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QUITE simply, “Dirt means increased labor costs,” as Matt Holt, vice president of Flemington, N.J.-based Celebration Party Rental, puts it.

And dirt comes in all forms. Stephen Thurston, manager of the tent division at Toronto-based Higgins Party Rentals, describes it in its most basic variety: “It's a cleaning nightmare when you have to take down a large wedding after it has rained all weekend. Everything from tents to chairs to linens comes back muddy.” And there's more: “Wax and cigarette burns on carpet are a pain. Wax you can get out with a little effort, but burns are burns. Even with no-smoking regulations, it is still a problem.” Mary Crothers, president of Toronto-based Chair-Man Mills, points to a variation on an old-fashioned problem: “Lipstick is still an issue, especially now with long-lasting lipsticks.” And Will Holditch, CSEP, CERP, general manager of Austin, Texas-based Marquee Rents, brings up a regional concern: “During the spring the pollen drop from the live oak trees coats the tents in a yellow film.”

No matter the problem, all rentals operators agree, special events is a dirty business, and it's a chore to keep inventory clean.


The most-cited source of cleaning frustration is the white wood chair — easily dirtied and hard to clean. As Dan Hooks, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Party Reflections, says: “The nightmare of painting the old wooden chairs every six months to a year was dreaded by every member of my staff.” He opted to switch to resin chairs, a solution that many are duplicating. As Hooks puts it, “The resin chairs perform beautifully and never need painting.”

Not only do resin chairs minimize cleaning headaches, Holditch notes they maximize dollars. When his company switched from wood to resin, he says, “This cut the cost of the biannual chair painting.” He then raised the price of the chairs from $2.50 to $3.50 and says, “These new chairs paid for themselves in less than a year.”

Still, others aren't completely on board. Steve Weaver, vice president of Lee's Summit, Mo.-based Celebration Party Rentals, says, “We tried this, but our clients want wood chairs.” So his company continues the cleaning process: “The white woods we sand and repaint on a yearly basis,” he says.

But others are sold on resin. Crothers likes resin so much she has purchased white resin chiavari chairs. “I resisted on that one,” she says, “but they look so much better for a longer time.”


Other inventory choices also can deter dirt and cut down on cleaning time. For example, Hooks has made a switch from silver to nickel-plated serving pieces because silver is notoriously difficult to clean. He favors the nickel plating because it's “much more resistant to scratches and looks as good the 10th time as it did when you took it out of the box the first time.” Yet, he admits, “Nickel took some warming up to [by customers] since silver had been the epitome of formal dining for so long.” But he notes that clients now see “the benefits for us and them — a cheaper price point due to the labor savings and longevity of the product.”

Tent fabric too can assist in the quest for clean. As Thurston says, “Our tent tops are all from block-out fabric. It hides a lot of sins and cleans up very well.” He adds, “We have five-year-old tents that can still be used for parties.”

While easy-to-clean and durable inventory can help with the cleaning process, everything needs a good scrubbing occasionally. Rental operators swear by different cleaning products to achieve the proper gleam. Holditch likes the Fat Boys silver-polishing machine — “It polishes all the flatware and takes the place of two employees,” he says. He also favors the 55-pound washer over the 125-pound one. “The smaller loads clean quicker and faster than the larger machine — three loads in the same time as one large load,” he explains. He also has one unconventional cleaning method: using a conveyer dishwasher to clean chairs rather than a chair-cleaning machine. As he puts it, “We run Samsonite chairs right through it.”

Vice president of marketing and strategic accounts Michael Miner of Classic Party Rentals in El Segundo, Calif., makes a point to use environmentally friendly chemicals when cleaning tents. He favors the Ecolab brand, which is certified by Green Seal — a nonprofit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment. He attempts to keep things eco-friendly “by carefully reviewing the [manufacturer's] Material Safety Data Sheets and the environmental impact of our chemical choices.”


With all the new methods and products, there's still something to be said for old-fashioned techniques that get the job done. Charlie Feldbaum — CEO of Apres Party and Tent Rental in Edina, Minn. — echoes a recurring sentiment: “Never discount the human factor in the cleaning process of our business.”

But machines certainly help. Thurston recounts, “We had been using a 50-year-old floor polisher — the kind your grandma used to have — to clean tent tops, but it finally gave up the ghost.” He explains his preference for the contraption: “We liked it because of the counter-rotating brushes, making it easier to operate than a single-disc floor maintainer, and it's less aggressive, so it's easier on the fabric.” In fact, Thurston was unwilling to let go of this preferred cleaning technique: “After a lot of digging, we found that Hoover still makes this type of machine, so we were able to replace it.”

Larry Ott, sales director of Newton, Pa.-based Newton Party Rental, has his own old-school preferences. He likes his Hobart ware-washing system for china, glassware and flatware because “It refuses to die and produces a great product time and time again.”

And sometimes with old-fashioned methods comes old-fashioned solutions to problems. As president Mark Clawson of Salt Lake City-based Diamond Rental says, “Our laundry department works magic on the many ways that customers choose to torture linens, but unfortunately there is only so much magic that can take place. Many of our customers simply pay us for the linen when it has been destroyed.”

And perhaps the oldest method of all is mentioned by vice president Michael Gould of Christian Party Rental in Hollis, N.H., who encourages his crew to use dropcloths and proper takedown techniques to reinforce his mantra: “The best way to clean a tent is to not let it get dirty!”


Apres Party and Tent Rental, 952/944-1997; Celebration Party Rental, 908/735-7368; Celebration Party Rentals, 816/525-8568; Chair-Man Mills, 416/391-0400; Christian Party Rental, 888/736-8368; Classic Party Rentals, 310/202-0011; Diamond Rental, 801/262-2080; Higgins Party Rentals, 416/252-4050; Marquee Rents, 512/491-7368; Newton Party Rental 215/860-0819; Party Reflections, 800/328-2571


Rental operators reveal their favorite brands to keep things clean.

Michael Gould: Milwaukee buffers and CleanChair Washer by L&M Manufacturing Co.

Will Holditch: Fat Boys silver-polishing machine

Matt Holt: Teeco tent machine

Dan Hooks: CleanChair Washer by L&M Manufacturing Co.

Michael Miner: Ecolab cleaning products

Larry Ott: Ecolab cleaning products, Hobart ware-washing system

Stephen Thurston: Hoover floor polisher

Steve Weaver: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser cleaning pads, Imperial linen cleaner, Ecolab Stain Blaster R, which “removes rust,” and Stain Blaster A, which “works on just about everything else”


Rental experts get creative and conjure up cleaning machines they wish existed.

Charlie Feldbaum: “Something to polish silver that works and is cost-effective.”

Matt Holt: “A fabric which would withstand mildew for a reasonable period of time.”

Dan Hooks: “A machine for tents attached to the back of the trucks, so when dirty tents have pollen and leaves all over them, they could be washed on the way back to the warehouse.”

Larry Ott: “[Something to] clean chairs, tents and china all at once. Back the truck up and unload an entire order into one machine — wait an hour and reload truck.”

Stephen Thurston: “Something that cleans barbecues at the push of a button!”

Steve Weaver: “Would rather have a paint that would never chip or wear off chairs.”

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