outdoor gear

The Effects of Bacteria on Outdoor Gear

by | May 16, 2022

Outdoor Gear and Best Practices for Maintenance

To unplug and relieve work-related stress, many people take to the outdoors, enjoying time away from their everyday life. Outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and hunting can provide relief for those hoping to tap into their hobbies and relax outside of the house. 

But this increase in outdoor leisure has led to a rise in demand for outdoor gear. From bikes to boots to tents, this gear is vital for people who prefer spending time in nature. And unfortunately, to properly care for this gear, many outdoor enthusiasts are forced to spend time properly drying and cleaning it to prolong its lifespan.

Outdoor gear requires a certain level of maintenance. This is because it can quickly become a safety hazard filled with substances such as mold and mildew. Though this can take a vast amount of time, outdoor enthusiasts understand that it’s a necessary step to take. High-quality gear doesn’t come cheap, and you want yours to last as long as possible. This way, when you take it out for your next adventure, it’s just as effective as the last time.

Learning how to ensure your gear remains in good condition and lasts longer is simple. It is an effective way to save money. Each time you use your outdoor equipment, be sure to remove all dirt, debris, and residue before thoroughly washing. Wet gear needs immediate drying so as not to promote the growth of bacteria, mold or mildew.

Air drying can take hours, so having a portable dryer on hand is a wise investment. These dryers and their attachments will help dry hard-to-reach areas in pieces such as boots, shoes, hats, gloves, and helmets.

Should you not have access to a portable glove dryer, find a cool, dry area to set up your wet gear. This way, it has adequate space to air dry. If you live in a humid environment, consider using a dehumidifier to draw out extra moisture.

Effect of Moisture on Outdoor Gear

Storing your outdoor gear in a humid environment can severely impact the overall drying process. It can actually make your items wetter than they were originally. Many surfaces on gear such as boots, gloves, and hats will absorb this water, making it difficult to dry them completely.

Once the surface of this gear reaches the dew point, any water trying to pass through it will condense. This is until it’s seal with water, creating a coating of moisture. This absorbed moisture is challenging to remove. This is why all gear should dry in spaces with controlled temperatures – not too hot and not too cold.

What the Foul Smell in Gear Tells You

Sweat and moisture naturally accumulate on your gear as you hike, bike, kayak, or enjoy time outdoors. Unfortunately, there will be the coupling of moisture with dirt and grime, leading to an unpleasant smell. In addition, mold and mildew can run wild if this moisture isn’t taken care of, with a musty odor taking over your gear.

These elements can lead to sickness, as when you inhale mold and mildew, you can develop several respiratory symptoms. So if your gear has a foul smell, you might be struggling with bacterial developments. Wet gear becomes a breeding ground for mold and mildew, producing pungent odors that are difficult to get rid of.

Unfortunately, even if bacteria has taken over, the source of its smell may not be apparent. For example, if your gear smells musty, the cause can be microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, “…because mVOCs often have strong or unpleasant odors, they can be the source of the ‘moldy odor’ or musty smell frequently associated with mold growth. A moldy odor suggests that mold is growing in the building and need a special investigation.”

mVOCs emit from the growth of mold. The EPA reports that the health effects of mVOCs are currently unknown, but exposure has links with the symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can also be released from building materials and furniture or personal care and household cleaning products. According to the EPA, VOCs can cause symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as headaches and nausea.

The Role of Bacteria and Fungi in Causing Infection in Outdoor Gear

Excess moisture from air, sweat, and body oils negatively impact the performance of all outdoor gear while promoting the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew. Many environmental reports have found this growth of pathogenic bacteria on the surface of outdoor equipment such as helmets and hats – leading to health hazards for those using said gear. Therefore, all gear needs adequately cleaning and drying to avoid these health issues.

The most commonly reported bacteria associated with outdoor gear include Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus epidermis, Enterobacter aerogenes, Escherichia coli, and Bacillus subtilis [1]. This excess moisture and bacterial growth can lead to fungal developments on your outdoor gear. This often happens when gear isn’t given enough time or space to dry. Additional fungal species reported to infect wet outdoor gears include three species of Aspergillus: A. niger, A. flavus, and A. fumigatus; Penicillium spp, Rhizopus spp, and Candida spp.

Morbidities Caused by Bacterial and Fungi Contaminating Wet Gear

Some people, especially those with mold or asthma allergies, may have more intense reactions to this bacterial growth. Therefore, those exposed to a large amount of mold in their gear should be cautious regarding the symptoms they experience, such as fever and shortness of breath.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found sufficient evidence linking exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheezing in otherwise healthy people. Those with asthma also experienced stronger reactions, and those susceptible to immune-mediated conditions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis experienced the same.

In addition, people who struggle with immune suppression or underlying lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections. Those with chronic respiratory illness may also experience difficulty breathing.

Certain molds are actually toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically “mycotoxins”). Therefore, hazards presented by molds producing mycotoxins should be considered the same as the molds that can grow inside your wet gear.

Mold growth, which often shows up in spots, can be many different colors and have a musty smell. However, it’s important to note that color does not indicate how dangerous a mold may be. Regardless, all mold should be removed as well as the moisture source that allowed it to grow.

Fortunately, very few reports show that toxigenic molds found inside outdoor gear can cause rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven (toxigenic mold).

Most of the organisms implicated in the above study are pathogenic, which comes along with its own set of health implications. For example, Staphylococcus aureus is known to cause boils, abscesses, wound infections, toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, and other diseases. Staphylococcus epidermidis is a common skin resident responsible for endocarditis and infections in patients with lowered resistance. The presence of Enterobacter aerogenes and E. coli indicates possible fecal contamination. Pseudomonas aeruginosa can infect people with low immune resistance, such as those with cystic fibrosis.

The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus is also often found outdoors. It triggers allergic responses and increases severe asthma, sinusitis, and pulmonary aspergillosis. In addition, Rhizopus spp. can produce toxins, which can lead to food poisoning. Candida spp, also identified in this study, are known pathogens that can cause candidiasis.

Mode of Action of Microorganisms

To indeed limit bacterial and fungal growth, moisture must be controlled. This can include water in the air as humidity or a moist environment. The EPA recommends maintaining humidity between 30-50% and below 60% at all times to discourage mold growth. In addition, high relative humidity (RH) greater than 80% can enhance the growth rate of fungi. This is if it is lasting for more than 6 hours.

Porous materials can absorb and retain water, leading to visible fungal growth within a few days of the material becoming wet (Doll, 2002; Horner et al., 2001). If outdoor gear is not properly cleaned and dried, mold spores may continue to germinate. And, if this gear is drenched in water, germination can occur in less than 5 days [3].

Microbial contamination in wet outdoor gear may consist of active growth. It can be relic colonies that have run out of moisture or nutrients. Or remnants of growth that have accumulated with other dust particles. In addition, spores and hyphal fragments deposited on surfaces or contained in porous materials. This includes textiles, cushions, and fibrous insulation – may have originated indoors due to wetness or been transported from outside.

Sufficient scientific evidence shows an association between mold or other bacterial agents found in damp outdoor gear and various related health symptoms. Health issues associated with mold include upper respiratory tract symptoms, asthma symptoms in sensitized asthmatic persons, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung) in susceptible persons. 

Molds have the potential to cause health problems in individuals using wet gear. These elements produce allergens, irritants, and, in some cases, mycotoxins. In addition, inhaling or touching mold may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash.

Ozone Drying and Its Harmful Effects

Ozone (O3) cleaning is a simple technique that consists of using ozone in an area or enclosed place. Such as a vehicle, via an ozone generator (or Ozonator) and waiting as it degrades into oxygen (O2). Due to its oxidizing power, O3 can disinfect material by eradicating viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. 

To be most effective, this ozone cleaning process requires a 10-20 ppm ozone concentration. This should be in the air of the enclosed space. Unfortunately, this concentration level is relatively high, creating a lethal danger to those inside the area. Therefore, this drying method needs carrying in a room with no occupants. 

Ozone, or trioxygen (CAS number 10028-15-6), is a chemical made up of 3 oxygen atoms. They quickly break down into oxygen (dioxygen, O2) in ambient air. In gaseous, liquid, or diluted water form, ozone is a toxic, corrosive, and potentially oxidizing substance. In its gaseous state, O3 is a colorless or slightly bluish (when pure) gas that gives off an odor resembling bleach or chlorine. Humans can detect smell as low as 0.01 ppm.

Ozone is one of the chemical substances with the most significant oxidizing power  – 52% more effective than chlorine (Cl2), for example, with a much faster cleaning effect. Unfortunately, the oxidizing power exploited by the ozone cleaning process poses a severe health danger. Exposure to certain ozone concentrations could have health effects on those performing the cleaning. Or on that inside have a treating area if the said area was improperly ventilated.

Ozone exposure mainly passes through the respiratory tract but can also affect the skin, mucous membranes, and eyes, resulting in eye irritation, causing pulmonary edema, as well as damage to respiratory organs. Depending on the concentration, those present may be prone to breathing difficulty, cough, dyspnea, chest pain, bronchial hypersecretion, or shortness of breath for up to 48 hours after exposure. When the trioxygen concentration in ambient air reaches 5 ppm, it represents an immediate danger to one’s life and health.

Safer Solutions

Solutions that are much safer and more effective than ozone cleaning are available. If possible, focus on ventilating your home to allow for better air circulation. This works for most, except for those who live in an area with pollution or low air quality.

Manufacturers of ozone generators often make false claims about their devices, stating that they are effective at odor removal. Overall, these devices have strict regulations by federal law. The EPA and other federal agencies like the Air Resources Board (ARB) warn about their health dangers.

Overall, there is no scientific evidence proving that ozone generators are effective unless they produce extremely high ozone levels. There are much more efficient, safer solutions to air quality problems. You can provide a safe space with clean, fresh air for you and your family through other methods, including source control, ventilation, and other air purifier options.

Quick Drying

Adequate drying is essential when it comes to maintaining your outdoor gear. Should you have the time, leave items such as boots and jackets out to dry after time spent outside so they’re ready for the following day. If there isn’t enough time, this drying of gear can be adequate at the end of your time outdoors.

This drying is a vital step to ensure mold doesn’t begin to grow inside any of your gear. Once it’s dry, it’s also wise to put these items inside a freezer, as the cold air will kill any additional germs.

Though drying is helpful, one of the best ways to manage mold growth in wet gear is to eliminate or minimize the conditions that foster it in the first place. Removing the moisture that allows mold to thrive can reduce its impact and the dangers it poses when it grows inside your gear. To do so, keep moisture-sensitive items dry and use materials that prevent bacteria from growing. 

When drying your gear, it can be challenging to maintain its shape while still decontaminating the material. Fortunately, dry heat sterilization is an effective technique for keeping equipment dry and properly sterilizing it. This method also helps each item maintain its structure. 

Dry heat will air out hard-to-reach surfaces of your gear and prevent bacteria from taking over. Most bacteria are highly susceptible to heat, as these high temperatures can prevent their cells from growing. Dry heat can also kill a wide range of pathogens and is the best method for surface drying and sterilization. 

Dry on the Go With MobilDri

Since drying wet gear when you’re on the go can be difficult, but using wet gear can pose serious health hazards, finding a convenient portable drying solution is important. If you’re looking for a way to dry your gear that’s easy and effective, consider the only portable dryer on the market – MobilDri.

Gone are the days you spend worrying about carrying wet gear on your adventures. With this versatile dryer, you can now dry your boots, gloves, helmets, and more in minutes. This lightweight machine only takes 15 minutes to dry moist gear, 30 minutes to dry wet gear, and 45 minutes to dry completely soaked gear. Dry time may vary depending on humidity and temperature but is significantly less than the time most spend air drying their gear.

Thanks to MobilDri, you can now enjoy your time outdoors without worrying about wet, dangerous gear. You can keep your hands and feet warm with quick, efficient drying no matter where you spend time outside. Users no longer need to consider having a power source to dry their gear – they instead have access to a product that cuts down drying time without taking up too much space. MobilDri offers a variety of features, including:

  • A 12V Aux Power Outlet that lets you dry your wet gear anywhere, anytime.
  • A compact design that enables you to store your portable dryer unit and accessories, easily accessing them when needed.
  • A dryer unit base has design to fit almost any standard cupholder. 
  • A Santoprene over-molded magnet to secure your portable dryer to any magnetic metal surface without worrying about metal-to-metal scratching.
  • A Heat Mode for a more efficient drying option. 
  • A Fan-Only Mode for an energy-saving drying option.
  • Allows drying mobility so drying gear sooner and quicker before fungi or bacteria form without need of Ozone that can be harmful to health

MobilDri also does not use any ozone feature, ensuring you can safely dry your gear without fearing various health hazards. This portable dryer device can easily dry all outdoor gear, including helmets, gloves, shoes, and more. Plus, the hot air used can kill bacteria and fungi, so you no longer need to worry about odor-ridden gear, and instead can enjoy your time outdoors stress-free.

 

References:

  1. Sapkota, S., Khadka, S., Adhikari, S., Parajuli, A., Kandel, H., & Regmi, R. S. (2020). Microbial diversity and antibiotic susceptibility pattern of bacteria associated with motorcycle helmets. International journal of microbiology2020.
  2. Haines, S. R., Siegel, J. A., & Dannemiller, K. C. (2020). Modeling microbial growth in carpet dust exposed to diurnal variations in relative humidity using the “Time‐of‐Wetness” framework. Indoor air30(5), 978-992.
  3. Adan, O. C., & Samson, R. A. (Eds.). (2011). Fundamentals of mold growth in indoor environments and strategies for healthy living. Springer.
  4. Alshammari, F. H., & Hussein, H. A. A. (2022). Sterilization of paper during crisis. AMB Express12(1), 1-9.