The disadvantages of rubber mulch on a playground

Rubber mulch is a playground safety feature used to keep children from tripping and falling on asphalt. It is important to know the disadvantages of using rubber mulch and the benefits of rubber mulch before you decide to install it on your playground.

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Playground safety is one of the most important aspects to consider when designing and constructing a playground. However, many people overlook the importance of choosing the right surfacing material for their playground. While many different types of surfacing materials are available on the market, rubber mulch is one of the most popular choices. Although rubber mulch has many advantages, there are also some disadvantages that should be considered before using it on a playground.

So, what are the disadvantages of rubber mulch? One of the main disadvantages of rubber mulch is that it can get extremely hot in direct sunlight, posing a serious hazard to children. Another disadvantage of rubber mulch is that it can be a bit more expensive than other types of surfacing materials. It is also difficult to remove, can release harmful chemicals and metals to the play areas, and has a relatively higher degree of flammability concern.

This blog post discusses the pros and cons of using rubber mulch as a playground surfacing material. Read on to learn more.

A Brief History About Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is made from conventional rubber. The name “rubber” was coined by Joseph Priestly in 1770, who observed that the sap from a tropical tree was able to erase pencil marks. Charles Macintosh developed the first process for vulcanizing rubber in 1839 when rubber was first used commercially.

In its early years, most rubber was produced in Brazil, where it was extracted from trees. The process of extracting latex from rubber trees is called latex tapping. In the mid-1800s, rubber production began to spread to other countries in South America, as well as Southeast Asia and Africa.

Rubber mulch on hand.
In the 1970s, the first process for recycling rubber from end-of-life tires was developed.

The first process for recycling rubber was developed in 1890 by John W. Hyatt, who vulcanized cellulose nitrate to create a new material called “Celluloid.” This new material was used to make various products, including billiard balls, combs, and false teeth.

In the early 1900s, the first process for recycling vulcanized rubber was developed. This process was called “devulcanization,” and it was used to recycle waste from the tire-manufacturing process.

The first process for recycling scrap tires was developed in the 1940s. This process is called “tire shredding,” and is still used today.

In the 1970s, the first process for recycling rubber from end-of-life tires was developed. This process is called “tire pyrolysis,” and it is used to recycle tires into fuel, steel, and other useful products.

How Is Rubber Mulch Made?

Rubber mulch is made from 100% recycled rubber. The rubber is shredded into small pieces, then screened to remove any metal or other contaminants. Next, the rubber is dyed and cured in an oven to set the color.

The finished product is a durable, weather-resistant mulch that is safe for use in playgrounds and gardens.

What Are the Advantages of Rubber Mulch?

Now that we’ve examined how rubber mulch is made, let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of using rubber mulch as a playground surfacing material. Below are some of the pros:

1. Safety

One of the great things about rubber mulch is that it fits the Critical Fall Height (CFH) standards. It means that if a child were to fall from the tallest play equipment on the playground and the ground is covered with enough rubber mulch; the child will most likely not sustain serious injury.

A playgrouond with a rubber mulch surface.
Rubber mulch is also slip-resistant, which helps to create a safer play environment.

The material works well by creating a “shock-absorbent layer” that can help reduce the impact of a fall. The thickness of the layer will depend on the height of the equipment.

There are also no gaps or holes in rubber mulch, which is essential because it eliminates the possibility of a child’s head or limb becoming stuck.

Rubber mulch is also slip-resistant, which helps to create a safer play environment.

2. Durability

Rubber mulch is a highly durable surfacing material. It can withstand heavy use and severe weather conditions.

It does not rot, mildew, or fade, making it a low-maintenance option for playgrounds. Furthermore, it does not attract ants, termites, or other pests.

3. Eco-Friendly

Rubber mulch is made from 100% recycled rubber, making it an eco-friendly surfacing option. Using recycled rubber helps reduce waste in landfills and reduces the demand for new rubber products.

4. Low Maintenance

Rubber mulch is generally a low-maintenance playground surfacing material compared to organic mulch and other loose-fill options available on the market.

Typically, you need to replace organic (wood) mulch every two or three years, but rubber mulch can easily last up to ten years. Furthermore, it doesn’t require frequent replenishing since it holds up quite well.

A closeup image of a rubber mulch.
Rubber mulch is generally a low-maintenance playground surfacing material compared to organic mulch and other loose-fill options.

It generally breaks down slowly and will still look the same even after a couple of years. All you really need to do is remove any debris that may have accumulated on top.

If you want to freshen up the color, you can simply power wash it or hose it down. Weeds will also not be an issue since rubber mulch creates a barrier that prevents them from growing.

5. Insect Resistant

Rubber mulch is also insect resistant, which is essential for playground safety. You don’t have to worry about termites, ants, or other pests infesting the material and causing damage to the playground equipment.

6. Highly Attractive

One thing that makes rubber mulch one of the most preferred playground surfacing materials is that it is highly attractive.

The material comes in various colors, such as green, blue, and red, to fit into different playground themes.

While some playground owners choose to go with colors that cannot be found easily, others like to stick with traditional colors like black or brown.

Regardless of the color you choose, rubber mulch will give your playground an aesthetically pleasing look.

7. Holds Up Well in Windy and Rainy Conditions

If wood mulch is flooded, even with a simple garden hose, during regular cleaning of the playground, the wood chips tend to rise above the water surface and are washed away.

However, this problem doesn’t occur with rubber mulch since it has a relatively high weight density, which allows it to withstand flooding and windy conditions without being displaced.

A toddler jumping under the rain at the playground.
Rubber mulch has a relatively high weight density.

This is a significant advantage since you won’t have to constantly replenish the material after heavy rainfalls or strong winds.

Disadvantages of Rubber Mulch

While there are many advantages to using rubber mulch, there are also some disadvantages that you should be aware of. These include:

1. Cost

One of the biggest disadvantages of rubber mulch is the cost. The initial investment can be pretty high, and it is one of the most expensive playground surfacing materials on the market.

While it may be more expensive than wood mulch, it is still cheaper than poured-in-place rubber and synthetic turf.

If you are on a tight budget, then rubber mulch may not be the best option for you. However, remember that it is a long-term investment and will save you money in the long run since you won’t have to replace it as often as other materials.

2. Gets Hot During the Summer

Another downside of rubber mulch is that it can get quite hot during summer.

If the playground is in an area that gets a lot of direct sunlight, the material can absorb the heat and become too hot for children to play on. Hot rubber may lead to severe skin burns.

Kids playground with cover.
You can also try to find a playground that has some shade so that the material doesn’t get too hot.

This problem can be alleviated by choosing a lighter color for the mulch since it will reflect the heat better. You can also try to find a playground that has some shade so that the material doesn’t get too hot.

3. May Contain Harmful Chemicals

While most rubber mulch on the market is safe, there is always a chance that it may contain harmful chemicals. Some of the substances that may be present in the mulch include lead, zinc, and cadmium.

These chemicals can leach into the ground and end up in the groundwater. If children play on the playground and put their hands in their mouths, they could ingest these harmful chemicals.

4. Potential Health Hazards

There is some debate about whether or not rubber mulch is safe for children to play on.

Some studies have found that exposure to rubber mulch can lead to health problems such as skin irritation, respiratory problems, and cancer.

However, these studies have been conducted on animals, and it is still unclear if there are any potential health risks for humans.

If you are concerned about the safety of rubber mulch, you can always choose to go with another playground surfacing material such as wood mulch or poured-in-place rubber.

5. Difficult to Remove

Before you install rubber mulch on your playground, you need to be aware that it can be pretty difficult to remove.

This is because the material is designed to bind together, making it hard to break apart.

If you ever need to replace the rubber mulch or repair the playground equipment, removing the material will be a big challenge.

Conclusion

Rubber mulch is a popular playground surfacing material because it is attractive, long-lasting, and easy to maintain.

However, it is also one of the most expensive options, and there is some debate about whether or not it is safe for children to play on.

If you are on a tight budget or are concerned about the potential health risks, then rubber mulch may not be the best option.

Otherwise, it is an excellent choice for playgrounds and will provide a safe, attractive, and durable surface for many years.

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