Choosing a Softfall Surface


Sand V’s other surfaces

Being the web site for Sifting Sands you may expect that we would recommend that only sand should be used as the under surface in all playgrounds – this is not the case.


It is our opinion that many factors should be taken into consideration prior to choosing the surface that is right for you and your patrons. Ultimately the decision maker should consider the pros and cons of each surface and make an informed decision as to which surface best suits their needs.


There are usually three surfaces considered as softfall, being sand, rubber and woodchips.


To get you started, we have listed below what we see as some of the advantages and disadvantages of each surface;





  • Has a high social factor – Children (and parents) love playing with toys and digging in the sand, making sand castles etc
  • Compared to other surfaces sand tends to stay cooler in the hot months
  • Sand has an initial low cost, is easy to install, readily available and spreads easily
  • Sand does compact over time, though generally tends to stay “softer” than other surfaces, especially when it is cleaned or aerated during the sifting process.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests there is less injuries to children on sand softfall than on other surfaces. NOW THERE IS NEW RESEARCH EMERGING THAT SAND CAUSES LESS INJURIES TO CHILDREN WHEN COMPARED TO FALLING ON OTHER SURFACES. Click on the following link to see a recent article from ABC News.


  • Sand can hide hazards that may not be evident to patrons
  • Sand should be sifted to remove unwanted hazards and leaf litter.
  • Sand tends to get dirty over time (especially if it is not cleaned)
  • Sand pits tend to suffer mounding over time if the pits are not levelled during cleaning (especially coastal areas)
  • Grass tends to grow into sand pits if they are not maintained
  • Tree roots can grow into sand pits making the under surface harder
  • Not suitable for wheelchair manoeuvring
  • Requires a border to retain the sand
  • Can hide animal (especially cat) faeces




  • Does not tend to harbour hazards (except shards of glass) and is ideal in areas that have a high syringe, glass or leaf litter problem (though it has been known for needles to be stuck into the rubber, hence the surface should still be regularly inspected).
  • Low level of maintenance is required and is quick and easy to clean. This is beneficial where playgrounds tend to be forgotten or missed as part of a regular maintenance schedule.
  • Is generally low cost to maintain (also see cons below)
  • Availability of different colours and designs
  • Suitable for wheelchair manoeuvring



  • Low social / play factor
  • Shards of glass can be extremely difficlut to remove
  • High initial cost to install when compared to sand and woodchips
  • Although rubber should meet the Australian standards on compaction when laid, evidence tends to suggest when a child falls from a reasonable height on rubber the shock reflects back into the person rather than being absorbed by the surface, creating a higher level of injuries.
  • The surface tends to get harder over time
  • Rubber tends to get very hot unless it is well protected by trees or shade sails
  • Covering playgrounds with shade sails can be very expensive. Depending on its location, the average life of a shade sail is about 18 months; this is due to vandalism, theft and storm / wind damage.
  • If erecting shade sails these should be removed over the winter period to extend their life (increased cost for removal, storage and putting back up)
  • After a few years the surface tends to have a powdery residue on it which then gets on patrons when they play on it.
  • Rubber can be easily vandalized, either through being cut or ripped, or by solvents such as petrol being placed on the surface and being set alight (cases of this tend to be on the rise).
  • If not laid correctly the surface can rip and tear.
  • Tree roots growing underneath can raise and / or damage the surface
  • Uneven or damaged surfaces can cause a tripping hazard
  • The damage to the surface and repair costs if the equipment needs replacing or moving
  • If the rubber is consistently staying wet due to reticulation, then moss can grow on the surface creating a slipping hazard






  • Tends to stay cooler in the hot months
  • Is a relatively low cost surface
  • Patrons tend to leave shoes on when using a playground with this surface
  • Aesthetically fits in locations that have a natural bush setting and are high in tree litter.  


  • Low social / play factor
  • Tends to compact very easily and gets very hard  over a short period of time. A hard surface tends to cause a higher level of injuries.
  • Can hide hazards that may not be evident to patrons
  • Very difficult (almost impossible) to clean apart from “hand picking” items from the surface
  • The cost is influenced by the type of woodchips used, though they should be specially rolled to prevent splinters. Over time woodchips can still splinter. 
  • Tends to decompose over time
  • Grass tends to grow into it if the area is not maintained
  • Tree roots can grow underneath making the surface harder
  • Woodchip softfall tend to be “forgotten” when it comes to regular maintenance.
  • Woodchips become a dirty surface to play on
  • Can be burnt
  • Not suitable for wheelchair manoeuvring

It is important to weigh up those factors that are most important to you and other key stakeholders. Once implemented, to change a softfall base to a different surface can be very costly.