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Q: What's the germiest at the gym or spa: the sauna, steam room, or whirlpool?

A: Picture that scene in old horror movies where a mad scientist holds up a bubbling beaker full of some strange toxic brew. Blow up the size of that beaker, and you have a whirlpool-a warm, bubbling cauldron of germs. It's the worst of the three, by far.

Interestingly, most of the bacteria hang out in the pipes, not the water. But when we turn on the jets, the germs are sprayed into the water. (If you own a hot tub, get the pipes professionally cleaned, and use a bleach disinfectant once a week for the tub. Remember: The hotter the water, the less effective chlorine is at keeping it germ-free.)

Number two on the ick list: steam rooms. Warmth and extreme moisture are ideal for breeding germs. And a sauna is number three on the list because the heat is dry, but any lingering sweat in the room is a moist habitat for germs.

To be safe, don't park your bare butt on the bench in a steam room or sauna; sit on a towel that's folded enough times to keep your skin away from the moisture. (Wooden benches are worse than tile ones, by the way, because the cracks in the wood provide a place for germs to settle in and set up shop.) Always wear underwear or a bathing suit, too. And if you have any cuts or open sores, avoid these spa amenities until you've healed.

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