Rubber Mulch vs Wood Mulch [Complete Guide to the Pros and Cons]

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Who would have thought our old worn-out car tires could become valuable rubber mulch that neatens gardens while also helping your plants thrive?

And – if rubber mulch is so great, why doesn’t everyone use rubber mulch rather than organic wood mulch that needs to be topped up regularly?

Bright purple flower growing in a garden with red mulch.

There are a few things to consider!

Rubber mulch is attractive and works well as a landscaping feature. But rubber mulch isn’t perfect!

Rubber mulch has risks in terms of environmental contamination. The initial cost outlay of rubber mulch is also more than wood mulch. Luckily – rubber mulch also lasts much longer than bark mulch. Rubber mulch lasts up to ten years.

Wood mulch nourishes the soil and is entirely organic. But regular replacement is required to maintain a thick and healthy layer. Adding new layers of oak or pine bark mulch to your garden each year costs a lot of cash!

So – both rubber mulch vs. wood mulch has their pros and cons.

Rubber mulch adds an exciting alternative to traditional wood-based mulch. Multiple color and texture options are available.

Before grabbing a bag of rubber mulch at your local garden center, it is essential to understand the difference between rubber mulch and wood mulch and the long-term impact it could have on your gardening projects.

Which Mulch Is Best? Rubber or Wood?

young lily plant growing in bright red mulch
Here you can see a tiny lily plant emerging from red rubber mulch. The rubber mulch will help stifle the weeds so the lily flower can flourish.

Both rubber and mulch mulches have their proper applications. Rubber mulch, a synthetic material made from old car tires, can last ten years. Because wood decomposes, it needs to be topped up regularly. Rubber mulch helps save your homestead money because you don’t need to replace it as often as regular mulches.

Rubber mulch also has the advantage of being available in several different colors, which will add flair to your garden if you’re the creative type.

Rubber mulch has the advantage of not attracting plant-eating insects like ants. Being unpalatable and un-nutritious to insects, this acts as a subtle barrier to protect your precious plants.

On the downside, rubber mulch does not provide organic nutrition to the soil. Besides looking neat, its only purpose is to keep moisture locked in and reduce soil erosion. 

Rubber mulch is also very difficult to remove totally should you wish to, as the tiny rubber particles settle into the soil over time.

Read More – Landscaping Tips Using Mulch and Stone!

Does Rubber Mulch Stay In Place Better Than Wood Mulch?

Potentially, but not necessarily. Rubber mulch is available in several different variations. Rubber mulch options range from small bags to large rubber mulch mats that can easily roll out to rings. The rings are perfect for use around trees or shrubs. You can also find loose rubber chips varying in size and color. Some even look like wood bark chips.

Rubber mulch is heavier than wood due to its dense consistency and lasts longer than wood mulch. It’s also far less likely to be dislodged by the elements. Rubber mulch in the matted format is highly resistant to being moved. Rubber mulch has its origins on children’s playgrounds for low cost and longevity.

Our Pick
NuPlay Rubber Nugget Mulch for Landscaping

This rubber mulch nugget bag weighs roughly 40 pounds and comes in five colors that last for up to 12 years. Great for weed smothering, flower beds, and landscaping. Adds coloring to your garden!

Get More Info
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02/25/2024 12:04 pm GMT

The Pros and Cons of Rubber Mulch

When analyzing rubber mulch versus wood mulch – consider the following.

Looks neatHigh purchase cost
It lasts up to 10 yearsPossible soil contamination
Protects plants rootsPoses fire hazard
Requires little maintenanceDifficult to fully remove
It doesn’t attract antsCan release harmful metals and chemicals
Keeps moisture in the soil from evaporatingIt smells distinctly of rubber
Insulates wellCan attract Asian Cockroaches
Available in different colorsWeeding must be done by hand if needed
Inhibits weed growthCan contain sharp wires if low grade
Safe for play areasNot to be used in vegetable gardens
Pros and Cons of Rubber Mulch – OutdoorHappens.com

What Is the Difference Between Rubber Mulch and Wood Mulch?

mulch pine needles for rhododendron garden
When choosing the best mulch for your garden – don’t forget pine needles! Pine needles help reduce soil compaction. They last longer than most gardeners think. Pine needles also let water pass by without a fuss.

The main differentiator between rubber and wood mulch is that the rubber mulch is an artificially made product created from the rubber in tires. Wood mulch consists entirely of organic plant material.

Plant-based mulch is made up of dead plant material and can include anything from grass clippings and leaves to tree bark.

Both rubber and wood mulch serve the same primary purposes regarding the garden. 

  • Retaining moisture levels in the soil
  • Prevent heating of the garden soil and inhibits plant growth
  • Prevents soil erosion
  • Reduces weed infestation by acting as a barrier between the weed seed and the soil
  • Looks great!

Physically rubber mulch usually weighs more than organic mulch due to its high density. Visually the two products are pretty similar, with some rubber mulches even being made to look like bark chips.

Rubber mulch has the advantage of being available in several different colors, facilitating artistic designs and creative layouts of gardens.

Rubber mulch has the disadvantage of potentially contaminating the soil if laid without a protective but porous layer that separates the rubber mulch from the ground below.

In addition, rubber mulch has no nutritional value and doesn’t feed the soil. Organic mulch is better for the Earth! Nutrients from organic mulch flow into the ground as the plant matter decomposes.

Rubber mulch only needs replacing after ten years, while organic mulch needs annual replacement to work effectively and look good

Top Pick
Organic EZ-Straw Seeding Mulch With Tack
$58.57 ($29.28 / Count)

This processed hay mulch is perfect for garden beds and helping grow grass. It protects from birds eating your seeds - and the straw biodegrades. We also love it as a barrier to keep your dogs (and their paws) out of the mud!

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02/24/2024 10:48 pm GMT

Does Rubber Mulch Attract Snakes?

Rubber mulch does not naturally attract snakes or reptiles. The texture of the rubber mulch is such that it is probably uncomfortable for the snakes to lie on when compared to organic matter. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t bump into a snake taking a rest on the rubber mulch.

Rubber mulch warms up in the day as it absorbs the heat of the sun. The warm temperature could potentially attract a snake looking for warmth. However, the mulch’s rubber smell is more likely to deter the snake from choosing your rubber mulch as a siesta spot.

You’d be far more likely to bump into a sunbathing snake or reptile on a warm cement slab than in a rubber mulch-lined garden. But – be cautious!

Snakes go wherever they can get food. If you have lots of mice and rodents on your homestead – you probably have snakes!

We don’t think rubber mulch is a critical factor that would attract snakes. But – we still recommend looking before poking your hand into a clump of foliage in the back of your garden.

Also, consider – regular mulch may attract mice or moles. Nothing gets the attention of snakes like a healthy supply of fresh mice! Food for thought.

How Long Does Rubber Mulch Last?

mulch backyard path grass and flowers
Wood mulch doesn’t last that long! Bark mulch usually comes from softwoods such as cypress, pine, or fir. Oak and hickory are popular hardwood bark mulches. Either option looks and smells delightful – but they decompose quickly.

Most rubber mulch suppliers estimate a ten-year lifespan for rubber mulch. Some even guarantee that the color pigments induced into the mulch will remain colorful for up to 12 years.

Rubber mulch comes from old or defective tires and tire off-cuts. The rubber lasts a long time. The ten years referred to by most suppliers are based on the mulch’s aesthetic look when laid out in your garden. 

Realistically rubber mulch does not break down (entirely) after ten years. Rubber mulch has the potential to last over a decade. As such, when discarding rubber much, please do so responsibly.

Read More – 8 Best Mulch Alternatives for a Beautiful Lawn and Garden!

Is It Better to Use Rubber Mulch or Wood Mulch?

Deciding which is better to use between rubber and wood mulch requires a few factors to be considered.

To be consideredRubber MulchWood Mulch
Cost$8 to $14 per square foot (30cm Square block)$2 to $5 per square foot (30cm Square block)
Environmentally friendlyPotentially notYes
Ease of installationPlanning requiredVery easy
LongevityUp to 10 yearsReplace every 1 to 2 years
Replace soil nutrientsNoYes
Attract InsectsNoYes
Does it look good?YesYes
Rubber Mulch vs. Wood Mulch Comparisons

In Summary: Wood mulches have been popular for decades and still have their place. Rubber mulch is decorative and adds a new dimension to garden design. It offers both unique color choices and textures.

Another downside of rubber mulch is that it’s not as easy to install as wood mulch. In addition, rubber mulch raises environmental concerns due to potential soil pollution. In terms of cost, the rubber mulch wins as the wood mulch needs to be topped up every year or two.

When installing rubber mulch mats, long-term planning of plant placement is required. Cut holes for plants into the rolled mulch layer and the weed sheet that fits under the mulch. Chopping and changing your mind about plant placement can potentially ruin your unfettered mulch layer.

Rubber mulch is available at various garden supply stores such as:

You can also find rubber mulch at Amazon and Walmart – plus many local hardware stores.

Is Rubber Mulch Bad for Soil?

Maybe. Rubber mulch does have a downside! It could potentially degrade the soil quality. Consider that Rubber tires contain a variety of chemicals. Some of which are heavy metals like zinc. Plants do not tolerate zinc well. Zinc could lead your plants to eventually die off if the zinc levels in the soil become too concentrated.

As the rubber degrades, the chemicals and heavy metals are gradually released into the soil and could potentially end up in the groundwater. It is advised not to use rubber mulch in gardens where plants are grown for human or animal consumption.

What Is the Best Mulch for Soil?

Rubber mulch has no nutritional value, so it only serves as a covering for the soil. The advantage to the garden is that rubber mulch retains moisture by covering the garden soil. 

Moisture retention prevents overheating. As a result – evaporation reduces, the growth of weeds stunts, and soil erosion shrinks. Rubber mulch also doesn’t consume nitrogen found in soil. That’s excellent news because nitrogen is required for plants to grow.

In terms of adding nutrients to your soil? Organic mulch is the winner. It’s no contest! But – it is a tradeoff, though, as organic mulches decompose over time and use up nitrogen drawn from the soil for this to happen. You must replenish nitrogen from time to time by applying nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

Organic mulch, for example, wood or bark chips, must be selected carefully. Wood mulch should never contain treated shavings as these may release chemicals, including cyanide or creosote, into the soil and groundwater.

Does Rubber Mulch Stink?

Rubber mulch has a distinct rubber smell. The aroma is because subtle gasses continually emit from the rubber. You’ll recognize the familiar rubber smell as the sensation you get when walking into a tire shop.

The odor may initially be more noticeable when you freshly lay the rubber mulch. Over time the smell dissipates and becomes less noticeable.

Some people that have used rubber mulch have reported that the distinct rubber smell is more marked on hot days than cold days. Nonetheless, using rubber mulch for indoor gardens is not advised as the rubber smell will be very noticeable.

The origin of rubber mulch comes as a popular playground landscaping feature. Rubber mulches work wonderfully for playgrounds and pathways in schools.

In those applications, the smell was not a problem because it was always outside in large open areas, and the mulch is perfectly safe to touch and be around for humans.

Our Pick
Vundahboah Amish Goods Cedar Wood Mulch Chips
$19.99 $18.99

Natural cedar mulch is perfect if you want a refreshing scent for your houseplants or flower gardens! This cedar mulch comes from Tennessee and is available in .75-gallon, 1.5-gallon, or 3-gallon bags.

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02/24/2024 07:33 pm GMT

Does Rubber Mulch Attract Mosquitos and Other Insects?

Rubber mulch allows water to pass through the mulch into the soil. The mulch itself does not retain any moisture. Mosquitos require stagnant pools of water into which to lay their eggsTherefore, rubber mulch will not attract mosquitos. 

Rubber mulch as a whole is an excellent repellent of most insects as it is not edible, as is the case with organic mulch.

However, one insect that seems to have found a way to live in some types of rubber mulch is the Asian Cockroach. Should these insects be prevalent in your area, it’s probably best not to provide accommodation for them and their families.

Does Rubber Mulch Get Hot?

Rubber mulch exposed to direct sunlight does heat up. However, it won’t get much hotter than any other play surface, and you will always be able to walk over it and handle it. (Concrete slabs, metal slides, and even sandboxes get super hot under the sunlit sky!)

Fortunately, rubber is a poor heat conductor. Therefore, even if the surface of the mulch is hot to the touch, the actual heat transferred to the soil is significantly less than at surface level. The soil temperature is less than if you went without the protective mulch layer.


Rubber mulch is potentially more versatile than wood mulch in modern garden designs and lasts significantly longer than wood mulch. Wood mulch comes in various options and adds nutrients to the soil, which the rubber mulch can’t do.

Wood mulch needs to be topped up every year or two as it’s an organic material that decays. Both are great for specific applications, and gardeners should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of using either rubber or wood mulch on their property.

What about you?

Do you think rubber mulch is better than regular mulch?

Or – is regular bark, cedar, and oak mulch too tough to beat?

We’d love to hear your rubber mulch vs. bark mulch feedback!

Thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

Read More – Is Mulch Safe for Your Dog? Check These Safe Mulch Options!

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  1. If you live in any area subject to wildfires please don’t put any flammable mulch within 5 feet of your home. Most houses that are lost to wildfires burn as a result of embers being blown into areas of the house where they can smolder and then catch flammable materials on fire. By keeping a 5 foot perimeter bare of anything that can catch fire around your home you’re depriving those embers of material they can set ablaze.

    Natural rock, fire resistant plants, garden gnomes, anything nonflammable can create a pleasant, enjoyable appearance in that area but please no flammable mulch like wood or rubber. Losing your home is a miserable experience.

    1. Hey Bill!

      Thank you for reminding us that mulch fires are a real-world danger.

      We agree with you 100%.

      We’re also concerned with the increased temperatures and droughts throughout the US and other parts of the world.

      We believe our wonky climate these days might make the likelihood of mulch fires even more significant, especially if you live in an area prone to brush or forest fires!

      We’ll keep your thoughts in mind and encourage our readers to be careful.

      Thanks again for your courtesy.


      Mike D

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