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What to Put Under a Swing Set: Choosing the Best Ground Cover

August 29, 2023 2 min read

What to Put Under a Swing Set: Choosing the Best Ground Cover

Did you know that a swing’s fall zone can extend to double its height? That’s a lot of ground to cover if you want to keep the children safe from serious injuries! While figuring out what to put under a swing set is tricky, this post will walk you through the best (and worst) materials out there.

5 Ground Covers to Put Under a Swing Set

Let’s check out the common material options and the possible safety concerns.

  1. Rubber Mulch
    Rubber mulch (which comes in a wide range of colors) is a convenient and popular choice for playgrounds. For one, it doesn’t mold or attract insects and weed growth. Plus, it’s the only loose fill that can provide adequate shock absorption at a 6-inch depth (after compression). Meanwhile, the CPSC recommends using at least 9 inches for other surface materials. Still, any loose fill will require top-ups or racking since it gets displaced from high-traffic areas. Another drawback is that some parents feel uneasy letting their children play on rubber turf made from recycled tires.
  2. Wood Mulch
    Wood mulch is a valid alternative to shredded rubber. We’re not talking about the garden-variety wood chips, though. Instead, you’ll want to look for Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) designed to be used as a playground cover. The main concern is that it’s not as low-maintenance as rubber mulch.
  3. Pea Gravel
    As long as the swing/play area won’t be used by toddlers, pea gravel might work. Otherwise, it’s a choking hazard. On average, a 9-inch layer could provide protection for a fall height of 5 feet.
  4. Sand
    While sand is fairly cheap, it’s not our go-to. Keeping it clean isn’t an easy feat, and you’ll require refills often. Note that a compressed 9-inch sand cover can cushion a fall height of 4 feet. That’s not so impressive, considering that 6 inches of rubber are good for a 10-foot fall height.
  5. Unitary Tiles or Mats
    If you’re not keen on using the easy-to-displace loose fills (mulch, sand, etc.), you might want to consider unitary covers. For a swing set, a unitary material is typically a rubber mat or interlocking tiles. Both can look aesthetically pleasing without comprising the shock absorbance capabilities. However, there are two critical notes to keep in mind:
    • Only pick mats/tiles that comply with the ASTM F1292 safety standard.
    • Avoid dark-colored ones because they can absorb heat and cause blisters.

Surfacing Materials to Avoid in Your Playground

Concrete and asphalt are two of the worst covers you can pick.

If you want to place the set on concrete, cover it up with a draining gravel layer and a decent amount of loose-fill surfacing material.

It’s also worth noting that the CPSC doesn’t consider natural grass a protective surface. After all, it gets worn down pretty quickly!

Final Thoughts

Rubber and wood mulch are both popular options. However, they require regular inspection for hidden objects that might pose a danger to children. The displacement means that you’ll need to do regular maintenance as well.

Plus, you’ll have to pour in more than the recommended depth initially because they tend to compress over time. Think 12 inches rather than 9.

To boost the protection level and reduce displacement, consider using shock-absorbent rubber tiles over the loose filling.