Where Durability Meets Fun
Care and Purchasing Tips for Inflatable Rides

January 3, 2013 No Comments

The boundaries of inflatable ride designs are limited only by imagination. Still, when purchasing a  unit, durability is a primary concern. Finding rides made of the best quality material, and then caring for the unit meticulously,  is a sure formula to extend the life of your purchase.

Nixa Party Station, based in Nixa, Mo., specializes in school, church, backyard and company events for up to 100,000 people. Owner Kevin Ullrich’s choice of inflatables back in 2003 when he started the company was, and still is, American-made for quality long-term wear materials.

Through trial and error, Ullrich learned the proper steps involved to clean, sanitize, wax and vacuum the rides each time they go up and come down, and, to get a tarp underneath everything. For 62 inflatables, he has acquired 150 tarps that would otherwise be thrown in the trash. Cut to fit underneath each inflatable are billboards taken down off the expressway, a recycling effort Ullrich arranged with the sign companies. “The back of the billboards are solid white and kids’ socks and feet stay clean and sanitized when kids walk on it. Nothing touches the ground is our policy.”

Besides the standard cleaning procedures, if rain is forecasted, the unit is scheduled for set up the next day to clean and dry to prevent mold.

Within the context of durability is the weight of the vinyl and Chris Thompson, owner of Eastern Shore Inflatables of Daphne, Ala., said he makes sure he knows what he’s buying. Heavier wear areas use heavier materials and high tensile strength thread, he noted, and that’s one criteria he considered when he built the inventory to the current 40 inflatables he rents out. He recommended ninjajump.com as a reputable manufacturing source.

As to maintenance, he said, “It’s all about giving renters proper instructions so they don’t damage units and also, making sure before roll-up to clean and absolutely and completely dry them. Moisture and sand or dirt can ruin them. It all comes back to setting expectations with customers on how to treat equipment.”

Another protective measure that Thompson adds to the package is placing under equipment a 20-by-30-foot tarp large enough for kids to walk on, to take off shoes, and to protect from soil. Other than that, he’s unequivocal. “If dirt and oils are on the equipment when returned, it’s the customer who is liable for damage.”

The family-owned Fun Company by Awesome Events, based in Azusa, Calif., caters to public and private parties, events for schools, church groups, corporations and businesses. CEO Steve Gray shed light on materials from a manufacturer’s and deliverer’s perspective. “Historically, most manufacturers make inflatables out of 18-ounce vinyl, dating back to the early 1980s and 1990s. Because of thickness and abrasion properties, in recent years, 15 ounce has become more popular for its lighter, stronger and tear-resistance properties. The 18 ounce weighs 200 pounds, and today the same 13-by-13-foot size at 15 ounces only weighs 160 pounds. It’s easier on delivery staff who pick up 10 in a day. That 40-50 pounds of extra weight is a big challenge for delivering them in the back of a pickup. The 15-ounce weight helps minimize that without sacrificing quality and strength.” In his early 20s, Gray was delivering inflatables himself. “It was backbreaking work so we started experimenting with lighter materials.”

The company is very meticulous about cleaning every unit after renting, and completes a 100 percent dry cleaning using a mild degreaser typically diluted 50/50, and a mild oil eater such as Formula 409. It’s important the units remain dry, said Gray, especially the water slides. “They have to be 100 percent dry before pack and roll or will get mold, mildew and discoloration that turns black and destroys threads, and which impregnates into the vinyl and can becomes impossible to get out.”

The definitive rule at Awesome, affirmed Gray is, “Never roll when wet. Leave a water slide that gets wet out until it’s 100 percent dry before rolling and never let a few days pass before doing so.”

From large city festivals and private backyard barbeques to birthday parties for kids and corporate events, TJ Rentals of Waukee, Iowa, has built up an inventory of over 100 pieces of interactive inflatables and party rental equipment to maintain. Part of the purchasing process, said part owner, Jeff Anderson, is networking with the companies in the business of inflatables the longest when considering product quality. “People in the industry talk amongst themselves about whose equipment lasts longest and discover which company’s products hold up best as to quality of manufacturing and looking good for years.”

The same process applies to maintenance, said Anderson. “We belong to associations that have seminars and trainings and much of the care and maintenance comes from manufacturers’ recommendations. They emphasize that to combat dirt, mold, water and foreign objects ruining an inflatable to get the unit dried, cleaned and sanitized ASAP after each use.”

Jumper 4 Kids Party Rentals in San Jose, Calif., Manager Giovanni Meza, stands by the commercial grade 18-ounce and above inflatables as the best and recommended staying away from lead-based units from China. “Through trial and error, early companies that used lower grade units discovered that the 18-ounce grade is most durable and the bare minimum for commercial usage and lower grades didn’t withstand the test of high quality.”

When setting units up, 1 to 2 feet of extra space around the inflatable buffers it from rubbing up against the house or tree, which works like sandpaper every time the kids jump, said Meza. “The same amount of room is always maintained away from wires. If wet, we let the units dry out for two days, otherwise, after 10 days, they will stink and mold.”

For regular cleaning, the company uses Eco-green soft products such as Simple Green. “We try to use organic cleansers where the kids are and have found that some solutions work better for certain things than others. For example, candy requires a variety of chemicals, gum and rust, specific ones.  We wipe and hose down each unit, blow and sweep them out.” Meza added that some instances such as a vomiting incident, require extreme cleaning, involving a pressure wash, sanitization, and air drying inflated for a day.

Jumper 4 Kids customers don’t go into the inflatable rental agreement blind. Meza affirmed, “We post the 10 rules on the side of the unit next to the entrance. It’s our responsibility to inform renters as to what’s acceptable, and they sign that they received the information.” –

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