Any time you’re in a public space or using any item or facility that multiple other people use, you should be concerned about the potential spread of germs. Germs are, of course, on everything. They’re in the air, they’re in the ground, they’re on surfaces, they’re on you, they’re in you. Not all germs are bad, and even bad germs, in low enough numbers, aren’t dangerous. Your immune system is more than capable of fighting them off.
Even so, whether it’s flu season or a global pandemic, some concern must be taken to keep the items you use sanitary, and that applies equally to your doorknobs and to bounce houses you rent.
Bounce houses and other party inflatables are sometimes nests of germs. When dozens of children are using them – children who haven’t necessarily washed their hands, and who may be incubating all manner of germs that they won’t feel, but will gladly infect their parents – those germs spread around.
How can you guarantee that you’re taking the threat of germs seriously when you’re renting a bounce house?
Don’t Be Scared
The first thing to do is know how germs spread, and allow yourself to be ruled by logic and information, not by fear.
The media always loves to run horror stories, particularly about germs and health risks, because of how “viral” they can go online. They get people talking, they get people acting, and while that’s good for the news station, it’s not always good for the people.
Take this article for example. A news agency “puts bounce houses to the test” to see how dirty they really are. It certainly sounds bad; a biological residue count of “over 100” is where they set their threshold of safety, but all of the bounce houses they tested were far over that threshold. This means they’re swarming with germs, right?
Well, there are a handful of problems with this reporting.
- They only tested four bounce houses; two rented and two public. This is far from a statistical sample and is not very much data at all when it comes to drawing conclusions.
- They only took one sample from each bounce house, at least that they report. Maybe they took more and cherry-picked the worst, or maybe not. Regardless, this is a huge variation
- The “biological residue” they tested for is not necessarily germs at all. It could be anything from shed skin cells to bits of leaves and grass tracked into the bounce house.
- A nitpick, but the photo shows taking a sample of the floor of the bounce house; something that will primarily be contacted by shoes, clothing, and unbroken skin, and isn’t necessarily a primary vector for infection even if they did find high levels of germs.
It’s clear that this kind of reporting is mostly meant to make people vaguely aware that there may be something to consider, but is trying to emphasize it in a scary way. You can see another example here.
Don’t be scared by this kind of reporting! Yes, public places and rental items may have germs on them, but that doesn’t mean they’re massively infected, even in public spaces. People in general are actually more sanitary and less infectious than you might think.
The moral of the story is, don’t let fear rule your decision. Use sensible caution, of course, but just because it’s flu season doesn’t mean you have to avoid something as simple as a bounce house.
Rent From a Reputable Vendor
One of the most important factors we recommend when considering renting a bounce house or other inflatable or party game is the vendor. We’re biased, of course, and would love for you to rent from us, but if you’re not in our service area, you should find a local reputable vendor.
How can you identify a reputable vendor?
- Read reviews for the company. You can often get a feel for how well-run a company is by the reviews left by customers. Are there bad reviews? Are there bad reviews that are drowned out by good reviews that look fake? Are the bad reviews complaining of user error, not something the company did wrong? All the same review techniques you see restaurants use are in full force for every industry, including party rentals.
- Look for certification. In our area (Texas) amusement rides, which include bounce houses, must be inspected and certified annually, and insured. You can look up a company directly if your state provides a directory, like ours.
- Check for injury reports. Again, in Texas, injuries must be reported and are added to a directory of incident reports. You can read the TX directory here. Your state probably has something similar. Check to see if there are injuries related to the company you’re looking into, and if they might indicate a negligent company.
- Ask to see an inflatable in person. You won’t be able to test it without permission, but you can look for signs that it isn’t well cared-for. A smell of mildew, signs of mold, dirt left in it from the last time it was used; these might indicate that it’s not kept clean.
A reputable vendor that keeps up with safety is likely to keep up with cleanliness as well. Sure, that’s not 100% guaranteed, but there’s always an element of risk at any party. A bounce house isn’t going to necessarily be any less sanitary than your picnic tables or your cooler during a party.
Ask Your Vendor How They Clean
Before you sign a contract to rent a bounce house, you should be asking your vendor questions to ease any concerns you may have. These can range from asking to see inspection stickers and insurance certification, to asking how they clean the bounce houses to prevent the spread of germs.
A good cleaning process generally involves both dry cleaning and wet cleaning. A dry cleaning process – not the same you would use for a suit – involves using a vacuum or blower to remove dry debris like dirt, leaves, and whatever else accumulates in the bounce house. You’d be surprised what kind of stuff ends up in a bounce house after a party. We’ve seen everything from sticks and stones to food debris to jewelry to toys.
This is only the start of a good cleaning, though. Dry cleaning removes dirt and debris, but wet cleaning is where sanitizing happens. Wet cleaning typically involves going over the whole bounce house, inside and out, with sanitizing wipes, soap and water, a stronger cleaner, and possibly even a hose washer. The goal is to scrub out dirt and debris from cracks and crevices, use soap or an antimicrobial cleanser to sanitize the surfaces, and a hose to rinse it all away. Then the bounce house is dried out before it’s collapsed for storage.
All of this should be done after each time a bounce house is rented and used, or on a regular daily or weekly basis for public installations.
Set Up Hand Wash Stations
While the company you rent a bounce house from is certainly responsible for the cleanliness of the bounce house itself, you need to take some level of responsibility for the cleanliness of the children who use it.
One of the most important things to do, particularly when there’s a germ going around, is ensure proper sanitation. Setting up a hand washing station with non-potable water is a general go-to option for fairs and large gatherings that don’t have access to sinks and bathrooms. These range in price quite dramatically, but you don’t need to buy them – you can rent them too – and you don’t need an advanced, powerful model. All you need is a place where you can allow children and adults to wash their hands before and after they use a bounce house.
Practicing simple hand washing with soap and water is really all that’s necessary to prevent the vast majority of infections. And yes, we know it can be hard wrangling children to wash their hands, particularly when they’re excited at a party. That’s where the ever-watchful parents come in! Just set it up as a “price for entry” to the bounce house and you can mitigate a lot of problems well before they become problems.
Wash Children Before and After Playing
This goes as a continuation or alternative to setting up hand-washing stations. Sometimes you don’t have room in your budget, or you can’t find a local supplier willing to rent out some hand washing stations for a small gathering or party (as opposed to a large fair).
In these cases, you’ll want to take a more proactive approach to cleaning the children who use the bounce house. Again as a “price for entry” style of gatekeeping, set up someone at the entrance of the bounce house whose duty it is to keep the kids going in and out clean.
This can be done easily enough with baby wipes or hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is fine for cleaning the hands of children going in or coming out of a bounce house. It’s not quite as effective as soap and water, but it will work just fine if you can’t use soap. Baby wipes tend to have a gentle soap instead of alcohol-based cleaning, which can work to clean the face and hands of children as well. All of this serves to minimize germ spread, though of course children are just as prone to bouncing on their faces as they are their feet, so some spread may be inevitable.
Prevent Food and Drink From Entering
Helping to keep a bounce house clean is also important. We’re not asking you as parents or party organizers to sanitize the entire bounce house, but you should at least strive to minimize possible messes made inside them. Keeping food and drink out of the bounce house is always a good idea. If nothing else, it helps prevent stains and sticky children from running rampant.
Like we said up above; you’d be surprised at the kind of things we find inside bounce houses after they’ve been used. Food debris is some of the most common trash left over, and that can be everything from spilled juice to bits of hotdog and more.
Another reason to minimize food in a bounce house is, well, because children will stick just about anything in their mouths. If one kid brings in food and spills it, another kid could be perfectly happy to pick up a free snack, and that spreads germs in a way no amount of hand washing will prevent.
Watch For and Protect Cuts and Scrapes
The primary way that germs get into a person’s system is through gaps in the skin. Naturally, this means eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s why common disease prevention advice is to avoid touching your face. Good luck getting a kid to do that, of course, but hey; it’s advice for a reason.
The skin is generally an impermeable barrier to germs, and while germs can ride along on hands for a while, if they can’t get in, they generally just die on the surface. Skin infections are an exception to the rule, but parents should avoid letting children with a skin infection participate in a bounce house.
Cuts and scrapes break the skin barrier, and thus provide additional vectors for infection. If a child has a cut or scrape, make sure to disinfect it and cover it with a bandage to keep it as sealed away as possible while the child plays.
You don’t have to be afraid of germs; just know how to prevent their spread, and even public spaces become quite a bit safer.