Keeping Kids Safe on Rubber Mulch Playgrounds

July 02, 2015

rubber mulch with a check and x on it

Rubber mulch is rapidly gaining popularity as a safe, ecologically friendly playground surfacing choice.  Rubber mulch lasts for a lifetime, and is simple to install and maintain.  It never decomposes; does not invite mold or insects; and will never leave splinters.


Ecologically conscious consumers may opt for rubber playground mulch, a recycled material, as opposed to wood playground mulch which must be manufactured from virgin wood. 


How does rubber mulch rank on the safety scale, and how can kids be kept safer on rubber mulch playgrounds?  There are several factors to consider.


Composition:  Rubber mulch consists of shredded, recycled tires, which have been processed to remove all traces of wire and steel so that it is completely safe for kids and pets.  Care should be taken to choose a reputable company, which offers a wire-free guarantee of at least 99.5%.  


Impact Attenuation: Shock absorbency is rubber mulch’s strongest advantage as compared to any other surfacing material.  A 6” depth of rubber mulch protects kids against falls from a 9 foot height.  No other surfacing material offers this level of protection against falls.


Compacting/Displacement:  Another strong advantage of rubber mulch: it virtually never compacts.  It is also heavier than wood mulch, and less likely to blow or wash away in bad weather.  (Consumer Reports studies showed that rubber mulch remained firmly in place even when showered with streams of water.)  Displacement is an issue at the playground edges, and care should be taken to install appropriate barriers around the playground’s perimeter to keep the mulch from being kicked away from the playground area. 


Fall Zones:  Rubber mulch is susceptible to displacement in high traffic zones, such as the bottom of slides and swings.  Wear mats should be installed in all high traffic areas.


Drainage: Rubber mulch does not retain moisture naturally; however, adequate drainage beneath the play area must be ensured.  Rubber mulch providers should be consulted regarding drainage systems prior to installation.


Seasonal Issues: Rubber mulch does not freeze in cold weather, and may be used around the year.  However, care should be taken in very hot weather when the mulch may grow uncomfortably hot, particularly against bare feet.


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