Rubber Surfacing Solutions- The Ultimate Guide
August 24, 2020
When considering a flooring option for indoor and outdoor activities, rubber isn’t the first material that comes to mind.
“Isn’t rubber just used for Tupperware and tires?” You may ask.
Contrary to these concepts, rubber surfacing has proven to be an efficient, safe, and cost-effective flooring option that can be used for indoor and outdoor needs.
What Is Rubber Surfacing?
One thing that must be made clear is how the rubber surfacing is created, and how its unique structure provides specific functions. Rubber surfacing does not involve taking a slab of the material and gluing it to the ground.
Instead, the material used is called ‘soft pour’ or ‘wet pour’ rubber, which is a marvel of engineering. Softpour concrete is created by shredding tires into tiny pieces collectively known as ‘rubber crumb’’. These rubber granules are then mixed with a glue-like substance, which creates the rubber equivalent of wet-poured cement.
Like wet-pour cement, poured rubber is placed onto a surface as an amorphous blob. This blob can be moulded and smoothed to fit any shape, making it a very versatile application. Once hardened, the surface is set and will not move.
What are the Benefits of Rubber Surfacing?
Rubber surfaces have a surprising amount of benefits that other flooring options do not have. Some are unexpected, even of a substance like rubber.
Rubber is usually a darker colour and is assumed not to do well when exposed to harsh UV rays. While it is true that rubber can absorb heat and eventually become dried out, this is not the case for poured rubber. The polymer binding mixed with shredded EPDM rubber is UV stable, and thus functions fine in outdoor settings. This is backed up by the fact that most outdoor playgrounds and fitness areas choose poured rubber.
Slip and Water Resistant
Rubber surfacing provides additional safety through its tactile rubber surface, and hydrophobic seal. Many poolsides and playgrounds utilize rubber surfacing, for this reason, making the surface slip-proof and waterproof.
The problem with traditional flooring and surfaces is that they require frequent maintenance in the form of sweeping, mopping, and weeding if it’s outdoors. Regular untreated concrete, for example, may need to be swept and weeded since greenery will find a way to uproot it. Concrete also absorbs water, which does not help stop the surface from being overtaken.
Poured rubber surfacing can be maintained with ease, only requiring a basic cleaning brush and neutral cleaner. The main concern with rubber flooring maintenance is the type of chemicals used when cleaning it.
Safe and Shock Absorbent
The primary reason for installing a poured rubber flooring system is for its safety factor. Poured rubber performs as spongey, shock-absorbent padding to reduce injury in the case of slips and falls. Depending on the installation’s context, poured rubber surfaces can be padded to meet specific fall height requirements. Whether for a track, poolside, or playground, poured rubber is a much safer alternative than any traditional materials like asphalt, concrete, and wood chips.
Applications of Rubber Surfacing
Rubber surfacing has many applications other than playgrounds, and indeed can be built for specialized environments. Depending on the required function, rubber surfaces can be as dense or soft as demanding.
Playgrounds are the first thing that comes to mind when poured rubber surfacing is mentioned, and for a good reason. Playgrounds are equipped with structures meant for children’s entertainment and play, however, the structures come with risks. Some of these structures are relatively high off of the ground in the case of monkey bars. In contrast, others require the child to propel themselves uncontrollably like swings and slides. There are many opportunities for children to fall and hurt themselves, which is why rubber surfacing is used.
Poured rubber for playgrounds is tuned to be as shock absorbent and slip-proof as possible since those are the factors that primarily contribute to injury. Since poured rubber is slip and waterproof by default, falling because of a spilled drink is no longer a hazard. The increased tactile surface of the rubber also helps prevent trips while running.
Playground Poured rubber can be adjusted to match specific fall heights that are associated with types of equipment. Fall height references how much shock absorption is needed to prevent injury after falling from a certain height. The higher the fall, the thicker the under a layer of poured rubber has to be.
Applying poured rubber for poolsides function in a similar way to the playground application. While playgrounds focus on minimizing injury from falls, pools emphasize preventing damage as a result of slipping. Many tragedies involving unsafe poolside surfacing include tripping and falling onto a blunt or abrasive surface.
With untreated concrete, the coarse surface can cause additional bleeding and scrape from just a simple fall. Other instances involve people tripping, falling, and becoming unconscious due to contact with a hard surface. Falling into a pool while knocked unconscious has resulted in a noticeable amount of fatalities, giving more credence to pool safety.
Poured rubber surfaces are meant to reduce injury caused by falling with its spongey, smooth surface. Additionally, being waterproof near a helps accomplish the latter goal by negating a potential hazard.
Also known as ‘rubber paving’, poured rubber can also mimic the density and function of asphalt driveways. The resing used for this is meant to withstand the weight and wear from tired vehicles, so it is not ideal with playgrounds.
Typical uses of rubber asphalt are creating drivable pathways, full driveways, and even as a patching agent for regular asphalt driveways.
Indoor Gyms and Athletic Rooms
Rubber surfacing works just as well indoors as it does outdoors. A typical application of indoor rubber surfacing is for indoor athletic areas like gyms. The water-repellent seal prevents sweat, oils, and other liquids from being absorbed into the floor system.
These contaminants are known for staining surfaces and producing awful odours as they decay under your feet. Additionally, these substances can spawn mould and bacteria if they become trapped inside or underfloor systems.
An additional benefit is that the continuous, seamless nature of rubber flooring options makes tripping challenging to do. Some rubber flooring is installed as separate pieces of a mat, which means there are creases involved. Shoes can get caught on these creases, which is pretty standard during a workout. Additionally, ridges allow for water to travel through them, resulting in flooring damages such as mould and bacteria growth.
Permeable Rubber Surfacing
Sometimes being completely resistant to water is a bad thing for outdoor surfacing options. Porous rubber surfacing allows to irrigations and drainage to accommodate Canada’s freeze/ thaw cycle. If an object is too brittle, this cycle can become damaged, whereas being porous allows the system to breathe better. Additionally, it is better for the environment since it will enable water to flow past it.
Rubber Surfacing Maintenance
Maintaining a poured rubber surface is as easy as taking care of any other surface. It is perhaps even more accessible since the development of mould, warping, and soaking are non-issues. Simple maintenance includes regular sweeping and mopping with neutral cleaners like warm soapy water.
Using harsh chemicals like bleach or very basic degreasers will harm your rubber surface rather than clean it. Their volatile compounds will disrupt the bonds present and cause the problems as mentioned above.
Rubber Surfacing Health Effects
Shredded rubber used in most surfacing agents is made from tires, making it an easily recyclable resource. However, the fact remains that in the case of rubber flooring, the shredded pieces are still man-made by-products. There are concerns about rubber granules’ health effects, especially if it is heated and left in the environment. A study was conducted to determine whether severe toxic effects could occur due to different levels of exposure to rubber systems.
“Three routes of child exposure to chemicals in the rubber were considered: ingestion of loose rubber tire shreds, ingestion via hand-to-surface contact followed by hand-to-mouth contact, and skin sensitization via dermal contact. Overall, there was no determined health risk from the above routes of exposure to PIP surfaces on playgrounds” (Janes et al., 2018)
Some of the binding agents used in poured rubber can be toxic if individually handled or ingested. However, there is a catch. Poured rubber maintains its safe use because the toxicity of individual binding agents are either sealed underneath the top layer or deactivated once they have been cured. The same study says that “In addition, the chemicals used to produce the PU binding agents are considered inert once the product has cured and are a minimal health risk to users.” (Janes et al, 2018)
Curing occurs as a part of the installation process where the rubber surfacing is allowed 48 hours to solidify. Once cured, it remains in its shape.
Rubber Surfacing Environmental Effects
There are some concerns that the use of rubber surfacing could damage the environment. Like dermal exposure to children, there is the belief that rubber may eventually begin to break down and leech chemicals into the atmosphere. This is because of the adverse effects associated with the disposal of full, un-recycled tires.
Unrecycled tires collected in landfills can cause environmental damage as they rapidly deteriorate, resulting in their release of toxic heavy metals. In terms of ‘natural’ causes of this, the most significant source of the damage came from tire fires,
“Tire fires emit clouds of noxious black smoke, carbon black, volatile organics, semi-volatile organics, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, oil, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides, and airborne particulates, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, zinc, iron, lead, etc, which pose serious environmental problems to air, water and soil” (Mead et al, 1998)
According to an environmental study by Liu Mead, “One approach to the successful reuse of recycled tire rubber is its use as light fill in civil engineering and highway projects” (Mead et al 1998)
Though in this paper they are talking about civil engineering, shredded rubber, or rubber crumb works similarly. Shredding and using rubber crumb for surfacing applications is one of the more environmentally friendly methods of reducing chemical leeching from discarded tires. It also prevents unused tires from piling up and creating this apocalyptic-looking disaster.
This study concluded that the best method of handling recycled tire for civil engineering “should limit infiltration of water through the scrap tires and should promote surface water drainage away from the scrap tire subgrade” while also claiming that “Additional experiments would be required to determine if leaching of some of the compounds would even be possible in a ‘real-world’ environment” (Mead et al, 1998)
In other words, the leaching that occurred in the studies were performed in highly acidic conditions that do not exist in nature. Extrapolating from this, recycled rubber crumb that is cured does not pose a significant environmental threat than regular discarded tires.
Courtney Janes, Ludmilla Rodriguez, Chris Kelly, Theron White, Chad Beegan, Environmental Health Review, 2018, 61: 12-16, https://doi.org/10.5864/d2018-001
Liu, Helen S. et al. “Environmental Impacts of Recycled Rubber in Light Fill Applications: Summary & Evaluation of Existing Literature.” CTIT technical reports series 2 (1998): n. Pag.
“Tire Fires: What Happens When Scrap Tires Aren’t Recycled.” Eco Green Equipment | Tire Shredders, 18 Apr. 2016, ecogreenequipment.com,
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