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    February 26, 2023 3 min read


    Active kids will get a scrape or two while playing on their swing set, but many accidents can be avoided with one simple step: The right surface material can prevent literally thousands of injuries from occurring. You can keep outdoor swing set play safe with this smart and easy precaution.

    Why do I Need Surface Material Anyway?

    Two factors affect the severity of a fall: the height of the fall and the surface the child contacts upon impact. Obviously the higher the fall, the more dangerous it will be. What’s less obvious is the contact surface. Certain materials absorb the force of a fall better than others, minimizing the impact that the body has to absorb. When it comes to kids falling off of a playset deck, we want the contact material to sustain most of the shock, cushioning the blow for the child as much as possible.

    What Not to Use

    Now that you understand what it does, let’s talk about surface materials people use frequently with the mistaken assumption that these are safe materials that will absorb the shock. Grass and packed down dirtseem like good options, but really these materials do little to absorb the force or soften the impact. It goes without saying that concrete and asphalt are completely out of the question surface materials for use under a playground set.

    Smart Surface Materials

    So what surface materials are good for cushioning the blow beneath an outdoor swing set?

    • Sand and pea gravel are the next up on the list, but they aren’t the best options. These two are cheap and work well in backyard surroundings though, so many parents prefer them to other materials. If you opt for sand or pea gravel, make sure to keep things loose. Don’t pack it in tightly or you’ll have the same problem as the dirt we mentioned above. Also, if you have animals in your neighborhood, these surface materials may attract unwelcomed visitors for use as a giant litter box.
    • Mulch and wood chips are much better options, and they are also totally natural, so they’ll look great in your garden setting. Both mulch and wood chips are environmentally-friendly, relatively cheap and easy to find, and will absorb the shock better than most surface materials.
    • Rubber mats have become more popular in recent years. A solid surface material, rubber mats need no maintenance, and you won’t have to collect and replenish the debris (something you do need to do periodically with sand, gravel, and chips). While mats are more expensive than the other options, they are also more durable and will last for years.
    • Poured-in-place rubber is the most expensive option, but it’s also the safest. This material will cushion the blow, does not move around your yard, and can last for an extremely long time. It is not a natural material, so it will offset your rustic outdoors look if you are thinking about landscape.

    Is That All?

    Not quite. Even if you have chosen a safe surface material to spread beneath your wooden swing set, there is another factor to consider. The depth of the material will also play into how well it protects your children. Various materials will require different depths to render them safe, but a minimum of 12” is necessary for any of the above-mentioned materials and even up to 20” is recommended. Rubber mats and poured rubber should be at least 3.5” thick and upwards as your playset height grows. Additionally, the surface material should spread out past the borders of the playground equipment by at least 6’ to ensure maximum safety.

    Play it Safe

    A wooden swing set will give your kids hours of entertainment and pleasure every day, and with the right safety precautions, they can enjoy their playset for years to come. Check outThe Complete Guide to Swing Set Safety for more safety tips.


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