workout and have a positive experience at your gym without constantly thinking about the risk of catching not just COVID-19, but common colds and the flu as well.”
Other Threats to Indoor Air Quality
Although the COVID-19 public health crisis has dominated the conversation the past two years, there are other indoor air quality issues at fitness centers that, without proper air filtration and adequate ventilation, can threaten member health.
The heavy breathing of members in a crowded gym will increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Social distancing does not affect how much a person breathes, so the amount of carbon dioxide will stay the same. The air in the gym can also be polluted by:
- Carbon monoxide
- Chemicals such as formaldehyde that are used in cleaners and plastic equipment
- Industrial pollutants from nearby traffic, machinery or factories
- Dust particles and viruses in the air that fall and settle on surfaces
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that one exercising person emits more chemicals than five sedentary people.1 These human emissions, which include amino acids from sweat and acetone from breath, chemically combine with chlorine bleach-based cleaners commonly used to clean equipment to form new airborne chemicals. Researchers call this new “cocktail” of chemicals N-chloraldimines.1
How and at what levels these new chemicals affect human health is uncertain. However, chemically similar reaction products of ammonia with bleach are known to be harmful to human health. This is another reason why proper air filtration and ventilation are needed, even as we move from the pandemic to endemic stage of COVID-19.
Getting Back to Business
Fitness centers were among the hardest-hit industries during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Revenue in 2020 declined by 58% compared to the previous year in the fitness industry, and many people never came back to the gym once they finally reopened after prolonged mandated closures.
Instead, many consumers purchased home workout equipment and exercised with others “virtually” via an online platform rather than risk coming into contact with an infected person. The number of Peloton users, for example, increased from 1.4 million in 2019 to 5.9 million2 in 2021.
Getting people to come back to the gym is a challenge, particularly because COVID-19 remains unpredictable with potential new variants. Providing a clean environment is important to ensure a safe experience for every member. A big part of that is upgrading air filtration and ventilation systems in your facility.
Some studies have shown that increasing outdoor air ventilation reduces3 the chance of infection by up to 35% in densely packed venues.
Reoccupying a building at full capacity does not mean you have to completely replace your HVAC or ventilation systems. However, upgrades can be a big help.
Improvements in your fitness center could include:
- Ensuring your ventilation system is operating properly
- Adjusting HVAC systems to increase total airflow to occupied spaces
- Turning off any demand-controlled ventilation controls that reduce air supply based on occupancy or temperature
- Improving central air filtration
- Ensuring exhaust fans are functional and operating at full capacity
- Using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems to enhance air cleaning
Focus on Air Filtration
Air ventilation pushes out the old air and brings clean fresh air in. That is critical for any indoor environment and helps lessens the buildup of carbon dioxide. Most buildings, including fitness centers, recirculate a certain percentage of indoor air and mix it with a set amount of outdoor air. 20% outdoor air for example may be mixed with 80% recirculated air. The recirculated air carries with it a much higher concentration of unwanted particles and chemicals generated inside the workout center.
“Indoor air can contain up to 50 times the contaminant level of outdoor air,” Davidson said. “It’s important to understand that air is recirculated through an HVAC system which may not be equipped with adequate air filters to handle the load created inside the facility.”
Air filtration complements ventilation by capturing airborne contaminants through air filters. This process cleans both outdoor and recirculated air before it is returned to indoor environments. There are many types of specialized air filters designed to capture different kinds and sizes of particulates. Airborne particulate matter (PM) is characterized by its size in microns (μm). A single micron, for example, is one-millionth of a meter; one inch is 25,400 microns in length. A person with good eyesight may be able to see a 20-micron particle under the right conditions. The most typical airborne contaminants are:
- PM1 particles: < 1 μm in size, such as viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that can cause infections and disease
- PM2.5 particles: < 2.5 μm in size, such as pollen, spores, allergens and other organic particles
- PM10 particles: < 10 μm in size, such as coarser fine dust and organic particles
- Coarse particles: 10 μm or larger, such as visible coarse dust, sand, leaves, hairs and other large organic particles
According to the CDC, the particle size of the COVID-19 virus is around 0.1 µm but is typically contained within larger respiratory droplets and aerosols.
A Few Words About Filters
A rating called the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) is used to characterize how well an air filter removes different-sized particles in the air. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a minimum filtration efficiency target of MERV 13.Air filters with MERV 13 ratings or higher will capture at least 90% of the largest particles. This range of particles is between 3 and 10 microns and is the size of many virus-containing aerosols found in the air. The highest MERV value is 16, which will capture up to 95% of all particles over 0.3 microns.
HEPA filters are better than MERV 16 filters at capturing the smallest infectious airborne particles. A HEPA air filter captures a minimum of 99.97% of 0.3 µm particles.
Safe Breathing with Camfil CamCleaner Air Filtration System
Finding the right air filtration solutions for your gym can be a challenge. Camfil USA has decades of experience in critical air filtration systems for a wide range of businesses, industries and applications.
Camfil’s air purifiers are proven effective tools that can ensure clean air at your fitness facility. Ideal for gyms and fitness centers, the CamCleaner Horizontal is used to supplement your existing HVAC system. It is a ductless system that comes in modules that are usually suspended from the ceiling and installed in areas that have the highest airborne particulate concentration—like above aerobics equipment, weight lifting areas and yoga rooms, to name a few.
Horizontal CamCleaners are available in two sizes that move 2,000 or 4,000 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm). Our experts can help you configure the modules and select the best air filters and number of air filtration stages to make your fitness facility’s air as safe as possible.
Properly placing a series of Horizontal CamCleaner units throughout the fitness center creates the correct air pattern and substantially reduces airborne particles in the gym. The clean air from one unit pushes dirty air to the inlet of the next unit based on the designed number of air changes per hour.
Air filters are selected with regard to the specific contaminants of concern. Various filtration configurations include a prefilter, a secondary or final filter, and/or a HEPA or molecular filter as the final stage.
Camfil designed the CamCleaner Horizontal with the fitness community in mind. Unlike loud, large commercial air cleaners, CamCleaner modules make little sound – only 63-77 decibels – the noise level of a crowded room.4 Not only does the smart fan module minimize sound level, it includes a time delay relay for a staggered startup which is an energy-saving feature. This also keeps all of the fans from powering on at once and prevents circuit overload when the system is first turned on.
“Using supplemental air filtration methods is an effective way to provide additional layers of risk management at your gym to help keep your members safe,” Davidson added.
COVID-19 has changed the way many people look at cleanliness and indoor air quality. Not only do customers want to breathe clean fresh air in public venues, they now expect it. Camfil’s products have been field tested for many years and can keep the air in your fitness facility top-notch at all times.
About Camfil Clean Air Solutions
For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment.
We firmly believe that the best solutions for our customers are the best solutions for our planet, too. That’s why every step of the way—from design to delivery and across the product life cycle —we consider the impact of what we do on people and on the world around us. Through a fresh approach to problem-solving, innovative design, precise process control and a strong customer focus we aim to conserve more, use less and find better ways—so we can all breathe easier.
The Camfil Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and has 31 manufacturing sites, six R&D centers, local sales offices in 30 countries, and about 5,200 employees and growing. We proudly serve and support customers in a wide variety of industries and communities across the world. To discover how Camfil USA can help you to protect people, processes and the environment, visit us at www.camfil.us/.
- Finewax, Z. (2020, December). Quantification and source characterization of volatile organic compounds from exercising and application of chlorine-based cleaning products in a university athletic center. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ina.12781
- Curry, D. (2022). Peloton Revenue and Usage Statistics. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/peloton-statistics/
- Lewis, D. (2021, March). Why indoor spaces are still prime COVID hotspots. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00810-9
- (2020, April), Camfil: Clean Air Is a Human Right―in the Climbing Gym Too, Climbing Business Journal. https://www.climbingbusinessjournal.com/camfil-clean-air-in-gyms-is-a-human-right/