Last Modified: April 1, 2024

Play Chip

Guide to Softwood & Hardwood Products

Close up of hard wood play chips

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Wood decorative material and landscaping aggregate

Scientific name(s):

Varies by wood type

Other Name(s):

Play chips, play wood chips, chip play, play area wood chip, play area chippings, hardwood play chips, play chippings


Welcome to the only encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates and landscaping materials. Play chip, also known as play wood chips, is a mid-priced, certified type of wood chip for play area surfaces that can last up to five years. It comes in softwood and hardwood forms, and are produced from a mix of wood from relevant species. It has a natural wood colour that adds a light and spacious feel to spaces while creating a neat and textured look. This aggregate is best suited for childrens play area projects, where safety and budget are important factors.

This encyclopaedia entry provides a thorough overview of play wood chips, a landscaping material and compostable decorative aggregate. It details the type of product's general specifications, accompanied by photographs, and outlines its benefits, applications, and incompatibilities as a garden material. Additionally, this entry serves as a gateway to a wealth of DIY resources, with a list of comparable alternatives, articles offering design inspiration and fundamental principles, and a collection of straightforward, step-by-step instructions for constructing your own garden features. We also cover relevant certifications.

Important note: As this is a general page about decorative bark, it is essential to note that variability factors exist, not just between brands but also between products from the same supplier. If a product's appearance or any other aspect is important to you, we advise requesting a sample prior to ordering.

Play Chip Specifications





fall safety



10mm - 40mm

white wood

Dust & Fines




diy friendly



2-5 years



Usually mixed softwoods or hardwoods


White or red



Freshly chipped wood close up. Jpg

Size Range

10-40mm (0.4-1.6")

Fall Safety

Suitable for play surfaces at depth

1.6m @ 100mm, 4m @ 200mm, 5m @ 300mm



White Wood Content


Dust and Fines Content


Close up of hard wood chippings

Fire Safety



5 + years


Slightly acidic



Chipped soft wood on a tree trunk

Softwood vs. Hardwood

In the United Kingdom, wood chip suppliers often categorise their products as 'mixed softwood' or 'mixed hardwood'. These terms refer to the types of trees from which the wood chips are derived. It's important to note that the specific composition of 'mixed softwood' and 'mixed hardwood' can vary depending on the supplier and the regional availability of wood types.

Mixed Softwood: This typically includes wood from coniferous trees. Common types of softwood trees in the UK include:

  • Pine: Known for its quick growth and versatility.
  • Spruce: Used for its light weight and ease of workability.
  • Larch: Valued for its tough, waterproof qualities.
  • Fir: Popular for its straight and fine grain.

Mixed Hardwood: Derived from deciduous trees known for their dense and durable wood. Common hardwoods in the UK include:

  • Oak: Highly prized for its strength and durability.
  • Beech: Known for its hardness and fine grain.
  • Ash: Valued for its flexibility and strength.
  • Birch: Often used for its fine grain and ease of workability.

Mixed softwood chips are often preferred for play surfaces as they are generally more cost-effective than hardwood, although they may need to be replaced more frequently due to their lower durability. They also tend to have a softer texture that offers a slightly better impact absorption for children's play areas, reducing the likelihood of injury from falls.

In contrast, mixed hardwood chips are a more expensive option initially but offer greater longevity and are less likely to break down as quickly, making them a more durable alternative that will be presentable for longer. The choice primarily depends on the specific requirements of the play area, balancing factors such as safety, budget, appearance and maintenance needs.

Child playing on a rope swing in woods image by lars nissen from


Using decorative aggregates like play chips makes DIY landscaping in the garden, easy. They introduce an element of natural beauty while offering many practical benefits. Wood chipping aggregates are versatile and reasonably durable, providing consumers with an economical alternative to stone chippings or gravel.

BS EN 1177-certified play chips offer excellent cushioning properties, making them one of the best alternatives for building natural childrens play areas. Their clean composition blends seamlessly with outdoor environments and won't stain kids' clothing. Additionally, play chips are eco-friendly, easy to spread, and maintain their appearance over many years.

Considering the pH, play chips are typically neutral to slightly acidic. This makes them suitable for most garden plants, though they may not be ideal for plants requiring highly alkaline conditions. Their slight acidity can benefit certain plants, but it's important to consider compatibility with existing soil pH.

  • Inhibits weeds
  • Improves drainage
  • Durable
  • Eco-friendly, sustainable
  • Low-maintenance
  • Moisture retention
  • Versatile all-rounder
  • pH acidic
  • Transform spaces fast
  • Fire safety compliant
  • Root protection
  • Easy to lay


This section lists the types of certifications that are available for this type of product and what they are for. However, this is a guide about the generic type of product, play chip. There may be many brands sold under this product category, but that does not guarantee their individual compliance, and it may not always be necessary depending on individual preference.

For example, BS 7188 does not provide fall safety certification without the complimentary BS EN 1177 certification, yet some suppliers advertise it as fall safety certification.

This guide equips you with an understanding of certifications to consider, depending on their relevance to your specific use case, or whether they are deemed essential for your individual project outcomes. We add advisory for particular use cases, where we consider the certification to be critical for that type of application or situation. Any products listed on our site will always show their compliance, where it is applicable. 

*BS 7188 is an optional supplement to BS EN 1177, offering further testing procedures and criteria for resistance to abrasive wear-and-tear, slip resistance, resistance to indentation, and flammability.





BS EN 1177

Fall Safety

Play Areas


BS EN 4790

1987 Fire Tested

Fire prone areas


BS 7188*

Product resistance

Play areas


Sustainable Forestry




Play chip products are primarily used in children's play areas due to their impact-absorbing qualities, providing a safe surface for playing. They can also used in landscaping to create natural, visually appealing garden paths, borders and mulched areas.

In the following section, we list many common bark and wood chip uses in landscaping. Wherever there is a hyperlink beside an item, an article from Outdoor Aggregates about the topic is available.

Safe play chippings play area

Inspiration and Informational Articles

DIY-Friendly How-To Guides

Need to work out how many bark chippings your project needs? Try our free bark and wood chip calculator.

Other Applications

Some other applications for play chip include:

  • Base for terrace, patios or outdoor seating areas
  • Chicken coop runs, particularly hardwood chips.
Hard wood chip mulch in a garden border. Jpg

Unsuitable For

The following list represents the kinds of applications that play chip may not be suitable for:

  1. 1
    Using as a mulch in sloped areas without some kind of grid to keep chippings in place.
  2. 2
    Plantings that like highly alkaline garden soil.
  3. 3
    High traffic walkways
  4. 4
    Use around young plants or seedlings which need more Nitrogen, especially if turned-in to the soil.

Fall Safety Comparison

For your information, we provide the critical fall height safety of comparable materials.








Play wood chips







Engineered wood fibre




Fine sand




Coarse sand




Fine gravel




Medium gravel




Taken from page 5 of 'The Handbook For Playground Safety'.

*For the uncompressed depth of each material.

Similar Alternatives to Play Chip

The following is a list of decorative aggregates which are alternatives to play chip. They may offer you a more suitable variation on the primary colour, a more economical option, or a close substitute for cases where the base material may be unsuitable for the project you are creating, e.g. landscaping bark for a play area, where play chips may be safer. The price averages are based on the cost of a standard bulk bag, approximately 1㎥.








brown to red


10-60mm (0.4-2.4")



brown to red


20-60mm (0.8-2.4")



brown to red


20-60mm (0.8-2.4")





10-60mm (0.4-2.4")



white or red

5-40mm (0.2-1.6")



Under £80







Garden gloves tools and a rake

Play chips are a low-maintenance option, especially if a heavy duty weed membrane is installed below it to keep weeds at bay. The only required tasks are raking and occasional removal of debris. It is recommended to rinse or power wash the product from time to time to prevent dust and grime buildup. As time passes, play chips settle lower, about 10%, so you will need to replenish the play chippings occasionally to maintain safety depth and coverage.

Purchasing Tips

Bark play chip playground

When purchasing play chips, consider product safety certification and future replenishments when calculating the type and quantity optimal for your project. If it is a priority, request a copy of the product's compliance certificate before purchasing play grade wood chips. Also, where available, it is cost-effective to request a sample to assess the chippings' quality against your design requirements.

Our play chip calculator will give you a quick and unbiased estimate for your project needs just by taking a few measurements of the space. It is one of the best and easiest ways to order the right amount and helps avoid shortfalls or over-spending. Purchasing a bulk bag of play chippings or ordering in loose loads can offer better value than purchasing in smaller quantities. Therefore, calculating accurately can save both time and money. It is also important to consider the delivery aspects, including vehicle access to the site. Additionally, you can use our site to check stock availability and factor in VAT and transportation costs if applicable. (Feature coming soon)


What are play chips and what are they made of?

Play chips are small, irregular chips of natural wood, typically sourced from hardwood or softwood. They are used as a decorative and functional ground cover, offering a safe, cushioned surface for children's play areas as well as various landscaping applications.

How can play chips be used in landscaping?

Play chips can be used to create natural-looking garden paths, define borders, suppress weeds, and as a mulch to retain soil moisture. Their aesthetic appeal and safety features make them a popular choice for residential and commercial landscaping projects alike.

What are the benefits of using play chips in a playground?

Play chips provide a soft, cushioning surface, reducing the risk of injuries from falls. They are natural, aesthetically pleasing, and blend well with outdoor environments. Additionally, they are relatively low-maintenance, environmentally friendly, and provide safe, non-toxic play areas for children.

Are there different types of play chips available?

Yes, there are different types of play chips available, mainly differing in the wood source (hardwood or softwood) and size. Some are specifically designed to meet safety standards for playgrounds, known as play grade chips, ensuring they are free from harmful chemicals and appropriately sized to reduce choking hazards.

Can play chips attract pests or insects?

While play chips can sometimes attract insects or pests, choosing the right type of wood, such as cedar or pine, can naturally repel them. Keeping the area clean and dry, and regularly replenishing the chips, can also help prevent pest infestations.

There are many wonderful types of wood chippings available for your project needs. Check them out!

About the author 

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.