What Are the Disadvantages of Using Synthetic Grass?

Suzanne S. Wiley
Synthetic grass can get hot enough to burn your feet.

Synthetic grass is an attractive substitute for sod for people who would like to reduce their water use and cut down on the amount of maintenance they have to do for their lawns. But synthetic grass, also called artificial turf or grass, has disadvantages that could be harmful to you and anyone walking, running or playing on the turf. With care, you can avoid injury, and synthetic grass does have its advantages, too.

Burn Risk

Synthetic turf looks like real grass to an extent, but it absorbs heat like other manufactured surfaces. Artificial grass can reach frighteningly high temperatures when exposed to sun and heat. University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science warns that artificial turf on a playing field can quickly reach 50 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the air temperature and that watering the field to cool it off doesn’t have long-lasting effects. That’s hot enough to cause burns if you trip and fall on the turf, or if you try to walk on it in bare feet. Remember that what can burn you, can burn your pets, too, so don’t let your pet loose on the turf, thinking that animal feet are invincible. Heat stroke is also a risk.

Contribution to Injury

In addition to the burn risk from touching hot turf, rugburn is a risk, too, regardless of the temperature of the turf. This is a matter of simple friction. If your bare skin slides against the turf, you could get a friction burn similar to a rugburn that you’d get by sliding on a fiber rug. Obviously, real grass can do some damage in this respect, too, but it is more likely to tear away from the ground as you slide over it, possibly reducing the severity of the burn. If you’re running on the synthetic grass, your shoes can catch on the material instead of sliding like they might do on real grass, leading to injured ankles and knees.

Maintenance Issues

Synthetic grass does not allow as much drainage of rainwater as real grass. If rain falls on real grass, of course, it will soak into the ground, running off only if the ground becomes saturated. With artificial turf, less rain soaks through the turf and into the ground, increasing the amount that runs off into shrubs or the street. Remember that if too much water runs off the turf and into shrubs, that can drown the shrubs. Synthetic grass has to be replaced, but you can’t compost it -- you have to dispose of it properly, and University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science says some synthetic turf needs special disposal, which can cost more than $130,000 for turf on a sports field.

Invisible but Real Risks

The rubber component of synthetic turf could leach heavy metals and chemicals, called volatile organic compounds, which is a concern especially for kids playing on the turf or anyone spending a lot of time on it. University of Arkansas Turfgrass Science warns that synthetic turf also needs to be disinfected periodically to prevent bacteria from getting into any injured skin if someone falls onto the turf.