If you’re a parent, you know that worrying comes from the territory, especially as they explore the world around them. First, they walk, and before you know it, they are running, jumping, and climbing out of reach. We do all we can to make their world safe, including adding rubber mulch to playgrounds so they don’t become one of the over 200,000 children who visit emergency rooms each year due to playground-related injuries.

Adding shredded tires to the playground may in and of itself sound unsafe to some. Are there any dangers associated with rubber mulch in playgrounds?

To understand playground mulch holistically, let’s consider where rubber mulch originates, the benefits of recycled tire mulch, and the potential concerns.

Where Does Rubber Mulch Come From?

Tires. Old car, truck, and bus tires are processed using rubber mulch machines at tire recycling plants. The metal and nylon are removed, leaving behind soft rubber pieces that make a much softer landing surface when playground falls occur.

Benefits of Rubber Mulch


Compared to traditional wood mulch, tire rubber is incredibly durable and long-lasting. Wood is designed to biodegrade. Every couple of years, playgrounds with wood mulch require more mulch. Recycled tire mulch can last for up to 10 years. Since both wood and recycled tire mulch come at a cost, the one that lasts the longest is the most cost-effective option for playgrounds.

Fungus Free

Because the rubber in tires doesn’t absorb moisture, they are more resistant to mold and fungus. The fungus can be a problem with other types of mulch, especially in wet regions or on shaded playgrounds.


Another benefit of using recycled tire mulch is that it is a sustainable choice. By repurposing the rubber from old tires, the tire recycling industry diverts them from landfills. Old tires remain useful for years after many people would see them as junk.

Potential Concerns

Harmful Chemicals

One of the biggest worries is that rubber mulch may contain harmful chemicals such as lead and arsenic, which are found in tires. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the levels of these chemicals in recycled tires do not pose a significant risk to children’s health.

Dust Inhalation

Another concern with recycled tire mulch is the potential for the rubber to break down and create dust, which can be inhaled by children and cause respiratory issues. However, studies have shown that the risk of inhalation is low, and any dust that is created can be mitigated through regular maintenance and watering of the mulch. Crumb rubber, which is a similar but different material, poses a greater threat in this regard.


There is some evidence that rubber mulch decreases the soil microbiome and fungal diversity crucial for some plants to grow. However, for a children’s playground, this is less of a concern. Any harmful chemical leaching can be avoided using a base sheet underneath the mulch.

But What About Fall Safety?

If so many playground injuries come from falling, the ground cover is likely an essential aspect of a safe playground. While no studies have focused exclusively on the risk of broken bones falling on rubber mulch vs. on other playground surfacing materials, rubber mulch is shown to be good at impact absorption. Rubber powder is being incorporated into asphalt for the same reason. It makes the surface more bouncy.

Another aspect to consider is splinters. You can’t get splinters in your hands or bare feet running around on rubber mulch. We all have personal experiences of splinters wood chip mulch. While splinters are rarely serious, they certainly are painful and often bring tears.

Of course, as with any playground surface, there is always a risk of injury when children are playing. You can’t bubblewrap the whole world. Sometimes kids will learn the hard way. However, as adults, we might as well reduce the risk of serious injuries as much as we can. Recycled tire mulch has been shown to provide good impact absorption, which can help prevent broken bones and visits to the hospital in the middle of what was going to be a chill afternoon at the park.

So, Is Recycled Tire Playground Mulch Safe for Kids?

Based on the research, the answer is yes. Along with being safe, there are sustainability and comfort advantages too. A well-maintained playground ensures the risks of leaching, dust inhalation, and similar drawbacks are not a cause for concern. That being said, parents need to do their own research and make an informed decision about recycled tire mulch. Ultimately, the safety and well-being of our children should always be our top priority.