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Cleaning!

Admittedly I've tried the easiest way I could find.  I've also tried the fastest.  I believe I have even done it the hard way, and more than once.  Once you get the hang of it, cleaning you inflatables becomes second nature and you'll be well on your way to providing your customers with clean respectable units that you're proud to offer.

Introduction.

Cleaning and maintaining an inflatable can be a daunting task especially if you are new to the business and you are not sure of how often and to what extent your cleanings should be.  A good point to remember however is that a clean inflatable that is in good repair is always more highly recognized by your customers and helps build a good name for you and your business.

There are generally a few types of cleanings and maintenance routines that should be performed. It is very important that you document anything other than a "quick" cleaning, or "spot" clean.  If you ever want to sell your unit, or in the unfortunate circumstances you have a law suit filed against you it is important to show your proficiency in the cleaning and maintaining your units

Cleaning Chemicals.

There are as many different cleaning products as there are inflatables and some can be harmful to your unit or more importantly can be harmful to the occupants or users of the inflatable.  You need to make sure that any cleaner you use is free of bleach or chlorine which will weaken the threads, methyl ethyl ketone which will break down the vinyl and weaken its integrity, or any cleaner which specifically states its use is not intended for soft or pliable vinyls.  Avoid any cleaner with caustic agents in them.

Some of the most common agents used by operators include, greased lightning, orange blast and simple green.  Eco friendly cleaners such as the citrus based cleaners do a wonderful job of removing often hard to clean substances such as tar, grease paint or face paint and sticky candy or gum residues.  Another benefit is the orange aroma they emit which is much more pleasant than harsh chemical odors.  You'll also want to make sure that any cleaner you use is safe for human contact and does not leave any residue behind.  Any cleaner used should contain a disinfectant or a disinfectant should be used after cleaning the unit for sanitary purposes.  Sometimes units are set up in parks or locations near fire pits or barbeques and a smoke removal solution is needed to remove the smoke odor.  Make sure this is done immediately so the odor does not remain in the unit.

A specialty cleaner available in most boat and marine stores is Nautical Ease Inflatable Cleaner which is made specifically for PVC vinyl's like those used for rubber rafts.  This agent is excellent for helping maintain the pliability of the vinyl and removes the oxidization often associated with the red colors and other colors as well.  Another cleaner is Matt Kleen which is used widely in schools and institutions for cleaning and disinfecting mats and padded surfaces. 

Spot/Quick Clean.

One of the first methods for cleaning is actually prevention. No matter what the surface set up area may consist of, grass, asphalt, concrete, gymnasium floors, tile, sand, dirt, etc., you want to keep as much of the substance out of the unit as possible.  Providing a large enough ground cover such as a tarp, piece of outdoor carpet or other remnant usually does a good job but will not stop everything from entering the unit.

At each entrance/exit place this material on the ground, make sure it is properly secured in place and no trip hazards exist.  This ground cover should be big enough to allow for participants to move around the entrance, put on and take off their shoes and footwear and wait for their turn in or on the units.

Moving onto the first method of cleaning we cover the "quick" or "spot" cleaning.  This generally takes place before the rental period at the customers house, or after the rental period at the customers house.  Customers love to see you cleaning a unit and it assures them that you take them seriously by providing a clean unit.  Do not be afraid to let the customers see you clean the units. The major purpose behind spot cleaning is to prepare the unit for its next use.

For a spot cleaning it is advised you start from the inside of the unit and work to the outside. This way anything inside that gets pushed outside does not dirty a freshly cleaned exterior area.  Using a soft bristle broom, sweep everything to the outside walls and then to the corners or exit where you can sweep it to the outside.  A vacuum may be used and often is by many operators.  Most portable cordless vacuums will maintain a charge good enough to clean 2-3 average units.  Some use small 1 1/2 to 2 gallon canister vacs which will fit through most entrances.

After removing the large debris, dirt, etc.  Use a wet rag and your cleaner of choice to wipe down all areas that customers come into contact with.  The mattress floor, the exit and the supporting columns.  Move to the outside and wipe down the entrance, the mattress and the base of the unit and columns.  This is a perfect time for some quick inspection of the unit for any damage that may have occurred, or any material failure due to normal wear and tear.  This is not a substitute for a deep cleaning or thorough inspection.  Make sure the unit is completely dry before rolling and storing.  When rolling the unit, you may want to quickly wipe down and check the bottom of the unit.  Again, make sure the unit is dry before storing.

Thorough/Deep Clean.

The second method of cleaning is the "deep" or "thorough" cleaning.  Its hard to determine how often you should deep clean a unit as it is based on the use of the unit.  How often its rented out, your rental season length, what types of set ups, etc..  It may be a couple weeks, or it may be a month or two.  We deep clean ours once each month, with the units being rented out about 9-10 times each month.  A thorough inspection of the unit is advised before a deep clean is accomplished.  We'll cover the inspections in another section of the web site.

For a deep cleaning it is recommended you do this on a soft surface where water can not puddle up, or a hard surface where the water can easily run off.  This will aid in the drying of the unit.  Several methods are used for deep cleaning.  We fully inflate each unit, then deflate the unit so the roof area is flat.  There are many portable mops and such, avoid those with harsh scrubbing pads and sharp metal. We start with a mop and bucket of water with cleaner in it.   We completely rinse this off and then inflate the unit.  We then work on the inside of the unit and thoroughly cleanse every single surface, rinsing it well.  Cleaning the mattress area last.  We then move to the outside of the unit and do the same starting from the top and working towards the bottom.  If you use a pressure washer, make sure you use the absolute lowest pressure setting you can and maintain a great distance from the fabric.  Pressure washers can literally wash away any protective coatings and can cut the fabric and ruin the threads.

 It is important that the unit has ample time to completely dry.  Both inside and outside the unit.  It helps to use some dry towels or even car wash chamois cloth to dry off as much of the unit as possible.  pay special attention to seams and crevices where different parts of the moonwalk meet each other such as roof support tubes and the roof itself. The seams will hiss and spit, and you will see large bubbles form.  This is completely natural.  The unit may take upwards of all day to dry depending on the weather.  A nice dry sunny day is always the best.  In cooler temperatures some folks have placed a small heater near the blower, set on LOW, so the warm dry air helps dry the unit from the inside out.  Do not operate a hose near teh heater. make sure no standing water is in the area if you choose to do this.

The other method is very similar to the spot cleaning method, however, you are using the rag and spray method to clean all of the surfaces.  This is completely acceptable but may take up precious time especially when you have multiple units to clean.  Either way, make sure the unit is completely dry before you roll and store it.  If your units are equipped with zippers, leave one open to aid in the drying of the unit.  This applies for units caught in rain storms, sprinklers, or other wet situations as well.  These units should be dried out as soon as humanly possible to prevent mold and mildew from forming.

Face Paints, Mold/Mildew.

Some of the most major concerns with cleaning units seems to be the never ending face paint issues, or the silly string battle.  For face paints, orange blast has always worked well for us.  Quickly and efficiently taking it all off.  Other agents include skin so soft by avon, goo gone and goof off.  For silly string, prevention is the best method.  We flat out tell rental customers it reacts with the vinyl almost like an acid and is not allowed in or near the units.  We actually have recently added a separate form outlining the cleaning and damage charges for this product. The cleaning agents mentioned may remove it, but the vinyl becomes damaged regardless.  You may not visibly see it right away, but the vinyl's protective fire retardant coating is ruined and the vinyl loses strength as well as resulting many times in permanent discoloration of the fabric.  Silly string takes a lot of scrubbing and hard work and areas as small as the safety ramps can take hours.

Another major threat to your units is mold and mildew.  These culprits usually manifest with longer term storage and by the time you discover them you have a real mess on your hands.  This why it is important to store your units dry and away from causes of moisture.  Most citrus based cleaners will do a good job of removing mold and mildew but stains may still persist.  We have successfully used a home version of a steamer to remove as much as we possibly could, and felt comfortable returning the unit to full service.  With a steamer you have to be very careful not to get too close to the material at first.  Slowly work towards it and wipe away the steam and water continually with a dry rag or cloth, preferably white in color so as not to have any dyes bleed onto the material.  Steam is hot so please be careful

Bio-Hazardous Materials

Dereck Scheppelmann, partner in Boomerang Amusements was the first company in Michigan to offer specialized cleaning services through his company "Fatality Clean Up".  Dereck offers his professional advice in the clean up of bio hazard materials that may be in or on your equipment.  The most common items being, vomit, urine/feces and blood.  And keep in mind this may be as simple as a drop or two, a band-aid, or worse.

There are many solutions with which to clean these materials with, and many can be dangerous to skin contact during and after clean up.  Check you products you choose carefully and make sure they kill all germs, bacteria, and the HIV virus as well. A simple solution of of bleach and water will do the trick efficiently if properly applied.  The solution should be no less than 10 percent bleach which is recognized world wide as sufficient to kill these harmful agents.  20 percent is recommended as the maximum for our equipment.

The first thing is to make sure you wear appropriate universal precautions.  This includes latex or latex free gloves, eye protection, and even a nose and mouth mask similar to those used in hospitals.  You should have no open wounds, breaks in your skin, etc..  If so, these should be covered.  You will need ample clean rags, the solution, and a couple of garbage bags.  Preferably a small garbage can so you do not have to handle the bag with contaminated gloves when placing materials inside.

The first step after donning your protective wear is to use a clean rag and wipe up as much of the material as possible.  Then throw away the rag.  Never re-use them in any cleaning step.  Spray an ample amount of the solution, or apply it with a dampened rag, not soaking, and wipe the immediate area.  Throw this rag away.  With another rag, slightly expand the cleaning area.  Expand the area once again with a third rag and cleaning solution.  This should be the only incident in which bleach makes contact with your thread.  Blood and other substances may leave stains, just be aware that if properly cleaned they will not be hazardous.

Next, you should seal the garbage bag and then place it inside another garbage bag along with your protective gear which you should dispose of in accordance with local or state laws.  In many cases such as the small amounts you'll see, the household garbage may suffice.  Some localities may require the material be placed in a special container and taken to a specialized dump area.  Check just to be on the safe side.

After you have finished cleaning, wash your hands a minimum of 15 seconds, rubbing vigorously with an anti-bacterial soap.  You may also follow this up with a alcohol based hand lotion/cleaner for added assurance.  Make sure any clothing that came in contact with this material is thoroughly cleaned as well in a similar solution.  Do not take your personal health for granted.  Your health is worth more than any equipment you own.

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