What’s Tanbark?

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Tanbark is a wood product made from the outer layers of the tanbark oak, valued for its tannins used in leather tanning. It is used as a ground cover in playgrounds and public arenas, but concerns include maintaining minimum depth levels and potential infestation with insects or contaminants. Shredded recycled rubber may be just as effective.

Tanbark is a natural wood product formed from the outer layers of the tanbark oak, a close relative of the popular hardwood species known as true oak. The tree is valued primarily for its abundance of tannins, organic chemicals used during the tanning process of leather. The tannins contained in the outer layers of the oak are mechanically removed, leaving a dry wood product suitable for mulching. In recent years, however, the tanning industry has largely replaced these natural tannins with synthetic ones.

This has not diminished the popularity of the tanbark used as a ground cover in places such as circus arenas, racetracks and children’s playgrounds. It is often placed around playground equipment for shock absorption and all-weather maintenance. For circuses and other public arenas, tanbark provides an economical floor covering that is ideal for providing traction for visitors and shock absorption for performers and animals.

The use of tanbark in playgrounds has been recommended by industry experts for years, but recent studies have suggested that other materials such as shredded recycled rubber may be just as effective. The main concern is not the natural shock absorbing qualities of the bark itself, but rather the difficulty of maintaining minimum depth levels for maximum protection. The correct layer is often placed around new playground equipment, but eventually the aquarium bark compacts or sheds. Only regular replenishment of material can ensure that your playground meets industry safety standards.

Another concern with using tanbark is the potential for infestation with insects or other contaminants. Natural wood products are attractive targets for termites, for example, so routine cover replacement should be standard practice for playground maintenance workers. When used on playgrounds, it should not be heavily treated with chemicals such as arsenic, although tests may be needed to determine if any harmful chemicals have leached into the soil from the treated ground cover.

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