Disinfecting playgrounds may be new territory for janitorial teams, but it’s essential in our new COVID world. Here’s what that means for your commercial cleaning business.

When we were kids, nobody would ever think about disinfecting playgrounds. Even in the days before a pandemic changed our reality, you could get a good laugh by talking about it. The playground, after all, is where we take our kids to develop immunity. That’s where we go to find germs. And no question, there are germs there. Look up the details and you may never want to take your kids to a playground again. 

Playgrounds are the realm of dirty swings, jungle gyms that every hand for miles around has touched, and kids with runny noses. Coughing and sneezing on the rope ladder is a rite of passage. It’s not wrong to think that most playgrounds only get cleaned when it rains.

In other words, disinfecting playgrounds is a new territory for most companies in the commercial cleaning industry. 

That’s okay, though. If nothing else, this is an adaptable industry. And if you can clean a school locker room or a kindergarten classroom, you can clean and disinfect a playground. But as an add-on, how do you categorize and charge for this type of work?

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Disinfecting Playgrounds

The business end of disinfecting playgrounds

We know at this point in our battle against COVID-19 that it’s essential to get outside and get fresh air. We’ve known for generations that sunshine and exercise are necessary for kids to grow and develop. Playgrounds are a vital part of this. 

There is a lot of guidance around playgrounds for schools and municipalities. They include things you would expect, like hand washing and maintaining physical distance from other people. However, that doesn’t help you much. 

Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has guidance for disinfecting playgrounds and outdoor play areas. Interestingly, they state that routine cleaning, rather than disinfecting, is appropriate for most outdoor spaces. However, “the targeted use of disinfectants can be done effectively, efficiently, and safely on outdoor hard surfaces and objects frequently touched by multiple people.” 

What does that mean? In short, you don’t need to worry about things like sidewalks, fences (except for entrance/exit gates), or mulch and sand. Ladders, climbing structures, and railings do require regular attention. In other words, it’s not too different than what you’re used to. 

The routine is the same: clean then disinfect. Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment. Use cleaners on the Environmental Protection Agency’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). And ensure you follow proper procedures for contact time.  

One thing to be aware of is that some cleaners, like bleach solutions, for example, may damage the wood. Make sure, too, that you allow plenty of time for any cleaners and disinfectants to dry before the playground is reopened for use. 

How much should you charge for all this? There are a few ways to approach that question. Some cleaning companies are donating their services and disinfecting playgrounds for free. Josh Shoaff, of Josh the Window Cleaner, in Cleveland, OH, and Wash Authority in mid-Missouri both donated their services to local daycares and elementary schools. 

That’s certainly a great way to build community engagement and goodwill. You also have bills to pay. As nice as it is to donate a cleaning or a series of cleanings, you can’t give away your services forever. 

Since playgrounds can be as little as a swing set or as large as multiple play structures, slides, swings, and more, there’s really no single way to charge. The most straightforward approach is probably to charge the same as you would any other job, looking at the time and product cost in relation to what you need for profit. 

How much you charge is also dependent on whether you’re looking at a one-time cleaning, ongoing work, or disinfecting playgrounds as an add-on to a larger facilities contract. You may find that you don’t want to charge extra for cleaning a small playground for a long-standing client that you enjoy working with. 

Moving inside: Cleaning and disinfecting indoor play areas 

Whether it’s because of rain or cold weather, there are plenty of times indoor play areas will get a lot of use. Disinfecting these areas requires a different approach than what you take in disinfecting playgrounds. 

The CDC has extensive guidelines on cleaning and disinfecting indoor play areas. Some of the highlights include:

  • Routine cleaning and disinfecting of doorknobs, light switches, sink handles, nap pads, countertops, desks, chairs, potty training chairs, and cubbies. 
  • Use cleaners and disinfectants approved by the EPA.
  • Enlist the help of staff to use disposable wipes on high-touch surfaces between cleanings. 
  • Ensure there is adequate ventilation and don’t use cleaning products when children are present. 
  • Diaper changing stations need to be cleaned and disinfected between each use.
  • Toys, especially those that children may put in their mouths, need to be sanitized daily. 
  • Bedding needs to be cleaned weekly, at a minimum. 
  • For soft surfaces, such as couches, clean with soap and water, or an appropriate surface cleaner.

As you probably know by now, fresh air circulation is essential to dispersing any potential airborne contaminants. Any time you clean, open as many windows as possible, and ask staff to open windows as much as possible. 

Most of this is true for schools, as well, although you may not need to worry about nap pads once you get out of the preschool and kindergarten classrooms. 

In any case, it’s important to have a plan in place. Work in conjunction with the facility’s staff and administration to establish the frequency of cleaning. And keep up the great work you’re already doing!

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