You’re just about to install some artificial turf in your backyard – but you’re worried about it being toxic. So is it safe?
Artificial turf is not completely safe. Many types use crumb rubber made from old shredded tires, which contain toxins such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), plus heavy metals like zinc, iron, manganese, and lead that can be inhaled as microplastic dust.
Let’s dive down into the subject of artificial turf in more detail, and answer all those key questions about it so you can make an informed decision when buying and fitting it…
Is Artificial Turf Toxic? (Is it Bad For Your Health?)
Some artificial turfs probably do have toxic materials. These turfs are generally cheaper and have been used on large playing fields. For the home, there are several organic artificial turf choices.
To keep the tiny blades of “grass” upright, many artificial turf manufacturers use “crumb rubber”. Crumb rubber is made from shredded, used tires. Hailed as a junkyard tire savior at first, now health groups aren’t so sure about the value of crumb rubber in artificial turf.
The problem with crumb rubber is that it contains several toxins. It contains small amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and heavy metals, like zinc, iron, manganese, and lead.
When the artificial turf wears under harsh UV rays and baseball cleats, small clouds of bad for you dust and vapor can be inhaled. Microplastic dust. Or it can be accidentally ingested.
Here’s a reference about artificial grass toxicity.
Does Artificial Grass Contain Lead?
Maybe. Not all artificial turf is created equal. Some are organic. But other manufacturers do include lead in their turf.
Can Artificial Turf Melt in The Sun?
Basically, yes. A little. Artificial turf gets hot. Really hot. Studies have shown that on a day when the air temperature is around 80° F, the surface of artificial turf can reach 140° F.
Can Artificial Turf Cause Grazes & Injuries?
Artificial turf is grippy. Much grippier than natural grass. Sure, grippy is a good thing when you are running in a straight line. But when players need to make a quick turn, grippy isn’t good. Instead of sliding or skidding the foot stays in place and the leg joint gets twisted in an unnatural way – often resulting in injury to ligaments.
Some experts say that artificial turf also adds to the risk of concussion. Logically, a surface made from rubbery pellets should be spongy and softer than natural grass. And it is, for a while. The trouble is that the crumb rubber welds together after exposure to UV rays. The resulting surface is much harder.
Some field managers will “fluff” up their artificial turf with special machines or install more padding underneath.
Artificial turf fields act like heat islands. Many studies show that the surface of the artificial turf can reach over 30° hotter than the temperature of the air. On a sunny day with air temperatures at 80° F, the field surface can reach 140° F.
At 140° F, skin contact of over 5 seconds will result in a third-degree burn. At 160° F, direct contact kills human skin cells. At 160° F, the plastic cleats on shoes will melt. Some teams have resorted to having buckets of water on the sidelines just to cool down shoes.
Players expending lots of energy on top of a heat source can become overheated, suffer heat exhaustion and dehydration. To help with the excessive heat on artificial turf fields, many communities water their artificial turf to cool it down.
Many athletic groups won’t play on artificial turf as a result of the increased risk of injury.
Why Does My Artificial Grass Smell?
Artificial grass has a smell when it’s first installed but that should go away. If your grass smells after that, a good washing and deodorizing may be in order.
Can My Cat or Dog Wee or Poop on My Artificial Grass?
Some folks might say that their dog (cats are pickier) will wee or poop on anything at all. Artificial turf is not an exception. In fact, your dog may prefer “pet grass”. Apartment dwelling dogs, infirm dogs and puppies can use pet grass products either temporarily or permanently.
In fact, using artificial turf for your furry babies can be surprisingly handy in several ways. No mud. No digging. No pesticides. No giant yellowed spots.
How Do You Clean & Maintain Artificial Grass? (Can it Be Jet Washed?)
The bad news is that artificial grass is not no maintenance. But the good news is that cleaning and maintaining artificial grass is easy. There are several cleaning products you can buy to help wash your artificial grass or you can use a DIY solution of vinegar.
First, clear away the lawn furniture and toys. Scoop the poop. Then remove all leaves and debris with a broom, rake, or shop vac. If you are raking or sweeping your artificial grass, be sure to go in all directions so the blades stand up straight and are fluffy.
If you have pets or spilled beer, you may need some extra cleaning. For a DIY cleaner, try using one part vinegar to one part water. Vinegar works well for pet stains. For greasy areas, you may need to use a mild detergent solution.
Spray the area with the hose or a spray bottle to soften. Then spray the area with the vinegar or detergent solution. For stubborn solids, soften with water, then use a mop to apply the cleaner. Rinse with the hose or a spray bottle.
Can artificial grass be jet washed? The answer is – probably. Some artificial grass has infill. Infill makes your grass soft and can be damaged by power washers. The best idea is to use the widest angle (most gentle) spray nozzle, spray from at least a foot away and to test a small area first.
Does Artificial Grass Need Drainage?
Yes. Drainage is very important. The problem is that if water pools underneath your artificial grass, it can lead to mold, mildew, and insects like mosquitoes.
If you are having artificial grass installed in your backyard or going DIY, check out finger and other drainage systems before laying out the grass. Be sure that water has a way to drain away.
Do Weeds Grow Through Artificial Grass?
Sorry, but yes. You may have to weed your artificial turf. Artificial grass has lots of tiny holes that weeds can grow up through or weed seeds can be blown onto your turf. In wet climates, moss may start growing on your artificial grass.
Weeds can be handled by pulling or cutting. Weed roots can get started in the membrane of the turf or the weeds can be growing from the soil under the turf. In either case, if you pull gently, you may be able to pull the weed out by the roots.
You can kill weeds with herbicides, but a green way to kill weeds is with vinegar.
How Long Will Artificial Grass Last?
Many manufacturers will certify their grass for 8 years. With maintenance, many artificial turfs will last up to 25 years.
What Length Artificial Grass is Best?
In the world of artificial grass, pile height is defined as the length of the blades, measured from the backing to the tip. Normally expressed in millimeters (mm), it varies from 20 mm to 40 mm. 30 mm is the most popular choice for a soft, realistic artificial lawn.
Experts recommend, if you have kids and pets, to keep the pile height around 20 mm. Short artificial grass is tidy-looking and makes cleaning up after kids and pets easier.
A little longer pile height, up to 30 mm, looks more realistic but will be harder to clean. For this pile height, try to buy a heavier pile density to make sure the blades don’t pack down in areas of heavy foot traffic.
Pile height between 30 and 40 mm is ideal for realism.
Is Artificial Grass Bad For Wildlife?
On the one hand, artificial grass has no benefit to wildlife. On the other hand, it will not contribute to the amount of fertilizers poured into our waterways, or water used for lush, green lawns.
Real grass provides habitat for many creatures. Insects, other plants, and microorganisms all live in lawns. Grass is also near the bottom of the food chain. Many creatures, like birds, feed off the insects, worms, and grubs that live in grass.
Does Fake Grass Look Real?
Pretty much – no. Even the most expensive fake grass will look fake in the winter. It’s just too perfectly green.
Can You Install Artificial Grass Yourself?
Yup. But just barely. You might want to enlist some help, because it’s heavy work, especially if the area is large.
Here’s a video (note that this area is small and there are three people working on the job).
Does Artificial Grass Attract Flies?
With good maintenance and good drainage, artificial grass won’t attract flies. No voles or ants either.
Does Artificial Grass Fade Over Time?
Nope. Modern artificial turf will not fade over time, whether your turf is in the direct sun or in the shade. Many manufacturers guarantee their artificial grass won’t fade. At most, experts say it may fade 1 to 2% – a hardly noticeable amount.
Conclusion: Is Artificial Grass Worth The Money?
Let’s go through the pros and cons…
Pros: great water conservation, always good looking, low maintenance, time saver and maybe money saver (in the long run).
Cons: no benefit to wildlife, possible health risks, absorbs heat, no carbon capture, no fresh grass smell, no recycling, high initial cost.
And finally – be sure to check with your home’s HOA – some areas don’t allow artificial grass. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >