Cleanliness Creates Good Busy-ness at Indoor Play Centers!
by Helena Robin
How Indoor Play Centers Keep Clean
It's easy to look at the hoards of kids enjoying ball pits, bounce houses, indoor jungle gyms, and rock walls, and suspect that under a black light you'll find 10,000 varieties of germs, bacteria, and, who knows, maybe even the bubonic plague. We've all been to indoor playgrounds where there's been that one child with the drippy nose or the hacking cough flitting over every piece of equipment like a tiny, delighted Typhoid Mary.
Each time that's happened to me, I've wondered not only if my kids would be missing school later that week, but also just how thoroughly the businesses cleaned their facilities. So, thanks to the ability to don my Press Hat, I contacted all of the indoor play centers in the KidsOutAndAbout.Com nation-wide directory and asked them!
Before I get to the good stuff, here's some GREAT stuff! I've done other articles where I've contacted organizations with research questions, but I've NEVER had the amount of participation as I did for this article! The companies sent me photos, cool methods, product information and more. Why? So that the world will know how seriously they approach the health of their environments and how proud they are of the hard work their employees and contracted cleaning companies put forth.
The owner or manager of more than a few indoor playgrounds reminded me that it's in their best interest to maintain a squeaky clean environment; their reputation depends upon it! Moms talk, and if the grapevine is buzzing with compliments on a facility's cleanliness, business will BOOM.
The other interesting thing I learned is that indoor play centers don't have state or federal health department requirements for their equipment (with the exception of Arizona and Minnesota). I included this fact in the "Great" paragraph, because it means that these facilities are killing germs and mopping up crumbs and dirt so enthusiastically and with such vigor because they WANT to!
Diane Chamberlain from The Sandbox Playground in Fairport, NY sums up the responsibility as she see it: "In an enviroment such as ours, the discerning moms, dads, grandparents and nannies will undoubtedly let us know whether we are doing a good job or not keeping their children healthy. The fact that they return weekly, monthly on a regular basis is proof we are staying ahead of the cleaning and are proud to be offering a germ-free environment for their children!"
Each of the facilities I spoke with named several basic things that happen. The floors are universally mopped, vaccumed, and steam cleaned with great frequency and regularity. Some places that have concrete flooring in some areas even mentioned waxing and buffing the surfaces weekly. Bathrooms typically receive special attention, as kids in general aren't known for their aim, consistency with flushing, tidiness with soap dispensers, or noticing if their paper towels have successfully landed in the trash cans. Indoor playgrounds with several different components or attractions for kids to play on employ iron-clad cleaning schedules so that nothing is neglected and everyone knows what's what's on tap for that day.
Lysol, Clorox Wipes, Swiffers, and plain old soap and water are the go-to products for most indoor playgrounds. While these tasks are typically done daily, many businesses we spoke with also employ the services of professional cleaners to deep clean their facilities, some on a weekly basis and others on a monthly basis.
The frequency of the professional deep cleaning seems to correlate to the type of facility: Businesses that primarily have inflatables or host frequent parties need to deep clean more regularly than kids gyms and indoor playgrounds which host classes as they have a higher volume of visitors.
Places With Party Areas
Indoor play centers that have dedicated party areas or snack bars available have additional challenges when it comes to maintaining a clean, healthy environment.
Dianne Chamberlain from The Sandbox Playground pays special attention to the health of her customers. In the snack area, tables, chairs and high chairs are wiped down and cleaned with antibacterial cleaner after each use, and a deep clean is done at the end of the day with stronger products. Her staff members also remind guests to use the hand sanitizing stations or soap and water before enjoyng a snack with their families or cake during a party.
LazerX, located in Cyprus, TX (a suburb of Houston), has two party rooms that get steam cleaned every evening after closing. Because their party rooms are gathering places for clients, it's also important to them to clean their tables and benches with food-grade cleaning and sanitizing solutions throughout the day.
Indoor playgrounds dominated by inflatables are fun places where kids can climb, slide, crawl, jump, scootch, roll and bounce. They also cause caregivers some anxiety, as many of the places are inaccessable for adults to scope out. But don't worry! Roger Allen, who owns Super Bounce, which is located outside of Albany, NY, says that his inflatables are cleaned from top to bottom with Simple Green followed by a dousing with Lysol each and every day. He also noted that they take extra precautions around high-traffic areas like entrance and exit points to ensure that nothing is missed. Of course, they do this heavy cleaning after the facility has closed for the day, which allows plenty of time for the cleaning products to do their jobs and for the chemicals to dissipate before kids have access to the inflatables the following day. (Albany-area parents: Allan describes himself as a germophobe, so you know your kids are in good hands!)
To be honest, while imagining the structure of this article, I didn't initially take Trampoline Parks into consideration. Not because they aren't indoor playgrounds, but because I just don't picture them as being hotbeds of bacteria, germs, and spilled fruit punch. To be sure, there probably isn't any fruit punch--or any other food item--on the trampolines, but still, once you think about it, there's still plenty of other stuff to clean! Guests become sweaty, collisions resulting in bloody noses or scratches can sometimes happen, and all sorts of things can fall out of pockets.
wAIRhouse Trampoline Park in Salt Lake City, Utah vacuums their trampolines daily. Jump City, located outside of Denver in Westminster, either wipes down their trampolines by hand or use swiffer sweepers. Bounce! Trampoline Sports does in Valley Cottage and Syosset, NY sanitizes their mats daily.
Of course, the rest of their facilities get super-cleaned as well. Jennifer Nielson from wAIRhouse writes, "The wAirhouse has always tried to maintain a level of cleanliness that goes above and beyond what is expected by our parents. We want everyone to feel as though we do our best to maintain a clean and welcoming facility."
It's safe to say that we received the most responses from folks who own and operate kids' gyms. Perhaps it's because their clients often include babies, or maybe it's because they have structured class times with inquiring parents? Who knows. What I do know is that they take cleaning seriously.
Tumbling Tykes, located in Latham, NY has a rigorous routine: Every item is scheduled for a deep clean every 5-7 days on top of daily sanitizing and sterilizing. In addition to this, they also ask all guests to use hand sanitizer or soap and water when they enter and exit the facility. They write, "Keeping all of our customers--big and small--happy and healthy is extraordinarily important!"
My Gym in Layton, UT goes so far as to close their facility for three consecutive days every six months for a Very Deep Clean. Their hard-working team puts in over 120 hours; scrubbing, organizing, de-junking, and going over every square inch of the gym. They even rent a scissor lift and clean the rafters with mops!
My Gym isn't alone in stressing the importance of a clean facility. Erik Lindholm, the owner of Great Play in Superior, CO, writes, "We take a lot of pride in the cleanliness of our facility. We clean this place like crazy each and every day. My wife and I have taken our kids to a few places that were not clean, and we ended up not returning because of it. It's too bad, but it makes a big difference to parents. Because of those experiences, we vowed to build processes into our system that make cleaning a priority here at Great Play of Superior. Our staff is trained from Day One that cleaning is an important part of the job. New employees learn quickly that cleaning is valued and appreciated by ownership, fellow staff, and most important, our customers."
Shannon Phillips who, along with her husband owns My Gym in The Woodlands, TX explains, "Half of our day is teaching amazing classes and the other half is cleaning. It really is so important and such a big part of our job. We are here not only to keep the kids happy and active but HEALTHY as well!"
Chesterfield Sports Fusion in Chesterfield, MO consists of a huge play structure (like a modern jungle gym) in a huge 30,000-square-foot building. That's a lot of surfaces to clean! The hardworking staff crawls around the structure, wiping it all down with clorox wipes and cleaning solutions. To go the extra mile, they also use a company called Details Cleaning Service which uses child-friendly products that remove dirt and sanitize the structure inside and out.
What About Those Ball Pits??
Have you ever noticed the small shiver that accompanies some parents when the subject of ball and foam pits arises? Don't worry, indoor playgrounds understand your fears!
If you've ever imagined someone sitting uncomfortably hand washing each individual ball you'd actually be pretty spot on! My Gym-Layton and My Gym-The Woodlands clean and disinfect each and every ball in the ball pit by hand weekly! Jump City has a foam pit which they empty out and clean ensuring that nothing is hiding at the bottom. They also use this time to replace the foam pieces as necessary and disinfect each one with Lysol. Bounce! Trampoline Sports also vacuums each foam piece. Risa Hoag, from Bounce!, shares that "We are often told by parents how clean the facility looks as well as how new it looks after 3.5 years. We take great pride in keeping our facility clean for the parents, for the kids and for us!"
Gold Star Efforts
With so many dedicated professionals working hard with their staffs to maintain clean and healthful environments for our children, I wasn't too surprised to come across several cleaning procedures or products which really made me sit up and say, "Wow!" For example:
Great Play of Superior has a gym floor which is made of entirely and completely anti-bacterial and anti-fungal materials!
Tumbling Tykes has made it a part of their cleaning regime to pack each and every ball from their ball pit into mesh bags and give them a hearty blast at their local car wash!
Bounce! Trampoline Sports uses the same air freshening product as the NYC subway system. I'm not 100% sure how this effects cleanliness, but I still think it's cool and customer-minded.
wAIRhouse Trampoline Park has cleaning products integrated into their janitorial water supply, "We have our disinfectant spray Terminator, our general purpose cleaner Marauder, and our glass cleaner Star Spray. These are great as they come in a bulk dispensing system that is set up right through our water system in our janitor closet!"
My Gym - Latham uses cleaning products from a company called Babyganics which are non-toxic and safe. They even steam clean each and every mat each and every day with the help of Babyganics.
The Sandbox Playground cleans and dusts window sills, baseboards, and hard to reach spaces every other day. The blowers move large amounts of dust which tend to build up if not attended to, which they do!
Monkey Joe's, which has locations all over the country (though not in New York), uses a pretty cool cleaning product, "Monkey Joe’s is committed to sanitizing all the inflatables in its facility with the help of Swisher Hygiene. Swisher is a service that reduces exposure to germs and cross contamination. This practice removes the surface bacteria for a minimum of seven days, ensuring Money Joe’s is covered from one weekly visit to the next."
My Gym - The Woodlands - The Woodlands not only uses Babyganic products, they also emply a "slobber bucket" system. The "slobber bucket" is a dedicated place for parents to drop toys that have been put into their babies' mouths so that they can be sterilized before being put back into circulation again.
Tiny Tots Tea Room in Clifton, NY, which also uses a "slobber bucket" system cleans their facility with Life Guard, a product used in cleaning hosiptals. The owner, Sari Medick, lives with an auto immune disorder which makes having a clean environment a personal, as well as professional, priority.
At the End of the Day
After going through all the great information the indoor play centers provided me, and hearing the passion the owners use when explaining their cleaning methods, I feel much more confident that when my kids are having fun with their friends, they are more likely to become ill after a trip to a friend's house or school. I know each of these places is cleaner than my own home, that's for sure!
Of course, if you are worried about the use of chemicals to clean the facilities you should check with your favorite indoor playground to see what products they use. Another thing to keep in mind is that it's OK for you to have a conversation with the owners or managers of your local fun spot! If they are quick to explain their cleaning schedules and products to you, they are probably on top of the situation. But, if you sense hesitation or uncertainty, you might want to talk to a different employee or even look for other indoor playgrounds in your area.
Helena Robin is President and CEO of the Robin family. She coordinates and executes all family operations including (but not limited to) communications, transportation, management, catering, maintenance, troubleshooting, and cultural development. Her Executive Team comprises a Husband/Creator of Chaos and three unpaid interns. She's also the Launch Editor for KidsOutAndAbout.com.
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