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Pros and Cons of the Best Playground Surfacing Materials

Safety Matters: The Best Playground Surfacing Options

When it comes to ensuring playground safety, selecting the best playground surfacing is crucial. Proper surfacing not only keeps children safe but also enhances the play experience. Here are quick points to consider when choosing playground surfacing:

  • Safety: Reduces injury risk from falls.
  • Durability: Stands up to active play and various weather conditions.
  • Maintenance: Requires manageable upkeep.
  • Accessibility: Compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Playground surfaces come in different materials, each with its own set of benefits and challenges. From rubber tiles and engineered wood fiber (EWF) to synthetic turfs and rubber mulch, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each option.

As Ronak Kothari, a seasoned expert in marketing and playground surfacing, I understand the nuances involved in creating safe and engaging play spaces. From over 15 years of experience in the industry, I’ll guide you through selecting the best playground surfacing.

Playground Surfacing Comparison - best playground surfacing infographic pillar-5-steps

Importance of Choosing the Right Playground Surfacing

Choosing the right playground surfacing is crucial for several reasons: safety standards, maintenance, and accessibility. Let’s break down why each of these factors matters.

Safety Standards

Safety should always be the top priority when designing a playground. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 70% of playground injuries are due to falls. Proper surfacing can drastically reduce the severity of these injuries.

For example, rubber surfacing is known for its excellent impact absorption qualities. It can cushion falls from various heights, making it a popular choice for playgrounds. As noted by Landscape Structures, compliant playground surfacing can significantly reduce the chance of major injuries.


Different materials require different levels of maintenance. Low-maintenance options like synthetic turf and rubber tiles are ideal for busy parks and schools. These materials are durable and resistant to microbial growth, reducing the need for frequent cleaning or replacement.

On the other hand, materials like engineered wood fiber (EWF) or mulch might need more regular upkeep. They can shift over time and may need to be replenished to maintain their effectiveness. While these options have a lower initial cost, the ongoing maintenance can add up.


Accessibility is a key factor in playground design. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that playground surfaces accommodate all children, including those with mobility challenges.

Rubber surfaces and synthetic turf are highly accessible and compliant with ADA standards. They provide a smooth, stable surface that is easy for wheelchairs and crutches to navigate. In contrast, loose-fill materials like sand and pea gravel are not ADA-compliant and can be challenging for children with mobility issues.

A Real-World Example

Take the new playground at Colene Hoose Elementary School in Illinois. Instead of traditional blacktop or concrete, they opted for natural materials like wood and rope. They also planted over 180 trees to provide shade and reduce heat. This not only made the playground safer but also more engaging for the children.

playground equipment - best playground surfacing

Key Takeaways

  • Safety: Choose materials that meet safety standards to reduce injury risks.
  • Maintenance: Consider the time and money needed for ongoing care.
  • Accessibility: Ensure the surfacing is ADA-compliant to accommodate all children.

Next, we’ll dive into the best playground surfacing materials available today.

Best Playground Surfacing Materials

When it comes to the best playground surfacing, there are several options to consider. Each has its own pros and cons, so let’s break them down to help you decide what’s best for your playground.

Solid Rubber Surface

Solid rubber surfaces are among the safest and most durable options available. They come in two main types: poured-in-place (PIP) rubber and rubber tiles.

  • Poured-in-Place Rubber: This is a seamless, cushioned surface created by pouring liquid rubber over a sub-base. It offers excellent shock absorption and comes in various colors. However, it’s one of the most expensive options.
  • Rubber Tiles: These are pre-made tiles that fit together to form a solid surface. They are easier to install than PIP rubber but can present trip hazards if not properly aligned.

Both types are ADA accessible, meaning they are suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. They also require low maintenance, making them a popular choice despite the high cost.

Artificial Grass or Turf

Artificial grass or synthetic turf is another excellent option, especially for those looking for a balance between cost and functionality.

  • Low Maintenance: Synthetic turf requires minimal upkeep. An occasional rinse is usually enough to keep it clean.
  • ADA Compliance: This surface type is also wheelchair accessible, making it inclusive for all children.
  • Realistic Texture: Modern synthetic turf mimics the look and feel of natural grass, providing a more natural play environment.

While less expensive than solid rubber, synthetic turf still offers a high level of safety and accessibility.

Play Sand and Pea Gravel

Play sand and pea gravel have long been popular due to their affordability.

  • Affordability: These materials are some of the cheapest options available.
  • Non-ADA Compliant: Unfortunately, they do not meet ADA standards, making them less accessible for children with disabilities.
  • Maintenance: These materials require frequent raking and replenishment to maintain a safe depth, usually recommended at twelve inches.
  • Safety Concerns: Some sand can contain harmful materials, so it’s crucial to buy sand specifically made for playgrounds.

Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch, made from recycled tires, offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative.

  • Cost-Effective: Rubber mulch is significantly cheaper than solid rubber surfaces.
  • Non-Toxic: Typically coated with non-toxic materials, rubber mulch is safe for children.
  • Maintenance: While it requires occasional raking to maintain an even surface, it is generally low-maintenance.

Rubber mulch provides a soft, cushioned landing, making it a popular choice for budget-conscious playgrounds.

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)

Engineered wood fiber (EWF) is a natural, durable, and affordable option.

  • Affordability: EWF is one of the most cost-effective surfacing materials, used in approximately 50,000 playgrounds across the U.S. and Canada.
  • Durability: Ground more finely than ordinary mulch, EWF provides a durable surface that can withstand heavy use.
  • Natural Appearance: EWF offers a natural look that blends well with outdoor environments.
  • Maintenance: Regular raking and occasional top-ups are necessary to maintain safety standards.

EWF provides a good balance between cost and safety, making it a popular choice for many playgrounds.

In the next section, we’ll dive into a detailed comparison of these playground surfacing options to help you make an informed decision.

Detailed Comparison of Playground Surfacing Options

Rubber Surfacing

Rubber surfacing is a popular choice for many playgrounds due to its excellent impact absorption properties. This material significantly reduces the risk of injury when children fall, making it a safe option. Additionally, rubber surfaces are resistant to microbial growth, which helps keep the area cleaner and safer for kids.

Rubber surfaces are often made from recycled materials, such as old tires, making them an environmentally friendly option. However, they come at a higher initial cost compared to other materials. ADA accessibility is a significant advantage, as rubber surfaces provide a stable ground for wheelchairs and strollers.

– Excellent impact absorption
– Microbial resistance
– Made from recycled materials
– ADA compliant

– High initial cost

Synthetic Turf

Synthetic turf playground surfaces are gaining popularity due to their realistic texture and low maintenance requirements. Designed to mimic natural grass, synthetic turf provides a soft and inviting play area that is also ADA compliant, ensuring accessibility for all children.

Synthetic turf is durable and can withstand heavy foot traffic without significant wear and tear. Its low maintenance nature means less time and money spent on upkeep, making it a cost-effective long-term option.

– Realistic texture
– Low maintenance
– ADA compliant
– Durable

– Higher initial cost compared to natural options


Wood-based materials, like engineered wood fiber (EWF) and mulch, are commonly used due to their natural appearance and lower initial cost. EWF provides good impact absorption and durability, making it a reliable option for playgrounds. However, it requires regular maintenance, such as raking and occasional top-ups, to maintain safety standards.

While EWF has a natural look that blends well with outdoor environments, it is not as durable as rubber or synthetic turf and can be displaced easily.

– Natural appearance
– Lower initial cost
– Good impact absorption

– Requires regular maintenance
– Can be displaced easily

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is a loose-fill material made up of small, round pebbles. It is an affordable option but is not compliant with ADA standards, making it unsuitable for public and commercial playgrounds. Pea gravel can pose a choking hazard for younger children and does not provide the same level of impact absorption as other materials.

– Affordable

– Non-ADA compliant
– Choking hazard
– Poor impact absorption


Sand was once a staple in playground surfacing but is now less common due to its inability to meet ADA standards. While it is affordable and easy to install, sand can conceal hazardous objects and become compacted, reducing its effectiveness in cushioning falls. Additionally, sand can attract animals, leading to hygiene concerns.

– Affordable
– Easy to install

– Non-ADA compliant
– Conceals hazards
Attracts animals

In the next section, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about the best playground surfacing to help you make the most informed choice for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Best Playground Surfacing

What is the best material for playground surface?

When considering the best playground surfacing, balance safety, cost, and maintenance. Here are some of the top materials:

Wood/Mulch and Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF):

  • Affordability: These materials are among the most cost-effective options available. They are easy to install and have a natural look that blends well with outdoor environments.
  • Accessibility: EWF is ADA compliant, making it accessible for children with mobility challenges.
  • Maintenance: Regular raking and topping up are required to maintain the cushioning effect.

Poured-in-Place Rubber:

  • Stability and Durability: This surface provides a seamless and stable play area. It is highly durable and can last many years with minimal maintenance.
  • Safety: Excellent impact absorption properties make it one of the safest options for playgrounds.
  • Cost: While the initial investment is higher, the low maintenance costs can balance this over time.

Artificial Grass or Synthetic Turf:

  • Low Maintenance: Requires little upkeep compared to natural grass, making it a practical option for busy playgrounds.
  • Realistic Texture: Mimics the look and feel of natural grass, providing a pleasant play surface.
  • Accessibility: ADA compliant, ensuring it is accessible for all children.

What is the best playground surface?

The best playground surface depends on your specific needs:

Poured-in-Place Rubber:

  • Safety and Durability: This is often considered the gold standard due to its excellent shock absorption and long-lasting nature.
  • Low Maintenance: Requires minimal upkeep, making it a cost-effective option in the long run.
  • ADA Accessibility: Fully compliant, ensuring inclusivity.

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF):

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Lower initial cost, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious projects.
  • Natural Appearance: Blends well with outdoor settings, maintaining a natural aesthetic.
  • Accessibility: ADA compliant, providing accessibility for all children.

What is the best thing to put on the ground for a playground?

Selecting the best thing to put on the ground for a playground involves considering safety, maintenance, and aesthetics:

Artificial Grass or Synthetic Turf:

  • Low Maintenance: Requires little to no upkeep, saving time and money.
  • Realistic Look: Offers a natural appearance without the hassle of maintaining real grass.
  • Safety: Provides a soft, cushioned surface that reduces the risk of injuries.

Rubber Mulch:

  • Eco-Friendly: Made from recycled tires, making it an environmentally friendly choice.
  • Cost-Effective: Lower initial costs with good shock absorption properties.
  • Non-Toxic: Safe for children to play on.

Each material has its pros and cons, so the best choice will depend on your specific needs, budget, and the intended use of the playground. For more detailed comparisons and expert advice, check out our full guide on playground surfacing options.


When it comes to choosing the best playground surfacing, it’s clear that the right material can make all the difference in safety, maintenance, and overall play experience. At Rubcorp, we understand the intricacies involved in making these decisions and offer premium solutions tailored to meet your needs.

We are committed to providing high-quality, durable, and safe surfacing options. Our expertise in rubber surfacing, combined with our industry-leading training programs, ensures that your playground will not only look great but also provide a safe environment for children to play.

Global Support

Rubcorp offers unparalleled global support, ensuring that our partners and clients receive the best advice and assistance, no matter where they are located. Whether you’re planning a new playground in California or renovating an existing one in Dallas, our team is here to help you every step of the way.

Industry-Leading Training

Our Rubcorp Academy Training Events are designed to equip installers with the skills and knowledge they need to deliver top-notch playground surfacing solutions. With sessions held throughout the year, our training programs cover everything from installation techniques to maintenance tips, ensuring that your playground remains safe and functional for years to come.

By leveraging our experience and expertise, you can create a playground that is not only fun and engaging but also safe and inclusive. The choices we make today in playground surfacing can foster a brighter, more active, and inclusive tomorrow for all our children.

For more information on our premium playground surfacing solutions, visit our Playground Rubber Floor page.

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