The truth about essential oils and your Pilates equipment

One of the big surprises for my clients is that your Pilates equipment manufacturer probably doesn’t recommend cleaning vinyl with essential oils.  While a diluted solution of tea tree oil is the inherent choice for many studio owners, the major vinyl manufacturers (Naugahyde and Boltaflex) don’t recommend it.

What the manufacturers say

Shari Berkowitz published a handy guide to Equipment TLC in 2012 (click here) and Balanced Body, Gratz, Basil and Peak representatives all recommend a mild soap and water solution.  Stott actually recommends using tea tree oil (I’m not sure why, I can’t get any information on who their vinyl comes from).

Naugahyde recommends a 10% liquid soap and water solution for light soiling, and a 10% bleach/90% water solution for tough stains.  You can read their care guide, here.

Each manufacturer has a recommendation on their website.  It is important to note that if you are attempting to make a warranty claim on your vinyl or foam, cleaning the vinyl with tea tree oil or a harsh solution as contraindicated by their recommendation can void your warranty.

Balanced Body says:

Cleaning. You can extend the life of upholstery by keeping it clean and free of dirt, oil and perspiration. After each use, wipe down the upholstery with a solution of mild soap and water. Then wipe it down with clean water and dry with a soft towel.

Disinfecting. Equipment upholstery is coated with BeautyGard®, which offers antibacterial protection. If you want additional disinfection, Balanced Body offers Balanced Body CleanTM disinfecting solution. Use of any other solution (especially those containing essential oils) will shorten the life of some equipment and is not recommended.

Stott Pilates (Merrithew) says:

Wipe vinyl surfaces with a mixture of water and tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant. Add 1tsp of tea tree oil to a 1L or 1qt spray bottle of water. A mixture of mild soap and water may be used to remove more persistent dirt. Ensure cleaner does not leave an oily residue, or make surfaces slippery.

Peak says:

A daily routine of wiping down your vinyl upholstery after use with a mild cleaning solution that does not contain silicone is recommended. A dilute solution of mild soap in water can be used to clean not only the upholstery, but the wood, aluminum rails, chromed and galvanized steel poles, and carriage riding wheels (basically anything other than the ropes and/or leather straps). Wipe with a cloth dampened with plain water and dry after cleaning.

Gratz says:

A solution of 1 part household liquid dish soap abd 10 parts (1:10) water should remove most soiling. The soap should not saturate the upholstery. Do no use Tea Tree, Peppermint, or etc. on the upholstery. This will dry out the upholstery and cause it to crack and split.

What’s the catch?

I have many clients who swear by a diluted solution of Tea Tree Oil and water.  They’ve used it for years with no issues, and are happy with the scent and cleaning ability.

I find it important to note this for my clients because it can be a very personal and difficult decision to make.  There are so many scents and chemicals out there, how do you make the best choice?  It can be overwhelming.

Some Options

A good option is Balanced Body Clean.  I played a central role in testing it prior to its launch in 2015, and love how it reacted to all surface finishes in the Balanced Body equipment lineup.

I’ve repeated tests along the same lines I performed at Balanced Body on vinyl here in The Fit Reformer office.  The picture above shows all the vinyl samples.  Aside from the extreme curliness of the tea tree oil sample, all of the samples look great and show no signs of damage or color fade.

Here’s a list of the solutions I tested:

I would recommend any of them, though I personally prefer The Honest Company’s Multi-Surface Cleaner.

What to avoid

The only solutions I recommend against are wipes like Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and solutions like Windex.  If your vinyl feels sticky and looks like it has a layer of grime on it, then it’s probably not a great idea to use.

To condition, or not to condition?

Some manufacturers or upholstery experts might recommend a vinyl conditioner, like Lexol 1215.  Your equipment does not need this!  Your equipment is designed to last many years, and realistically the foam should wear out far sooner than the vinyl, if cared for properly.

 

Why your studio’s ambient environment matters

After just 5 months in the deep South, the black bolts on my Reformer are rusting!  Luckily, the parts shown in the image above aren’t load bearing, but it is kind of gross and is indicative of the humidity’s effect on your equipment.

While I worked at Balanced Body, I heard about studios on the coast experiencing rust on bolts, springs and tower tubes fairly often.  Many people didn’t believe that, even indoors, their equipment is sensitive to the ambient environment.

How does it happen?

Rust develops when iron comes into contact with oxygen and water.  There are many types of coatings that help prevent rust from forming.  Chrome plating, zinc plating, and bluing are some forms.  Plus, metal alloys like Stainless Steel are inherently rust resistant.

Unfortunately, black oxide bolts like the ones pictured above, are coated for aesthetic purposes only and have very little resistance to rust.

What to do about it

If you want to use the same hardware:

  1. Remove and clean the bolts, nuts or any other rusting pieces with a cloth, steel wool, or wire brush.  Remove as much rust as possible because if you seal rust in it can still spread.
  2. Coat the hardware with Boeshield T-9* to keep it from rusting.
  3. Reinstall the hardware.

Alternatively, you can replace all your black hardware with stainless steel or zinc plated bolts from a hardware store.  But, this would be time intensive to sort out which types of bolts, thread pitches and lengths you’d need for everything.

(I will explain how to remove rust from tower tubes in another post.)

Pro tip: Many DIY magazines and online sources recommend clear nail polish as a sealant for rust-prone parts.  Yes, it can help slow the spread of rust and you often already have it around your house BUT sealing the rust in before you clean it won’t stop it from spreading.  Also, coating your parts with nail polish will gum up the threads and make them hard to remove again, so I recommend not using this method for rust prevention.

boeshield t-9

*Boeshield was developed by The Boeing Company for lubrication and protection of aircraft components.

The truth about Spring Lifespans

Every client I visit asks if they really need to replace their springs every two years.  My short answer: Yes.

Here is what the major manufacturers say:

From Gratz…

The average life of a Gratz Reformer spring is 18 to 24 months if you use your equipment daily or continuously. If the springs show any sign of wear or emit any unusual sounds, then they should be replaced immediately.

From Balanced Body…

All Balanced Body springs should be replaced at least every two years. Certain environments and usages can shorten the expected life of the springs and you may need to replace the springs more frequently. Therefore, it is very important to inspect springs on a regular basis since worn or old springs lose resilience and may break during use.

From Peak…

We strongly advise establishing a routine program to monitor springs as well as replacing any spring in continuous daily use for over 24 months (or sooner in a high use facility). Any spring that exhibits early signs of fatigue (i.e. separation in coils, even if slight) must be replaced immediately.

From Stott…

Replace springs every 24 months, or as needed within that period if deformation occurs.

So, why do I have springs in my studio that seem fine after 10 years?  I get asked.  First, I explain that springs do break.

Yes, springs break.

They break when it’s really inconvenient and often dangerous.  While I worked at Balanced Body I heard about lawsuits every once in a while.  But, the manufacturers are good at covering their liability with fine print and specific questions, so they leave you vulnerable.

Since I’ve been in the field visiting my own clients, I realized there are many more spring breakages that go unreported.

Don’t be one of those people, and keep your clients safe, your assets covered, and your legal hassle low.

Second, I explain that there are many studios with old springs who have never had a problem.  There is no exact science on springs… how they age depends on how often they are used, how far they are extended each use, what the ambient environment is like, how much lotions and oils they come in contact with, and so on.  Sometimes, they last much longer than two years with no apparent problems.

While not all spring breakages can be predicted, there are signs you can look for when the springs start to degrade.

  • Gaps between coils
  • Rust or oxidation on the surface of the coils
  • Kinks or waves in the body of the coils

Run your hand lightly down the body of the spring.  Does it feel straight?  Or do you feel waves?  Definitely change your springs as soon as you feel or see any of these defects.

Be sure to check the springs UNDER the Reformer carriages!  That is often where I find the most damaged parts.

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20151029_134258 Even if you just bought your equipment, it is important to think about when you are going to change your springs next.  Why?  Because they are expensive!

To replace one reformer’s worth of springs, here is what it costs at each manufacturer.  (Think more for Cadillac or Tower springs!)

Balanced Body: $100 (5 springs)

Stott: $300 (5 springs)

Gratz: $150 (4 springs)

Peak: $150 (5 springs)

If you budget for maintenance costs from the beginning, replacing your springs every two years shouldn’t be a big shock to your budget.

My advice: Replace your springs every 2 years (or sooner if needed).

Getting into the tiny spaces

I visited a Stott studio in Gainesville this week, taking much pleasure in the pristine condition of the 8-year old equipment.

One of the questions the owner had was how to clean between the headrest and carriage pad.  The gap was too small for a rag to fit, and the vacuum just didn’t suck anything up.

The solution?  Take the thin end of a gun-cleaning brush or an extended reach toothbrush to pull the lint and dust out.  Check out these results… you’ll want to go clean yours right away when you see this!

First impressions: Rail Condition

When I walk into a studio, one of the first indicators of how well the studio has cared for their equipment is whether or not the Reformer rails are clean.  Rolling on a dirty surface will cause the wheels to start to “shed” leaving black streaks along the rails, as well as gum up the bearings or bushings with debris.  This significantly changes the feel of the carriage ride and shortens the working life of those components.

How do you prevent this?  Use some elbow grease!  The photo you see here is a before and after shot of a simple 30 seconds of effort with a damp rag.  Hours and hours of grime erased!

Now, imagine you clean your rails regularly!  It is possible to slow the mechanical aging process: I see 10 year old Reformers with clean rails every once in a while.  Those machines are still a dream to workout on!

Yours can be too, with a little time investment.  Put in some effort now to save that repair cost later!

All About Reformer Side Wheels

Your Reformer has Side Wheels (some people call them Guide Wheels), which control the side-to-side motion of the Reformer carriage.  This means that under each carriage there are usually 8 wheels.

Studio Reformers have side wheels that must be adjusted so that there is very little or no side-to-side motion of the carriage.  If there is too much side-to-side motion, the carriage can ride on the tracks crooked, causing the wheels to wear more quickly, leave black marks on the rails, and if the angle is great enough, scrape the side of the carriage on the inside of the wooden rail.

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Allegro 1 and Allegro 2 Reformers do not need to have their side-wheels adjusted.  Because the carriage rides above the rails, there is little danger to the side of the Reformer rails.  Despite having some side-to-side motion, these carriages tend to find a track along the rail and stick to it.  As long as you DO NOT add silicone spray to the rails to clean them, you’ll be fine.  Silicone spray will make the rails very slippery and cause the carriage to slide in every direction- the opposite of what you want!

Singing Push-Through Bars

Do you have a chorus of singing PTB’s during your Tower classes?  All you need is a little dab of oil and an old rag to lube them up.

Take the T-pins out one at a time, wiping the surface and dabbing a little bit of 3-in-1 oil along the axis and re-inserting them.  Swing the PTB a few times to work the oil in.

If your PTB is still sticking or doesn’t hang parallel between the vertical uprights, that is a sign of another problem.  Contact me to help you diagnose it.

The wheels on the carriage go ’round and ’round

Your wheels have such a huge impact on your Reformer experience.  When they are dirty, grindy, or worn out with flat spots, you feel it.  Many of my clients don’t even notice this degradation because it happens slowly over time.  But once I replace their wheels, they are shocked!  The Reformer all of a sudden feels like new.

Changing your wheels is, of course, just one component of a few that affects the “feel” of your workout, but it is one of the most significant.  I usually recommend that my clients change their rolling wheels (and sometimes the side wheels) every 5 years or so, depending on their usage and maintenance habits.

Here are a few tips to extend the life of your wheels.

  1. Clean the rails weekly.  At least!  Be sure to get the riser side and the footbar side of the rails, moving the carriage to clean each side.
  2. Clean the surface of the wheels every time you clean the rails.
  3. Check the bolts and bearings on the wheels for hair, lint and other grime that can make its way into the wheel where you can’t ever retrieve the contaminants again!

When you start noticing the surface of your wheels getting gritty or shiny silver, it’s time to change them.  Your rails shouldn’t have black marks on them!  Surprisingly, a little elbow grease and soapy water can get most of that gross stuff off.

With a little effort, your rails and wheels will look and feel smooth for years!

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Alternatives to MindBody Online Scheduling Software

MindBody’s Online Business Management Software might be the first solution you think of when you want to automate the scheduling and payment processing for your studio.  But it certainly isn’t the only one.  And, many of my Fit Reformer clients lament it’s expense or ease of use.  So here are a few other options for your studio to consider.

If you use any of these or another alternative, please leave a comment and share your experience!

Tula

Pricing:  $79/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: Yes
Mobile App for Owner: Yes
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: No

Acuity Scheduling

Pricing:  $10/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: Yes
Mobile App for Owner: Yes
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: Yes, through add-on services

Booker

Pricing:  $85/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: Yes

Front Desk HQ

Pricing:  $99/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: No
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: Yes

Flex Booker

Pricing:  $49/mo.
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: No

10to8

Pricing:  Free, additional paid plans available
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: Yes
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: No
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: No
Email Marketing Integration: Yes

BookSimple

Pricing:  $39.95/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: Yes
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: No
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes, basic
Email Marketing Integration: Unknown

Schedulista

Pricing:  $19/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: Yes
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: No
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: Yes, through MailChimp

Appointy

Pricing:  $19.95/mo. and up (free version available)
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: Yes

Timely

Pricing:  $19/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes, SMS extra fee
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes, basic
Email Marketing Integration: Yes, through add-on services

Reservio

Pricing:  $10/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: No
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Unknown
Embeds into your website: No
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes, SMS extra fee
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: No

SimplyBook.me

For advanced users

Pricing:  $8/mo. and up
Mobile App for Customer: Yes, design your own with their software
Mobile App for Owner: No
Online Credit Card Processing: Yes
Embeds into your website: Yes
Sends Automatic Appointment Reminders: Yes
Data Reporting and Metrics: Yes
Email Marketing Integration: No