May 28, 2013

How to clean an outdoor playhouse easily

A couple of years ago I decided it was time to acquire a playhouse for Kayla.  After weeks of looking at all the choices I fell in love with one from Step2 that resembled an adobe house with a Spanish style roof. Naturally, it was no longer sold in stores and I embarked on a slightly psychotic hunt to find one for sale in San Diego.

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Long story short, I found one and begged/forced my very wonderful (and tolerant) husband to borrow a gigantic pick up truck from a friend and drive about 45 minutes away from where we lived to pick it up.

Last year because I was clearly fulfilling a missed childhood experience and can never just leave well enough alone I decided to add an "outdoor kitchen" to the playhouse with the Grill & Play Patio Cafe Surely my child should have one while her parents wistfully eye the real ones at Costco each spring, right?

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This summer when I did our backyard assessment the playhouse was looking sad.  Structurally it's held up magnificently, there is no fading to the plastic (which I've noticed happens with some cheaper brands) and no cracks in sight.  However, after 2 years of baking in the San Diego sun, being rained on with leaves from our giant eucalyptus trees and becoming home to half the insect population in our yard it was time for a serious makeover.

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Here is how I did it:

1) Order replacement parts

I can't speak for other brands who might be just as great  in this regard but one thing I love about buying Step2 products is that they are very easy to get replacement parts for.  A good rule of thumb straight from the people over at Step2 is if you see the product on their site, they probably have replacement parts for it.

My playhouse fell into this "off the site" category but luckily I didn't need parts for the actual house, I just needed to refresh the Grill & Play Patio Cafe which had suffered the most abuse.  Something that drives me absolutely nuts is when a company sells a reasonably priced product but then charges an absurd amount of money for replacement parts.

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I was shocked by how fairly priced and dare I say... inexpensive the parts I ordered were.  I went all out and ordered new play food, pots & pans, plates, decals, a telephone that makes real sounds and even a new kitchen faucet and all together with shipping it would up costing a little over $20.  Leave yourself 7-10 days for those parts to arrive, I waited a week and then cleaned the house and kitchen so when they were clean and dry the parts would be arriving.


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2) Get yourself some gloves and check for bugs.

Last year I read an article talking about how Southern California, where we live has been innundated with brown widows - a less aggressive but actually more poisonous cousin to the black widow.  Lovely, right? I've seen a few in my day and am always pretty paranoid about them since patio furniture and kids outdoor toys make excellent hiding places for them.

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Let me just say that if you're not sure about what you're looking for or if you find any type of nest or hive that might be home to something that stings or bites it's a good idea to leave this part to the experts and call your pest control company.  Ours comes quarterly and while I specifically tell them I don't want chemicals sprayed near Kayla's toys I have them remove webs, check for nests and give me a rundown on what they find or think might be worrisome in our play area.

In disassembling our playhouse I found a couple of worrisome areas and one in particular that had definitely been home to a brown widow at some point.  I did use a spray on this area and then gave it a couple of days before I got to the deep cleaning of the house.


3) Gather your cleaning tools and get to work - a baby bottle brush is your new best friend.

Step2 suggests using a mild soap to clean the plastic on their playhouses and while I usually use Method in our home I went with some Dawn because this thing was really dirty!  I started with a bowl of soapy water and a no scratch sponge but it just didn't seem like it was getting the job done.

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I went through our kitchen to see what else might work and I found our old Munchkin bottle brush and figured that since it didn't scratch our plastic bottles it would probably be okay to use on the playhouse. It was without question the unsung hero of this experience!  The bristles are very full, hold the soap and take stuck on dirt off with no problem. If you don't have one and you're planning on doing a project like this I would seriously consider getting one.


Between the bottle brush, a toothbrush for some very small crevices and the "jet" setting on our hose I was able to the house looking pretty pristine.  I think it looks better than the day I forced my husband to pick it up we got it!  I was excited for Kayla to see it when she woke up the next day.

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An awesome tip from the people at Step2 - you can actually use ArmorAll wipes that you might use for the interior of your car on their plastic items to make them clean and extra shiny.  You shouldn't use them on anything meant to be climbed on for safety reasons.

I also didn't want to use them on the parts of the house that Kayla or all her friends might be touching and then sticking their fingers in their mouths...call me paranoid.  I just did the roof and the little awning on the house but they looked awesome after!

Kayla was very excited to hear that her playhouse was ready for some action.  We had a few friends over for playdates and it was nice to see her and her friends enjoying it again.


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Like I mentioned this Adobe Playhouse is no longer produced but I remember that there was a pretty great playhouse that was released a little while back called the Gather & Grille Playhouse which incorporated a bunch of the elements of this house and had an awesome little BBQ and bench attached to it.  If you're looking for a playhouse that offers features similar to this one, I think it's a great choice!

As you might know by now, I'm a Step2 Test Drive Mom.  No product samples or compensation were received to facilitate this post. All of these toys have had a place in our home for a long time.   I just couldn't find any great advice surfing the web on how to clean a playhouse and thought I'd pass some along to you!
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