Story and photos by Daniel Friedman
There’s been a lot of attention in the media lately about the cleanliness of indoor playgrounds at fast food restaurants. Kenda Daria of Queen Creek started a business six years ago called Safe and Sound Playground Inspections. Her company cleans and inspects indoor and outdoor play structures and cleans and sanitizes playground sand.
In the time she has worked in the playground industry she has found it to be far more complex than she imagined. Daria is a certified playground safety inspector, as are some of her employees. When her crew goes to a playground, they pressure-wash and sanitize the structure, remove graffiti and debris and look at the integrity of the structure to make sure there are no hazards from gaps, loose hardware, missing pieces or worn components.
There are standards for playgrounds relating to how easily a child might slip through a space or what height a child might jump from and onto what surface they may land. To Daria, the integrity of the structure is just as important as its cleanliness.
Daria has been getting a lot of calls lately from moms who want to know how she cleans and what she cleans and, mostly, where she cleans. Her website does not contain a list of her clients and she won’t say which playgrounds she has cleaned. She has an agreement with her clients to not disclose where she cleans. They trust her to keep their information confidential.
“They build trust with my company and they know they can call and say, ‘I have this particular issue and it needs immediate attention.’” Daria says. She feels its better to keep clients’ business so she can keep their playgrounds clean and safe.
Does her company clean all the playgrounds where you might take your kids to play? Nope, though with the traffic some playgrounds get, Daria hopes someone does. It’s logical to assume a fair amount of dirt and yuck gets left behind by so many kids. No one wants to find a dirty diaper in the ball pit or an obscenity scrawled on the inside of the climbing tubes, but Daria says it happens.
Her business is good and has only been increasing over the last few years, despite the recession. She chalks this up to more staycations (a restaurant with a playground is cheaper than going out of town) and a growing awareness among owners of playgrounds of the necessity of cleaning and maintaining playgrounds.
“My view is, playgrounds in an establishment are revenue-driven,” she says. “That being the case, the more revenue, the more feet through the play structure. The longer kids are there, [the business] is hoping a mother will go back to buy a coffee or a father will buy an ice cream. It’s free entertainment for customers but the revenue is being realized by the company who provided it, and the company should realize the need for maintenance.”
Public swimming pools must meet stringent standards for cleanliness, but playgrounds don’t face the same scrutiny. Daria hopes the industry will police itself. Many places already have removed their ball pits as they are very hard to clean. And even with a regular, frequent cleaning, there’s no guarantee that a child won’t pee in a ball pit or tear off a dirty diaper in a climbing structure the day after the playground was cleaned.
Daria says she lets her kids play in playgrounds. She obviously knows which ones to go to with her daughter Kaci (7)and 5-year-old twins Kyle and Sydni. When she’s out of town she looks at the structure to be sure that it’s safe. She has a trained professional eye and a parent’s diligence, so she is very picky about where her kids can play.
How does her company clean play structures? It takes high-pressure washers and non-toxic cleaners to get these spaces clean. Her crew climbs into every tube and works in every nook and cranny. They rinse off the detergent, extract the water and dry it. Of course some dirt will still remain. Strict construction tolerances leave minuscule gaps, so absent a complete disassembly and reassembly, playgrounds aren’t going to be 100 percent dirt-free.
To clean the sand underneath outdoor playgrounds they sift it, and, yes, they find all kinds of interesting, icky debris — as well as tools used to put the playground together in the first place.
When I took her photo for this article, we met at a playground her crew had cleaned the night before. It looked immaculate and I would have had to work hard to find visible dirt.
I assumed Daria got into the playground cleaning industry because she was an engineer, or because her family had been in industrial cleaning. But no, she has a communication and business degree from Oregon State, worked in sports retailing and eventually worked for State Farm Insurance.
She was involved in her neighborhood’s board of supervisors and there were ongoing safety and cleanliness issues at the development’s playground. Daria recalls thinking that for plumbing problems they’d call a plumber, for tree problems they’d call a tree trimmer, but it wasn’t so simple when they had playground problems.
The HOA property manager told her she thought Daria could solve the problem. She mulled the idea over for a while and started her business in 2005. She started the business at the same time she was working at State Farm. When she was on bed rest with her twins she had plenty of time to do research. Daria also realized she and her firefighter husband, Frank, faced daycare costs with three kids and long commutes to work. At that point she was driven to make the business work.
As a mom and a certified playground safety inspector, she combines her interest in kids having a safe, clean places to play with the advantages of being her own boss and making her own decisions.
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