Foam Rolling For Dummies
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Sharing rollers is never wise. Because of the obvious health concerns associated with sweating in public areas, having your own roller is a smart move. We have all seen rollers available in public places like gyms, fitness centers, and recreational fields.

The physical therapist in me loves to see the free access to rollers everywhere. But the healthcare provider in me gets nervous when I see people sharing rollers in public places. The COVID-19 virus has opened our eyes to the ease with which a virus can be spread not only throughout our communities but around the world.

Treat your roller like your toothbrush: it’s for you and you only.

Even if you are the only one to use your roller, cleaning the roller, as shown, and the rolling surfaces between each use is still highly recommended. It only makes sense if you think about it: Your roller’s digging into your clammy skin across a dirty floor or mat while you breathe and sweat over everything. When you look at it that way, it’s just common sense to clean the roller and the rolling surface before and after a rolling session.

cleaning foam roller Photography by Haim Ariav & Klara Cu

Thoroughly clean your roller before and after each use.

If you make this plan part of your normal routine, the cleaning will be very quick while you drastically reduce your risk of an illness.

Think about what an amazing combination you create through properly rolling on your own roller in your own home and using effective cleaning habits: reduced body pain, improved joint mobility, and improved muscle flexibility while reducing the risk of contracting an illness from others. Now compare that to an image of working out and sharing a roller in a public gym.

Many types of rollers are available, and their surface coverings vary greatly. Each roller surface differs in material, shape, size, and texture, as shown. The surface of each roller looks as varied as any landscape in the world: flat, high plains; smooth, rolling hills; short, steep foothills; and steep, jagged mountain cliffs.

surfaces of foam rollers Photography by Haim Ariav & Klara Cu

Closeup view of the different surfaces on rollers

Each roller-covering material has different abilities to absorb or deflect fluids. Staying with the landscape analogy, each of the world’s landscapes manages rainwater differently, as do the different roller surfaces with sweat and germs. Rain will gracefully glide off hard mountain rock, yet be absorbed quickly into soft farm soil. Sweat and germs will do the same, depending upon the type of material, creases, and openings found on the surface of a roller.

Identifying the proper cleaning solution for your roller is crucial. Carefully read the care and cleaning instructions for each roller. The cleaning details can be found in the shipping literature accompanying your roller or on the company’s website.

I mention this because some strong disinfectants commonly used for cleaning bathrooms and kitchen counters may discolor a roller. Personally, I thoroughly clean my rollers with strong, Environmental Protection Agency–approved products to ensure that my family and I are safe, even if the strong cleaning chemicals make my rollers look slightly tarnished and aged.

You can find more information at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.

Commercial disinfectants are the most effective products because they kill bacteria and virus microorganisms on surfaces. Follow all instructions on cleaning supplies to optimize their antimicrobial and antibacterial capabilities.

Here are some good options for cleaning your roller:

  • Lysol disinfecting wipes
  • Clorox disinfecting wipes
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered detergent-based spray cleaner
  • Hot water and soap
Completely submerging foam and solid rollers into hot water and soap is a quick and easy cleaning game plan, but this method will require extra time for your foam roller to thoroughly dry.

Never submerge vibrating rollers, travel rollers, or any non-solid rollers into water. Cleaning electrical vibrating rollers requires special care to avoid damaging the electrical components inside the roller. Always defer to the manufacturer for specific care and cleaning instructions.

After an outdoor obstacle race or a sweaty roller session, I often bring my solid rollers into the shower with me. Hot water, soap, and a good scrubbing is quick and easy way to initially clean my rollers post-race. When I arrive home, I breakout the “strong stuff” to thoroughly clean the rollers with EPA-approved wipes. I follow this by simply shaking the rollers out and placing them on a high shelf to air-dry.

Drying your rollers after cleaning is important. Never put your rollers in a clothes dryer or direct sunlight. Air-drying your rollers in a well-ventilated area on a clean surface is always the best option. Allow time and fresh air to dry all the small creases and valleys on the surface of the roller. Those areas are more prone to store bacteria, mildew, and mold. Being smart with your roller cleaning and drying routine helps you avoid turning your roller into a germ-filled petri dish.

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