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What to Put Under a Swing Set for Maximum Playground Safety

18 Jan 2024
Five kids swinging on a swing set.

Swing sets should provide joy, laughter and fun for your children. Most of the time, this is the case. 

However, if you don’t take the proper precautions, a joyous swinging experience can quickly turn into a trip to the emergency room. We’re going to help you avoid that unfortunate scenario today.  

In this article, we at gobaplay (a sub-brand of GOBA SPORTS GROUP, which owns Springfree Trampoline) will use our expertise to inform you about one of the most important aspects of swing set safety, which is what to put under your swing set.  

There are multiple things to put under a swing set to offset the impact if your child were to fall off the swing onto the ground.

You will learn about five of the materials to put under a swing set, but first, let’s discuss why it’s crucial to place surfacing under a swing set:  

Why Is it Important to Put Surfacing Under a Swing Set?  

Placing soft surfacing under a swing set helps mitigate the impact of a fall to the ground. While a sturdy swing set will be able to hold up under normal use, accidents do happen and it’s essential to prepare for them.  

While it doesn’t completely eliminate risk, placing the right kind of surfacing under your swing set will ensure that your children are shielded from hitting the ground if they do fall from the swing.   

What to Do Before Putting Surfacing Under a Swing Set 

Before discussing what to put under a swing set, we need to talk about how to install a swing set.  

Here are some points to follow before placing surfacing under a swing set: 

  • Make sure the swing is FULLY assembled and anchored before worrying about surfacing.  
  • Before assembling the swing set, make sure the ground is prepped and level.  
  • When picking a spot for the swing set, be mindful of structures like fences, garages, overhanging branches and electrical lines.  
  • DO NOT install on hard surfacing, like concrete, asphalt, grass or carpet.  
  • Ensure that the clearance in front of and behind the swing is at least twice the height of the swing bar.  
  • Be wary of placing the swing set in direct sunlight. 
  • You must anchor the swing set to prevent overturning. This is a repeat point because it’s that important!    

5 Materials to Put Under a Swing Set  

Once the swing set is assembled and you have a spot picked out for it, you’re ready for the surfacing!  

Important Note: All surfacing material should extend a minimum of 6.5 ft around the play area in all directions.  

The most common surfacing to place under a swing set is grass. Grass can suffice underneath smaller swing sets (up to 15 ft) and simple swing set structures.   

But for full backyard play structures, the following materials would be safer:  

1. Rubber Mulch 

Using rubber mulch is a common surfacing material to put under a swing set.  

Rubber mulch reigns as likely the greatest impact absorber of all the surfacing materials, requires little maintenance and is durable. The downside to using rubber mulch is it costs more upfront than other surfacing materials we will discuss on this list.   

Because of its ability to absorb impact and the minimal maintenance, rubber mulch is arguably the best thing to put under a swing set.   

Cost: Around $45-$130 per cubic ft.  

A swing set using rubber mulch as the surfacing material, courtesy of Kids World Play System:  

 A swing set on rubber mulch.

2. Wood Chips/Mulch 

A common material to put under a swing set is wood chips, also called wood mulch. Wood chips are a good shock absorber, and because it absorbs and drains moisture, you won’t have to worry about slipping when it’s wet.  

The downsides to wood chips are they can attract mold or insects, may hide sharp objects, could freeze in the winter and they can be a choking hazard for toddlers. Splinters are always possible with wood chips, and they may have to be replaced on a yearly basis.   

Cost: Around $20-$40 per cubic yard.  

Example of a swing set with wood chips as the surfacing, courtesy of Kids Gotta Play:  

A swing set on wood chips.

3. Engineered Wood Fiber 

Another surfacing material used under swing sets is engineered wood fiber or EWF. 

EWF is made from shredded hardwood and absorbs impact relatively well. It’s also considered aesthetically pleasing by many and is usually easy to install. However, maintenance may have to be conducted often to redistribute the wood fiber evenly.  

Cost: Around $4 per square ft. 

A swing set using engineered wood fiber as the surfacing material, courtesy of Adventure Playground Systems: 

A swing set on engineered wood fiber.

4. Sand 

Using fine or coarse sand is another surfacing material used to put under a swing set.  

Sand has its upsides and downsides: The positive of using sand is it typically has a low upfront cost and is relatively easier to lay down. 

However, sand is the least effective impact absorber among loose-fill playground materials, and it can be tedious to maintain. Sand can also be susceptible to inclement weather and may need to be replaced every year.   

Cost: Around $6-$13 per ton 

A swing set using sand as the surfacing material, courtesy of The Yard Zone: 

A swing set on sand. 

5. Pea Gravel  

Gravel, usually pea gravel, is also a surfacing material used to put under a swing set.  

Pea gravel under a swing set offers some support for impact and may not entice animals or organisms as much as a surfacing material like sand. However, gravel can be impacted heavily by weather, where they break into smaller pieces and become potentially dangerous to fall on. 

That, combined with the need to rake the gravel regularly to ensure even distribution, makes gravel high maintenance. Pea gravel also poses a choking hazard for toddlers.  

Cost: Around $30-$70 per cubic yard  

Example of pea gravel, courtesy of King Swings:  

Pea gravel.

To this point, we’ve only discussed loose-fill materials as solutions as to what to put under a swing set, but there are unitary surfacing options like poured rubber, grass or turf that are options.   

However, loose-fill materials generally provide more impact absorption and would be recommended over unitary surfacing.   

For further protection, you can also purchase a rubber mat to put under the swing set. The mat by itself, however, will not be adequate enough to provide sufficient impact absorption on its own.  

What Is Best to Put Under a Swing Set? 

The five common materials used for soft surfacing – rubber mulch, wood chips, engineered wood fiber, sand and pea gravel – all have their pros and cons. What is the best thing to put under a swing set for you?  

Consider the following when deciding what to put under a swing set:  

  • Impact absorption of the material.  
  • Age of your children. 
  • Height of the swing set. 
  • Environment where the swing set is located. 
  • Aesthetic of your backyard.  

Ultimately, you will want to choose a material that provides the most protection if a fall occurs. In that case, rubber mulch will be the best to put under a swing set.  

It also helps that you can customize the color of the rubber mulch, as generic rubber mulch may not look as appealing as wood chips/mulch.  

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