How to clean your MMA mats
Martial arts mats are one of the most important pieces of equipment within a training centre, but over time they can become covered with sweat, grime, and dirt. There is nothing worse than walking into a martial arts training centre that smells like sweat.
In addition, martial arts are a sport that requires a close contact between two athletes, and this skin-on-skin contact can lead to the transmission of bacterial infections and viruses. Tonnes of bodily fluids, like blood and sweat, are exchanged between athletes within the ring.
Bacteria can also sit on top of mats, and this can cause skin infections and other types of infections, and can actually become a major safety concern for the athletes training in your gym. The only way to limit bacterial build up on your mats is to regularly clean them with a mild detergent.
In this article, we are going to look at:
- Common causes of bacterial infections and skin diseases among athletes.
- The need for cleaning to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.
- How often should you clean your mats?
- How to best clean your mats.
Before we jump into the article, if you ever have any questions about what type of mat to purchase, you can give us a ring, send us an email, or message us through the handy chat function on the bottom right-hand side of the screen. Got a question about what cleaning products to use on your mats? We can help you find exactly what you need.
Common bacterial infections, skin diseases, and viruses for athletes
Bacterial infections are common among MMA fighters, as most infections are highly contagious. One thing that most athletes don’t realise is that, if left untreated, bacterial infections can affect their health and even prove fatal. It can take weeks and months to recover from a viral infection, which forces your training time to take a backseat to recovery.
Both bacterial infections and viral infections can be easily avoided with proper cleaning techniques. A clean gym is a healthy gym, one that is free from any harmful germs. Speaking of gym germs, let’s look at the most common forms of bacteria you may come across within your gym:
Common gym germs: Staph Infections
The common Staph infection is caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. These bacteria can be found on anything from change room floors, human skin, and even dirty mats. Like other bacterial infections, staph infections are treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated, can become fatal.
In 2018, Robert Whittaker, the then UFC middleweight champion, was infected with a staph infection, which almost proved fatal. He was admitted to hospital with a serious staph infection, which threatened the health of his internal organs. Eventually, after an intense antibiotic treatment, Whittaker recovered and continued fighting in the UFC.
Some athletes may be afraid to speak up if they have a staph infection. UFC lightweight Kevin Lee was worried to tell fight promoters when he had a staph infection on his face and body. Worried that the fight would fall through, Lee continued to take antibiotics, hoping the infection would go away. It just goes to show a gym owner that their athletes may be less willing to speak up if they have a bacterial infection which could infect other athletes.
Ringworm is a skin infection which is caused by a fungus which can live on surfaces and on your skin. The common symptoms of ringworm include red puffy skin and a rash in the shape of a “spiral” or “ring”. This rash is usually really itchy and causes irritation.
Ringworm infections can spread like wildfire through a training centre. One gym owner took to Reddit to get advice on how to get rid of ringworm at his gym. The best answer to his query was, “Keep people with ringworm off the mats until they get it cleared up and get some soap.”
In order to rid your gym of a ringworm infection, it takes both preventative cleaning and strict screening processes to stop the spread. One of the best ways you can do this is by putting signs up in the change room which show symptoms of ringworm, allowing athletes to self assess whether or not they have the disease.
Cleaning and COVID-19
Throughout the global Covid-19 pandemic, most people throughout the world felt the effects of the virus. Whether it was from being unable to go to your local MMA training centre or experiencing firsthand the effects of the virus on either you or your loved ones, we’ve all dealt with the changes that came with Covid.
Although infections are declining, the virus still continues to spread throughout our towns and communities. Athletics Ireland has recommendations in place for how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though governmental social distancing mandates have lifted, including the mask mandate in indoor settings, Athletics Ireland still urges gym owners to follow hygiene practices to clean their training centres to avoid outbreak. Make sure to have hand sanitiser bottles available, while also taking steps to keep your gym mats clean with disinfectant wipes and a microfiber mop.
Continue to clean your mats after every single use in order to avoid the spread of the virus. It’s as simple as vacuuming off the surface and using a damp microfiber mop with a cleaning solution to lift all organic materials which could cause infections.
How do mats get dirty?
Over time, mats become dirty as sweat, skin oil, and dead skin cells rest on the mat surface. In fact, an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Healthexplored how gyms can easily become breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. In their research, they found over 65 varieties of bacteria within common gyms that they selected for their sample. Throughout their research, they found bacteria could be found in change rooms, walkways, and especially on surfaces like athletic mats.
Through simple, every day regular use, mats get covered in organic materials from sweat, blood, and other bodily fluids, and these are filled with bacteria which can cause infections. That’s why it’s so important to have a regular cleaning schedule in place, so that you can regularly clean your mats and prevent against the buildup of bacteria.
How often should MMA mats be cleaned?
You should clean your mats after ever use to avoid the spread of germs and bacteria which can cause viruses and bacterial infections. I want to be clear, though, that we’re not talking a deep clean in between different martial arts classes. You and I both know that you do not have the time to pull out a heavy duty carpet cleaner or get out the mop and bucket after every class. Not only that, the practical elements of waiting for the mats to air dry completely before you can start another class just wouldn’t work.
Instead, you can invest in a dust removing dry mop, like a swiffer, and a microfibre wet mop and you can easily clean up your training centre in a short period, whilst minimising the time it takes for the mat to dry. Just by using a dust mop and a microfibre wet mop, you can remove more bacteria and germs from the mats.
Every six months — deep clean your mats
Even with the regular daily cleaning, you’re going to end up missing some germs and bacteria, especially in the seams. That’s why it’s essential to conduct a deep cleaning of your mats every six months. Whilst doing a deep clean of your mats, it’s important to pull the mat up, as grime and water can easily be trapped in between the interlocking jigsaw connector pieces.
After you pull the mat up, if you have the space, take the mats outside and clean them individually using a mild cleaning solution.Allow the mats to air dry outside if possible, using the sun’s rays to kill bacteria.
Once all the mats are removed from the floors in your gym, give the under flooring a good scrub. If you have concrete or tile floors underneath, maybe invest in industrial strength floor cleaner, one that allows you to use hot water to kill bacteria underneath the floors.
How to clean different types of MMA mats
Some cleaning solutions can be harmful to certain types of mats, including EVA foam mats and XPE foam mats. These cleaning solutions have harsh chemicals which can break down the mat surface, causing BJJ mats to degrade much quicker.
Rubber mats are some of the most hearty, durable products in the athletic flooring business. Rubber is formed through high pressure, wherein rubber is formed into sheets of mats which are created to withstand heavy pressures.
Although rubber mats are durable, harsh chemicals can break down the chemical bonds within rubber mats causing them to deteriorate.
Pro tip: Just use a simple mild detergent, like sugar soap or dish soap, to clean rubber mats.
Foam mats come in contact with organic materials much more than any other athletic flooring in the gym. You use foam flooring for protective athletic flooring within our training centres, specifically using it for sparring, groundwork, and for competitions. Over the course of a regular training session, foam mats can be covered with bacteria and germs, and it is advisable to clean your mats after every training session.
Foam mats are relatively durable, but just like rubber mats, they degrade when you use harsh chemicals on them. Try to avoid using cleaning products that are rated for hardwood floors or tile floors, and stick with a more mild form of detergent.
Pro tip: if you want to avoid harsh chemicals, whilst also giving your floors a pleasant aroma, use tea tree oil diluted in water to clean your floors. Tea tree oil is an essential oil which can remove dirt and grime even on a textured surface, whilst also giving your mat area a nice, inviting non-toxic smell. Not only that, tea tree oil has natural antimicrobial and antiviral properties which make it ideal for both the home gym and BJJ gyms.
- Recipe: add 10 drops of tea tree oil to 2 cups of hot water or vinegar to make the best all-purpose cleaner for your foam mats.
- Add the all-purpose tea tree oil cleaner into the cleaning solutions holder on your microfibre mop. You can also use this in a spray bottle to clean all the hard surfaces within your gym.
Best practices for cleaning Jiu Jitsu mats
- Remove dirt and debris
The first step in cleaning your gym is to remove any dirt and debris. One of the best ways you can do this is by investing in a good vacuum cleaner. You can, if you choose, use a broom and dustpan, or even a Swiffer, but vacuums handle the work in a smaller amount of time and with less effort.
Let’s talk about the best vacuums to invest in to clean your mat space:
- Upright vacuum cleaners: Upright vacuums are some of the least expensive, best-performing vacuums available on the market. You can get them in either corded or cordless. If you choose to purchase a cordless vacuum, just consider how much space you regularly have to clean, and whether your vacuum’s battery will last to clean the entire floor.
- Canister vacuum cleaners: canister vacuums are the best use on multiple surfaces, and they allow you to go directly from foam mats to hardwood floors.
- Backpack vacuum cleaners: Backpack vacuums are heavy-duty, expensive vacuums that can handle any task that you throw at it. They offer a brilliant investment and many years of reliable use.
- Robotic vacuum cleaners: If you’re interested in seeing what the future looks like, invest in a robotic vacuum, which will automatically head out onto your mats to remove any dust and dirt from them.
- Clean with a mild disinfectant
Next, be sure to use a mild disinfectant or dish soap to lift any of the grime and germs off of the mats. The best cleaning solutions work as emulsifiers, a substance that, when mixed with water, lifts oils, germs, and any other organic materials out of the mats. Let’s look at the best mild disinfectants to use on your mats:
- Sugar soap: sugar soap is a great product to use because it is a mild detergent which can lift away dirt and debris. Frequently used when painting homes, this soap is durable enough to take on hard scrubbing tasks, whilst also being safe to use on rubber, vinyl, and foam.
- Mild mould and mildew detergent: There are mould and mildew detergents available on the market, and they do a little more than a simple detergent. They have chemicals in them which are specifically aimed at removing bacteria which causes mould and mildew.
- Baking soda and vinegar: This is another popular cleaner which you can use, however it should be noted that baking soda and vinegar doesn’t have the same cleaning properties as the other detergents listed on this list. Not only that, vinegar can leave an unappealing smell after cleaning.
- Homemade cleaners with essential oils: As mentioned above, tea tree oil and other essential oils have antimicrobial and anti-viral properties which can clean mats. Some essential oils may not be useful, and therefore you have to do a little research to figure out what are the best essential oils to use, as well as recipes to create your own homemade cleaners.
- 5% bleach cleaning solution: It’s not always advisable to use bleach to clean athletic mats as it can cause the mats to degrade. However, if you’re looking to get a superb, deep clean, a 5% bleach solution may be exactly what you need to effectively clean your mats. Add 100ml of bleach to 2L of water to create a 5% bleach solution.Caution: Whenever you use bleach, there is a chance that you could cause discolouration on your mats. Therefore, test your bleach cleaning solution on the underside of a mat to see if it will cause discolouration.
If you’re anything like me, cleaning is the last thing that you ever want to do. Lugging around cumbersome vacuum cleaners, bringing out the mop and bucket, and scrubbing floors are genuinely not fun. But your athletes will thank you if you are take steps to properly clean and sanitise your gym. You should think in terms of health and safety: Without properly cleaning your gym, viral infections and bacterial infections can spread throughout your gym. By taking an hour a day to do some cleaning around your gym, you are helping to safeguard the athletes in your gym.
Author: David Van Kooten