12 answers

Need Advice for What Kind of Material to Put Under New Playset!

Hi, I would love advice from those of you who have been through this - we got a new playset and are trying to decide what to put under it to make it safe. We of course would like the cheapest alternative. I think sand would attract animals - we could do wood chips or rubber bark mulch. Do any of you have experience with this and where did you get yours?

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The softest material is tiny pieces of ground-up rubber, but most playgrounds don't use it because if it were to catch fire the smoke is toxic. I know from my mom being a teacher, the safest thing for a school playground is pea gravel-the little soft rocks. Wood chips will cause splinters if they fall on it & if they play on it barefoot. I'd also water it down before the kids go to play on it so it's not too hot to their little feet. As far as where to get it, I think Lowe's or Home Depot would have it.

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We decided to try the rubber mulch when we put in a play ground a couple summers ago because we wanted the "best." It has been a NIGHTMARE! No matter how hard I have tried all of the kids think it is the greatest thing to play with from throwing it at each other, making piles of it on the grass, (which is impossible to get back to the playground)filling buckets and sending it down the slide, etc. It has been a constant battle with my kids and the neighbor kids to leave it alone. It was always being tracked in the house and would find it in shoes, pockets or anywhere else it could hide. I look at the playground now in frustration at how bare it is and at how much money we spent to make it nice all to be wasted! Dont waste your money unless you will have no children actually playing in it and can keep the neighborhood kids out of it with out becoming the neighborhood witch for constantly yelling at them and sending them home for not following the rules and so forth! If you cant tell it has been a NIGHTMARE! But hey, instead of rubber mulch in my playground, I now have weeds... so I get to begin a new! Good luck! =) P.S. It was nice to look at.

We have a playset with the glider, swings, slide and a deck with a fire pole. We put playground woodchips underneath. I looked on line and in the phone book. I think we ended up getting them thru a sand and gravel company. They are rated for fall protection and you can look it up to see how deep you need them for the height if a fall were to occur. They have been great for the kids and also the neighbors cats don't use our play area as a litter box. My kids don't always wear shoes and we have never had a problem. I make sure to remind them not to go down the slide without shoes because the impact might give them a sliver. They also don't stick in the kids shoes and clothing. They don't get tracked out onto the grass either. We have a small block wall (1 block high) around the play area to keep the chips in and make it easier to mow and edge the grass.

Good luck!

I have to warn you that the recycled rubber (when underneath a playset) gets tracked inside and is a huge mess no matter what type of flooring you have inside your house. My sister put it underneath her new playset last June 2008. They have a large yard and plenty of room for it to be "shaken off" before coming inside. It was a constant disaster for her and they had it replaced by August. My daughter's preschool had the same issue. I just wanted to warn you! :). And as someone else said, the smell is pretty gross, too. Good luck!

I like rubber mulch as it doesn't splinter or compact, which wood does. Also it only requires one output of money generally to keep it maintained. Just make sure it is deep enough. I used to work at a preschool and because they had wood I used lots of bandaids for splinters and the wood compacted which offered no protection when one of the kids jumped from the top of the slide ending in a broken, in two places and needed surgery to repair, arm. We love the sand at our house but we spray it with vinegar all the time which keeps out the few neighborhood cats and takes care of any weeds.

The softest material is tiny pieces of ground-up rubber, but most playgrounds don't use it because if it were to catch fire the smoke is toxic. I know from my mom being a teacher, the safest thing for a school playground is pea gravel-the little soft rocks. Wood chips will cause splinters if they fall on it & if they play on it barefoot. I'd also water it down before the kids go to play on it so it's not too hot to their little feet. As far as where to get it, I think Lowe's or Home Depot would have it.

Hi E. - grass is great under your playset but it takes some work to keep it growing in those conditions. Bare spots can get pretty hard and dont offer the best fall protection. We like the rubber "bark" because the cats in the neighborhood stay out of it and it's practically maintenance free because it doesnt decompose. It also comes in different colors. I think it's a good idea to sift through it in the spring to clean out any old toys, sticks, etc. It is a little more expensive than gravel or wood chips but it only requires one application.

Be sure to follow the recommendations for how much rubber bark to install - usually 6" is the minimum but it depends on the weight of the mulch that you are installing. Price it at the sand/gravel stores in your area. It's usually cheaper to have them deliver a truckload than buying it by the bag.

good for you for putting a fall surface in! when I was a kid, I remember very vividly the ambulance coming to my piano teacher's house - her daughter broke her arm on their swingset landing on "soft" grass. Even if the grass is soft now, very quickly it won't be due to pounding of little feet.
we went with wood chips. rubber was exorbantly priced. rocks are ridculously heavy - and what about when we take it out and want to resod - ugh! We spent about $250 each time - went w/a sand and gravel company.
we haven't had an issue w/animals in the wood chips but we have two dogs (about 50 lbs each) so not much in the way of cats or wildlife comes into our yard. at three years, we had to add more chips but we get 80+ mph winds every spring and fall (we live right against the foothills of denver). and we use our leaf blower/sucker to suck them up a couple times a year and put them back. be sure to get the playground wood chips - they've been through a sander so there's no splinters.
Oh - and two days after we got everything installed, my nanny's then 3 year old fell straight back off the ladder. the first thing to hit was the back of her head where you get knocked silly. made it worth every penny we'd spent on the wood chips, no question it would've been an emergency room visit otherwise.

we went ahead and just left the grass under ours, it's nice and soft and was our cheapest alternative.
I had been looking into the tires that have been cut up and dyed different colors to put under it, but we went with our grass.
I personally hate wood chips, I don't like to fall on them, so I don't like playgrounds that have them, and I hate the sand as well because it seems to get all the neighborhood cats using it as a litter box.
imo the rubber mulch is best if you don't want grass.

(we keep our grass at 3", conserves water, it stays greener and healthier and is so so soft to walk on)

We are currently in the middle of building a play yard for our kids... slowly but surely. We are keeping the green grass in our yard the way it is. We do have a sand box. And ye I do worry about cats... I live in the country so we have barn cats. We also hve dogs but the yard is fenced in so nothing goes in unless we say so. I think wood chip will attract animals more. Pine shavings are generally used for bedding animals, but they are really clean.
Just some thoughts...Good Luck!

Hi E.:
I looked into the shredded rubber - I loved the feel of it - (Costco.com had the best price I could find), but decided they were too expensive and also had a strong chemical smell. We went with wood chips on top of commercial grade weed cloth and have been happy with the choice. No mowing or re-seeding! Our son doesn't seem to fall that much on it so it hasn't really been tested too hard in that regard. I guess as he gets bigger we'll see if it does the job it's supposed to do. I did make sure I measured and got enough wood chips to get the right depth.

We did playground chips from Pioneer Sand Company. They were pretty cheap, and they work great under the playset!


I am a preschool director and deal with health and safety regulations all the time. You can get all the specifics from licensing on areas to do for fall zones and the various depths of the materials you choose. I have dealt with rocks and wood chips in all the preschool I have been. Rocks are a nightmare! They ruin shoes, lawnmowers, and are tracked inside all the time. Wood chips are a bit better, however I would encourage your children to always wear shoes. I would pay the extra money to get treated wood chips for play areas. The cheaper stuff not only can have splinters, but it molds and can be really gross. If you can afford it, the rubber mulch (red) is really great. I know wood chips have to be 8" in depth and need to be raked often to keep the fall area soft. Otherwise, they condense to the point where you have to replace the chips constantly. I would not use sand unless it can be covered since it becomes a cat box and it doesn't provide a good fall zone anyway. Good luck and do keep your kids safe. I have seen many falls that could have been disasterous and that is in a constantly supervised situation which I hate to say it doesn't always happen at home.

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