3 Safest Playground Surfaces

Kids need to play; it’s how they learn and grow. And that’s why the playground is the best place for little ones to have fun, make friends, and learn.

Whether you’re a parent or caregiver, you should always ensure the play area is well supervised. But regardless of how carefully you watch, kids will be kids.

They will run, climb, and be the little daredevils they’re meant to be. It’s what being a kid is all about — and falling is an inevitable part of the equation. That's why safety should be your chief concern when it comes to the playground. Surface falls should never lead to serious injury.

Choosing the right material for the playground surface is critical. To help you make an informed decision, we've compiled a list of the safest playground surfaces.

Playground Surface Safety Criteria

Criteria Safe Unsafe
Chemicals Low to nonexistent High
Spring/Bounce High Low
Poured in place surfacing Sand
Loose-fill rubber mulch Grass
Rubber tiles Wood Mulch
Pea gravel
Grass synthetic turf

Note: Playground surfaces must meet ASTM F1951-99 standard for wheelchair accessibility and ASTM F1292-04 standard for critical fall height.

There are plenty of good-looking surfacing options, but not all of them are safe. Here are our top picks for the safest playground surface materials.

Poured in Place Rubber Surfacing

poured in place rubber low maintenance safety surfacing options, easy installation and good accessibility
Photo by: Unsplash from Isaac Quesada

First up: double layer poured in place surfacing. The bottom layer is made from recycled rubber crumbs and is thick enough to absorb shocks from falls.

A layer of EPDM — an organic form of plastic — usually covers the top. This top layer is wet- poured over the surface so when it dries, it solidifies in position.

This flooring type is the next best thing to strapping your little ones with helmets and padding. Here’s what makes it one of the safest playground surfaces. 

Bounce Cushion

The bottom layer is made from a thick layer of tire crumbs. The crumbs form a thick surface that provides padding to cushion against falls. The springy nature of rubber makes it a good shock absorber; that way, falls have a minimal chance of becoming nasty.

Poured in place playground surfacing covers a fall height of ten feet for every 4.5 inches. That means you only need a 4.5-inch thick bed in place to cushion a fall from ten feet high.

installation for playground surfacing with EPDM cap layer and ASTM impact layer for safety standards
Image courtesy

Non-Slip Surface

Unlike rubber tiles, the poured in place surface forms a single seamless playground surfacing option.

We all know how kids love to run. With a poured in surface, they can run to their hearts’ content without worrying about being caught up in the tiles’ alternating joints and seams.

What’s more, the material is set in, much like concrete — so it won't shift over time and leave high use areas bare.

Scientifically Proven to Be Safe

Little kids will always be explorers, which includes trying to figure out how everything tastes.

In fact, it's almost inevitable that whatever they touch will end up in their mouths.

Studies on rubber-based play areas found no health risks from kids ingesting the rubber or putting their hands in their mouths after touching the surface.

Soil tests also showed that toxins were not present in high enough levels to cause harm.

What’s more, the surface comes with low maintenance costs and is easy to clean. All you need is some water and a child-friendly detergent, and you’re good to go. There’s very little chance of introducing any new toxins by cleaning your playground surface.

Loose Fill Rubber Mulch Surfaces

bonded rubber loose fill materials with tiles for improved accessibility
Photo by: wikimedia

Rubber mulch is another safe rubber-based product. It’s loose fill surfacing made from roughly ground pieces of tire — with the wires removed, of course.

It’s poured into the playground area as loose-fill rubber particles, tightly packed together to form an even, bonded rubber surfacing (pictured below).

Here's why rubber mulch makes for a safe and practical option.

loose fill rubber mulch playground surface material forms a rubber synthetic turf with high accessibility
Pinnacle Soft Bounce Rubber Mulch

No Decomposition

Rubber mulch is made from tires — a synthetic bug-free safety surfacing. Because tires are non-biodegradable, the mulch won’t decompose and attract insects that can cause harm to a child.

Shock Absorption

This surfacing is springy with high elasticity, which offers protection for a fall height of ten feet per every six inches. This makes it an excellent cushion to absorb impacts, reducing the risk of broken bones. There might still be a few ouchies if a little one falls, but that's all in a day's play.

Did you know? Before being made into playground surfacing, the tires are processed to remove threads and steel so they won’t poke the kids.

Easy to Maintain

Your top priority is keeping your kids safe — but they can be such little balls of energy. They’re bound to kick or move the mulch around. That's why to maintain the playground’s safety, you need to monitor high use areas to ensure they still have an even coverage like the rest of the playground.

To keep the surfacing even, simply use a rake to redistribute the mulch; you’ll also get rid of any dirt that way. This makes for easy yet frequent maintenance.

border around mulch surfacing material
Plastic Playground Border with Spike, 12 Inches Tall

Also, consider installing a playground border around the play area to stop loose-fill mulch from escaping.

A border is great at keeping mulch (and the kids) in the play area. The mulch stays intact and no more running after toddlers. It’s a playground win-win! Oh, and did we mention they’re highly affordable?

Engineered Wood Fiber Mulch

Non-synthetic engineered wood fiber playground surfacing made from loose fill material
Plastic Playground Border with Spike, 8 Inches Tall

Up next we have engineered wood fiber surfacing options. This is a form of mulch made from the softwood found in the heart of a tree. It’s so soft that falls are hardly noteworthy.

What makes engineered wood better than regular wood chips?

It’s all in the engineering. To produce the fibers, the tree passes through a machine that removes the outer parts. Then it’s crushed into wood chips before being processed through a mill until the wood turns into fibers.

Normal wood fiber surfacing can come with bark and twigs, making falls harder than they should be. However, there's no chance of any hard surfaces passing through the engineering process, so the finished product is softer with fewer opportunities for splinters.

Here's why engineered wood fiber loose fill material is safe for playground use.

Soft and Firm

The fibers are soft enough to break falls. With a 9-inch layer, the engineered wood fiber playground surfacing will cover fall heights of 10 feet. The fibers are loose-fill but they can be compacted to form a firm turf that provides wheelchair accessibility.

Did you know? Engineered wood fibers are free from additives and chemicals. So you don't have to worry about any unwanted effects harming your children.

Some Maintenance Required

While engineered wood fibers are safe, their shock absorbency decreases over time. Plus, it’s easy for them to be kicked around or moved. We all know how intense kids at play can get.

To maintain the surface in tip-top shape, you’ll have to rake, compact, and top-up the turf regularly to keep it within safety standards.

As a precaution, you may want to consider buying rubber mats or tiles for high traffic areas like under the swings or at the bottom of the slides. This gives more bounce protection and helps keep the particles in place.

installation of rubber tile mats keeps wood fiber non-synthetic turf within safety standards and improves accessibility
Swing and Slide Rubber Playground Mat, Set of 10

Your Safe (And Fun) Playground Surfacing

Playgrounds create lasting memories. And they should be all about friendship, fun, and games. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, over 200,000 kids receive treatment for injuries sustained in the playground each year.

That’s why if you’re planning to put a playground in your backyard, school, or park, choose the safest surface.

Because we care about your kids' safety, we have a wide range of safety-oriented playground surfaces for you to choose from. Come to Willy Goat Toys and Playgrounds to source your rubber mulch and safety mats. We offer different sizes and colors to ensure your playground is top-of-the-line in safety and aesthetics. 

While you're at it, make your playground more fun with our wide range of playground equipment. Our slides, swing sets, and other playground favorites will have your kids screaming for more. And most importantly — they all meet the necessary safety standards.

fun play system for all surfaces, goes with tiles
Sunset Harbor Play System

Create the perfect safe and fun-filled environment that the children won't get enough of!

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