Is Pea Gravel or Rubber Mulch Safer for Playgrounds?

While hitting the playground for an afternoon of fun is a top priority for kids, enforcing playground safety is a top priority for parents, educators and other caregivers. We want our children to have a great time and be well protected while doing it. It’s no wonder, then, that playground surfacing materials are such a hot topic right now. People want to know which is better for the little ones – pea gravel or rubber mulch?

Ultimately, it’s a personal decision, but whether you’re planning on surfacing a home swing set or a large city playground, our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make the best and smartest decision possible. To do so, we’ve put together this guide which will highlight both pea gravel and rubber mulch, including the benefits and considerations associated with each.

Pea Gravel At-a-Glance

Pea gravel has long been a popular option for creating a safe and reliable surface for children’s play areas. This type of stone is characterized by its small, round “pea”- like size, shape and texture. The gravel is smooth and features an array of different colors, adding to its visual appeal.

Rubber Mulch At-a-Glance

As the name suggest, rubber mulch is an inorganic mulching material that is comprised of recycled rubber, often from tires or similar products. The tires are then shredded into an appropriate sized mulch, and can be dyed in different colors, depending on client desires. Rubber mulch tends to be very lightweight.

Pea Gravel Benefits

What’s so special about pea gravel? People love this material for playgrounds because of the many benefits tied to doing so. Some of the key perks include:


People love pea gravel because it’s more than just practical – it’s also beautiful to look at. The small stones feature an array of different shades and colors which come together to create a richly textured and visually intriguing space.

People love pea gravel because it’s more than just practical – it’s also beautiful to look at. The small stones feature an array of different shades and colors which come together to create a richly textured and visually intriguing space.

Shock Absorbency

Pea gravel has been approved for use in playgrounds throughout the country because it is recognized for being safe and highly shock absorbent. When the correct depth standards are met (as compared to the height of the surrounding playground equipment), caregivers can rest assured that children will experience a safer and much more comfortable landing when jumping or falling.


Here in NJ, we’re subject to a lot of rain throughout the year. After a storm, a playground can be left completely flooded. Not only does this present a risk for drowning, but it also creates a healthy and safety issue when stagnant water is dirty or contaminated. Fortunately, pea gravel is known for its incredible drainage properties, and it is frequently chosen to be used in French drains and other drainage systems. The water will be able to percolate back into the groundwater supply, thus leaving the playground dry and safe for play.


Some organic playground surfaces create certain issues by attracting pests and rodents. They may even create a tempting place for cats to come and take care of their business. Regardless of the critters, though, no parent wants their child exposed to animal waste or the threat of being bitten by something harmful. Pea gravel doesn’t create a hospitable environment for pests and won’t grab the interest of cats, thereby improving hygiene.

Low to No Toxicity

As a naturally occurring material, the majority of pea gravel will not have been exposed to or contain any chemicals or toxins which could pose a threat to children’s health.

Weed Prevention

Weeds are more than unattractive – they create tripping hazards. Gravel keeps weeds at bay and improves playground safety.


Gravel, like all stone, is a naturally non-combustible material, meaning that it won’t pose a fire hazard, nor will it be conducive to the spread of fire.

Sensory Development

As an added bonus, smooth gravel is great for play and encourages strong sensory development in small children, helping them to learn and grow.

Rubber Mulch Benefits

Rubber mulch has its merits, too. Some of the main advantages to working with rubber mulch include:

Shock Absorbency

One of the biggest draws to a rubber mulch playground surface is that the rubberized material creates a soft, almost “springy” area upon which children can run, jump and play. This reduces the likelihood of injury after a jump or a fall from a high place.


As in the case of gravel, rubber mulch is an inorganic playground surfacing material and therefore doesn’t attract the attention of cats, rodents or pests. This keeps the area safe, free and clear of any hygienic threats.

Minimal Compression

Rubber mulch will hold its form and won’t tend to compress over time. This means that it will continue to offer padding and the required shock absorbency for playground safety without the need for frequent replacement.

Weed Prevention

Rubber mulch is just as effective as gravel when it comes to preventing and deterring weeds from growing and creating trip-and-fall hazards around the playground.

Recycled Material

Because rubber mulch is usually made from recycled tires and materials, its production creates a safer and healthier world for our children to live in.

Pea Gravel Considerations

Pea gravel is a strong choice when it comes to surfacing children’s play areas. There are, though, a few things that you’ll need to keep in mind before making your decision. First, consider the age of the children who will be exposed to the pea gravel. Is there a risk that very young kids might put the small stones in their mouths and be subject to a choking hazard?

Next, be aware that gravel tends to settle and compress by 25% over time. Because this can reduce its shock absorbency capabilities, you’ll need to apply a fresh new layer of gravel on a regular basis.

Rubber Mulch Considerations

Although there are pros to working with rubber mulch, there are also several things to consider. First, it’s important to be aware that the rubber used could contain certain chemicals or contaminants which raise the toxicity level of the material and expose children to health risks. Make sure that the rubber you choose is clean and approved for use on playgrounds.

Secondly, be advised that rubber mulch can heat up considerably during the summer months, so it’s not an ideal choice for areas prone to high temperatures. With that in mind, it should also be noted that rubber is a flammable materials, meaning that if it becomes too hot or exposed to sparks or flames, it could present a fire hazard.

Pea Gravel vs Rubber Mulch: Which is Right for You?

As mentioned earlier, the final decision between pea gravel and rubber mulch is entirely up to you, and based on your personal concerns and preferences. Both have a lot to offer, but make sure to carefully take any safety concerns under consideration in order to make the best decision for you and your precious little ones.

Interested in surfacing your playground with pea gravel? Be sure to visit Braen Stone or give us a call today. We carry a massive inventory of beautiful, high-quality pea gravel at affordable, wholesale prices. Our materials can be picked up or bulk delivered to job sites throughout parts of NJ, NY, NYC and PA.

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By | 2016-08-12T09:21:34+00:00 August 12th, 2016|Blog, Gravel, Pea Gravel|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dirk is a Project Manager at Braen Stone. He's an expert on a variety of construction materials and prides himself on helping the company meet the needs of companies large and small.