How To Choose The Best Artificial Grass For Playgrounds & Children’s Play Areas: A Complete Buying Guide

Best Artificial Grass for Playgrounds

Homeowners and park managers alike are tired of wood chips and gravel scattering everywhere beneath playgrounds and play areas. 

And kids aren’t thrilled about tumbling down the slide onto hot gravel or splinters. 

Surely there must be a better way to provide a safe, shock-absorbant,  low-maintenance covering beneath play structures.

Thanks to advances in artificial grass manufacturing technology, there is! 

Playground turf doesn’t create the mess of gravel or wood chips, and it provides a softer surface than concrete for rough landings off of the monkey bars.

Whether you’re looking for synthetic turf for your backyard or local park, read on to find out how to choose the best brand, type, and features of artificial grass to go under your jungle gym or playground.

Metal slide on hill covered in artificial grass on a children's play area

How To Choose the Best Artificial Grass for Playgrounds & Play Areas? 

Due to the hassle of maintaining and replenishing other types of playground coverings, artificial grass for playgrounds and play areas has grown in popularity in recent years. 

Modern turf products look and feel very similar to the real thing. 

Artificial grass looks bright, friendly, and inviting underneath a play structure. 

Moreover, it is an eco-friendly alternative to natural grass as it doesn’t require water, fertilizer, or pesticides that are hazardous to children and pets. 

This low-maintenance ground cover also improves playground safety by providing a soft cushion for little feet. 

Below, we’ll provide a detailed guide about artificial grass for playgrounds to help you weigh your options and find the best fake grass for your playground or play area.

Couple sitting at table researching artificial grass for playgrounds

1. Research Artificial Grass for Playgrounds  

To the untrained eye, all turf products may look the same: green, fluffy, and grass-like. 

However, there is a wide range of durability, features, drainage, and other factors that differentiate the various types of artificial grass

Not all types of artificial grass will make a base for your playground or play area, so it’s important to choose a variety with the ideal features to provide the best experience. 

Doing your research (both online and by asking an expert) will help you hone in on which type will best meet the needs of your play area. 

To help with your research, we’ve published several blog posts that you may want to check out.

Playground turf product sample with "Turf Terminology" text overlaying it

2. Learn Turf Terminology  

Before you go shopping for artificial grass, it’s important to learn the basic vocabulary of artificial turf terminology. 

By understanding the specifications of each product, you’ll be confident in your ability to choose the best one for your park, yard, or play area. 

Rolls of green artificial grass yarn fibers stacked in warehouse

Yarn Fibers  

The yarn is the material used to make the threads that form the blades of grass. 

While the yarn used in artificial grass products can vary in color, thickness, and shape, all yarn is comprised of one of three materials: 

  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Nylon

For artificial grass that goes under a playground, you’ll want to steer clear of products made of nylon. 

While it’s the most durable of the three, it’s notorious for “turf burns” on skinned knees. 

Its harsh texture makes it a poor choice for playgrounds. 

It’s also the most expensive. 

Polypropylene is the softest of the three materials, but it’s susceptible to matting from wear and tear, which is less than ideal for a spot that is bound to see above-average foot traffic. 

When shopping for artificial turf under playgrounds, look for a turf product made with polyethylene yarn. 

Besides having the advantage of being an economical choice, polyethylene has the best combination of softness and strength that make it perfect as a park or play area ground cover.

Playground turf product with closeups of the turf fibers and thatch

Thatch & Turf Fibers  

In a natural grass lawn, there is a layer of dead and dying grass underneath the green, new blades. 

This layer is responsible for that cushiony, soft feel we associate with grass under our bare feet. 

To simulate this, many modern turf products have a layer of thatch — curly, soft threads that go between the upright green threads — that adds to the realistic aesthetic and cushiony softness of the synthetic grass. 

A thick thatch layer is a sign of a high-quality turf product. 

Playground turf product backing with ruler measuring the density of the turf fibers

Density 

A high density is indicative of a durable, high-quality playground turf product.  

The artificial grass’s density is how close-knit the fibers are woven together. 

A dense product packs more material into each square yard, which means more fibers to absorb friction from foot traffic. 

Closeup of playground turf product to show the face weight

Face Weight 

Face weight is the weight of the yarn and thatch and does not include the backing. 

High-quality turf products will have a weight of 70 ounces per square yard of material or higher. 

Products with face weights lower than this will feel threadbare and not have the durability that playground turf requires.

Ruler measuring the pile height of an artificial grass product sample

Pile Height 

This measures how tall the artificial grass blades are. 

Pile height has more to do with what the turf is used for than how high quality it is.

For places where the artificial grass will be mostly seen and not walked on (such as a front yard), a tall pile height (1.25 inches or more) creates a lush, realistic appearance.

For areas that see heavy use and a lot of foot traffic, it’s better to select a turf with a shorter pile height. 

For playground turf, we recommend pile heights of 1.25 inches and below.

Several turf product samples with the backing exposed

Turf Backing   

The backing on artificial turf is made up of primary backing (the grid of material that the grass fibers are woven into) and secondary backing (the “fabric” that’s glued on the back and seals everything together). 

Together, the primary and secondary backing make up the total back weight. 

Well-made artificial grass products that are sturdy enough to go under a play area will have a back weight of above 25 oz. per yard.

Playground turf product sample draining water that's being poured from above

Drainage

Though the kids won’t be at the playground on rainy days, your artificial grass will, so it’s vital to select a product with a backing that allows for adequate drainage through the backing. 

For most playgrounds and play areas, hole-punched (or perforated) backing is sufficient. 

Just like it sounds, hole-punched backing features small holes punched every few inches to allow rainwater to pass through. 

Areas prone to standing water or that host pets require 100% permeable backing, which is a more efficient drainage system.

Three turf products laying side-by-side to show the different colors of each

Color  

With advances in manufacturing technology, there is now a wide variety of colors of artificial grass. 

Turf products are designed to mimic specific species of grass so they match nearby natural lawns and grass areas. 

High-quality turf products often have multiple colors of yarn to provide a more realistic look.

Three small piles of infill material on a wooden table

Infill Material  

The yarn and backing are only part of the artificial grass system. 

To complete the installation, nearly all turf requires an infill material (small granules of sand, cork, or other materials) to be spread over the area. 

Like soil, the infill is crucial in keeping fibers upright. 

It also stabilizes the turf to prevent shifting and buckling. 

Infill also makes the playground turf look and feel more realistic. 

At Ideal Turf, we use a rounded silica sand infill and T°Cool’s Evaporative Cooling Infill in our turf installations.

Graphic with side-by-side turf products showing how Microbe-Safe™ antimicrobial additives prevent the buildup of odors, germs & bacteria

Antimicrobial  

Like natural grass, artificial grass can harbor bothersome bacteria, fungus, or mold. 

But unlike natural grass, synthetic turf can be manufactured to combat this problem. 

Some turf products contain antimicrobial additives that are added during the manufacturing process. 

This reduces the microbes (and accompanying odors) that can grow in the turf. 

The antimicrobial backing found on Ideal Turf’s artificial grass products called “Microbe-Safe™” helps prevent the buildup of odors from pet urine, as well as germs and bacteria. 

Pile of turf products with the words "UV Protection" overlayed

UV Protection / UV-Stabilized  

Just as you’d put sunscreen on your children to protect their skin from sun damage, high-quality turf products come with built-in “sunscreen” to combat the problems caused by sun exposure. 

Look for turf products with built-in resistance to ultraviolet (UV) light. 

UV protection keeps artificial grass from fading in the sun and prevents its backing from breaking down and allowing grass fibers to fall out.

Playground turf products sample with the words "Compare Features" overlayed

3. Compare Features of Playground or Play Area Turf Products 

Artificial grass is an ideal ground cover for a variety of areas, from sports fields to pet runs to backyards

However, synthetic grass is hardly a one-size-fits-all product, and there are now many different products available that are tailored to the many different uses of artificial grass. 

Here are the key features to look for when determining which artificial grass product will best suit your playground area. 

Side-by-side comparison of regular infill and T°Cool® infill

Quality, Cooling Infill

Artificial grass is made of plastic polymers, so it has a tendency to absorb heat from the sun. 

Choosing a high-quality infill with cooling properties will help reduce the surface temperature of the turf by up to 50 degrees, increasing the comfort and safety of the children using the playground turf. 

For play area ground cover, we recommend using T°Cool® Infill.

A ruler measuring the pile height of a turf product sample

Short Pile Height

While long grass blades add to a lush, full look to a turf installation, they have a greater tendency to matting and flattening. 

A short pile height is best for areas, such as playgrounds, that see heavy wear and tear from pitter-pattering feet. 

For play areas, choose a pile height of no more than 1.25 inches. 

The feet of a woman working out on artificial grass

Durability

Few turf installations will see as much abuse as those underneath jungle gyms. 

Skimping on the back weight or density of your turf product will be a choice you’ll regret quickly. 

Choose a high-quality product that will stand the test of time and children’s feet. 

Indicators of a good-quality turf product are a heavy face weight and back weight, a high density, and a lengthy warranty (20 years or longer). 

Artificial grass installed in a backyard children's play area with a wooden play set

Trustworthy & Reliable Turf Installer  

While it’s not part of the playground turf, it’s crucial to choose an experienced, competent artificial grass installation team. 

Even the best artificial grass product can look terrible and wear out quickly if the installer doesn’t know what they’re doing. 

Check online reviews and get referrals from other clients when investigating an artificial grass installation company

Turf installers should be willing to answer all your questions about their turf products and their installation process.

Costs, budget and financing

4. Costs, Budget & Financing  

There are numerous long-term benefits to having artificial grass

  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Lower water bill
  • Boosted real estate value
  • Better curb appeal

While artificial grass has a higher upfront cost than seeding or sodding a regular lawn, the cost savings in lower maintenance and water bills pays for the artificial grass over time. 

It usually takes 3-5 years to see an ROI on synthetic turf. 

In the meantime, however, you’ll enjoy lush, green, realistic-looking grass beneath your playground without worrying about how to maneuver a lawnmower or weed eater around a slide or teeter-totter. 

If it’s not in your budget to pay for the entire artificial grass installation, check with your turf installer to see if they offer financing options

Graph comparing the cost of artificial grass vs. real grass for a 1,000 square foot lawn over 25 years

How Much Does Artificial Grass for Playgrounds Cost? 

Naturally, this depends on how large of a play area you want to cover with artificial grass. 

It also depends on the layout of the playground, as well as whether the play structure is already in place or is to be installed after the fact. 

You can get a rough idea of how much it will cost to put artificial grass under your playground by calculating the square footage of the space and using this cost calculator

However, installing turf beneath an existing play structure can be tricky, given the number of seams that may be involved, so it’s best to talk to a professional to get an accurate quote.

Graphic of a pros and cons list

5. Weigh The Pros & Cons of Fake Grass for Playgrounds & Play Areas  

Not every playground is well-suited for fake grass, and there are definite pros and cons to having synthetic turf beneath your play structure. 

Here’s the breakdown of some of the pluses and minuses about having artificial grass under your play area. 

PROSCONS
Less effort to maintainHeat absorption
Less costly to maintainHigh installation cost
Green and beautiful year-round
Less messy (no scattered gravel/mud)
Better cushion for falls
No holes or bare spots
Hypoallergenic
Less bacteria/mold/fungus
Safety & Playground Fall Zone Requirements

6. Safety & Playground Fall Zone Requirements

The following applies primarily to commercial playground turf installations, but should also be considered for residential play areas.

If there is any equipment on the playground the turf and cushion material has to be fall height (zone) rated. 

The IPMEA has standards and there is an ASTM test as well.

The fall zone is the area that surrounds slides, swings or climbing equipment where playground surfacing must be installed to prevent injury. 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the fall zone’s surfacing must extend beyond the equipment for a minimum of six feet.

Fall-related injuries on swings and slides are especially common. 

To meet fall zone requirements, surfacing in front of a slide’s exit should extend four feet plus the height of the slide, with a minimum of six feet and a maximum of 14 feet. 

Swings must be surrounded by surfacing that is two times the length of the pivot point to the surface, both to the front and back of the swing.

Children running and playing on a playground with an artificial grass ground cover

What is Critical Fall Height?

Surrounding equipment in protective surfacing is not enough to improve safety. 

The surfacing must also be thick and deep enough to absorb impact based on its critical fall height.

The critical fall height of a playground surface is the fall height below which a life-threatening head injury would be unlikely to occur. 

A surface is tested in a lab or at a playground site for its impact attenuation, or shock-absorbing properties. 

The critical fall height is then determined by combining the acceleration of an impact with the duration of the impact, specifically related to head injuries.

If you’re installing surfacing within a fall zone, consider the critical fall height of and required depth for each material. 

Speak with one of our turf installation experts to ensure that the artificial grass and foam padding you install meets playground fall height requirements.

Several turf product samples laid out on a white background

Our Top Picks of the Best Artificial Grass for Playgrounds & Play Areas 

While there are several turf products that will work well for a ground covering, we thought we’d share two of our very favorites with you. 

These products are high quality and perfect for an installation under a playground or play area. 

Aberdeen 84-Playground Turf Product

Aberdeen 84  

The deep green of the Aberdeen 84 artificial grass is sure to look striking beneath your playground or backyard children’s play area. 

Its ample thatch layer will help the grass resist trampling and matting and provide a heavenly cushion to bare feet. 

It features a generous 20-year manufacturer’s warranty as well as DUAL FLOW backing and antimicrobial additives to prevent the formation of bacteria, mold, and fungus.

Dundee 77-Turf Product

Dundee 77  

Dundee 77’s shorter pile height of 1 inch will give running feet a good, grippy surface to walk on around the playground.

It will also resist flattening and matting.

The vibrant green color and plentiful thatch layer make it extremely realistic and an excellent choice to go under playgrounds. 

Dundee 77 also features the DUAL FLOW backing with antimicrobial properties that are ideal for a playground installation. 

It is made in the USA and backed by a 20-year warranty.

Wrapping Up the Best Fake Grass for Playgrounds

Wrapping Up Our Buying Guide to the Best Artificial Grass for Playgrounds & Children’s Play Areas

If you’re ready to abandon the tedious chore of raking gravel or wood chips back into the playground, check out artificial turf for your play area. 

It’s less messy and less maintenance than wood chips, gravel, or grass, and it provides a safe cushion for any tumbling feet, knees, or hands. 

What’s more — you’ll enjoy the beauty of lush, green grass (without any bare spots or divots) all year round with almost no maintenance.

If you’re ready to install artificial grass under your playground or play area in Texas or Oklahoma, please contact the experts at Ideal Turf today! 

We can give you an accurate, free quote for your play area and answer any questions you might have about turf products, features, and the installation process. 

Get your FREE artificial grass design & installation estimate by clicking the “GET A QUOTE” button or feel free to give us a call at 800-204-4650.

Author:
Tim Taylor is an industrial engineer and entrepreneur with years of hands-on experience in the synthetic turf industry. As a member of the Synthetic Turf Council, he dedicates his time, energy, and resources to finding real solutions to real problems for synthetic turf products and installation processes.

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