As parents, we can’t help but cringe when our kids jump into a ball pit. The best we can hope for is that they don’t lick anything and that they wash their hands (and maybe shower) the second they get out of it.
The reason, of course, is obvious: We assume these ball pits are swarming with germs. How could a ball pit really get cleaned, anyway? Unless someone is going through and somehow sanitizing the whole pit (and repeating often), it seems impossible to keep things clean.
Unfortunately, a fresh study confirms our suspicions and may even convince you never to return to a ball pit again – even if it’s at a health care facility for your kid.
The research from the University of North Georgia found that ball pits in physical therapy offices were full of microbes, including some that could be pretty dangerous, HealthDay News reported in a March 2019 U.S. News & World Report article.
Researchers pinpointed a total of 31 bacterial species and one species of yeast, including the specific germs responsible for types of pink eye, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections and even heart inflammation.
“You might consider asking for no (physical therapy) treatment in the ball pit,” senior study author Dobrusia Bialonska says in the report. “We definitely showed that there are things on the balls that can potentially hurt a child who is immune-compromised.”
But this researcher says that’s not a reason for kids to stay away unless they’re immune-compromised – which may be the case for kids getting certain types of therapy.
“If kids are healthy, let them go and play. It may help build their immune system,” she adds.
On the upside, some of the balls in the ball pits they studied had “very few” microbes. While plastic ball pits are common at McDonald’s play places and other certain indoor fun centers, foam pits are becoming more popular in some places – though it’s unclear whether those are more or less sanitary.
In any case, this isn’t the first time ball pits have received some bad press. If you do visit an indoor play place or a therapist’s office with a ball pit, it could be a good time to brush up on the top ways to protect kids from germs. And don’t forget to wash your hands!