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Sand or Rubber Surfacing

Sand or Rubber Surfacing: Which One is Ideal for Kids’ Playground?

Ever since one can remember, playgrounds have been covered with grass, gravel, and concrete. With the growing number of playground accidents and injuries, people have moved to opt for safer floors in kids’ playgrounds, such as sand and rubber. 

But opting for the right type of playground flooring can be tricky, especially when you aren’t sure about the pros, cons, and technicalities of construction materials in playgrounds. 

This blog will compare the two most popular choices for playground surfacing – sand and rubber, and outline their main features, advantages, disadvantages, and things to keep in mind while choosing a surface material, no matter how big or small the playground is. 

Things to Remember When Choosing a Surfacing Material 

One may think that choosing the right material only depends on its availability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of application. While these elements are key, there are a few more factors you should keep in mind. 

These factors cover all aspects of surfacing, including material type, wear, and tear, weather influences, as well as overall safety. 

Unitary vs Loose Fill 

In line with global safety standards for playground construction, there are two types of acceptable surfacing materials, that are spread across two broad categories – unitary and loose-fill. 

Unitary materials usually include rubber mats or rubber filling, that are tightly bound together and filled to cover every inch of the playground. 

These materials offer better shock resistance, which is a key factor in places with slides, swings, climbing walls, and hanging bars. Rubber-based surfacing options can be easily bought from a credible manufacturer. 

Loose-fill materials, on the other hand, include sand, gravel, and even shredded wood. These materials, as the name suggests, are loosely spread across a playground and offer a good amount of shock-resistance, although are not as sturdy and in-place as unitary materials. 

Sand and gravel may be used in playgrounds after determining depth and width based on the height of playground equipment. 


Considering the durability of playground surface material is tied in with other factors such as wear and tear, yearly maintenance costs, and upkeep efforts. Loose-fill materials are less durable than rubber-based ones due to the constant activity playgrounds have. Unitary materials are firmly held in place due to their binding properties, while sand and gravel surfacing may need leveling more frequently. 

Fall Height 

The most important factor while surfacing playgrounds is choosing a material based on the height of the equipment present. A high level of shock-absorption, even surface leveling, and soft surfaces help prevent accidents and head injuries in children, especially younger ones. Keep in mind the highest accessible points in the playground such as:

  • swings 
  • slides 
  • merry-go-rounds 
  • see-saws
  • ladders and climbers

and then opt for unitary or loose-fill materials. However, a majority of all playgrounds opt for rubber filling, thanks to its powerful shock-absorption and non-jagged surface. 

The sand many playgrounds use isn’t soft beach sand but crystalline particles that can cause nasty scrapes and scratches after a fall. 

Traction of the Surface Material 

Put simply, traction is the grip or friction a material offers. For example, snow tires offer more traction than regular ones in slippery and wet conditions. Considering the traction of sand-based or rubber-based surfacing materials helps reduce slips and falls, especially in rainy/slippery conditions. While both sand and rubber offer a considerable amount of traction, rubber filling works amazingly well in both dry and wet conditions, making it a great surfacing choice all year round. 

Other Weather Conditions 

Be it frequent rains, snowfall, or even places with sunny weather conditions, choosing the right type of surface is essential for greater durability, playground safety, and traction.

Testing out or consulting an expert can be the best way to construct and prepare for the weather and temperature-based wear and tear, as well as longevity. 

Wear and Tear 

Lastly, playgrounds are a place of constant activity. Be it running, climbing, or walking, the ground is constantly abuzz with activity. Choosing durable, high-support materials, preferably rubber filling, is a great way to ensure minimal wear and tear, lower maintenance and upkeep costs, as well as replacement periods. 


When it comes to kids, attractive and bright flooring plays a huge role in boosting children’s mood and providing a visually engaging environment to play in. Opt for bright colors, funky patterns, and creative designs and shapes while choosing your surfacing. Once again, rubber filling comes with a large number of color and design options, making it the go-to material for visually attractive playgrounds. 

Now that we’ve sketched out the things to keep in mind while choosing a surface material, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both sand (loose-filling) and rubber (unitary) surfacing. 

Sand Surfacing 


  • It is an approved surfacing material for playgrounds by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM).
  • It goes through several quality tests and checks, to remove any harmful particles or bacteria that might adversely impact children’s health. 
  • It provides adequate cushioning for low-impact falls and tumbles, such as swings, see-saw, etc. 
  • It doesn’t support the growth of harmful bacteria and microbes that quickly, which is a huge relief for places with wet and humid weather.
  • Can be maintained and re-leveled quite easily, using tools such as a rake


  • Offers low shock-absorption
  • Is quite rough and gravelly, and can lead to scratches, scrapes, and cuts 
  • In places with heavy rains, sand isn’t a preferred option 
  • It’s inaccessible for people in wheelchairs, as sand does not allow for mobility 
  • If the incorrect type of sand is chosen, it can become a health concern due to the presence of unwanted fibers and particles, such as asbestos and silica, that are known to cause chronic ailments like asthma and cancer.

Rubber Filling 


  • Need for low and spaced out maintenance 
  • Better shock absorption 
  • Firm grip and higher traction 
  • Helps break falls
  • Greatly helps prevent injuries 
  • Are dust-free and do not contain harmful particles like asbestos and silica 
  • Offers greater surface coverage 
  • High-quality rubber can be easily found at credible manufacturers
  • Wheelchair-accessible 


  • Installation costs are relatively high 
  • Can be impacted negatively by wet weather 
  • Rubber surface may be scratched up and damaged by excessive activity 
  • Susceptible to frost and snow damage 
  • Can be a breeding ground for microbes and bacteria in moist/humid places 

Wrapping Up 

Even though a playground may be built for children, selecting the right (and safest) surfacing material is not child’s play. Although sand and gravel have been traditionally popular surfacing materials, research and experts strongly advocate the use of rubber surfacing due to the safety, hygiene, durability, and traction it provides for years with little maintenance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sand good for a playground?

Sand is an affordable option for playground surfaces but it comes with its own set of problems. Since it is a loose-fill material, it fails to provide the suitable traction and grip that unitary materials provide best. Sand also offers minimal shock-absorption and can lead to tough scrapes and injuries in children.

Rubber surfacing, on the other hand, offers amazing traction and shock absorption safety while still being cost-effective.

What kind of sand do you use for a playground?

The sand that is approved for playground surfacing is the clean beach or river sand, free of harmful germs and bacteria such as asbestos and silica. The sand that is used to cover playgrounds needs to be tested thoroughly and cleaned to ensure a safe and hygienic experience for all the children utilizing the playground. 

What type of sand is playground sand?

Clean and filtered beach/river sand works best for playgrounds. For maintenance, it needs to be sifted and raked regularly and should be replaced/topped with fresh sand from time to time. 

What is playground sand used for?

Playground sand is used to ensure a safe, injury-free, enriching experience for children of all ages. The thickness of the sand needs to be determined after calculating fall impact, the maximum height of playground equipment, and weather conditions such as rain and snow.

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Creative Director, Rubcorp Distribution, LLC

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