Is Rubber Mulch Good for a Playground?

Rubber mulch is made from recycled tires and offers several benefits, including safety, durability, mobility and cost efficiency. Though it may not be ideal for playgrounds, there are a few instances when rubber mulch is a smart choice.

When it comes to playground surfacing, there are many different types of materials you can choose from depending on your needs and budget. However, rubber mulch is one of the most popular surfacing materials for playgrounds. Made from shredded recyclable tires, rubber mulch serves as an absorbent safety option that provides the look of natural bark.

So, is rubber mulch good for a playground? The truth is that the question of whether rubber mulch is good for a playground or not doesn’t have a straightforward answer. Some people believe rubber mulch is one of the safest playground surfacing materials, while others think otherwise. However, looking at the debate from a neutral perspective, it is relatively easy to conclude that rubber mulch is moderately safe for a playground. It may not be as safe as natural mulch, but it is still good enough.

To answer whether rubber mulch is good for a playground, we need to look at it in-depth. So, read on to find out everything that you need to know.

What Is Rubber Mulch?

Rubber mulch is basically a type of playground surfacing material that can be installed on private and commercial playgrounds. The material is mainly made of shredded rubber.

The rubber bark particles are nicely bonded with a special resin to prevent rotting, loss of particles, and unwanted movement.

A rubber mulch on hand.
Rubber Mulch can be easily installed over any surface, including concrete, asphalt, and grass.

Bonded mulch is a relatively porous material meaning that it dries out pretty quickly in case of rainfall or if it comes in contact with water. This property is critical in keeping the playground surface clean and dry, which is crucial to preventing playground injuries.

Another thing about rubber mulch is that it is a very pliable material. This means that it can be easily installed over any surface, including concrete, asphalt, and grass.

Furthermore, it is available in a wide range of colors, allowing you to choose a color that goes well with the playground’s overall design.

How Is Rubber Mulch Made?

As mentioned earlier, rubber mulch is mainly made from recyclable tires. The entire recycling process starts with thoroughly cleaning the tires to get rid of the steel wire inside the tire before shredding it up into tiny particles.

The next step usually involves using special machines to color the shredded tire particles.

After that, a resin is added to bind the tiny particles together. The final step is compressing the mulch material into bales for easy transportation and storage.

Shredded tires.
The material used in Rubber Mulch is mainly made of shredded rubber.

Is Rubber Mulch Toxic?

According to a study conducted by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency which has approved the use of rubber mulch on playgrounds, the material contains relatively low concentrations of materials made up of tire crumb, which is safe for children.

However, due to a relatively limited number of studies available on the topic, more research needs to be conducted to better understand the long-term effects of exposure to tire crumb.

In other words, we cannot say for sure that rubber mulch is completely safe for children. However, the chances of it causing any harm are pretty low as long as the material is properly installed and maintained.

One of the main concerns when it comes to tire-based products is the potential release of harmful chemicals such as zinc, cadmium, and lead.

These chemicals can be released into the environment if the rubber mulch is not properly maintained.

For example, if the material is allowed to get wet, it can release harmful chemicals into the water, which can be detrimental to human and animal health.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Rubber Mulch?

Like any other playground surfacing material, rubber mulch has its own pros and cons. Here is a detailed look at them:

Pros of Rubber Mulch

Here are some of the critical advantages of rubber mulch when used as a playground surfacing material:

1. It Is an Eco-Friendly Material

One of the most significant advantages of rubber mulch is that it is eco-friendly. The material is made from recycled tires which would otherwise end up in landfills.

Furthermore, it is a long-lasting material. It means you won’t have to replace it anytime soon, saving you money in the long run.

Close up image of a rubber mulch.
The material is made from recycled tires which would otherwise end up in landfills.

2. Requires Little to No Maintenance

Compared to wood mulch and other playground surfacing materials, rubber mulch requires relatively little maintenance to maintain its luster.

The material is rated to last at least ten years and doesn’t fade like other types of mulch. It still allows rainwater to filter through it, providing a relatively warm, moist environment that encourages prolonged play.

3. It Provides Excellent Impact Absorption

Another advantage of using rubber mulch as a playground surface is that it provides excellent impact absorption. This is because the material is very pliable.

This quality is especially beneficial for kids with a higher risk of sustaining playground injuries, such as those with special needs.

4. It Is Available in a Wide Range of Colors

As mentioned earlier, rubber mulch is available in a wide range of colors. This gives you the opportunity to choose a color that goes well with the playground’s overall design.

5. Holds Better During Windy Days

A common way to clean some playground surfaces is to use a blower. When a blower is used with conventional wood mulch, the material tends to invariably scatter in different directions creating a big mess in the process.

A painted rubber mulch.
Rubber mulch tends to hold up better in windy conditions making the cleanup process a lot easier.

However, when a blower is used with rubber mulch, even if it is only a few inches thick, it doesn’t scatter in all directions.

Some low-quality rubber mulch brands may scatter around, but the movement won’t be as much. Typically, rubber mulch tends to hold up better in windy conditions making the cleanup process a lot easier.

6. An All-weather Playground surfacing Solution

With many places experiencing freezing winters and scorching summers, finding a perfect flooring solution for your playground that is good for use year-round can be a huge challenge.

Fortunately, rubber mulch is an all-weather playground surfacing solution. It means the material can be used in hot and cold weather conditions without the fear of getting damaged.

7. Cost-Effective

Rubber mulch is one of the most cost-effective playground surfacing materials available on the market. The material is long-lasting, meaning you won’t have to replace every now and then.

It is also relatively easy to install, especially if you do it yourself. For professional installation, the cost is still very reasonable.

Cons of Rubber Mulch

Here are some of the key disadvantages of rubber mulch when used as a playground surfacing material:

1. It Can Get Hot in Direct Sunlight

One of the main drawbacks of using rubber mulch is that it can get pretty hot in direct sunlight. This means that it might not be the best option for playgrounds that are located in areas that experience hot summers.

A boy having fun on a playground equipment.
Rubber Mulch might not be the best option for playgrounds that are located in areas that experience hot summers.

If you choose to use rubber mulch, it is essential to ensure that some shade is available for kids to take breaks in when the temperatures start to rise.

2. Can Attract Insects

Another potential problem with rubber mulch is that it can attract insects. This is because the material is made up of tiny particles of shredded tires which provide a perfect hiding place for insects.

If the problem is not dealt with promptly, it can lead to an infestation, which can be very difficult to eliminate.

3. May Contain Harmful Chemicals

Another key disadvantage of using rubber mulch is that it may contain harmful chemicals. Keep in mind that the material is made from recycled tires which may contain heavy metals and other harmful chemicals that can leach into the ground over time.

This can be a significant problem if the playground is located in an area with a lot of rainfall, as the chemicals may contaminate groundwater.

4. May Not Be Suitable for All Playgrounds

Lastly, rubber mulch may not be suitable for all playgrounds since it is quite thick and can be challenging to install on uneven surfaces.

Also, it may not be the best option for playgrounds located in areas with a lot of rainfall since heavy rains can cause the mulch to become compacted and hard to play on.

So, Is Rubber Mulch a Good Playground Surface?

Overall, rubber mulch is a relatively good playground surface option. It is long-lasting, easy to install, and cost-effective. However, there are some drawbacks that you need to be aware of before making a decision.

Therefore, it is essential to consider all of the pros and cons of using rubber mulch before making a final decision.

Summary

So, is rubber mulch a good playground surface?

The answer to that question is yes and no. Rubber mulch has many pros, such as being eco-friendly, requiring little to no maintenance, providing excellent impact absorption, and coming in a wide range of colors.

However, it can get hot in direct sunlight, may attract insects, and may contain harmful chemicals.

Whether or not rubber mulch is the right choice for your playground depends on your specific needs and what you are looking for in surfacing material.

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