Ever since rubber mulch hit the market several years ago, it has become an increasingly popular choice for loose fill in both playgrounds and landscaping. Its main selling points are its safety and its durability.
Both rubber and wood mulch come in many different colors and cater to all aesthetic requirements. However, rubber mulch retains its color and vibrancy far longer than wood mulch, while not staining clothes or skin – even in the rain.
Rubber mulch has superior shock absorption and outperforms wood mulch (and even gravel and sand), and is thus considered the safest playground surfacing material.
Wood mulch products use dyed woods, old pallets that have been ground up, and other woods which were used in industrial capacities. These wood chips contain arsenic and creosote, among other byproducts such as toxins and acids.
Rubber mulch is made from ground-up tires that have gone out of commission. To convert the tires into mulch, manufacturers wash the tires and grind them into tiny pellets, using magnets to remove the tiny bits of metal that could present a potential hazard.
Rubber mulch generally comes from recycled tires which would otherwise end up in landfills, as they decompose at a very slow rate.
Rubber does not attract termites, because it is not comprised of the organic materials these pests gravitate to. It reduces mold and weed growth by dehydrating most weed seeds and spores before they can reach through to the soil.
In contrast, wood mulch can allow for the infestation of both termites and fungal growth, since these pests are attracted to moist rotting wood.
Additionally, wood mulch can breed "artillery" fungus that can stain nearby cars and homes with fungal spores that, once dried, remain forever.
When choosing rubber vs wood mulch for landscaping, consider that rubber provides excellent drainage for the soil and supplies great insulation against harsh weather. It allows the soil to maintain higher levels of both heat and moisture.
Rubber is heavier than wood mulch and thus has more staying power than the lightweight wood chips. If you live in an area with high winds, or during heavy rains, wood will blow away more easily than rubber.
Whilst wood mulch decomposes after only a few months, rubber mulch lasts for a minimum of 10-20 years, thus earning it the title of “permanent mulch”.
As mentioned, rubber mulch will not decompose, contrary to its wood counterpart. Stormy days with heavy wind and rains will not dislodge rubber mulch, while wood chips may float away.
Rubber mulch does not rot, even after intense exposure to humidity.
An oft-ignored benefit of rubber mulch is that it does not freeze in extreme cold temperatures, whereas wood does.
Wood chips are far more flammable than rubber mulch.
Rubber mulch seems like the more expensive option between the two. However, it lasts longer and does not require yearly re-spreading or repurchasing. It can eliminate the need for annual mulching, since rubber doesn't break down as wood does; it's heavy enough to stay put; and you can use less of it: you need about 1.5 inches of rubber mulch compared to about 3 inches of wood mulch.
Wood fades; requires repurchasing every 1 to 2 years; and can cause termite troubles, which can increase labor and out-of-pocket costs.