Rubber Bark

Last Modified: April 1 2024
Written by: Ben Parrot, Founder & Landscape Gardener


The transformation of playground safety has been evolutionary, and recycled rubber is at the forefront of this change. Rubber bark, not to be confused with organic bark, can resemble traditional stone chippings. A highly durable and unique ground cover, this sometimes misunderstood material offers a unique mix of safety, durability, and aesthetics.

In this article, we cover the application, benefits and potential risks of using rubber bark chippings.

Key Takeaways

  • Fall Safety: Unlike traditional bark chippings, rubber chippings offer critical fall height protection.
  • Durability: Rubber bark offers all-weather protection and longevity as a play surface.
  • Concerns: There are environmental and health issues which need to be considered.
  • Quality Standards: Rubber chippings which meet the BS EN 1177 standard can ensure a safer product.
Rubber bark around a patio

Benefits Of A Rubber Chip Play Area

From a recycled product made from old tyres to vibrant coloured safety play surface, rubber chippings have come a long way. They've become common place around children's play areas due to their major benefit; superior impact absorption when compared to bare earth or other toppings, making it a preferred play surface.

A Soft and Bouncy Layer

One step on a rubber chippings surface, and you'll instantly feel the difference. Primarily used in playgrounds due to their safety from a critical fall height when installed at a minimum depth, the soft and bouncy layer ensures that children have fun while benefiting from the great impact absorption.

All-Weather Durability

Of the many benefits, being completely weather resistant year round, rubber offer superior traction while also reducing the issue of muddy footprints, two common problems experienced during the wet weather. It's also almost completely maintenance free, making it a low-maintenance choice for many.

The Environmental Angle: Recycled Rubber

It is regarded as an eco-friendly transformation of recycled tyres because it not only reduces waste, but also provides an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional ground covers. However, there are potential concerns, which we cover next.

Discarded card tyre for recycling

The Environmental Impact of Recycled Rubber

When considering the use of rubber chippings for play areas, it's important to address the potential downsides. Rubber chips have become widely used for playgrounds, mostly thought to be due to the superior safety features, but understanding the whole picture is vital for a decision-making process that helps protect children and the environment.

Chemical Emissions and 'Non-Toxic' Claims

First and foremost, the claims about 100%, non-toxicity, are paramount. Play areas are for children, and their early development is of the utmost importance. The poorly understood release of chemicals and heavy metals as recycled rubber degrades may pose serious health risks to children and the environment.

Aquatic Life and Leachate Issues

The impact on aquatic life also becomes significant, especially if the area is located near water. The potentially harmful leachate from rubber chippings are recorded as having had adverse impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Ensuring that rubber chippings are installed correctly, especially when within proximity to ponds or streams, is a responsible step towards mitigating any potential harms.

Heat & Flammability Concerns

The heat retention and flammability concerns of rubber chippings have direct implications for safety. Kids at play can be exposed to uncomfortably hot surface temperatures, mostly during summer weather. This heat can lead to discomfort or even minor burns, and may potentially release VOCs in the odors as gases are released.

Unsuitable For Wildfire Areas

Additionally, in regions prone to wildfires, the flammability is a serious safety concerns for the environment, and therefore should be avoided completely.

Ultimately, careful consideration must be given to all of these risks. Further, harm minimisation strategies can also be pursued through correct installation, maintenance, and monitoring of the surrounding soils and kids health by suitably qualified experts.

Child playing on a climbing frame image by public domain pictures from

Quality, Safety & Installation

Ensuring that any purchase meets the detailed requirements of the BS EN 1177 standards can usually help to ensure that the rubber play bark are as tyre wire free, and fibre free, as possible. Correct installation is also crucial to maximising their safety benefits.

Safety First: Suitable Footwear

It is vital that children wear suitable footwear when playing on rubber chippings. Not only does it ensure better grip, but also offers best protection in the case of encountering some rogue wire, which may prevent some unwanted accidents. Also, wearing flat shoes will contribute to the longevity of the installation.

Need to calculate how much rubber bark your project needs? Try our free play bark calculator.

Installation Tips

To install rubber bark effectively for a play area, ensure a well-prepared, dig a shallow pit or create a level surface, laid with a compliant rebound landscape fabric. Use a retaining border to contain the material, and such equipment as rakes and trowels to spread it evenly to the desired thickness and then compact it. The greater depth, the better the critical fall height protection.

Be sure to check for proper drainage and the presence of any sharp objects, which may need removing prior to use and aim to keep the surface level at all times.

Black and red chipped rubber

Purchasing Options

The Benefits Of Loose Fill Products

Especially when covering larger sized areas, using loose product enures the safest play surfaces may be provided at the best price. Products like playsafe rubber chippings are a popular choice for that reason.

Bulk Bags

If you're looking to cover a small to medium sized area, bulk bags of rubber chippings are ready for delivery by most suppliers. They offer value for money and convenience.

Measuring the size of a bulk bag for chippings. Jpg


In summary, with benefits ranging from safety to aesthetics, rubber bark is currently a popular choice for playgrounds, as well as in commercial landscapes. Its durability and ability to mimic traditional materials while offering the safety benefits can be a great advantage to use in play areas.

Rubber bark's downsides, including potential toxicity, environmental impact on aquatic life and flammability, should all be carefully considered, and responsibly managed, to put the well-being and safety of children first.

Ultimately, responsible installation, maintenance, and monitoring practices are essential and, when in place, may make rubber bark chippings the best choice overall for many design applications.

Play area with rubber chip safety surface


Is rubber play bark safe?

Rubber play bark is designed with safety in mind, offering the best protection for playgrounds with a cushioned surface that minimizes injuries. However, there are some concerns which should be considered.

What is better rubber mulch or wood?

Both materials have their merits. Rubber mulch is durable, requires less maintenance and can be toxic to soil and aquatic life. Wood mulch, on the other hand, is natural and can enrich the soil.

Are rubber chippings safe?

While for many, the jury is still out, rubber chippings, especially those that are both wire free and fibre free, are the safest when they have been tested to meet various safety standards.

What is an alternative to play bark?

Alternatives to rubber play bark include wood chips, sand, and pea gravel.

Is rubber play bark eco-friendly?

Given its origins from recycled tires, rubber play bark is considered an eco-friendly option, because it reduces waste. However, it is a subject of some controversy.

We have written are many other articles about the applications and issues surrounding rubber chippings. Check out them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.