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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.

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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.

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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