What’s Lurking In Your Neighborhood Playland?

nasty play land germs, let your kids play at fast food playgrounds,
Flickr CC BY-SA 3.0 by shawncampbell


Kids need large motor activity every single day. Since we all know that time in spent in natural surroundings is enormously beneficial for physical as well as mental health, ideally our kids can run, climb, and play outdoors.

But outdoor play isn’t always possible. Not all of us have backyards nor are we such perfect parents that everyday is a park day. And there’s inclement weather to consider too. That’s why indoor playlands found in many fast food restaurants are so popular. Kids get some exercise plus they interact with other kids. In my family, our policy has always been to wash hands immediately after using such a facility because, come on, the places have to be crawling with germs as boisterous as the kids themselves.

Apparently, they are.


According to Dr. E.C. Jordan, lab tests show these places harbor strains of staph, coliform, listeria, and other nasties that have the potential to cause disease. Dr. Jordan says that cleaning protocols are not followed and as a result, the public is exposed to “dangerous germs and pathogens that can make children very ill and are potentially deadly.”

Personally, I’m pretty laid back about how the whole Big Bad Germ thing despite today’s hand sanitizer obsession. Studies have shown that raising children in overly clean conditions may be linked to an increase in asthma, allergies, and other conditions. That’s because without sufficient exposure to viruses and bacteria, children may not develop healthy immune function. Their bodies then overreact with extreme immune responses to normal stimuli in the environment such as pollen, food, or dust. Ironically, more time playing outdoors has been shown to build healthy immunity.

I’m also not a big fan of strong sanitizers and biocides used to kill many viruses and bacteria. I suspect kids are safer playing on surfaces washed with good old soap and water. But Dr. Jordan’s point is clear. Too many of these places don’t seem to be washed with anything.

What are your thoughts about the danger posed by nasty playlands?


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11 thoughts on “What’s Lurking In Your Neighborhood Playland?

  1. I have to say the video is gross. We go to a playarea here in the UK fairly regularly. I often see the staff there walking around with cloths and spray of some sort at the places we go. I don’t know if that is a US/UK difference. However, I am a bit disturbed by the video all the same. Thanks for sharing it though.


  2. Honestly, I have never let my kids play in one of the play areas at a fast-food restaurant, mostly because they just seem unclean — and apparently they are! We do frequent other indoor spaces, ones that have a much higher level of clean, though. I am not much of a hand sanitizer freak either, preferring to let my kids get dirty and be exposed to things out in the world. That being said, I do have my limits! 🙂

  3. The video shows a super-gross playspace. Yuk! I’ve seen a couple of places like this, mostly when we travel on the interstates and have to pull into a rest area or a just-off-the-road fast food joint. While home, we hardly ever get any fast food. When we do, we go to a place that has a play structure that looks clean and well-maintained. Overall though, I’m not a big fan of these spaces ’cause either there are too many germs in them or too many harsh cleaning chemicals are used.

  4. I let my kids play in the indoor play areas, but clean hands immediately afterwards. Now I am re-thinking that. My son just came down with a strain of strep that it took 3 different antibiotics to control and is yet to be seen if the final antibiotic will work completely. Next step is IV antibiotics in the hospital or an uncontrolled infection that may permanently affect his health or even his life. Scary. Can’t protect your kids from everything but hard to see my 5 year old with a high fever for the last week.

  5. I’m not a fan of more legislation. I think exercising good individual choices is a much smarter approach. In other words, don’t take your kids (or yourself) there. If the playland looks this bad, I certainly wouldn’t eat at the restaurant. I use the same common sense if I encounter a dirty bathroom in a restaurant. I don’t eat there. I will agree that these areas should be included in the health inspection, but I would hope that this would fall under local municipality jurisdiction. I’ve noticed that some of the fast food chains, McDonalds in particular are starting to phase out these playlands, maybe this is why.

  6. I also have to wonder where our natural resistance is these days. After all, our ancestors likely ate foods with mold and bacteria out of necessity, drank water of questionable safety, lived in dwellings crawling with bacteria and parasites. Sure, mortality rates were much higher (also due to infant mortality and poor trauma care) but our forbearers made it to pass along their genes. Now kids can’t play in a dirty playland?

    1. That depends, can and should they play in trash cans? I would say your average dumpster is closer in nature to these playlands than the dirt you come across outside.

      1. You’ve got a point about the dirt encountered outdoors. There bacteria and viruses can break down in the presence of rain and sunlight. Indoors they just fester, breed, and spread.

  7. I agree that legislation should be created to address this problem. Only once in my daughters life have I taken her to a play space at a fast food restaurant. These things existed and were dirty when I was a child and it continues to this day. It’s terribly unsanitary. I mean, if you can’t keep it clean then just don’t offer it. It’s a public safety issue.

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