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.