A trip to the playground is an exciting event for kids, and parents and caregivers love seeing their children put away electronics and enjoy fun, active play. But what if all that excitement is met with a grimy playset? At least for parents, they’ll quickly wonder whether a trip to the playground was really a good idea after all.
While a little dirt on an outdoor playground is perfectly normal, playground users should never be able to describe your playground as “dirty.” Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your playground as clean as possible. In addition to making the playground more appealing visually, proper cleaning and disinfecting can also help you prevent the spread of germs, making the playground a safe place for families. Before cleaning any equipment, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations to use the appropriate cleaning products.
Why Cleaning Is More Important Than Ever
Cleanliness has always been a worthy goal for public spaces. When it comes to playground equipment, many little hands can touch these surfaces throughout each day, and each touch can leave behind microbes. Of course, all that wear can also result in visible dirt and smudges. In the past, some maintenance and cleaning plans were mostly focused on removing visible grime to keep equipment sparkling. That normal routine cleaning is a positive step toward an attractive and hygienic playground, but it isn’t quite enough.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more attention has shifted to those invisible marks users leave behind in public spaces. As children grab onto monkey bars, slides and swings, they can transfer germs from their hands. They can also leave germs behind from the bottoms of shoes or can send germs airborne from coughs or sneezes that land on surfaces.
Some germs can live on surfaces for a significant amount of time. For example, the influenza virus can live up to two full days on surfaces. While germs are nothing new, the global pandemic has heightened awareness over the presence of pathogens and the harm they can cause. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is highly transmissible, and studies indicate the virus can live on nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, for as long as three days in most cases in indoor conditions. Outside, that timespan is likely shorter.
Despite the upsides of outdoor play, playground equipment can still facilitate the spread of germs without proper cleaning. Today more than ever, we know just how important regularly cleaning and disinfecting playground equipment is to ensure the playground is a safe, hygienic place for all users. Even as COVID-19 becomes less of a concern for communities, viruses and bacteria can pose a threat to our health, making removing these germs an important part of playground safety.
Warnings to Remember While Cleaning and Disinfecting
When cleaning your playground, make sure you remember these important tips to keep yourself and your equipment safe:
- Carefully read product labels: When you’re using cleaning or disinfectant products, you should always carefully read labels to make sure the product is designed for your intended application. Pay close attention to the types of surfaces the cleaner is approved for use on. You may need a different product to treat wood than plastic, for example. For any cleaners you already have in your maintenance kit, always check expiration dates before using to make sure the products are not expired, as expired products may not disinfect properly.
- Avoid toxic mixtures: Generally, it is always a bad idea to mix cleaning products. By doing this, you can end up negating important qualities of each product or — more critically — creating toxic gases. A major mistake to avoid is mixing any product containing ammonia with bleach or mixing bleach solutions with vinegar. This combination releases chloramine gas or chlorine gas, which causes chest pain, shortness of breath and can be fatal or damage the lungs.
- Wear protective gear: When applying a disinfectant, be sure to protect your hands and any other part of your body that might be exposed. Disinfectants can irritate the skin. They can cause more serious irritation if they come into contact with your eyes, so be careful to avoid touching the eyes or anywhere on the face while disinfecting the playground.
Cleaning to Remove Dirt and Grime
The baseline for cleaning outdoor playground equipment is to remove dirt and grime. Playground equipment can get dirty quickly when well-loved by a community. Muddy or dusty shoes and sticky hands can leave surfaces grubby and in need of a good clean. Playground owners should have a maintenance schedule in place to ensure playgrounds are cleaned regularly so they maintain their luster.
To remove dirt and grime, all you need is soap, or detergent, and water. Some manufacturers do not recommend pressure washing playground equipment as the high pressure of the water could damage the equipment’s surface. If your manufacturer approves power washing for your equipment, opt for a lower pressure setting. Otherwise, use low-pressure water — an ordinary garden hose works just fine — along with soap to clean equipment.
Follow this basic procedure to clean your equipment:
- Prep: Start with a bucket of warm water and mix in a small amount of a mild dish liquid or a nontoxic cleaner that’s safe for playground equipment. Get a sponge or a soft bristle brush. You may also want to put on latex gloves before you start scrubbing. It is recommended to use nontoxic cleaning products listed as safe for your playground equipment.
- Scrub: Dip your brush or sponge into the soapy water and wipe all the surfaces down, applying firm pressure. Spend extra time scrubbing areas with stuck-on grime, such as sticky spills or bird droppings. Change out your soapy water if it gets too grimy before cleaning the rest of the playground. If the equipment is excessively dirty, you could rinse it to get a bulk of the debris off before scrubbing.
- Rinse: Once you’re done scrubbing the playset, rinse it off with water. A large bucket or a garden hose works well for this. If, after rinsing, you notice any remaining dirt or grime, scrub and rinse again. Allow the equipment to air-dry before allowing kids to play on the equipment so there are no slick spots.
Cleaning to Remove Coronavirus and Other Pathogens
Ordinary soap and water can go a long way toward removing viruses from surfaces. Soap works its magic at the molecular level, destroying the virus by prying apart its lipid membrane. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular cleaning is essential for high-touch surfaces like playground equipment, and in many cases, this can be enough to keep the playground safe.
While using soap and water is a good method for cleaning, you can kill even more germs by also disinfecting playground surfaces. The CDC recommends disinfecting in addition to cleaning for high-traffic public spaces. If your playground is a popular spot for kids and families, you should plan on disinfecting playground equipment periodically. Note that you should always clean to remove dirt and grime first before disinfecting.
Consider disinfecting surfaces that are touched the most frequently, like handrails, swing set chains and riding equipment handles. Note that disinfecting porous surfaces, like wood, is not recommended. There are a few different methods you can use for disinfecting commercial playground equipment with nonporous surfaces, like metal and plastic play structures:
- EPA-approved disinfectant products: Use a product included in the List N disinfectants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These disinfecting products are all known to kill the coronavirus when used as instructed on the label. These products are typically the best choice for disinfecting surfaces.
- Bleach solution: In the absence of EPA-approved cleaners, household bleach solutions can also be an effective way to disinfect playground surfaces when properly diluted. Add 1/3 cup of bleach to a gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach to a quart of water. Be sure to rinse off the equipment after disinfecting with the bleach solution. Let the equipment dry completely before allowing anyone to use it. Refer to any manufacturer guidelines for approved cleaning solutions, as well.
- Alcohol solution: Another option for disinfecting is using 70% isopropyl alcohol. This disinfectant is not the best choice for surfaces, however, because it can evaporate too quickly before it’s been able to disinfect sufficiently. Alcohol solutions tend to work best for submerging small items that need disinfected and allowing them to soak, so it’s best to stick to disinfectant sprays and bleach solutions for large surface areas. Check your manufacturer’s instructions to see if alcohol solutions are safe to use.
Cleaning and disinfecting are both important means of keeping your playground hygienic. You may also hear about sanitizing playground equipment or see products that are labeled as sanitizers rather than disinfectants. According to the EPA, the distinction is that sanitizing products use chemicals to kill bacteria but do not kill viruses. Disinfectants can kill both bacteria and viruses, so you want to disinfect when possible rather than just sanitize.
Cleaning to Remove Mold and Mildew
Mildew and other types of mold can grow on outdoor surfaces, including playsets. If you spot patches of mold on a playset — something you’re more likely to see if the playset has been out of use and hasn’t been cleaned for a long time — take steps to remove it right away. You should start with soap and water, which can remove the visible mold.
After this initial cleaning step, you should try to kill any remaining mold on the surface, even if it looks like the mold is all gone. There are a few options you can use for this step, but be sure not to combine them and only use one method at a time:
- Bleach solution: A bleach solution can kill mold. If you’re just spot treating, try a higher concentration than the bleach solution used for general disinfecting. Mix water and bleach at a ratio of 1-to-1 and use a sponge or brush to clean the affected area with the bleach solution. Be sure to wear gloves while doing this and always verify that bleach is safe to use on the material. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Once you’ve bleached the mold away, rinse off the equipment and allow it to dry.
- Vinegar: On nonporous surfaces, like plastic playground equipment, the acetic acid in vinegar allows it to kill most types of mold. There are some types that vinegar has not shown to be effective against, so opt for bleach or a cleaner designed for mold first. If using vinegar, fill a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar that contains at least 5% acetic acid. Spray the moldy area and let it sit for an hour before rinsing off. Again, double-check the manufacturer’s recommendations to confirm that vinegar is safe to use on the equipment.
- Mold removal spray: As long as the manufacturer recommends it, one of the best options is to use a spray specifically designed to kill mold and mildew. This includes many bathroom sprays for cleaning tubs and showers, for instance. You can also find mold removal sprays that are intended for other surfaces. Choose a product designed for the material you’re cleaning, whether that is plastic or metal. Be sure to follow the instructions on the cleaner you choose.
If you’re having a recurring problem with mold showing up in certain areas on the playground, you may want to cut back trees or rearrange equipment so the affected area starts getting more sunlight. Exposure to sunlight can help surfaces dry off more quickly after getting rained on so they don’t remain damp, inviting mold to grow. Plus, the sunlight itself can help kill mold.
Practices to Decrease Exposure to Germs, Dirt, Grime and Bacteria
Cleaning can be an essential task for keeping the playground in tip-top condition. There are some steps playground managers and users can take to help keep the playground cleaner and more hygienic in between cleanings, as well:
- Install surfacing: You should install playground surfacing designed for shock absorption and accessibility. These surfaces, such as poured-in-place rubber or rubber tiles, are safer and can minimize the dirt and dust that get kicked up in the playground.
- Make trash receptacles accessible: You can minimize the amount of trash left on the ground or on other surfaces by making sure garbage and recycling receptacles are on-site and emptied regularly so they are always accessible. Some littering may still occur, but you can do your part to discourage littering by making it easy to dispose of items properly.
- Provide handwashing or sanitizing stations: When it comes to minimizing the spread of germs, one of the best steps playground users can take is washing or sanitizing their hands. If you have restroom facilities on-site, encourage families to wash their hands before and after using the playground. You can also install hand sanitizing stations near the playground, which is a convenient option for keeping kids from transmitting germs by touch.
- Remind visitors to stay home if sick: Sick children should not play on the playground. Even if they don’t leave germs behind on the equipment, they could transmit an illness to the other children they’re playing with at the time. Post signage that reminds parents or caregivers that any child who is running a fever or has had symptoms of illness within the last day, such as diarrhea, vomiting or a runny nose that are not allergy-related, should not enter the playground.
- Use equipment with an antimicrobial coating: Disinfecting regularly used playground equipment can kill germs that are present, but as soon as children start playing on the equipment again, more germs can appear. An antimicrobial coating like PlayArmor™ can help protect against germs between cleanings. This long-lasting antimicrobial coating is like an invisible barrier of protection on playground equipment that kill pathogens while being completely safe for kids.
How to Maintain Playground Equipment After Cleaning
Following a playground cleaning checklist is a great first step for keeping your playground in good shape, but there are other steps you should include in your maintenance plan besides cleaning. Be sure to give your playground the attention it deserves with these steps:
- Conduct regular inspections: Cleaning is a great time to carry out a routine inspection of your equipment. Look closely at the equipment to identify any potential hazards. Those concerns could be a loose bolt, a sharp edge, a rusty spot, a cracked or broken plastic piece or any other defect. You should also inspect the surrounding area, including the ground, for any trash or hazards like broken glass. If you see anything unsafe that shouldn’t be on the playground, remove it immediately.
- Keep records: It’s wise to keep careful records of these inspections. For one, you can keep track of when the playground has been inspected and whether there have been any recurring issues that may need a better solution. These records can also demonstrate your commitment to safety if you were to ever face litigation for an injury sustained on the playground.
- Repair or replace parts: If you identify any issues during an inspection, it’s crucial to address those issues right away. In some cases, you may be able to fix the problem on the spot with minimal tools. This measure would include tightening loose bolts, for example. In other cases, you may need to have a maintenance professional take a look and determine whether a part can be fixed or whether you’re better off replacing the equipment. Especially if you’ve repaired equipment repeatedly before, it may be time to purchase new equipment.
When you replace playground components, be sure to choose quality options that are made to last. Higher-quality playground equipment can be more durable, meaning it should sustain more use without showing signs of aging or deterioration.
Start With Safe, Hygienic Equipment From Playworld
At Playworld, we believe in safe, clean fun. Keeping your playground clean shows you take pride in this facility, and it can encourage users to do their part to keep it clean, as well. In addition to routine cleaning and disinfecting, an important step you can take is starting with quality playground equipment with a layer of antimicrobial protection.
PlayArmor was introduced in 2020 to help address concerns over pathogens on the playground and make the playground as germ-free as possible. This antimicrobial coating was the first ever designed exclusively for commercial playground equipment and site furnishings. PlayArmor’s efficacy is based in well-established science. It can kill pathogens mechanically rather than chemically. In other words, PlayArmor ruptures pathogens’ cell walls to kill them rather than poisoning the cells. This method can prevent the possibility of pathogens mutating to resist poisoning methods.
PlayArmor is just one of the ways Playworld demonstrates its commitment to safe and inclusive play. To learn more about outfitting your playground with Playworld equipment, request a quote today.