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Pros & Cons: Artificial Grass/Turf for Playground Surfacing

When you’re evaluating surface options like synthetic turf or artificial grass for a playground or play area, there’s a lot to consider. You want something robust to withstand heavy use yet safe and accessible to accommodate everyone at play. We’ve compiled a comprehensive overview of using playground surfacing similar to AstroTurf® or fake grass for playgrounds, weighing all the critical factors. While we may be biased about poured-in-place surfacing, we still think you should closely examine all your options before you make a purchase for your organization or business.

Is Artificial Grass or Synthetic Turf the Best Option for Playground Flooring?

padding for synthetic playground turf
Synthetic turf often requires additional padding to achieve proper fall-height rating

Synthetic turf or artificial grass is constructed of synthetic, grass-like fibers or yarn (some call it an outdoor playground carpet). It is manufactured to look and feel like a natural grass playground surface, but without all of the maintenance. Used on sports fields for years, synthetic turf is becoming a more common occurrence on the playground. The fibers are often polypropylene or polyethylene and consist of multiple layers, a backing, cushioning, drainage layers, and infill, usually composed of recycled rubber tires or natural cork. Certain playground grass is made of recycled materials, but some are not, so be sure to do your research.

Safety of Synthetic Turf Playground Flooring

Pros:

Installing Artificial Grass for Playground
Note that there’s ground prep work that needs to be done. The artificial playground turf sits on top of other layer(s).
  • The top factor for a playground surface is the level of fall protection it achieves. When installed with the proper padding and infill, synthetic turf meets the American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM) standards and can provide excellent shock absorption.
  • Artificial turf with a thickness of 2.1-3.1″ achieves a fall height safety factor of five feet, whereas a thickness of 3.3-4.3″ achieves a height of seven-feet, recommended for most residential and commercial playgrounds.

Cons:

  • Certain types of artificial turf may not absorb falls from as high as poured-in-place surfacing.
  • Synthetic turf may need additional padding or underlayment to keep kids safe and achieve the proper fall-height rating.
  • It’s essential to confirm the specific product’s details to ensure it is safe.

Cost of Synthetic Turf as a Playground Surface

Artificial Playground Grass
Artificial grass can look quite natural, but what’s the cost?

Pros:

  • The lifetime cost of artificial turf as a material itself is relatively low. After three to five years, the costs associated with maintaining natural grass and soil exceed the installation’s high price.
  • Using synthetic grass in a building project can accumulate LEED points for various reasons: water efficiency, recycled or recovered materials used, low emission materials used, and the material composition of the turf itself.

Cons:

  • Overall, synthetic turf is very costly to install. Not only do you have to pay for the turf itself, but the ground prep, irrigation needs, and more.
  • Depending on the manufacturer, prices for artificial grass vary from $6 to $20 per square foot before installation. Installation costs can vary between companies, adding onto the cost.
  • It’s relatively uncommon, but any damage to artificial grass can be cut out and replaced with a new piece, averaging about $12 per square foot (not including installation).
  • A fresh new patch often sticks out as the majority of synthetic grass will look slightly worn.

Accessibility of Synthetic Turf Flooring

There’s a variety of artificial/synthetic turf for playgrounds, from flat AstroTurf®-like playground surfacing to what looks more like grass.

Pros:

  • As long as the artificial grass is firm and a wheelchair can move around it with ease, you can use synthetic grass for accessible playgrounds and ADA compliance.
  • Synthetic turf is also perfect for people suffering from hay fever or other allergies, thanks to its zero-pollen count.

Cons:

  • Synthetic turf surfaces are not immune from bacteria, which cause foul odors and sanitary problems. However, some manufacturers have developed antimicrobial additives built straight into the product or sprays to inhibit bacteria’s growth.
  • Also, if not installed properly, the rolls of artificial grass can create seams in them, adding a tripping hazard.

Appearance and Indoor/Outdoor Use of Synthetic Turf Playground Flooring

artificial grass for playground
Synthetic turf does have color options, however, stenciled images can’t easily be added.

Pros:

  • When considering artificial turf for your playground area, you can choose various colors, styles, densities, and heights or aim for the most natural appearance and texture.
  • You can also use it both indoors and outdoors.
  • The biggest bonus about synthetic turf is the natural look and feel it brings to your playground. This “grass” always stays green.

Cons:

  • The loose rubber granules that are in the artificial grass can be quite annoying, as they tend to get stuck on clothing, skin, in shoes, etc. They can easily be dragged into the school building (or your house) and be messy to clean up. A benefit of using poured rubber for playgrounds is that there is no loose material.
  • Unfortunately, you can’t easily stencil games, shapes, logos, or other graphics into your synthetic turf. If that’s a deal-breaker, we know where you can find surfacing with limitless design options.

Quality & Maintenance of Synthetic Turf as a Playground Surface

Synthetic Grass for Playground Surface
Artificial grass has small black rubber pellets/beads that create cushioning. These granules need to be replaced/added to periodically.

Pros:

  • If you compare synthetic turf to real grass, you’ll find it’s much more low maintenance. No watering, mowing, harmful pesticides, or fertilizer is required.
  • It will need an occasional rinse-off, but water drains well off its surface.
  • Playground turf maintains a higher face weight, the amount of material used by the square yard, making it quite durable and able to withstand significant wear and tear.
  • If it does need a repair, luckily, you won’t need to replace the entire turf. Cut out the damage and replace it with new turf.
  • Plus, say goodbye to mud and grass stains.
  • Synthetic turf is UV stable and won’t fade in the sunlight. It is also heat and frost resistant.
  • Creepy-crawlies will be a thing of the past as insects often steer clear of artificial grass.

Cons:

  • When it comes to maintenance, synthetic turf is a bit needier than poured-in-place surfacing.
  • The faux turf requires frequent cleaning, especially if you live in an incredibly dusty locale.
  • Dust, sand, and leaves will accumulate in the fibers, but you can remove them with a blower, rake, broom with stiff bristles, or a garden hose.
  • When the heat rises, so does the temperature of your synthetic playground turf. While there are additional fills to keep temperatures down, artificial grass is generally much hotter to touch than real grass.
  • Also, static electricity may build on the synthetic turf, and the surfaces may need an anti-static solution.
  • No certified manufacturer guarantees artificial grass to last more than eight years. However, it usually endures about 10-15 years, meaning you’ll have to replace it sooner rather than later.

Installation of Synthetic Turf Playground Flooring

Artificial Turf Playground Surface Installation
Artificial grass being installed.

Pros:

  • The one plus about synthetic turf installation is that it’s relatively easy to find a professional to assist with your project.

Cons:

  • The initial install for synthetic turf has many small details and requires a good deal of planning.
  • Professionals will need to create an initial base surface of flat, crushed stone or gravel to allow for proper drainage.
  • A level surface is an essential step as any issues can create stagnant water or odors. Another important layer is a weed cloth to avoid growth.
  • Besides, most installations require an infill layer to maintain the structure and hold the blades upright.

Next Steps

There’s a lot to take in when it comes to selecting a surface for your playground area. If you’re still considering your options, we invite you to look at some of our other playground surface pros and cons. If you’re ready to take the next steps with a poured-in-place rubber playground flooring or rubber tiles for playground flooring, contact us today for a free quote.

With so many different qualities and characteristics to consider, choosing a playground surface can be bewildering. That’s why we’ve created an ultimate guide of all the pros and cons of 11 of the most popular playground surfaces, from wood chips to recycled rubber mulch.

FAQs About Artificial Grass for Playgrounds

Anywhere from $6-$20/sq ft for the product itself, plus installation costs. See more pricing details here.

There’s a variety of both pros and cons when it comes to synthetic playground grass. For example, some types of artificial turf may not absorb falls from as high as poured-in-place playground surfacing.

The brand AstroTurf® might come to mind. There’s a variety of fake grass for playgrounds, from carpet-like to surfacing that looks like actual grass. Should I use it for my playground? Learn more here.

While no certified manufacturer guarantees artificial grass to last more than eight years. However, it usually endures about 10-15 years, meaning you’ll have to replace it sooner rather than later. And with all that, there’s various maintenance that needs to be done during the time, such as refilling the loose rubber granules in the grass and frequent cleaning.

Pros & Cons: Bonded Rubber Mulch for Playground Surfacing

Bonded rubber mulch (sometimes called bonded rubber bark or resin bound rubber mulch) looks like traditional wood chips (such as landscaping mulch). But upon closer inspection, you’ll quickly realize that it’s different.

What is bonded rubber mulch? Bonded rubber mulch is an artificial playground surface made of shredded pieces of rubber that are stuck together to form a unitary surface. In other words, this playground surfacing option isn’t loose pieces of rubber mulch or wood mulch. They’re compressed and appear to be “glued” together (which is why it’s sometimes called “resin bound rubber mulch”).

Bonded Rubber Mulch for Playgrounds
Bonded Rubber Mulch playground flooring looks like traditional wood mulch, but is stuck together so that individual pieces can’t be moved

Is Bonded Rubber Mulch the Best Option for Playground Flooring?

Bonded rubber is a popular choice for playgrounds and other recreational surfaces. It provides a comfortable, soft cushion to walk, run, or play on, and complies with ADA standards (PDF) for handicap accessible playgrounds. People who choose this option report the benefits of using it are that it’s easy to customize and the safety of bonded rubber compared to other mulched materials is superior.

But we all know that “popular” doesn’t make something “better.” So, let’s take a closer look at the factors to take into account when you’re considering installing a bonded rubber playground surface.


Safety of Bonded Rubber for Playgrounds

One of the basic and most important considerations for a playground is critical fall height requirements for the surface, which have to do with shock absorbency.

Bonded Rubber Bark is ADA-Compliant
Bonded Rubber Bark is ADA-compliant

Pros:

  • Depending on the exact product used, bonded rubber mulch can require 6 inches of material to better protect a child from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution tasked by the federal government with setting industry safety standards.
  • In terms of both safety and accessibility by those with disabilities, because it’s a unitary surface, bonded rubber is a better playground flooring choice than common loose fill materials (such as shredded rubber mulch, wood chips, sand, engineered wood fiber, pea gravel, or dirt/grass).
  • Like poured-in-place rubber or tiled rubber playground flooring, debris (such as litter, sticks, etc) is unlikely to get buried in the material.

Cons:

  • Pieces can become loose (think “unglued”).
  • Typically only a single layer of surfacing.

TIP: Bonded rubber is surpassed in safety by poured-in-place rubber flooring, which is the most shock absorbent of available playground surfacing materials, in addition to allowing for the most mobility by kids who need physical aids (like wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, etc).

Cost of Bonded Rubber Mulch Playgrounds
To determine how much an installation of bonded rubber mulch will cost, you’ll need to know the fall height requirements for the equipment on your playground

Cost of Bonded Rubber Mulch Playground Surfacing

Pros:

  • Depending on fall height requirements (depth of surfacing needed), color choices, the condition of the existing surface, location, and a few other factors, the cost of covering a playground 1,000 sq. ft. or larger with bonded rubber mulch can range from $8 to $14 per sq. ft. installed.

Cons:

  • You can expect bonded rubber mulch to last about 10 years before needing to replace it. However, it usually requires intermittent patching up. To ensure the surface continues to meet critical fall height requirements, you may find you need to replace sections of the bound rubber mulch material sooner than what is recommended — especially if the playground is located in an area that does not allow for adequate drainage.

Quality of Bonded Rubber Mulch Playground Flooring

Quality of Bonded Rubber Mulch Playgrounds
How long does bonded rubber mulch last before it needs to be replaced?

Pros:

  • Many manufacturers of bonded rubber mulch guarantee that it is made with safe materials that are free of contaminants and chemicals that could irritate sensitive skin.
  • Bonded rubber mulch comes in a variety of colors that make for an aesthetically pleasing playground or recreational area.

Cons:

TIP: If you choose bonded rubber mulch for your playground, find an installer who uses only premium rubber materials, like EPDM, SBR, and natural materials. You’ll want to know it’s guaranteed to be free of wire, wood, and other contaminants.

Installation of Bonded Rubber Mulch for Playgrounds

Pros:

  • Bonded rubber mulch is on the easier-installation end of playground surfacing choices.
  • Quick for professionals to install. Depending on the size of the playground, professional installers are typically able to complete it in about one day.

Cons:

  • Surface preparation for bonded rubber mulch installers can increase the time (and cost) of the installation.
  • Installation isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. Bonded rubber mulch needs maintenance in order to maintain its safety qualities. If you do not maintain the specific installation depth on a playground, children who fall are at risk of serious injury.
Playground Fun
Kids love slides… especially those with a comfortable landing area

Next Steps

You’ll want to also consider factors such as climate in your area, budget, product availability, and location constraints.

Bonded rubber playground mulch (which we don’t install) isn’t the only rubber playground surfacing option! For larger playgrounds (at schools, parks, daycare centers, and other public playgrounds), we recommend considering a different uniform rubber surface (like poured-in-place rubber or rubber playground tiles). The reason we only install those is because we honestly believe they’re some of the best surfacing options for your playground.

Again, we don’t bonded rubber playground surfacing (because we don’t think it’s the best option for kids or parents). You probably still have questions — contact adventureTURF for answers! We’d love to help you design the safest, most accessible playground surface possible! If you’re ready to take the next steps to choosing the right type of playground surfacing for your situation, reach out to us to request a free quote (for poured rubber or rubber tile playground surfacing). We’d love to help you create a place for adventure!

With so many different qualities and characteristics to consider, choosing a playground surface can be bewildering. That’s why we’ve created an ultimate guide of all the pros and cons of 11 of the most popular playground surfaces, from wood chips to recycled rubber mulch.

FAQ

The cost of covering a playground 1,000 sq. ft. or larger with bonded rubber mulch can range from $8 to $14 per sq. ft. installed.

Learn More

Bonded rubber mulch can require 6 inches of material to better protect a child from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM). Pieces can often become loose, and typically a single layer of surfacing is used.

Learn More

Bonded rubber mulch is quick for professionals to install. Depending on the size of the playground, professional installers are typically able to complete it in about one day. However, installation isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. Bonded rubber mulch needs maintenance in order to maintain its safety qualities.

Learn More

Pros & Cons: Rubber Mulch for Playground Surfacing

When playground administrators have chosen to install loose-fill material, they often find themselves comparing either rubber mulch (also called shredded rubber mulch, tire mulch, rubber nuggets, rubber pellets, recycled rubber mulch, rubber chips, or loose fill rubber), wood chips (such as landscape mulch), or engineered wood fiber mulch (EWF). All of those are considered loose-fill materials. On the other hand, unitary playground surfaces are all connected (ex. poured-in-place (PIP) playground flooring, rubber playground tiles, bonded rubber mulch).

Rubber Mulch is Popular, But is it the Best Option for Playground Flooring?

Recycled Tire Mulch for Playgrounds
Playground rubber mulch (also known as tire mulch or shredded rubber mulch)

Today’s playgrounds look much different than they did even a decade ago. The drive to make playgrounds safer and accessible to children with special needs has led to significant developments in the technology used to manufacture the materials that go into making playgrounds. Playground flooring, in particular, has undergone significant improvements. If they’re not already, playgrounds with asphalt or concrete surfacing will become extinct because they simply don’t make sense anymore. There are plenty of newer, safer, and cost-effective materials to choose from.

So, is rubber mulch a good option for playground surfacing? It’s certainly popular. But we all know that “popular” doesn’t always mean “best”. Let’s examine the pros and cons of using rubber mulch for playground flooring. Whether you’re installing a brand new playground or resurfacing an existing one, you’re probably wondering about these four topics:


Safety of Rubber Mulch Playground Flooring

One of the basic and most important considerations in playground safety is how its surfacing impacts its critical fall height requirements, which have to do with shock absorbency. The regulations surrounding fall height take into account the vertical distance between the highest-designated play surface on a piece of equipment, and the playground surface beneath it (see this PDF: Public Playground Safety Handbook from the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more details). These requirements come from American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution tasked by the federal government with setting industry safety standards.

Pros:

  • If using the right type of rubber mulch and installed in a proper manner, rubber mulch can be able to provide an adequate degree of protection to children, meeting acceptable ASTM standards. From the Consumer Product Safety Commission: “There are also rubber mulch products that are designed specifically for use as playground surfacing. Make sure they have been tested to and comply with ASTM F1292.” (source)
  • Experts agree that rubber materials make for the safest playground surfaces.
  • In addition, most manufacturers of rubber mulch utilize safe materials that are mostly free of wire, fiber, plastic, wood, and other undesirable contaminants.
Shredded Rubber Mulch for Playgrounds
Sticks, leafs, stones, and sharp objects can become buried in playground rubber mulch

Cons:

  • It’s easy for litter, debris, and foreign objects to become buried in the mulch, posing a potential safety hazard. The CPSC warns that “Recycled tire rubber mulch products should be inspected before installation to ensure that all metal has been removed.”
  • When in direct sunlight, the surface can get hot.
  • Ask anyone using a wheelchair, walker, scooter, etc and they’ll tell you it’s tough (if not impossible) to get around on tire mulch. So if you’re looking for an accessible playground flooring option that doesn’t cause mobility issues for those with disabilities, you should probably consider something like rubber tiles or poured rubber.
  • You’ll also need to spend time keeping an eye out for insects building homes in the mulch.

Cost of Rubber Mulch as a Playground Surface

Pros:

  • Rubber mulch is in the lower-middle price range of playground surfacing. Installation of rubber mulch playground surfacing varies per square foot, based on factors such as how large the playground is, if you’re outsourcing the installation, product availability in your area, and where you’re buying it from. Your best bet is to shop around online and decide whether you’ll install it yourself or pay someone else to install it. You can expect rubber mulch to have a slightly higher up-front cost than wood mulch, because of the better quality of its materials.

Cons:

  • Amount of surfacing needed. Because of fall-height requirements, rubber mulch requires 6 inches of material to protect a child from a 10-foot fall. Compare that to a poured rubber surface, which only needs 4.5 inches of material to allow a child to safely land from a 10-foot fall.
  • After the initial installment, loose fill materials like shredded rubber, are on the more expensive end of maintenance requirements. Rubber tire playground mulch must be replenished regularly due to the nature of the material. Over time, this type of material is prone to being washed away during storms, and kicked out of the playground by busy feet and other types of activity.
Kid Swinging on Rubber Mulch Playground
Rubber surfacing is good for cushioning falls.

Quality of Rubber Mulch Playground Flooring

Pros:

  • You can expect rubber mulch to last about 10 years before needing to do a comprehensive replacement of the material. (That being said, you’ll have to top off the rubber playground mulch during that time, which can add up.)
  • It’s not biodegradable and does not decompose like natural wood.

Cons:

  • It’s dusty. There’s no way around this. If you or your kids have played on a playground with shredded/recycled tire surfacing, you know how gross you feel after using it.
  • With a loose fill material like shredded/recycled rubber mulch that can wash away, you may find you need to replace or replenish it sooner than what is recommended. That’s particularly the case if the playground is located in an area that does not allow for adequate rainwater drainage.

Installation of Rubber Mulch Playground Flooring

Pros:

  • Loose fill materials are generally easily transported and installed, and the same is the case for tire mulch. While we recommend installation by a professional in any scenario, those on a strict budget may be able to research installation instructions to be able to complete it themselves. You can buy rubber mulch at various places online, as well as at some hardware or lawn/garden stores.

Cons:

  • As mentioned above, the depth of the material needs to be carefully monitored and immediately replenished when it falls under the accepted safety level.
  • You can’t be as creative with designs as you can with other surfacing types, such as poured-in-place rubber, which allows for playground games to be built directly into the surface.
Playground Surfacing
There’s lots of playground surfacing options. We recommend poured-in-place rubber or rubber playground tiles.

Next Steps

There are pros and cons to every playground surface type. You’ll want to also consider factors such as climate in your area, budget, product availability, and location constraints.

Loose-fill rubber playground mulch (which we don’t install) isn’t the only rubber playground surfacing option. For larger playgrounds (at schools, parks, daycare centers, and other public playgrounds), we recommend considering a uniform rubber surface like poured-in-place rubber or rubber playground tiles. The reason we only install those options is because we honestly believe they’re some of the best surfacing options for your playground.

Again, we don’t install rubber tire chip playground surfacing (because we don’t think it’s the best option for kids or parents). You probably still have questions — contact adventureTURF for answers! We’d love to help you design the safest, most accessible playground surface possible! If you’re ready to take the next steps to choosing the right type of playground surfacing for your situation, reach out to us to request a free quote (for poured rubber or rubber tile playground surfacing). We’d love to help you create a place for adventure!

With so many different qualities and characteristics to consider, choosing a playground surface can be bewildering. That’s why we’ve created an ultimate guide of all the pros and cons of 11 of the most popular playground surfaces, from wood chips to recycled rubber mulch.

FAQ

Rubber mulch is in the lower-middle price range of playground surfacing. Installation of rubber mulch playground surfacing varies per square foot, based on factors such as how large the playground is if you’re outsourcing the installation, product availability in your area, and where you’re buying it from.

Learn More

Depending on the installation, rubber mulch can provide an adequate degree of protection to children, meeting acceptable ASTM standards.

Learn More

We recommend installation by a professional in any scenario, those on a strict budget may be able to research installation instructions to be able to complete it themselves. You can buy rubber mulch at various places online, as well as at some hardware or lawn/garden stores.

Learn More