Don’t Be the Smelly Kid: Your Complete Guide to BJJ Hygiene

Don’t be the smelly kid: Your complete guide to BJJ hygiene

Posted By: Joe Hannan

The mats are hot, damp, sweaty places, making them fertile petri dishes for a host of nasty bacteria and fungi. One of the more common mat bugs you’ll encounter is staphylococcus aureus. Staph is everywhere — even on healthy, clean people. However, take Staph and introduce it into an open wound, such as a gi burn or fingernail scratch, and you could be looking at a dangerous infection.

This is especially true if you’re unfortunate enough to contract methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA is a super bug, meaning it has developed resistance to commonly prescribed antibiotics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that it killed more than 11,000 people in 2011.

In the age of superbugs, you owe it to yourself and your training partners to keep yourself, your clothes, and the mats clean. Here’s what you can do:

Wash your gi every time you train. Even if you were only on the mat for 10 minutes. Even if you didn’t get sweaty. Wash your gi. Mats are covered in their own unique, potentially dangerous bacterial culture — one that you’re wearing as soon as you come in contact with them. As soon as you get home, throw your gi into the washing machine. Most gi manufacturers will recommend that you wash your gi in cold water and air dry it, which means you’re likely not killing all of the bacteria you brought home with you. So, if you’re super neurotic like me, only wash your gi with clothes you train in to avoid contaminating your other clothes. Finally, make sure your gi is completely dry before you wear it again on the mats. It also doesn’t hurt to use a detergent specifically formulated for gis or athletic apparel. I like this one.

Shower immediately after you train. Remember, all of that bacteria, viruses and fungi you were just rolling around in are now covering your body. Chuck that gi in the washer, then hit the shower. There are a number of soaps on the market formulated for grapplers. I really like Hawaii-based Arm Bar Soap Company and Defense Soap. Both contain tea tree oil. Spend enough time in jiu jitsu, and you’ll hear people extol the virtues of tea tree oil. It’s been used for hundreds of years as an antimicrobial, however, its effectiveness has never been extensively studied. A dermatologist I am not. So I plan on interviewing one at a later time for this blog on tips for grapplers. Stay tuned.

Trim your nails. That goes for those toe claws as well. Breaks in the skin are ground zero for bacterial and fungal infection. Protect yourself and your training partners by keeping your nails short. It’s also good to take a file to your nails, since most trimmers will leave sharp edges behind. These can scratch people even if your nails are short.

Keep the mats clean. Lucky for you, the coaches at PBJJ are meticulous about sweeping, mopping and air-drying the mats after training sessions. This may not be the case where you train. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t volunteer to do it. Your immune system will thank you. Also, never step on the mats with anything but bare feet. Not only is wearing shoes on the mat disrespectful, but it could track in bacteria from wherever you’ve been. Which leads us to …

Wear footwear in the bathroom. Guys, let’s be honest: We sometimes don’t have the best aim. And I’m told the lady’s room can also reach superfund status under the right circumstances. If you need to leave the mat to use the bathroom, make sure you have shoes or flip flops on your feet.

Cover open wounds. If you have a cut, scratch, bad gi burn, or any other breach in your skin, you’re vulnerable to infection. Bandage and tape any and all of these things. If the affected area is too large to cover with a bandage, think hard about training before it heals. Minimally, make sure the area is covered with a rashguard or spats under your gi.

Brush your teeth. I know, I know. We all need our morning coffee before those early sessions. And nothing ruins the taste of a fine single-origin roast like Arm & Hammer. But your training partner probably isn’t as enthusiastic about your coffee breath, or the tuna sandwich you had for lunch. Minimally, chew some gum before you hit the mats.

Know when to say goodbye. To that guy/girl you keep seeing for who knows why, to those Jnco Jeans you keep putting on, and yes, to your beloved gi/rashguard that’s making everybody nauseous. Sometimes, gear reaches the point of no return when even pre-wash white vinegar soaks can’t chase the funk away. Throw it out. Your teammates will thank you.

Joe Hannan is a journalist and writer. You can find more of his work here.

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