Pros and Cons: A Comprehensive Look at Rubber Mulch Safety

rubber mulch held in hands

Organic mulch made from wood chips and shredded leaves has always been the go-to choice for playground surfacing and landscaping. However, rubber mulch has become an increasingly popular alternative for such projects over the past few years. 

Rubber mulch initially emerged as a practical solution to keep old tires out of landfills. However, even though it looks great and provides better cushion than traditional wood mulch, it has been rolled out in thousands of parks, soccer fields and stadiums nationwide. 

However, with the growing concerns over the chemicals present in this surfacing material, is rubber mulch safe for your residential project? What is rubber mulch in the first place, and what are its advantages and disadvantages? We answer these essential questions in the following sections. 

What Is Rubber Mulch? 

Your regular mulch consists of shredded organic matter, like wood chips, straw and leaves. Rubber mulch is similar in that it consists of bits and chunks of shredded rubber from recycled tires. Like all mulch, this loose-fill surfacing material can be used in residential projects and commercial applications, from gardens and landscaping to playgrounds.  

You’ll later discover the various pros of rubber mulch, including its easy maintenance and resistance to pests. However, even with these benefits, it has also received disapproval from concerned parents because of its potential health risks. 

Pros of Rubber Mulch 

Rubber crumbs come in a wide array of colors, making them a desirable choice for property owners wanting a unique look for their surfacing projects. Besides this aesthetic advantage, the surfacing material is gaining popularity for the following benefits:  

1. Long Lifespan 

You may be wondering, how long does rubber mulch last? Unlike organic mulches that decompose into the soil and require routine replacement, rubber mulch can last up to a decade before it must be replaced. It can also withstand harsh weather conditions and high foot traffic, so it remains stable and looks good longer than other surfacing materials. 

2. Water Resistance

Mulches made from organic matter can absorb water, create damp surfaces and even promote conditions ideal for fungi, mold and pathogens. On the other hand, rubber mulch allows water to pass through it, preventing water from accumulating and creating slipping hazards. 

3. Resistant to Pests 

As a synthetic mulch, rubber crumbs do not attract common pests like termites and carpenter ants. Using them for your landscaping project or playground can help you minimize the use of pesticides, let your plants grow healthily and keep your loved ones safe. 

4. Impact Resistance

Rubber mulch has been proven to create a safe, shock-absorbing surface for children, especially in play areas. When installed according to industry standards, it can reduce the risk of serious or life-threatening injuries from slips and falls. 

Cons of Rubber Mulch 

As mentioned earlier, rubber mulch also has its downsides. Here are some factors to help you decide if it’s the best surfacing material for your project. 

1. Higher Installation Costs

Rubber mulch is relatively more expensive than most loose-fill surfacing materials like wood mulch or engineered wood fiber, and the material cost estimate averages around $13 per cubic ft.

The higher upfront expenses are primarily due to the rubber crumb’s better-quality materials. Still, loose-fill rubber mulch remains on the low to middle end when it comes to playground surfacing costs. 

2. Possible Soil Contamination 

Since this synthetic mulch is made from recycled tires, chemicals and heavy metals like aluminum, zinc and chromium may remain even after extensive cleaning and preparation. 

3. Difficult to Remove 

Since rubber mulch takes many years to break down, it has to be kept separate from the soil with a landscaping fabric. When this fabric breaks or is completely foregone, the entire top layer of the soil must be removed to get rid of all the rubber crumbs. 

4. Potential Health Risks

When in mulch form, recycled rubber can release volatile organic compounds or VOCs that can cause long-term health complications through prolonged exposure. Ingesting smaller rubber crumbles is another possibility to keep in mind, and accidental ingestions can also make children sick. 

Rubber Mulch Safety Concerns

There’s no arguing that rubber is helpful in protecting children from fall injuries, scratches, splinters and other abrasions. However, since most rubber mulch products are made from old tires, there are concerns about the chemicals that go into the loose-fill surfacing material. 

Studies and investigations were made to understand the potential health risks from exposure to rubber mulch. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, no studies to date have shown an increased health risk from using play areas and sports fields with shredded rubber. 

Is rubber mulch safe? The EPA acknowledges that more research is needed to answer this question once and for all. Still, both the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend it to playground planners across the country because of its known benefits. 

Is rubber mulch safe for dogs? 

Those concerned for their pets may be relieved to know that rubber mulch is not only easy to clean but also safe for pets. Urine and residual feces can be easily hosed off the surface, and dogs can romp freely as the material helps reduce joint impact and prevent injuries during a tumble. 

However, if your dog has a habit or history of chewing on non-food objects, it’s best to watch them closely whenever they’re near rubber crumbs. Most mulch will likely pass without problem after ingestion, but there is always the risk of digestive blockages. If your dog consumes mulch, keep an eye on them for any issues. 

Enjoy the Benefits of Rubber Surfacing Without the Dangers of Loose-Fill Materials 

There have been a few controversies around the use of rubber mulch in playgrounds, landscaping and other surfacing projects. As an end-user, it’s only fitting that you understand the safety concerns surrounding loose-fill materials and scrutinize your choices to complete your surfacing project safely and successfully. 

If you’re looking to reap the benefits of rubber surfacing without the health risks associated with loose-fill material, Softroc®’s poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing is worth exploring. This solution combines rubber mulch with high-tech polymer resin to create a stay-in-place, shock-absorbing, yet porous surface to allow irrigation to your landscaping. Best of all, Softroc® rubber mulch can be applied even when hard surfaces are not present, compared to other variations of rubber surfacing that require concrete or decking.

For more information on poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing, call 760-334-5964 or fill out this form. Our team at Softroc® will be happy to discuss how our rubber safety surfacing solution can be an excellent fit for your commercial or residential project

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