Combine piles of sweaty gym apparel and clouds of steam from constantly flowing hot showers with the often-stifling atmosphere of a locker room, and what you'll have is a facility with an aroma that is, shall we say, memorable.
It's not surprising that lockers in athletic facilities can be a troublesome maintenance issue for schools.
“Students have a tendency to let all their stuff pile up at the bottom of their lockers,” says Marshall Fleener, assistant athletic director for the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas.
The size of athletic lockers may vary — wide ones for football players to accommodate bulky equipment; tall, narrow ones for basketball players with less to store — but what all of them have in common is venting that provides air flow into the lockers.
In most schools, the lockers are made from expanded metal. In some cases, the walls of individual team locker rooms also are made of expanded metal, so that odors aren't confined in those isolated areas.
The University of Florida's Stephen C. O'Connell Center has athletic facilities, including lockers, for both sports teams and the general student body. The team lockers are more spacious, but regardless of who uses them, all of the lockers are expanded-metal types that allow for a lot of ventilation, says Lynda Reinhart, assistant director of the center.
Students who use the Connell Center to work out bring their own locks. To prevent odors from taking root and spreading, the university prohibits students from leaving their belongings overnight. Typically, students are given a warning before the lock is cut and the belongings removed, Reinhart says.
To minimize odors in locker rooms, schools should make sure that the facilities have enough air circulation to let the offensive odors escape. The oppressive humidity found in parts of the South and Southeast makes the conditions in the facilities even more of a breeding ground for germs and odors.
“Here in Texas, we have so much humidity, you have to move a lot of air around,” says Fleener. “You want to have exhaust fans on the wall that circulate air.”
At the North East district's new natatorium, moisture is even more prevalent. There, the locker rooms are outfitted with plastic lockers that will not rust.
From the Environmental Protection Agency's “IAQ Tools for Schools”
“VERIFY THAT SHOWERS AND other locker-room areas are cleaned regularly and properly. Limit use of chemical cleaners and disinfectants to times when areas are unoccupied.”
“MAINTAIN CLEANLINESS AND reduce excess moisture in the locker room. Remove wet towels regularly. Wash and dry soiled practice uniforms regularly.”
“IF YOU HAVE MECHANICAL ventilation, confirm that air is flowing into the room from the air supply vents….(Also) confirm that air is flowing from the room into the air return grilles.”
“ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO TAKE soiled clothes home regularly. Operate exhaust fans to remove moisture.”