We are looking at getting a wooden swing set for our backyard for our three year old twins, and I’d like to put down something soft underneath so they won’t break their legs jumping down on our hard adobe clay. I am leaning toward rubber playground mulch or something similar. (I originally favored regular wooden mulch underneath the playset, but we have that in our garden and it harbors weeds like nobody’s business! I am hoping that the rubber mulch will not promote weed growth like the wooden mulch does.)(Just to be clear,the weeds do not come up *through* the wooden mulch. They sit on top and sprout there. We still end up weeding, one way or another!)

Anyway, does anyone have any experience with rubber playground mulch? How deep does it really have to go? And are there any places or ways to get it cheaply? I am looking at the prices online, and it would cost us more to put down the mulch than to buy the playset! Thanks for any help, especially ideas on how to find it at a reasonable price.

While I don’t have any experience with it, as my youngest is 22 yrs old and doesn’t frequent playgrounds any more, I’d like to relate something that made the local TV news not all that long ago. Rubber playground mulch, especially that made from recycled tires…burns…easily, quickly and hot. A local fire department had responded to what they thought was a structure fire – house fully involved given the amount a black smoke they saw. It turned out to be a the wooden playground structure in a small community park, which had rubber mulch made from recycled tires around it. All they could do was let it burn, and keep it from spreading. The structure was a total loss, and the mulch burned for hours after the structure. Not saying don’t use it, but it is something to keep in the back of your mind.

I’m just going to plant an idea, because, unlike you, I’m not motivated to research ALL the pluses and minuses for an alternative…

I wouldn’t want to consider rubber “mulch” if it’s made from discarded tires because, despite its bounce, it may have embedded particles of tire cord – either nylon or steel. Either sounds unpleasant to have work its way into clothing.

A good alternative might be sawdust. It’s not bouncy, but it’s airy, and it’s not black, so breezes ought to prevent a heat buildup from the sun. Being not bouncy, you might require much more volume than rubber, but the weight won’t be much more. My reading tells me it has no value in the growth of plants, and
therefore should not encourage weeds.

If you have strong breezes, you might consider a low wall around the playground so you don’t quickly lose your sawdust cover. You might, instead, put large light-colored plastic tarps over it, but I’m not sure how you would keep them from blowing away. (Cord plus stakes through the corners?)

Sawdust should be FREE from any local woodworking shop. Or check a few locals who make furniture or dog houses. (I have a friend who makes dog houses and he produces LOTS of sawdust. The best use he’s found for it is winter plant cover to keep roots warm.)

Thank you, everyone, for an interesting discussion! But I have to admit I still don’t see a solution to my problem. Thank you, everyone, for your contributions. Here are my thoughts so far on the possibilities offered.

– Sand: As a mom of not one but two toddlers, I have really grown to hate playground sand! LOL! We go to a nice city playground once a week for a playdate, where they have used sand underneath all the play structures. When we get through playing for just an hour, there is sand, sand, and more sand embedded everywhere — in their shoes (a huge bunch of it), in their socks, in their diapers, sometimes in their hair. Once a week that is tolerable, but I don’t want to have massive cleanup duty on our boys several times a day every day of the week! I made a real mistake last summer and got a sandbox for them. NEVER again. Sand everywhere, especially rubbed into their scalps by each other, where it was hard as H-E-double toothpicks to get washed out! So. Sand is on the bottom of my list.

– Wood mulch. Right now we have a large part of our garden mulched, with weed cloth underneath, as an area to walk on. It has held up reasonably well, but the wood starts decomposing as soon as you bring it home, and in just a few months it has effectively turned into a very loose soil which will support plant growth on top … which means weeding duty. I’m really, really tired of weeding my mulch! LOL! And I don’t want to use Roundup or something because the boys end up rolling around on it sometimes. Still, at least this would be safe and pretty cheap. (There is a mulching place close to us which has it cheap.)

– Rubber mulch. Well, maybe it catches on fire easily and maybe it doesn’t. That is an interesting question but it sounds like the jury is still out. I certainly do not want to get anything that is extra-flammable since it gets very dry here in the summertime (Northern California) and a fire would really be a big problem. Still, I would still like to hear personal experience from anyone who has actually used it. I do already know that online sources list it pretty expensively (from my cheapskate point of view). So I’d also like ideas on finding it cheaply. (I may just start haunting Craig’s List.)

– Sawdust. That is an interesting idea but again, I would like to hear from anyone who has actually used it for something like this. It seems to me that rain would compact it down into a hard mass. Also, since it is a wood product, it also seems to me that a few months of sitting on the ground might turn it into a great growing ground for weeds. Just my thoughts.

– Bare ground. Right now, I’m really considering this! When I was little, I played on a swingset over bare ground, and lived to tell the tale. However, I was rather a cautious child and never jumped down or anything like that. My little hellions are NOT cautious and I’m sure they will jump or fall from the swingset on numerous occasions. The problem, as I see it, is that our hard adobe clay gets quite hard (baked) during the dry summers here, and I’m afraid that a hard fall would really be a HARD fall. I am going to check with my local mom’s group to see their experiences on that, but I’d like ideas on that too (positive or negative). Have you had a swingset over really hard bare ground, and what was that like?

I’ve seen the rubber mulch used at an Army base near me. Never heard of it catching fire, and it get to 105+ degrees or so every summer here. I would calculate how much more the rubber mulch is than the wood mulch. Then figure how many years it will take for the rubber mulch to pay for itself. It’s not like I have to totally replace the wood mulch every year, but I end up getting some more every year.

Just looked up the difference in prices on bagged mulch. The Cypress mulch that I usually get is 2.25 for a 2 cu ft bag. Rubber is 9.97 for an .8 cu ft bag! So essentially it’s 10 times as much. Even more than that if you get wood mulch in bulk form.

Do you realize there are different grades of sand, maybe not so fine a grade would be the solution. It may make it heavier and not so likely to stick to everything, and put flip flops or sandles on the kids to go to the swing set preventing shoe fulls. My mom got a heavier grade of sand and most of the time the kids came in with out sand all over them. It is not so easily airborne, so not so easy to get in the eyes.