What Is the Best Material to Put Under a Swing Set? - Backyard Boss
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What Is the Best Material to Put Under a Swing Set?

Did you decide on the ultimate playset for your children? And now you need a safe, easy, and cost-efficient way to tie the whole thing together with the perfect ground cover?

Swing sets are a premium memory maker for childhood years. And for parents, it’s a great way to keep your kids entertained while you put your feet up for a minute.

At some point, you’re going to have to decide what to put under the swing set. Luckily for you, Backyard Boss loves this stuff. So we’ve rounded up the best options for finishing off your swing set project.

Lay the Groundwork

A good place to start would be to look at what is most used as a playground ground cover. Because what else is a swing set if it’s not the most awesome vertical playground ever?

The video below covers one landscaper’s process and his preferred type of mulch for a children’s playground.

Playground Mulch

Mulch specially formulated for playgrounds comes in a variety of materials. The general idea is that it’s longer-lasting and heavier than regular mulch. This means you don’t have to top it up as often as you would garden mulch.

Let’s take a look at two of the most common materials used for playground mulch: engineered wood fiber and rubber mulch.

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)

Think wood chips, but better. To become EWF, wood chips go through a milling process to give them a fibrous consistency. There are no adhesives added to EWF so there shouldn’t be any harmful chemicals to worry about.

There are newer versions of EWF that include adhesives and chemical binders in the name of performance. They’re about double the price of regular EWF and not the way to go if you’re worried about additives.

EWF should be certified by a number of authorities to ensure that your children are playing on a safe, toxin-free surface. The fibrous wood also has a springy texture that could potentially cushion the inevitable falls from the swing.

Low-quality EWF is not made from virgin wood and often comes from old pallets and scrap wood from the timber industry. It’s not recommended to go this route because it’s anybody’s guess what you might be spreading under your children’s feet.

Rubber Mulch

Exactly what it sounds like. Rubber mulch is often made from recycled tires that are shredded down into small pieces that can be used as mulch.

Rubber lasts a long time. So you won’t be topping up your mulch regularly if you manage to keep it where you want it. It also offers excellent impact absorption, so falls from moderate heights become less dangerous.

However, rubber mulch has some major drawbacks. First off, tires are manufactured with steel wires reinforcing them. These wires should be removed before mulching, but I remember as a kid finding pieces of wire in rubber mulch.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission mentions this in their handbook, which provided much information for this post.

Second, rubber is a petroleum-based product. So there’s no knowing what toxins are leaching out of the rubber and into the landscape, or worse, your children.

Swing Set Mat

A rubber mat for your swing set can be a great option. If it meets the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, you can be sure that the mat is free from those pesky wires or toxins you might find in rubber mulch.

A swing set mat is low maintenance and can greatly increase the safety of your playground.

The initial cost is high, but it’s safety and peace of mind you’re paying for. Look for thick, heavy, durable rubber mats for the best impact absorption and ease of use.

    IncStores Playground Swing Mats

A green IncStores playground swing mat.
    Use these rubber mats under swings and slides. Available in multiple color and as a single mat or a pack of multiple.

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is a popular choice for playgrounds. Mostly because of the low initial cost and aesthetic qualities.

The problem with pea gravel is that it’s not very user-friendly. The impact absorption isn’t great, and the small stones could be a choking hazard for toddlers.

They also shift easily, so you’ll have to rake the surface regularly to maintain consistent coverage.


At first glance, sand is the perfect option for under your swing set. It’s cheap, readily available, easy to install, and a blast to play in.

It comes with a few drawbacks though. Sand is difficult, if not impossible, to clean. It gathers dirt quickly, and the only way to enhance dirty sand is to replace it.

The impact absorption is also poor and it’s difficult to navigate for those with disabilities.


Toddlers in swing set, with dad pushing them.


While aesthetically pleasing, natural grass would be the highest maintenance ground cover you could choose. You’d have to mow, weed, water, and fertilize that lawn constantly. Impact absorption is also not up to standard. It looks great, though.

If you have a small playset that you’re setting up, installing a whole new ground cover might not be practical. In this case, grass could be your best bet.


You can have the neat look of a beautifully manicured lawn with none of the upkeep. While artificial lawn cuts down on a lot of maintenance compared to natural grass, the advantages stop there.

There are various padding options to put underneath your artificial lawn. This will increase the impact absorption as well as the overall cost of the installation.

The upfront cost might be offset by the low maintenance of the material because once it’s in, there’s not much to maintain. Besides for a wash every now and then if it gets dirty.

To Wrap Up

The best material for underneath your swing set depends on your specific needs. Shock absorption, maintenance, cost, and general safety are all things to think about.

If your goal is the best swing set for your children, with peace of mind for the parents, then these rubber swing set mats from Amazon should do the trick.

If you have any questions, comment below, and let’s have a discussion.

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