It's the dirtiest thing your children play with and there is nothing regulating its hygiene standards.

Be warned: You might feel sick after reading this.

I’ve spent my kids’ school holidays actively avoiding indoor play areas.

It was a choice based on temperature rather than on hygiene but I am starting to realise I have probably made the right decision.

My kids love those places. The louder and brighter and sweatier the better. The higher and faster and crazier they can get the happier they are. But they are hot and fate has allowed me to concentrate on outdoor pursuits.

Seems like a lucky break as I’ve just found out what we may have unwittingly avoided.

Faecal matter, staph, and other bacteria that can lead to meningitis or gonorrhoea – coating the surface of those ball pits, lining the cracks and crevices of the twisty tunnels, along the handles of the slippery dips and soft mats.

An indoor ball pit.

Caked on the handles a slimy, grimy mix of germs that would make you gag on your too-hot, bitter coffee you desperately purchased from the greasy counter had you been coerced into attending.

If you knew what these areas were harbouring you would never allow your children to play there.

And yet every day thousands of parents unknowingly do. Including – usually, me.

And it is not just commercial playcentres, the biggest culprits are the play areas in fast food restaurants, pubs and clubs and shopping centres.

Those areas for which you often send up a silent prayer of thanks when they give you just a few moments of relief from a long drive or an attempted family meal.

Some of the 'disgustingness' found on indoor playground equipment.

The issue was brought to my attention by a well-known playcentre in Sydney who posted on their Facebook page that they had closed their soft play area due to their inability to keep it clean.

Scary enough in itself.

They wrote, "In a move towards your kid’s safety and war against germs, we've removed our three level play structure..” saying there was no industry regulation in Australia to enforce hygiene and that they were “dealing with vomit, wee, food and faeces very often.”

They were instead choosing to focus on imaginative play.

The playcentre quoted the work of an American mother who has been on a four-year crusade to get these areas cleaned up.

Erin Carr-Jordan, a child psychologist and mother-of-four began her mission after allowing her son to play in a play area at her local McDonalds.

After noticing the filthy state of the equipment she visited indoor playgrounds in 11 states, taking samples and sending them away for microbial testing.

Erin Carr-Jordan.

What she found shocked her.

“Dirt and grime and rotting food and hair in clumps.”

“The microbial results revealed pathogens that cause meningitis, food-borne illness, skin, hair, eye infections, and more," she said.

Further testing revealed pubic hairs, bacteria that can lead to meningitis and gonorrhoea and 'layers and layers and layers and layers of just disgustingness'.


In fact she found more than 13 types of disease-causing pathogens.

Worryingly, in Australia there is no industry regulation for many of these areas. They must fit within safety regulations, but a lot of the areas can flout the laws regarding cleanliness.

"Worryingly, in Australia there is no industry regulation for many of these areas. They must fit within safety regulations, but a lot of the areas can flout the laws regarding cleanliness." (Image via iStock)

It’s not just in the US, last year we reported on a New Zealand playcentre which had to close their doors after a 'code brown' saw over 70 children fall sick who had been attending the centre when the 'faecal incident' took place.

The victims rapidly came down with norovirus suffering nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, headache and fever.

All from a days fun.

It’s a tricky conundrum, you don’t want to be complexly germ-a-phobic, but no one wants their child ill.

For the Sydney playcentre who shut their climbing frames, the backlash on Facebook was vicious and predictable with many vowing never to grace their doors again.

Whether or not removing the play area was overkill there is no doubt that it will lead to less doctors visits for the local mums.

As to the future, after viewing the images on Erin Carr-Jordan’s web site and YouTube videos I might just try and keep our play areas to the outdoor types.

(And invest in a few industrial sized bottles of hand sanitiser just to be safe.)

Would you still let your kids play on indoor playground equipment knowing how dirty they could be?

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