What Is the Best Thing To Put Under a Playset? (5 Options To Choose From)

Cartoon of Steve in smart suit with arms crossed

A playset in the yard is going to be a must if you have kids at home. 

Today’s children spend too much time on their gadgets, so having a swing set encourages them to go outside and be more active. 

But now the fear is the possibility that they may fall and get injured. 

Fret not because you can make the ground of the playset safer for your children. 

There are options, too, and we’ll talk about those here. 

A playset is a great addition to the house, especially if you have children. But for their safety, you need to add a protective layer on the ground to cushion their landing. It also comes in handy in case of falls. There are many alternatives for surface materials and some of the most popular are rubber mulch, sand, or wood chips. The best option depends on your specific needs and budget.

Why Do You Need To Put Materials Under a Playset?

It is normal for children to get a scrape or wound from playing, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to prevent it from happening. 

According to a children-focused organization, most playground injuries happen because the child fell from the equipment. 

So, if you have a playset or swing set at home, the ground material is going to be a must. 

Don’t be afraid to put a swing set in the yard

It has many advantages:

1. Children Are Encouraged To Take Time Away From Their Gadgets

According to research, almost half of children spend three to five hours a day on their gadgets

While mobile devices are important in our daily lives, children should not be spending too much time on them. 

If not, children could get addicted to games or become exposed to mature content online. 

Worse, they could become victims of cyberbullying or abuse. 

Having a playset at home encourages them to go outside and spend less time on their phones or tablets. 

2. Children Become More Active

Regular physical activity helps children build strong bones and muscles while also controlling their weight. 

Physically fit children have a reduced risk of diseases, anxiety, and depression. 

3. Playset Encourages Bonding Time 

Playsets are fun!

The entire family will be encouraged to spend time playing together on the playset. 

Just make sure you have the appropriate surface material to keep your children safe. 

But what’s the appropriate material?

That’s up to you. 

We do have several options for you. 

5 Things You Can Put Under a Playset and Their Pros and Cons

Playset with slide on sand

Don’t leave your ground as is when you have a playset. 

Even when you have thick and dense grass in the yard, it won’t be enough to cushion a child falling from a playset. 

You need a better surface material within your safe zone or fall zone. 

Here are five materials you could use and their advantages and disadvantages:

Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is a popular landscaping surface material that is made of recycled rubber such as old tires. 

Many large school playgrounds and government-owned playgrounds use rubber mulch, which is also known as vinyl mulch. 

It provides a fantastic safe surface material that will efficiently cushion playing children who may fall during their activities. 

There are many ways to purchase rubber mulch:

  • Nugget or shredded form
  • Pre-rolled sheet
  • Ring form

The ring form is mostly for landscaping purposes. 

Nuggets are okay but the pre-rolled sheets are preferable as surface material for the playset landing zone. 

Many parents would prefer rubber mulch but it is quite pricey, which is about the only negative thing about the material. 

On the upside, it is quite beautiful. 

Plus, it is available in many different colors. 

It can be the perfect accent for your playset or swing set. 

Rubber mulch is durable, too, so your children may outgrow it. 

But the most important part is the safety aspect and rubber mulch is known to offer protection from a height of up to 12 feet. 

This means that a child may not get injured when they fall on the rubber mulch from a height of 12 feet. 

“Superior Fall Protection — This is the main reason vinyl mulch is the best material for playground surfaces and why you’ll see it more and more often in backyards and parks. In studies comparing vinyl and wooden mulch, vinyl was shown to offer fall protection from more than double the height. In addition, rubber mulch has been rated to offer protection from a height of up to 12 feet! No other material comes anywhere close to matching this.”

Adventure World Playsets
American playset manufacturer


  • Great shock absorber
  • Beautiful
  • Available in several colors
  • Soft
  • Durable
  • Less maintenance


  • Expensive
  • Maybe smelly during extremely hot days

Wood Chips or Wood Mulch

Unlike rubber mulch, wood mulch is chemical-free. 

It is made of wood chips or shredded pieces of wood, mostly the bark and branches of trees but it may also include leaves. 

The chips are spread over the ground and within the play area to provide a safe landing zone for children. 

But to provide a safe and soft cushion for children, you would need a thick layer of wood mulch within the play area. 

According to experts, a nine-inch layer of wood mulch can protect the child from a 10-foot fall. 

However, you have to periodically top off the area to maintain the nine-inch layer. 

Many love to use wood chips because they are affordable. 

“The wood chips provide a comfortable, safe surface for your child to fall and play on. In addition, the wood chips will soften any impact from falls or bumps into sharp edges.”

Online resource about playgrounds


  • Great shock absorber
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Affordable
  • Attractive enough
  • Easy to install


  • Regular maintenance and refill are necessary
  • May develop insect or mold problems
  • Can be a choking hazard for very young kids
  • Can get dusty
  • Children may get a splinter


It is quite common for children to be playing in a sandbox. 

Using a sandbox as a surface material for a playset works the same way, just in a much bigger way. 

Children love playing in the sand, so they will surely welcome the idea of having a sandy landing zone. 

The parents may not be too happy when some of the sand gets into the house though. 

But you may need a lot of sand to make it a safe zone for children. 

For example, a nine-inch of sand surface will only be good for a height of four feet. 

So, if your playset is higher than that, you need to make your sandpit deeper. 

To ensure your sand is safe, you need to have it tested for the presence of asbestos, silica, and other substances that may be dangerous for children. 

“Sand is one of the most affordable options for playground surfaces, making it a popular choice for those on a budget. Depending on your location and if you are picking it up, it is the literal meaning of dirt cheap.”

King Swings
American manufacturer of swing sets


  • Fun for children
  • Very soft
  • Affordable
  • Easy to install


  • Messy
  • Not the best for impact absorption
  • Needs to be topped off regularly or replaced every year
  • Needs regular maintenance
  • Not ideal for windy places

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is basically pebbles that are the same size as a pea or smaller. 

It is naturally formed from eroded river rocks that have become smoothed over a period because of flowing water. 

Pea gravel is a popular material for landscaping and as a base in pathways and driveways. 

Some also use it as a surface material for playsets because it is attractive. 

It provides a classic and natural look in the environment, which is perfect for those who consider aesthetics important. 

When it comes to costs, pea gravel is inexpensive but its installation is quite pricey. 

For children’s safety, the pea gravel needs to have a depth of at least 12 inches to provide protection from falls from a maximum of nine feet. 

“Pea gravel provides impact attenuation for falls from playground equipment. But, it must be laid down pretty thickly, with depths of about 12 inches recommended.”

Outdoor Living Style
Online resource for landscaping and outdoor design


  • Attractive
  • Provides a fun landing area for children
  • Great drainage for areas prone to downpour


  • Messy
  • Installation can be expensive
  • Not the best in shock absorption
  • Regular maintenance is necessary
  • Needs edging to keep pebbles in place

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)

EWF refers to processed wood that is used as surfacing material for playsets or swing sets. 

Aside from the processing, EWF is also different from the wood chips because the former uses the wood inside the tree and not the bark or branches. 

Aesthetically, it’s quite appealing because it looks so natural. 

When it’s new, the quality of shock absorption is great and ideal for a maximum height of 12 feet. 

However, the quality of the material deteriorates in time and the 12-foot protection will no longer be the case. 

When it becomes too compact, the ability to absorb the fall is minimized. 

The solution is to regularly maintain and refill the surface area. 

“It has high impact absorbing qualities that when properly installed also offers a firm, slip-resistant surface that meets accessibility guidelines.”

Play and Playground Encyclopedia


  • Attractive enough
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Affordable


  • Shock absorption deteriorates over time
  • Needs regular maintenance and refill
  • Easily displaced

How To Prepare the Ground for a Child Playset

Row of swings

Now that you have your options, you can choose the best surface material based on your needs and preference. 

The next move is to prepare the ground for the playset. 

Check out the following steps:

1. Identify Your Play Area

You have to be purposeful when choosing the play area. 

First, it has to be somewhere the children can get a bit of shade whenever they play during the day. 

Second, it must be an area visible for the parents from inside the house in case the children are left to their devices in the playground. 

2. Mark the Area

Put some markers around the designated play area. 

Check out the packaging to know the measurement of your playset. 

Make sure the measurement of your play area is more than the playset because you want to have extra space for a safe landing. 

But there is no standard space as it will depend on the playset, which comes in different sizes, and your yard area. 

3. Level the Ground

Make sure the ground is flat and level to prevent falls, and so that you can properly install your playset. 

You can just use a shovel to do this. 

4. Install Your Playset or Swing Set

Follow the instructions on how to install your playset or swing set. 

Make sure you anchor the set properly so it remains sturdy despite overuse from the children.

5. Apply the Protective Surface Material

You can now install the surface material of your choice as a protective layer in your play area. 

How thick should your surface material be? 

The following are the standards used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in its 2010 Public Playground Safety Handbook:

MaterialThicknessFall Height Protection
Rubber mulch6”10’
Wood mulch9”7’ – 10’
Sand 9”4’
Pea gravel9”5’
Engineered Wood Fiber9”10’

Final Thoughts

INFOGRAPHIC Answering the Question What is the Best Thing to Put Under a Playset
Click infographic to enlarge.

While we want our children to have fun, we also want to make sure they are safe. 

So, when installing a playset or swing set for your kids, don’t forget to add a protective layer of ideal surface material to cushion them when they land or fall. 

The rubber mulch seems to be the safest of them all but it’s really up to your budget, needs, and preference which option you take. 

Start swinging!

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