Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Microbiologist's Take on BJJ

**For the sake of the health of all in the BJJ community, I encourage sharing of this information--so if you'd like to repost or distribute this article, include credit and link back to or A lot of time and work went into researching this post and proper credit should be given.**

So I've really been wondering about all this...information we've got floating around regarding treatment, prevention, cleanliness, the whole shebang. Thankfully, a girl I know from WAY back grew up to be a really cool microbiologist (she managed to work a reference to LeBron James into a conversation about bacteria) and she was nice enough to, after a weekend at Dragoncon, take the time to answer some questions I'd collected.

You can check her credentials below (she did her dissertation on MRSA), and if you have any questions about the critters you may be carrying to and from the gym, you can also email her at ms.oxide at gmail dot com, just tell her you read her interview with Megan. (Seriously, shoot her an email, she'd love the questions.)

If you have a few minutes, take the time to read the whole thing. She addresses the general "lifestyles" of bateria and fungi, the use of triclosan, MRSA, and general habits that we have around keeping clean in the gym, not to mention a bunch of other things (like not washing belts), that we could all benefit from. So, a huge thanks to Brea goes!

  • PhD in 2010 from Emory University in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics 
  • Dissertation on antimicrobial resistance in S. aureus (she used a MRSA strain)  
  • Postdoc at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Athens, GA a part of NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring Service). They monitor, characterize, and describe antimicrobial resistance in the food chain. They also are involved in foodborne illness outbreak responses.

So first let me just say that my bias is definitely in thinking of bacteria in terms of communities. I did a postbac at the NIH in a lab that studied how bacteria build communities (aka biofilms) on your body. We used dental plaque as a model. What you have to understand is that you have basically three kinds of bacteria, and this can go for fungi as well, living on you: ones that are beneficial, ones that cause you to get sick, and ones that CAN cause you to get sick given the chance. There’s this beautiful and important balance that occurs when one is healthy. When one is sick and the proportion of the latter two categories overwhelm the beneficial bacteria, then you have problems. The other part of that is that many pathogenic bacteria are really only “visiting”. They live on you, but not all the time. If you have MRSA on you now, it doesn’t mean you will be colonized with it if you were checked in a month or so. We call that being transiently colonized, and about 30% of people are at any given time transiently colonized with MRSA. Doesn’t mean they get sick. So, from what I can tell, much of this antimicrobial craze is aimed at getting rid of the “visiting” bacteria before they try to make your body a more permanent residence.

OK so questions…

1)  Is it best to wash with just regular soap and water?

Washing with plain old warm soap and water is the best thing you can do to stop the spread of disease. I know many people won’t believe it, but the mechanical activity of washing your hands is THE BEST way to get germs off of your body. Hand sanitizing using alcohol based hand sanitizers is not a substitute for hand washing, but it can be used to supplement a hand washing regimen. The germs a normal person might be exposed to on a daily basis don’t really require any fancy antimicrobial soaps, etc.

Furthermore, how often you wash and what you wash with really does depend on your day job. For people who are exposed to nasty bacteria on a daily basis (that would be someone like me), I keep hand sanitizer in my office. I don’t use it at home. Only when I’m at work, and I always wash my hands after I am done in lab. I found this nice little summary here: Here’s another summary from the CDC: . It does a nice job of summing up the proper way to wash your hands…because yes, there is a proper way to wash your hands. For the majority of the readers of your blog, they could probably do with using an alcohol based hand sanitizer after they work out, in addition to washing their hands/showering.

One thing I do want to address is triclosan. Triclosan is the dominant antimicrobial that’s found in the majority of anti-bacterial products. Triclosan acts by inhibiting fatty acid synthesis in bacteria, and work by Stuart Levy (who is like the LeBron James of antimicrobial resistance research) has shown that getting triclosan resistant mutants in E. coli is actually pretty easy. They were able to generate a spontaneous mutant that had a resistance to triclosan 500x that of the normal strain. So, the take home from that experiment is that triclosan resistance is real, and overusage (antimicrobial window cleaner…really?) can lead to resistance. The problem with this is cross-resistance (resistance to one antimicrobial also protects the bacteria from another unrelated antimicrobial) can become a really scary problem. You can read the summary of that study here: .

So, as someone who does nothing but study how bacteria acquire and disseminate resistance on a daily basis, I would hold off on the use of triclosan and other antimicrobial products. For many people, it’s completely unnecessary. We see and deal with the results of overusage on a daily basis.

2) Does bar soap tend to harbor anything? (lots of people favor body washes because of the idea that certain organisms can live on soap in showers)

This is an interesting and really great question and I had to do a little digging. So there wasn’t a lot of info on contamination of bar soap. Bacteria can absolutely live on bars of soap, especially ones that are frequently used for hand washing. Its recommended that bar soaps not be used in public places (makes sense), although I found a study that showed there’s no evidence that “in-use” soap bars can transfer bacteria to naïve hands (                                                                                                       

So, to address the body wash issue. As long as the body wash container isn’t being refilled (which I know is uncommon but you can buy the ginormous refills at Sam’s), I think its fine. Refillable hand soaps/body washes have been shown to transfer bacteria and can become easily contaminated (  So as long as its your bar of soap, and not a community bar, you should be fine.

3) Is not washing a cotton belt a bad idea? Lots of guys just…don’t…ever.

So…this is really gross. Like…really gross. Bacteria are really good at clinging to things,
especially S. aureus. It’s a freaking champ. Its particularly good at clinging to natural fibers (like cotton). Remember me mentioning bacterial communities and your natural flora earlier? 

Your skin has an amazing abundance of bacteria that call it home including Staphylococcus epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes and our sweat is at the tops of their menu. I would imagine a sweaty cotton belt would be a perfect place for bacteria to set up shop. So if the goal is to encourage the growth of bacteria (cos remember S. epidermidis’s cousin S. aureus likes sweat too), not washing a cotton belt is a great idea.

4) Most gis are cotton and since they shrink, are washed in cold water and air dried or dried on very low heat. Besides getting sweat out, does that do any good? Does adding hydrogen peroxide to the wash help?

After proper washing, by the time most things make it to the dryer they’re no longer
viable. I think any vigorous mechanical agitation would definitely help in dislodging bacteria and other things from the fabric. As far as peroxide goes, the concentration you get in the drug store (which is usually 3%) won’t be nearly enough to make a difference if you put it in a washer full of water. Bleach would definitely work, as long as the gi is white. For a colored gi, I would imagine hand washing in warm water with detergent and air drying would be a good way to clean it.

5) How long is too long to wait to shower after training? (some people drive home and don’t shower at the gym) Besides spreading organisms to other surfaces, does it even make a difference? I’ve heard many times that if you wait more than 30 min, ringworm has had a chance to set in already and showering won’t help.
I don’t know what the doubling time is for ringworm, but the doubling time for S. aureus is about 20 minutes at 37°C, which just so happens to be body temperature. On warm, sweaty skin all bacteria would be able to multiply rather quickly, including any bacteria one might have picked up from the mat or a grappling partner. I would definitely take a shower as soon as I could after the session was over.

I would be most concerned about contracting fungi or other bacteria on my feet in a community shower. However, I think shower shoes are pretty standard practice in places like that. As long as you’re bringing in your own towels, soap, and shower shoes, I think the risk of taking home anything you didn’t want would be minimized.

6) Is disinfecting before training a bad idea? (are we killing “good” bacteria on the skin and weakening part of our natural defense system?)

So this goes back to what I mentioned earlier. You have a unique community of bacteria living in and on you. Its kind of like a microbial fingerprint, although as a species we have certain genera of bacteria present on all of us normally. Your own microbial flora acts like a first line of defense on keeping the bad “visitors” out by not allowing them to set up shop. Of course, from time to time bad bacteria do establish themselves, and most of the time, if you’re a healthy individual you don’t even notice it. Going into an environment that has bacteria, particularly pathogenic bacteria, without the full complement of your own flora intact is like leaving your front door wide open while you’re away on vacation. If you’ve been particularly sweaty before you go for your workout, then it’s a fine idea to shower. If you’re coming from work however, I dunno that its something I’d do. I would always shower as soon as possible after any intense workout.

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7) Does scrubbing the skin after soap is applied make any difference? (Some people say scrub as much as possible, others say that this risks opening micro-tears in the skin and causing even more problems, so they opt to just let soap sit before rinsing)

I would just stick to normal washing. I think if you’re scrubbing so hard, you’re opening
micro-tears in your skin, you might want to scrub just a little more gently. The mechanical action here is key, but you don’t want to get carried away and actually cause breaks in your skin.''

8) Are natural oil based products effective or are they just a gimmick? 
I talked a little about triclosan earlier. I absolutely think it’s overused, and even as an
athlete coming into contact with other people’s bacteria, I still don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze. While it’s true that tea tree oil and other naturally derived products have antimicrobial activity, I would think that there would be problems with maintaining that activity in a soap.

**For the sake of the health of all in the BJJ community, I encourage sharing of this information--so if you'd like to repost or distribute this article, include credit and link back to or A lot of time and work went into researching this post and proper credit should be given.**

Saponification is the process by which fatty acids are hydrolyzed using a strong base, generally lye. This makes soaps alkaline. To complete the reaction, you often have to let the soaps sit for a few weeks before you can actually use them to make sure there isn’t enough lye in them to harm your skin. While I wasn’t able to find any information on the concentrations of any of the additives in the natural sport soap bars you sent, I would think that their antimicrobial activity is either non-existent or negligible due to abrogation by the lye, or just not being present in a high enough concentration to make any real difference. The actual oil might be fine as an all natural disinfectant, but once again, washing with normal soap and water after a workout would probably do the trick.

9) Do topical steroids help prevent staph in cuts? 

Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory, and as someone who has had atopic dermatitis
all of my life, they are amazing at decreasing skin inflammation. Corticosteroids are produced in the body from cholesterol. There was a paper from 2008, from Victor Nizet’s lab that showed an enzyme that blocks cholesterol biosynthesis in humans could also block production of staphyloxanthin, the pigment that gives S. aureus its hallmark golden color. Staphyloxanthin is actually an antioxidant that protects the bacteria from neutrophil killing by your immune system. You can read about it here: . 

10) Do anti-fungal shampoos prevent ringworm or are they placebos?

I know they’re fungicidal. That’s pretty well established. I’m not sure if the
active ingredient in them is broad spectrum and can prevent ringworm. Not sure if they can be used as a prophylactic.

11)   What kind of detergent/cleaner is best for killing living organisms on training surfaces (usually vinyl)? (There’s a lot of debate out about bleach, which a lot of academies use.)

I would think a dilute bleach solution would work best. Bleach kills just about everything. We use it in the lab to kill cultures.

12)  Are skin barrier foams  any good? (They claim to suspend contaminates and be effective for up to 4 hrs AND not be harmful to the body’s “good bacteria”. They seemed to be based on blends of lanolin, butane, and stearic acid. )
I had never heard of these until you sent me this link. I tried to find information on the specific ingredients and couldn’t. Its hard to say anything about these products since the company doesn’t provide information about its ingredients on its website. I’d have to have a little more info to really say anything.

13)  Is using a disinfectant spray (like Clorox) on gym bags worth anything?
I’d think keeping a clean gym bag would be a huge help in stopping the growth and spread of harmful bacteria. I’d definitely wash my cotton gym bag regularly, and spray a vinyl one with Lysol or wipe it out with a dilute bleach solution.

14) Based on what I mentioned above, does anything jump out at you as an issue?
The grossest thing is not washing a sweaty, cotton belt. Why wouldn’t you wash a sweaty, cotton belt? I think the other thing is having common sense. We have an immune system for a reason, and our own flora are part of what keeps us healthy. Wash your hands (and your body) regularly. For most people, antimicrobial products are unnecessary. I think that’s it mainly.


P.S. Viruses are much less resilient than bacteria generally, but S. aureus can survive for a couple weeks on fomites (things in the environment like doorknobs, handles etc.)


Georgette said...

Damn that's just about the best most informative post I've ever read about cleanliness and hygiene in BJJ! Especially the stuff about whether or not you have to use antibacterial soaps, whether it's okay to wait to shower till you get home, and the biggie for me-- WASHING YOUR BELT!

Btw... you might want to separate your friend's email address out, so bots in the internet don't harvest her email for spam lists... do it like hername at domain dot com....

Megan said...

Oooo...thanks. I should have caught that, considering I used to (ashamedly) do that for a living back in the day.

But yeah...that shower waiting thing was the biggest eye opener for me.

slideyfoot said...

Cool stuff! I think I do most of that, except regularly washing my belt, which I really should (the reasons why I don't are fairly silly, the main one being I don't want to dye all my clothes purple).

I'd be interested to know if washing gis at 30 degrees celsius is sufficient for killing nasties. I suspect not, but then I also want to ensure the gi fabric has the longest possible lifespan.

Me said...

This is interesting and all but bacteria are going to grow on your person just from normal day to day activities. Showering after rolling is just good hygiene.

Georgette - you should never ever wash your belt. If you look up how belts were awarded in the old days you'll learn that your white belt used to accumulate blood, sweat and tears until it got progressively dirtier and dirtier until it was black. At that belt you were judged worthy of a black belt. Washing your belt is the biggest insult you can do to your training.

Just something I was taught :)

slideyfoot said...

@Me: I'm pretty sure the 'dirty belt' story is a myth.

Meg Smitley said...

Absolutely superb piece! Very useful and informative. Great work, thanks for sharing with us!

Meerkatsu said...

Wow! That post impressed me and I deal with science everyday! Well done, and very informative!

Andy.B said...

The "Dirty belts" story is definately NOT a myth, however if we are honest it could well be "out dated" and maybe it's time for us TMA's to scrub up them old belts? :)

fenix said...

A greatly informative post. Thank you so much!

I'm glad to hear that I'm pretty much doing the right things already. I could never understand why people won't wash their belts. Mine gets washed. Not after every session, but regularly. Maybe even more often now :-)

slideyfoot said...

In that case, do you have a reliable source you could quote and/or link for the dirty belt story?

I've only ever heard it from TMA instructors rather than seeing it confirmed by research, so had assumed it was one of those made up stories that passed into common usage due to constant repetition. Of course, that could well be an incorrect assumption on my part.

Benjamin said...

The belt system started with judo, and is only like 130 years old. The "tradition" has nothing to do with belts getting black from dirt (good luck with that by the way, though expect to stay a brown belt forever unless you practice in volcanic ash or something). Until the 1930s, the only belt you could earn was black. In the 1930s, when judo was taken to Europe, they added more belts so students could recognize their progress.

The practice of traditional martial arts using belts to denote rank is less than 100 years old, they copied the system from Judo. Before that people practiced karate and various forms of kung fu and such in normal clothes. If you don't believe me look up any images of your art before the 1930s.

This myth also is definitely from the West, a friend of mine lived in Japan and Okinawa for a number of years and one of the first thing karate and judo instructors would do with Western students is make sure they washed their belts.

slideyfoot said...

That's what I would expect: as far as I'm aware, the Japanese are pretty keen on keeping things clean and tidy, though I've never been there.

Speaking of belt ranking and its history, I wrote something on the topic last year.

Kage said...

This is a great article. Thank you so much for posting it.

Sue said...

Thanks for the article Meg, I am re-posting it on my facebook page. I love how this confirms what I've been trying to tell people all the time, which is WASH YOUR BELT! And don't use anti-bacterial soap. That whole white belt turns black from blood is such Hollywood movie myth.

Alex said...

Great article. How about viruses? YOu mentioned that they are less resiliant. But I often wonder about the blood stains on my gis.
In particular hep c or b and to lesser degree HIV. HIV is very fragile, but hep c is pretty resiliant from what i know. What do you think?

Georgette said...

FYI I could care less about the magic in my belt. I train in Texas, without AC. My belt is routinely soaked through with sweat. I wash it a couple times a year, whenever it starts smelling stinky, and I would rather smell decent and have a clean safe belt than have all the magic :)

Slidey, the belts don't bleed. At least not the purple belts made by Atama, Koral, Gameness, and Fuji (the belts around our school)...

slideyfoot said...

I have a Grab & Pull one: before I even had a chance to wash it, I noticed the belt was leaving purple splodges on my trousers after rolling. Which would seem to indicate mere sweat could make the dye run, although I haven't noticed it happening for a while.

Megan said...

Thanks guys. Brea was full of great info. I had no idea that the mechanical function of washing played such a large role.

Alex, shoot Brea an email...I'm sure she'd be happy to answer the virus question.

@Slidey...a bleeding belt...I didn't know that would even happen.

Megan said...

Slidey...I think what Brea was saying is that washing works not necessarily to kill, but instead to dislodge. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the water temperature isn't what would do the killing.

Alex said...

@Megan Maybe a silly question...but how do i reach Brea? thanks.

Ms. Oxide said...

I'm such a noob at posting. I'm crazy impressed that there are this many comments. I'll be glad to answer whatever other questions you guys have, or at least try to anyways.

@Slidey - Bacteria that live on us generally have a very narrow temperature range that they like to live in. Just a few degrees more (say like 42C vs. 37C) makes a huge difference and they have what's called a heat shock response, which is basically them making special proteins to protect their normal proteins from flying apart from the increased temperature. This is what your body tries to do when you get a fever. (Proteins are tempermental things. Don't even get me started on RNA...) Anyways, washing at 30 alone wouldn't cause their proteins to go splode (they also have a cold shock response which is what I wrote my dissertation on but that kicks in at much lower temperatures), but being exposed to suboptimal temperatures will definitely slow down growth. Megan's right, while that temp won't kill them, the mechanical action of machine or hand washing, dislodges them, and the detergents should disrupt the cell membranes causing death.

@Alex - You can email me at ms.oxide at gmail dot com.

Keep 'em coming!

Mrs. Ibarra said...

NICE! I will definitely be sharing a link to this post on my Facebook. I have to be honest, I have never washed my white belt. My instructors cringe when they hear people talk about washing them...superstitious talk about washing out all your magic (really it's all your hard work)! Plus the stripes won't make it through the washing machine without coming off (I guess I can just buy some athletic tape and put them back on...but I'm a little superstitious about them too...they represent a lot of hard work and a couple of really grueling belt tests). I'm not going to lie though, going through my first full summer training in this horrendous Texas heat wave has made my gym bag and my belt smell not so pretty and I had been contemplating washing it. I did buy a new gym bag that is made out of gi material so it can be washed and dried. The nylon bag was just getting a little funky. Thanks for all the great info. :)

slideyfoot said...

@Ms. Oxide: Cool, thanks for the response. Really great to have an expert in these things break down the science. :)

Speaking of lots of comments, I'm not sure if you have a reddit account, but they've been getting pretty excited over there about this article too. So, I'm sure they'd have questions for you.

Sue said...

@Mrs. Ibarra, I wash my belts after every use with my gis and my stripes have not fallen off. I even put them in the dryer. If anything the heat makes the glue on the tape work more. Belts might shrink though depending on what brand you have.

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Some athletic soaps and wipes use Tea Tree oil as the active ingredient. What are your thoughts on items like these? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Using bleach to wash a gi is generally a no no. It's said that the bleach ruins the gi by weakening the fibers. Is there something else that can be used instead?

Anonymous said...

very interesting. someone from the gym jokingly said, "what if we could see all the germs on the mat" and we all agreed that it was best to not know what we were wallowing in each night. Thanks for the germ tips

Shark Girl said...

Thanks Megan and Ms. Oxide. This is a great, informative post.

Anonymous said...

scratch my tea tree oil question. Just saw that part.

Anonymous said...

thanks ms.oxide! i'm sure you saved some people a few dollars on products they don't need. i've been training off and on for about 7 years and have never had a problem. good old fashioned soap & water always did the trick. i must confess, i never washed my belt, but that's not a problem anymore. i only train no-gi now.

Anonymous said...

Great article. just one point about cleaning mats. Ensure they are washed down with a detergent wash and then use a bleach (chlorine) solution at 1000ppm. Organic matter will be removed by the detergent which will allow the disinfectant to work. Ensure it is used at the correct concentration

COBRA Insurance said...

I used tea tree oil and have stayed coodie free for years. Also each your elbows, knees, wrists, neck, forehead, anything that frequently touches your opponent. I use hand sanitizer on the way home if I can't get to a shower right away. Stay safe out there!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the tea tree oil is added to the soap after saponification. The soap isn't made using tea tree oil ... meaning each bar isn't made from $50 worth of pure, saponified tea tree oil.

I sweat like a pig, but I don't think I've ever sweat through to my belt. I will start washing it, though, just to be on the safe side.

I use a silver detergent on my gi most of the time. It's a hunting product designed to eliminate scent from your clothing (that was my motivation) by killing critters that result in BO. I assume that it probably does a decent job of sterilizing. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I have been using eucalyptus-based wool wash on my skin. I also wash my hair with it. It amazes me that hygiene measures are taken to this level in some places. The guys where I roll don't wash their gis after every session, even, I don't think. Skidmark is the eau in the air. I am the only girl and this is a foreign country, though. En Rome on fait comme les Romains, or at least, put up with it. :)

Megan said...

Just looked up the wool wash. Very interesting product.

Alan said...

Cool article. I worked in Microbiology in the Pathology Lab of a Hospital for several years before quitting for martial arts (as a qualified Biomedical Scientist). My other half still works in a the same lab.

I like this article because it avoids the hype and hysteria around Staph infections. It's a lot to do with good hygiene. No excessive scrubbing or paranoia. There are no magic tricks or magic scrubs or pills - just good hygiene practices.

In the lab we never used antibacterial hand washes simply. Instead it was all about good hand washing technique to dilute and remove the bacteria.

Also just wanted to add that MSSA is simply a normal Staph aureus sensitive to methicillin while MRSA is resistant to methicillin. I say this because I constantly hate the scare mongering in the media about MSSA which is normal skin flora for many people and only a problem when it gets in the wrong place (ie. infects a cut). Even then you simply have to keep an eye on it (and not squeeze or aggrevate it more)! If it gets worse then see a doctor.

Ms. Oxide said...

@Alan - Right. I should have mentioned the difference between MSSA and MRSA, because as you mentioned people make a huge deal about the super S. aureus that is coming to eat all of us...and our children. The part they leave out is that MSSA is part of our normal flora and no one should be alarmed if they were to find out it lives in and on you.

I should say in graduate school, I swabbed my nose to see whether or not I was colonized with MRSA towards the end of my degree, and sure enough I was. I didn't go so far as to type it, but you can't work with something like staph every day and not pick it up no matter how good your hygiene and precautions are. I didn't freak out. Like I mentioned before, common sense and good hygiene are really key.

Afrorican said...

Great article. I am glad I spent the time to sit down and really read it. I will definitely change my habit of not showering immediately after class.

Ari Bolden said...

With your permission, I'd like to copy this and add it to our article page on

Let me know ;-)


Ashley said...

This article is very timely with the release of the film Contagion. When I saw this clip about a "living billboard" that promotes the movie, I immediately thought of you. I also thought about how the film probably embodies your nightmares! hahah :)

Thanks for the informative article.

Caleb said...

Wow this is really awesome. At the FightWorks Podcast we've tried to share info on this topic over the years but I think this piece beats anything we've done, including our interview with a CDC employee! Well done!

Megan said...

@Ashley...that's some great advertising...definitely not going to see

@Caleb...thanks! Glad you liked it.

@Afrorican...I've been rethinking that myself too. I haven't been showering immediately because of logistics, but I'm really considering it now.

Anonymous said...

If you really don't want to wash your belt (and I don't either) just leave it in your bag, and OUST/LYSOL your bag after removing your gi. I just spray, close the bag-and never have a problem. It will kill all of the really scary stuff and you don't have to worry about fading or losing stripes in the wash.

Megan said...

I dunno Anon...doesn't it say on the can of Lysol that you have to spray cloth surfaces until dampened? That's a lot of spraying on a belt.

shakes said...

Ms. Oxide, I've been using
pine sol to wash my gis(sp?). I can't find triclosan on the MSDS anywhere. Do you see any issues with continuing to use this? It mentions specifically killing Salmonella, S. aureas, and trichophyton mentagrophytes.

Anonymous said...

1. If you don't have time / opportunity for a proper wash of the gi+belt, how about hanging it out in the sun? Does sunlight + UV exposure effectively kill Staph?

2. Does staph penetrate through compression tights/rash-guard clothing for no-gi training? (ie. should we be wearing long pants & long shirts)

3. When showering, is it important to lather up your body & rub with a hand-towel or sponge ... is it sufficient to just rub your body with your hand?

Anonymous said...

Again, great article. (Someone beat me to the question about sunlight as I was posting! I'll ask again anyway)

What about sunlight? As new parent using cloth diapers, I was amazed how the sun would naturally bleach the stains when hung on a clothesline. Also, soak them in a product called Bac Out that has natural enzymes. I used this on my Gi as well.

Also, when I got a serious staph infection near a bad burn on my hand, a dermatologist perscribed some mupirocin. He told me that it was a good idea to put some in my nose every once in a while to kill the staph there. I have heard others against this.

Anonymous said...

Awesome Info

Powering Through said...

Excellent informative post, I remember a training partner contract a severe infect from a mat burn on his elbow. It took only 4-5 days for him to become very ill. His choice to ignore it when it became inflamed did'nt help.

I guess its time to wash my belt!

Ms. Oxide said...

@shakes - The original formulation of Pine-sol contains pine oil which can kill lots of different types of bacteria. However, it can also be really irritating to skin. I would still gently hand wash my belt with soap and water if that were an option. Also, what kind of washing are we talking about? Are you washing in a full strength pine-sol or a dilute solution? That might be more harmful to the fabric than just soap right?

@Anonymous 1 - 1. Exposure to sunlight isn't enough to kill bacteria. While yes, UV can kill them the amount of UV from just sunlight isn't enough. We use UV lamps in the lab to disinfect all the time though, but those rays are much more intense than the rays from the sun (thanks to our ozone layer).

2. S. aureus could definitely "penetrate" through compression shorts. I would be less concerned about having them creep through the weave in your compression shorts, S. aureus is non-motile. They can however easily be transferred as you sweat in your shorts. What is normal training wear? I don't know a lot about bjj ~_~.

3. This is me completely guessing, but isn't the whole purpose of a towel to just hold a lather? I don't see how using just your hand would hurt. It might be a little less efficient but how you bathe is up to you! haha

@Anonymous 2 - I'd be one of the people against this. Mupirocin is an antibiotic that is naturally produced (most antibiotics are produced in nature by one species of bacteria to kill other species of bacteria) by Pseudomonas fluorescens. The Pseunomonads and the Staphylocci have a pretty antagonistic relationship because some Pseumonads like to occupy the same ecological niche that the Staphylococci do. Since S. aureus is a frequent and important colonizer of the nasopharanx, I don't know that if I wasn't someone prone to S. aureus infections of the nasopharanx, I would just use mupirocin to kill bacteria when I didn't have an active infection. There are many reports of S aureus already resistant to mupirocin. Not only are you killing S. aureus, but other Gram positive nasal flora as well. Its not something I would do.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I've used vinegar (1/2 cup) in the wash with my gi, which is supposed to have some antibacterial properties without the downside of bleach for material life. Am I wasting my time?

Anonymous said...

Great article. Again, congrats on getting picked up and linked by the big names in the BJJ blog scene! :)

I've started washing my belt more often, and especially--showering AT my gym rather than going home. I find myself jumping in the shower, then getting back on the mats to stretch. :) after I dress, of course. ;)

I found the bit about not showering right before class VERY informative. Thank you!!!!

Megan said...

Thanks Julia!

I still haven't started showering after since I get out so late...still use alcohol wipes, but I just might.

Georgette said...

1. Yes, over time bleach will slightly weaken the fabric. But over the life of your gi it's not super noticeable as long as you don't soak it in concentrated solutions. I wash all my gis with about 1/4 c bleach in the wash water on average about once every 30-50 wash cycles, and that makes them avoid the funk smell. I haven't noticed a serious effect on the fibers yet. I train 7 days a week, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, so I go through 1-3 gis a day, and I have about 18 in the rotation.

2. I just posted a rejoinder to the "wash your gi without water" concept on my blog in which I compile responses from chemistry, textile science, and other expert resources... feel free to take a read:

3. WASH YOUR DANG BELT! In summer (we don't use AC) we sweat through our belts easily. They truly get stinky if you don't wash it at least once or twice a summer. Tape can easily be replaced and sorry, there's no such thing as magic in your belt. :)

Emily said...

In #9 in the article, you mention an "enzyme that... blocks the production of staphyloxanthin". My head was spinning before I waded two paragraphs into the linked articles. So...

Can you say what that enzyme is? ... and more to the point, how can I get hold of some of that should I ever get a staph infection??? Thanks!

André said...

Great stuff!

Posted a link here with a brief intro in English and Portuguese and a link to a google translate job into Portuguese for those who might need it :)

Megan said...

Thanks André! Especially for the translation!

André said...

No problem, thank you for this awesome post/article/interview!

Deborah said...

Yeah as to the belt thing who cares how they did it in the old days? In the old days they didn't know about germs. People used to die of the flu in the good old bad old days. I wash my belt all the time. One point I didn't see addressed was, what is the actual function of a rashguard? Does it help prevent rashes? Personally I would rather roll with a rashguarded person than have somebody's chest hairs in my face. Also, bacteria-wise, doesn't drying in the dryer kill more germs? Thanks for this great post, it should be required reading for all BJJ players.

Megan said...

Here here Deborah. Sometimes, Tradition just isn't worth it. And good question on the rash guard.

Babs said...


You rock! I just stumbled on this whole post looking for some info on triclosan....and whoa! I loved this! I'm not into martial arts, I have no gi nor a cotton belt but found the whole thing fascinating! You have some great info here. I do have a question tho. I don't like to use products with triclosan (I big-time agree with not using anti-bacterial products for every little thing and am fearful of their overuse - especially what it may be doing in my body) but I found a kitchen sponge that I'd really like to use - Lysol Scrubber Sponges. The package says that it "inhibits growth of odor-causing bacteria". Do you know if this is triclosan (they will not tell me)and if there something I can do to remove the anti-bacterial soaking it or something? Will the anti-microbial action lessen over time? I know this sounds lame but I need to know. Thank you so much in advance.

Sean Fogarty said...

Emperor Taisho was inducted into the Order of the Royal Garter as a result of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in the last year of the British Empire. It's the highest award for chivalry. Perhaps this influenced the later adoption of honorary belt "colours" (originally black and white, later other colours before black from the Japanese judoka who was living in France where he'd introduced the art).

Oh, and wondered about porous washcloths. Though useful for making better suds, in hot, humid weather such as here in Kyushu they can sure stink of mildew if not pose a sanitary threat.

Unknown said...

first of all. the dirty belt thing is a myth. I know people who are older than the 'Black Belt' in martial arts, which actually came from other Japanese schoolastic sports, and the ranking system in most martial arts comes from the intense world of 'Go' players. There is nothing wrong at all with washing your belt. The belt ranking we know today came after the invention of Judo, not jujutsu, but actual judo.

Secondly, what an eye opening article on cleanliness. My own dojo never had showers, but damn, if I ever open one myself, I will make sure the change room has showers

Megan said...

So can say pretty much anything about the mythical land of "Japan", and people seem to believe it.

That's crazy re: no showers.

katamusprime said...

This is great. I think the part about natural oil soaps has more room to be investigated. I used to get skin infections at least once a month when I was still washing with soap from Bath and Body Works. I haven't gotten one since I started using a tea tree oil based soap. There's lots of others like me too.

Megan said...

Yeah...I use Dr. Bronner's and let it sit for a bit after training. Seems to work well.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who says "dont wash your belt bc of tradition" is a damn idiot and spreading your funk to the rest of us. I have always washed my belts and I made it to black belt. It wont hurts your games guys. Wash that shit...