Building a playset or play area for your kids can be a fun activity. A quality playset can be enjoyed by your entire family for many years to come. But what are some basic playground materials to put underneath your playset that can be used to help keep your children safe?
The best materials to make playground areas softer and safer are:
- solid rubber
- bonded rubber
- rubber tiles
- rubber mulch
- play sand
- pea gravel
- artificial grass
- engineered wood fibers
Let’s discover more about these materials and how they help to soften falls. Also, I’ll let you know where you can purchase these materials to complete your playset or trampoline play area for your children, or even yourself. No judgment here!
Solid Rubber Poured In Place (PIP)
Solid rubber is the best way for keeping your children safe in a playground area. Solid rubber offers flexibility when your children fall and a solid surface that will bend with the body.
While solid rubber is the best material for surfacing a play area, it is also the most expensive. The solid rubber will change the natural surroundings as it needs to be poured into a contained area. Poured rubber is slip-resistant and easy for wheelchairs and strollers.
Safety Tip: Know someone with latex allergies? Here’s a quick Q&A with a doctor regarding rubber playground material and children with latex or rubber allergies.
Bonded Rubber is another alternative for playground surface material. It shares almost all qualities as poured rubber, just at a slightly cheaper cost. This is due to manufacturing differences and the materials used. Just like poured rubber, it requires very little maintenance. It has a natural appearance and texture that will blend with any landscaped playground area. It is a one-layer system that’s also great for wheelchairs and strollers. It’s also fairly easy to clean.
However, it is not as durable and long-lasting as the solid poured rubber and will need repairing with long-term use. Speak with a store representative about the differences in rubber playground materials and what will work best for your climate and circumstances.
Rubber tiles are a cost-effective way to soften playground areas. They can come in a variety of graphic designs and colors to match any playground, no matter how large or small. They range in cost depending upon the durability and size of each tile.
Rubber Tiles are easily replaced when worn due to everyday wear and tear and require less maintenance than engineered wood fibers and other playground surface materials. Another pro due to their removability is that they can easily be cleaned as often as needed.
This material is mostly made from recycled tires. The rubber mulch offers much of the safety features of solid rubber and can be less expensive. That being said, it is usually more expensive than the other loose-fill playset surfaces.
I think rubber mulch has a perfect balance. You get the softness from the shredded rubber, but the affordability offered by using a loose-fill product.
Due to mulch being loose-fill, one con you do have is the issue of the much being kicked or thrown out of the playset edges. This requires extra mulch to be added to ensure you have adequate coverage.
Tip: Rubber products in playset surfacing have been known to elicit complaints about burning smells. Although rare, be sure to look into high-quality rubber. Especially if you live in extreme heat climates.
Play sand is another good material for surfacing a playset or trampoline area. It will cover the entire area with a more natural aesthetic than rubber. While not as protective as rubber, It’s soft enough to handle tough falls.
Sand is one of the most inexpensive materials on this list. This means you can purchase plenty of extra sand for pouring and replacing any kicked-out sand. Experts recommend at least 12 inches of play sand for optimal protection in a playground area.
Another benefit is sand is also fun to play with! Castles, dunes, and digging are all great activities for sensory development.
The biggest con is that sand can be easily blown away which can get in clothing and can irritate eyes and the skin. Animals are also attracted to sand to relieve themselves.
Tip: If sand is your choice, make sure that sand does not contain any toxic or harmful ingredients, you can avoid this by looking for sand specifically designed for playgrounds.
I did want to touch on pea gravel as well. It is another fairly popular choice due to its affordability. Although it’s pretty affordable, it won’t cushion a fall and is not necessarily comfortable to sit on or kneel on.
That being said, pea gravel is very quick to drain. Pea gravel allows you to get back to playing after a rainy afternoon, or after hosing down the area to clean it.
Compared to sand, this may also be a better option if you worry about pets or pests using the bathroom, or if it’s often very windy.
Artificial Grass or Turf
It is the protection used by professional football, soccer, and many other sports. This means it offers an adequate cushion for your children. Newer versions of artificial turf have been brought to a softer more versatile texture so it’s softer on your child’s knees and hands during a fall than sand or pea gravel.
It’s bike and wheelchair-friendly and has much lower maintenance costs than rubber surfaces. It is also less expensive than rubber to install, except for rubber mulch.
The artificial turf may require a rinse off with water but the surface drains water well. Pet owners may need a little extra help, I always recommend Simple Green Outdoor Odor Eliminator on Amazon. It always takes care of any lingering pet smells after a rinse.
Engineered Wood Fiber
It is estimated that about 50,000 playgrounds throughout the United States of America and Canada use engineered wood fiber as their base surface.
The wood is finely ground without the original sawdust. Engineered wood is more than adequate at providing a safe cushion to protect your child during falls while providing cost-effective savings for your playground.
Now for the drawbacks. EWD is not as easier to maintain as the materials mentioned above. It requires consistent maintenance. Fresh EWD must be added to ensure enough depth of material to provide protection. This eats into the initial savings of its installation.
* This includes adding more material to ensure a proper depth, as well as keeping the material dense and flattened. This allows for a better cushion and the use of bikes and/or wheelchairs.
Where Can I Buy Playset Base Material?
Many of these materials can be bought online or at brick-and-mortar specialty home building stores. Choose 3 to 5 stores to find the most competitive pricing. Speaking in person with a store representative may be the best idea before choosing what material works best for your home, the climate you are in, and any specific family needs.
Some of these stores include Ace Hardware, Home Depot, RubberMulch.com, Lowe’s, rubbercal.com, and Amazon.com. Just to name a few. You may want to write down the surface area, the equipment that will be used in the playground area, and the budget for your playset or trampoline area project before speaking with a store representative.
The list of must-have playground materials to be used underneath your playset or trampoline area includes solid rubber, bonded rubber, rubber tiles, rubber mulch, play sand or pea gravel, artificial grass, and engineered wood fiber.
Remember to always do your research before building your playset or trampoline area. A material that may work for another family may not work for yours. Remember your budget may call for less expensive materials.
Determine how often will the playset or trampoline area be used by your family and how much other protective gear will your children wear?
Speak with owners of different playgrounds to find out more about safety measures in using these materials. Talk with a store representative or playground builder who can give you the best direction for your family.
Speak with a doctor to determine if any disadvantages are correlating with health issues and the materials you want to use for your project. Use your best judgment in building your dream playset or trampoline area for your children and others to enjoy for many years to come.