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Metal vs. Plastic Play Structures

When choosing play structures for your outdoor playground, you’ll come across a few different material choices — mainly wood, plastic, and metal. While each material type comes with various advantages, plastic and metal are often preferred for their durability and longevity.

If you’re building a new play space or renovating your current playground, understanding the strengths and potential challenges of metal vs. plastic for play structures will be beneficial. While most playgrounds feature a combination of metal and plastic equipment, both materials come with considerations to think about during your planning process. This way, you can invest in options that withstand constant use and continue facilitating play for kids throughout their childhoods.

Below, we compare semi-plastic and all-metal playground equipment materials to help you make the right choice for your play area and the families who use it.

What Are Metal Play Structures?

The most common metal materials used to design and manufacture play equipment are steel and stainless steel. These materials are preferred because they’re affordable, easily available, strong and sturdy enough to support kids as they play for years.

One example of metal structures on playgrounds is climbing structures, such as climbing domes. However, the use of only metal play structures is decreasing on playgrounds, as plastic is a highly durable material that provides unique benefits for play equipment.

What Are Plastic Play Structures?

Typically, plastic play structures are made from a combination of recreational plastic and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE play structures have high tensile strength and superior UV resistance, and they are easy to fabricate. Most plastic play structures also feature some metal components for added strength and durability.

In general, plastic can be used to create colorful, bright, and vibrant play structures that liven up play areas in parks and school playgrounds. It can be fabricated into a variety of interesting designs, shapes, and styles, such as slides, swing sets, guardrails, playhouses, and activity panels.

Differences Between All-Metal vs. Semi-Plastic Play Structures

When building or redesigning a playground, it’s essential to consider the differences between all-metal vs. semi-plastic play structures to create the most effective play space.

Wear and Durability

The appeal of using metal for playground equipment stems from its strength. Today, metal play structures are enhanced with vinyl or plastic coatings to make them safer and enhance their life spans.

Metal playsets often outlast equipment made from other materials, including plastic and wood. However, rust and corrosion are potential problems that affect the usability of metal playsets over time — additional surface coatings can help prevent those issues. Regularly inspecting and maintaining metal structures are also important to keep them safe to play on.

High-quality semi-plastic playsets also last long and can hold up against continued use and harsh weather. Unlike metal, plastic playsets don’t rust or corrode, nor do they rot, warp, splinter, or decay over time like wood play structures. With time and regular use, plastic playsets may develop small cracks and other minor issues, but regular maintenance and care can help prevent and address damage. High-quality plastic for playsets is available in a wide range of colors and has UV stabilizers that help reduce fading over time.

Environmental Impact

Playgrounds are meant to last for a few generations. Eco-friendliness and sustainability are key features to consider when browsing playsets. Recycled plastic is a sustainable equipment material that reduces environmental impact by decreasing the amount of resources required to create the playset.

Plastic play equipment manufacturers can repurpose waste materials such as cardboard, plastic bags, and sheet plastic to create new playsets. Recycling plastics is energy efficient and costs less than producing plastic materials from scratch. Using steel is similarly eco-friendly. It can be reused and recycled multiple times to minimize the environmental footprint of play structures.

You can also reduce the environmental impact of playsets with regular inspection and maintenance to keep them in optimal condition for longer. Consistent maintenance extends the useful lives of playsets by reducing the waste produced when you wait too long to make repairs and replacements. Inspect playsets for rust and signs of dents, cracks, tears, and surface wear, and make necessary repairs before they get out of hand.

Weather Resistance

Weather resistance is a major concern when selecting playground equipment. Metal is a durable and weather-resistant material that can hold up against sun, wind, rain, and snow.

However, metal may become too hot to touch on sunny days, which can pose safety issues. You can reduce the risk of burns on metal playsets by choosing components with safe, protective, heat-resistant coatings, though a playground with only metal structures can still be difficult to play on in the heat.

Semi-plastic playsets perform well in all kinds of weather, and certain properties can help them remain at a comfortable temperature even with intense heat exposure. Brighter-colored plastic playsets have better heat-resistant properties than darker-colored plastic playsets, which absorb lots of heat when left out in direct sunlight. Installing shade structures at playgrounds also helps protect the equipment from the heat, which can help prevent the playset from getting too hot.

Maintenance Needs

Fully metal playsets are more tedious and expensive to maintain than playsets made from mostly plastics. Metal without a protective seal rusts or corrodes when exposed to the elements. You may need to reseal metal play equipment after a certain period of time to restore them after long-term exposure to the elements. Frequent repairs and part replacements may be necessary because metal play sets are more susceptible to bending or breaking with continuous use.

Maintenance costs and efforts for semi-plastic playsets are generally minimal, as you only need soap and water to clean them occasionally. HDPE is resistant to mold, mildew, rust, corrosion, scratches, and discoloration. Semi-plastic playgrounds are more durable and retain their aesthetic appeal for longer without the need for staining or sealing, unlike all-metal playgrounds.

Choose Little Tikes Commercial to Install Quality Playsets

Depending on your playground’s layout and environment, you’ll likely find that a combination of metal- and plastic-based play equipment makes the most sense. At Little Tikes Commercial, we specialize in creating inclusive playground equipment that meets design and manufacturing safety standards to promote imaginative play for children of all ages. With our selection of playsets, you can create a visually appealing and educational play space that holds up against wear and tear.

Our play equipment goes through a three-step finishing process to improve its durability and longevity. Vinyl deck coating helps reduce rust, corrosion, aging, and heat transfer, while compound resin provides our playsets with strength and UV resistance. All of these features come together to create playsets that last, built with robust materials including 100% recycled plastics and steel tubing.

Little Tikes Commercial adheres to stringent industry regulations and standards, allowing you to feel confident in your investment. Reach out to us to learn more about our play equipment or request a quote for a specific play structure today.