We’ll set the stage with a somewhat-hypothetical (or perhaps, totally realistic) scenario: you’ve just purchased a brand new swing set from Eastern Jungle Gym. And why not? We’re a leader in wooden playsets that you could build right at home, and have been for decades – with an expert team that’s always available to answer questions and provide the guidance you need.
Let’s also envision that your backyard has never looked better. That swing set is gorgeous, the kids absolutely love it, and you’ve set everything up for years of fun times and great memories to come. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
There’s one thing we want to talk about in this blog: what to put under your swing set. No, we’re not talking about random household items you can stash underneath the swing set or what toys you can move from inside the house to inside the swing set (though we wouldn’t discourage you from doing so). We’re talking about the material used for the swing set surface – and we’re here to tell you about the best material to put under the swing set.
Parents typically see safety features and construction as the two biggest deciding factors (rightly so!). But swing set surfacing — which parents often overlook because it exists outside the jungle gym– is one of the most important aspects of playground safety.
You have several options available, some of which are really good, and others serviceable. How do you know which is best for your swing set, and for your kids?
Things to consider before deciding the best material to put under your swing set
Swing set safety is paramount. Every year, more than 200,000 kids are sent to hospital emergency rooms with injuries sustained on playground equipment – many occurring because the swing set isn’t installed on the proper surface.
The best material to put under swing sets is shock-absorbent and designed to protect children when they fall (because odds are, it’s going to happen). It’s key to understand that swing sets installed on grass or dirt simply aren’t set up to be safe; before building your swing set, we strongly recommend selecting the right material that will protect your children when they’re using their play equipment.
KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization committed to building safe playgrounds, along with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, recommends not only what to put under your swing set, but also how to design your backyard play area for maximum safety (and enjoyment).
Install a shock-absorbing surface
Make sure it’s at least 9 inches of material up to 7 feet high.
Install protective surfacing
Extend it 6 feet in all directions of the swing set and play areas.
Avoid potential hazards
Do not attach ropes, clotheslines, or leashes on the play equipment.
Inspect for safety, always
Be sure to check for hardware like protruding hooks or bolt ends.
Check for spaces that could potentially trap children
Such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs.
Safeguard your play equipment
Ensure all platforms and ramps have protective guardrails installed.
Check for sharp edges or points on your swing set equipment
These aren’t always visible and can injure children.
Remove any tripping hazards like exposed concrete, rocks and stumps
Again, children using the play equipment aren’t looking for this–it’s important to make sure you are!
Regularly check your equipment’s condition
Safety always comes first, and routine inspections will catch problems before they happen.
Carefully supervise children to make sure they’re playing safely
It’s helpful to set rules for everyone using the swing set, and show them how to properly use the equipment.
So, with that in mind, let’s talk about the best materials to put under your swing set.
What to put under your swing set
1. Rubber Mulch
There’s plenty of science behind rubber mulch, and it’s widely understood to be the safest (and most durable) material to put under your swing set.
Advantages of rubber mulch
Rubber mulch is safe and considered to be the most shock-absorbent material to put under your swing set. Not only that, but it is designed to last a long time – one investment in rubber mulch for your swing set will likely pay off for years to come. Because it’s an artificial material, you won’t run the risk of attracting bugs or pests as other materials can.
If you’re the creative type, swing set mulch of the rubber variety is available in several different colors to match the aesthetic of your swing set. Look good, feel good, play good…right?
Disadvantages of rubber mulch
Well, rubber mulch is expensive. That’s the biggest hurdle for some customers, and one of the primary reasons you may opt to go in a different direction. However, the payoff on the investment is real, as you likely won’t have to replace your swing set mulch…ever.
2. Wood Mulch
Wood mulch is, as you may expect, quite similar to rubber mulch. The only difference is obvious: these chips are made of wood instead of rubber.
Advantages of wood mulch
One reason customers pivot to wood for swing set mulch (or wood chips, as you will sometimes see them labeled) is that this product is significantly less expensive than its rubber counterpart. They’re also natural and better for the environment than the rubber product.
Disadvantages of wood mulch
We’ve all been kids before, so it’s no surprise that a common complaint about wood mulch is–wait for it–splinters. The ouchies are common with wood mulch. Also, because they’re natural wood, wood mulch or chips will require more upkeep and maintenance than rubber mulch.
There’s not much difference between wood mulch and wood chips; often, the terms are used interchangeably.
Advantages of wood chips
Much like wood mulch, when considering what to put under your swing set, it’s best to understand who will be using the play equipment (more specifically, the age group). If you have older kids who may better recognize the materials, getting wood mulch or chips is a cost-effective way to protect everyone using the swing set.
Disadvantages of wood chips
Again, it’s about safety and upkeep. Wood chips can be sharp and uneven, making splinters a real possibility. Maintenance needs to be regular as natural wood chips won’t last as long as rubber mulch.
Did you know sand is a common material used to put under a swing set? It’s true.
Before deciding on sand as your base material, here’s what you need to know.
Advantages of sand
First and foremost, many kids are familiar with sand. It’s a common material used in public playgrounds and even those in schools, so it’s a material they’re used to playing in. Sand is also an inexpensive material to put under your swing set, and easy to spread and install.
Disadvantages of sand
What comes to mind when you think about being around sand, i.e. at the beach or a park? Most people would say that sand gets everywhere. In your clothes, on your skin (which can be itchy) and is generally a nuisance. Sand also gets kicked and spread around often, so there’s a strong chance you’ll need to continue buying sand to fill your swing set base.
5: Pea Gravel
Where have you likely seen pea gravel before? For starters, it’s common in gardens, dog parks, and other open spaces that get regular traffic.
But, the term “gravel” is probably a bit harsh. Pea gravel is softer than regular stone gravel, making it a popular choice for playgrounds.
Advantages of pea gravel
Much like sand, pea gravel is generally inexpensive and easy to install as a swing set base. It’s a solid shock-absorbing material and won’t be painful if one of the kids takes a spill.
Disadvantages of pea gravel
Most pea gravel will come in small stones and pebbles, so younger children may think it’s something to put in their mouths (and thus, a choking hazard).
Why is swing set mulch the best material to use?
For the reasons stated above, we’re big fans of rubber mulch as the best material to put under your swing set. While the upfront cost is higher than other materials listed here, you’re going to get more use and more value in the long term with rubber as your swing set mulch choice.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the best materials to use under your swing set. Remember: it’s about safety first, but other considerations include cost, upkeep, and maintenance in the long term. Got any questions? Reach out to our team at Eastern Jungle Gym or visit easternjunglegym.com.