Pea Gravel or Rubber Mulch for Your Kids’ Outdoor Play Area?

gravel and rubber mulch

A play area is a place designed to give children an environment where they can play and express their fun-loving nature. It is usually equipped with facilities for recreation and typically placed outdoors. Adding playsets makes a property more child-friendly and increases the enjoyment of the kids who live there as well as those visiting the home.

Pea gravel and rubber mulch are great choices of covering materials for your playground. Pea gravel is commonly used in ground covering and is one of the most affordable options to provide a clean area around the play equipment. It is also a safer alternative to sand in a sandbox because it does not contain toxins. Meanwhile, rubber mulch provides a soft cushion for your kids to walk through, jump off, and inevitably, fall in the playground.

In this article, we will discuss what material you should consider putting up in your play area. We will also deliberate about what is the best material between pea gravel or rubber mulch. The advantages and disadvantages of each material will help you choose what is the ideal surface covering to use in your play area.


Which Is Better: Pea Gravel or Rubber Mulch For a Play Area?

A play area helps a child develop their physical, social, emotional, and crucial cognitive skills. When planning to have a great play place, you should evaluate the safety of your kids, consider their age, review your backyard space, and check the materials used. You must also think about the types of playground equipment you want to put up in your backyard.

Now that we’ve stated the main aspects to consider for having a perfect play area, let us discuss what surface material you should use in your playground. To safeguard your kids playing in your backyard, ensure the material you put underneath the playset’s structure is safe.

Playground surfacing is something that can often be disregarded when designing a playground. Safety is the primary concern when selecting playground equipment. Regardless of how attentively you supervise your child and how well equipped the playsets are, incidental falls are inevitable.

A ground cover is a necessary element you should include in your play area. You have to make sure that your playground area is perfect in all aspects for the sake of your children.

The most recommended surface materials include pea gravel and rubber mulch. Though these groundcovers can’t protect your child from getting hurt, they can reduce the severity of their potential injuries. Let us carefully discuss each material.


Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is characterized as a clean, round, and smooth pea-like stone. It is regularly used for playgrounds, patios, and walkways and provides a softer surface to walk on. Pea gravel can also be used for underground projects, such as pipe bedding and drainage.

It is also used as a decorative mulch around plants and raised bed structures. Pea gravel is accumulated from nature, where the natural weathering process of the stream bed creates a smooth texture and rounds up each stone. It is a common material for an extraordinary place like your backyard as it can create a traditional and classic feel in your environment.


Here are the things you should consider when using pea gravel:

  • Safety

According to the National Playground Safety Institute, pea gravel is a safe playground surface cover at a depth of 9 inches. It is smooth, provides adequate shock absorption, and cannot scratch children when they fall on it. Pea gravel is an eco-friendly material as it is naturally acquired, so it doesn’t bring any synthetic dyes or chemicals to the playground.

However, it is not suitable for playground areas where young children play. Parents need to accompany their toddlers and regularly check the gravel to ensure there are no sharp objects within it that could harm them.

  • Maintenance

It is not only aesthetically pleasing but also low maintenance when the ground is prepared correctly. The gravel can withstand all weather conditions without losing or deteriorating its color. Although, over time, pea gravel starts shifting from its intended space, so you have to keep taking it back with a rake. Although pea gravel doesn’t crack or decompose, it does start to sink into the soil over time. Thus, you need to add more gravel intermittently.

  • Appearance

Pea gravel comes with an organic and natural appearance. It is usually available in various colors, like gray, brown, as well as striking colors like blue and red. There are no sealants nor artificial colors applied to the gravel to enhance its beauty. Even though pea gravel comes in various sizes, it is usually ⅜’’ and has a smooth and rounded shape.

  • Cost

One of the main reasons why pea gravel is widely used is because it is cost-effective. Pea gravel is indeed affordable, readily available, and easy to install. It is much cheaper than the other common playground fillers and does not require constant refilling due to little degradation. Its cost may range from $35 to 55 per cubic yard.


Rubber Mulch

Another material to consider is rubber mulch. It is generally made of tires or synthetic rubbers that are grounded or shredded into small pieces after removing the attached steel band. All kinds of tires can be used to make a rubber mulch, such as truck, trailer, and passenger tires.

Its size ranges from 10 to 32 millimeters. Rubber mulch is used as a ground cover material that is usually spread as a top layer above the soil. It is one of the most popular choices as a ground cover when it comes to landscaping and sustaining the beauty of your environment.


Here are the things to consider when using rubber mulch:

  • Safety

The resilience and density of rubber mulch perfectly protect children from inevitable falls in the play area. It is clean, so it won’t stain your kid’s clothing. Install at least 6 inches deep of rubber mulch for effective fall protection. Small rubber pieces, however, just like other materials, can easily end up in young children’s mouths, causing a choking hazard and ingestion of dangerous chemicals.

  • Maintenance

As it is a synthetic material, it does not decompose and you won’t have to replace it every year. Rubber mulch is a low-maintenance material that can last up to 10 years, so can save money in its gradual replacement.

  • Appearance

Rubber mulch normally looks like wood mulch. It is available in various colors and textures. While some cheaper mulches might fade, many brands keep working and still look good, even if they break down slowly over the years.

  • Cost

Rubber mulch is leveled in the lower-middle price range of playground surface cover. It roughly costs $8 to 14 per cubic foot, depending on the quantity and grade acquired.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Pea Gravel

Pea gravel may include various colors that add charm to your backyard and don’t need to be replaced regularly. Pea gravel is a common material for ground covering and one of the most affordable options, providing a clean area around the play equipment.

Using pea gravel as a ground cover in your play area comes with pros and cons. Because it is heavy, normal rainfall won’t wash it out of your beds. It provides soft support for any falls from the playsets. However, do not pack pea gravel down as it will reduce its cushioning effect.

Pea gravel is also a safer alternative to sand in a sandbox because it does not contain toxins, such as silica, which may cause lung damages due to long-term exposure. Adding shade over the playground is a crucial consideration because gravel can get a bit hot in the summer.

Pea gravel is not a suitable material for families with infants or very young children as they put things in their mouths regularly. Below are other advantages and disadvantages of using pea gravel.



  1. Low cost
  2. Locally available
  3. Stops the growth of weeds
  4. Facilitates drainage to keep stagnant water away
  5. Easy to install
  6. Easy to maintain and wash
  7. Less attractive to animals
  8. Non-flammable



  1. Difficult to walk through when applied thickly
  2. Easily swallowed by children
  3. Can hide hazards, including broken glass
  4. Potential choking hazard



Advantages and Disadvantages of Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch is mostly made of recycled materials, so it reduces the amount of waste and preserves natural resources. It is long-lasting, remains in place, and does not attract insects. Rubber mulch also provides a soft cushion for your kids to walk through, jump off, and inevitably, fall on in the playground.

As it is typically made of recycled rubbers, some people are concerned about its effect on the soil, plants, and even humans. Indeed, as rubber heats up, it releases toxic gases that can cause irritation of the respiratory passages and eyes, cause kidney damages, central nervous system damages, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and dermatitis. Below are additional advantages and disadvantages of rubber mulch.



  1. Non-compacting
  2. Non-abrasive
  3. Easy to install
  4. Doesn’t decay
  5. Low maintenance
  6. Acts as a barrier against weeds
  7. Durable
  8. Doesn’t attract insects



  1. Can be a choking hazard for young children
  2. Poses a minor fire hazard
  3. Easily knocked out of its place
  4. Potential soil contamination
  5. Gets dirty after long-term use



Having a great play area incorporates far more than just choosing the perfect equipment. Even the most expensive, finest designed, and safest playset won’t serve children well if the ground surface does not provide comfort in their movements. Putting a surface covering in your play area is a must to ensure the safety of your children while they’re playing and having fun.

Using these ground surface covers also keeps your child clean, protected, and can be highly appreciated by them. Overall, pea gravel and rubber mulch are pleasing and attractive surfacing options for your playground area. Both materials add to the curb appeal of your backyard. Now that you know which is the right one for your playground, you are ready to build the perfect area for your family to enjoy and explore in the comfort of your own space.

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