Review: Foam Play Mats

All play mats are not created equal. I wanted foam mats to line the bottom of my new (OK, this was six months ago) play yard so that Little Miss would have softer falls as she toddled about. The foam would also prove effective at keeping our hard floor warm during the winter.

Four foam play mats overlapping, red, yellow, green and blueI learned that foam mats sell for radically different prices and vary widely in squishiness (squishy = better shock absorption).

My search:

  1. Bought 12-inch interlocking foam alphabet floor tiles. These were a steal in the toy section at Ross (which is more than a clothing store, apparently). The tiles were very squishy, but a pain to clean. Each tile has a pop-out foam letter in its middle area. The seams around the letters and between tiles are a haven for dust and dirt particles. Plus, if you try moving the tiles, the letters fall out.
  2. Bought four black 24-inch interlocking mats at a sporting goods store (also available at K-Mart and Target). They were labeled as exercise mats designed to sit under and around heavy equipment. They were way too firm.
  3. Considered gymnastic mats. They have the ultimate squish factor, but are damned expensive.
  4. Found 24-inch foam play mats at Amazon.com. These look like exercise mats, but in a drab blue and are actually labeled as being play mats. Are they squishy? Are they firm? I wasn’t going to buy them to find out.
  5. Scoured web sites for play mats using Google and found web prices to be quite, uh, pricey. I requested a free sample piece from one vendor. Gah! The sample was as firm as the exercise mats.
  6. Discovered that Ross — the clothing store that sells toys and other junk — sold 24-inch interlocking mats in red-yellow-green-blue combinations that were very squishy and dirt cheap ($12 for a pack of four). Unfortunately, they seemed to sell out the same day as they are unpacked and Ross staff couldn’t say when they would receive more. “Visit every day,” was their advice. I had Grandma snatch up play mats at several Ross stores in her area. Though, the dye lots didn’t always match (e.g., one red tile is darker than another, etc.) Sorry, I don’t remember the manufacturer and I couldn’t locate them on the web at the time.
  7. One caution: Play mats from various manufacturers do not necessarily interlock. You’ll notice in the photo that my play mats have an odd center tab that is shaped differently from the surrounding tabs, thus rendering it incompatible with my black exercise mats.

The 24-inch mat size makes cleaning easy. Little Miss loves them. Our cats love them. Visitors want to know where we bought them. My knees thank me on a daily basis when crawling and playing with Little Miss.  If Mom would let me, I’d probably go wall-to-wall with these suckers.

Update: Joel from Little Bun Blog reports finding similar foam mats at Sam’s Club in September 2005. I spotted $20 foam mats at Target in the children’s furniture aisle in October 2005.

Update #2: Greg’s post on Daddy Types spurred additional memories. I had enough mats to make our living room Christmas themed (red and green mats) and our family room Hannukah themed (blue and gold/yellow).

A commenter on Daddy Types pointed out that cat claws shred these mats fast. Brown, one of our two cats, did claw several of our mats one day. A little clawing is a blemish. Repeated abuse would ruin the allure and probably create lots of tiny pockets for dirt particles. So, your mileage may vary.

Comments

14 Responses to “Review: Foam Play Mats”

  1. Linnea says:

    We found blue interlocking foam tiles at Toys R’ Us, hidden sneakily on an end cap in the stroller/car seat area. They were a bit too expensive for my taste, but worked great for padding our daughter’s play area (hardwood floors throughout). Sadly, our cats love them too, and we often wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a nice nail-sharpening in the mats. We’re moving to a carpeted place, and DD is well into walking, so we’ll probably retire them into the backyard to go under a splash pool.

    July 27th, 2005 at 8:26 pm

  2. a new mom says:

    I did some digging online, found a place called “softnsafe.com”, they sell various EVA foam mats with or without patterns at a reasonable price(about $1 per square foot). Initially I plan to order the ones with patterns(animal, letters and numbers). After reading your article, I start to concern that the patterns may make it difficult to clean. But the pattern ones do look really cute!

    September 21st, 2006 at 6:46 pm

  3. maysmom says:

    thanks “a new mom”! thanks to your post i found softnsafe and have ordered thier 80 sq mat. it seems high quality .. hopefully it’ll be worth the money
    have to say its much cheaper than anything else i could find.
    will post when i get the stuff.
    PS: for future readers, softnsafe.com is different from softnsafefloors.com.

    August 29th, 2007 at 10:07 pm

  4. Lenny C says:

    Hey “maysmom” and “a new mom” how are those mats from softnsafe working out for you? I am looking into buying them for my twin nieces and want to make sure they are not junk. Should I get the preschool mats 12″ X 12″ they sell or the exercise mats 24″ X 24″?

    September 19th, 2007 at 5:50 pm

  5. Dee says:

    Please tell us how the softnsafe mats are as they cost so much less than the other sites and I was hoping to get some too.

    September 25th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

  6. Lenny C says:

    Hey Dee,
    What other mats have you been looking at? I found other mats at BJ’s but nowhere on the package does it say the mats are fire or child safe. Go to http://www.bjs.com and search for mats. There are only one kind that show up and they are made by Living Home.I went to a mommy, music and me class and those are the mats they use. There is also another place http://www.getrung.com that sells mats for children but they are not as thick as the softnsafe ones. I am confused on what to do…

    September 27th, 2007 at 9:48 am

  7. Sophie's mom says:

    There are reviews for the softnsafe mats on that site. Go here and just click on product details to see the mats they are reviewing:

    http://www.softnsafe.com/shopreviewlist.asp?id=1

    September 27th, 2007 at 4:02 pm

  8. Lenny C says:

    Hello All,

    Just to let you all know I ended up purchasing the mats from bj’s wholesale. I package covers 33.5 sq feet, just under 1/2 thick(13mm), and costs around $19.The mats are manufactured by Living Home(a bj’s brand) and I spoke with their internal people to make sure the mats passed all safety and fire tests and they did.(The packaging does not say anything about it though). Started using the mats two days ago and the babies love them.

    October 9th, 2007 at 8:32 am

  9. Fiona W says:

    Hi Lenny C,

    Did your BJ’s mats arrive with a big smell? I wonder if it is healthy for kids…The website or the packaging do not suggest anything “non-toxic”…

    Thanks a lot.

    February 2nd, 2008 at 9:02 pm

  10. Andrew S. Buczko says:

    You mentioned that the softer the mat the better.
    I have been looking for low density foarm to use for retreaded my old slot car tires.
    The “squishy = better shock absorption” can be mesured using a durometer that mesure the Density of the foam.
    Now a density meter is expensive but, you can call the manufacture and ask them what the density of there foam mats is. Most of the floor mats for play areas that I found were around 35 to 50 density.The foam for my slot car tires needs to be about 16 to 20 density.
    Hope that sheds some more light on the subject!
    Andy

    May 28th, 2008 at 4:51 pm

  11. Danesa says:

    Hi Fiona:
    I just bought a mat with letters manufactured by idclic and I noticed an strong smell as well. I took it outside to get rid of this smell but I am planning to return it because like you I am wondering if this product is safe for our children. I wrote a note to this company requesting information about this porduct (what is made of) and although it says “non toxic” I am not so sure about it. We’ll see what this company has to say about this.

    October 3rd, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  12. Dog says:

    What about the thickness of the mats? Any input? I found that these mats generally range from 3/8″ to 3/4″ with a big difference in price.

    May 9th, 2009 at 7:28 am

  13. dustin says:

    we got our 24″ x 24″ foam mats at lowes. they work well but we also bought the 12 x 12 mats with the alphabet cut outs and they do catch more stuff and you end up with pieces all over the place. and the edges are different so they dont hook up. we have 3 sets of 4 mats in 24 x 24 so a 6 x 8 foot area is a nice play area (hard wood floors). they say easy to clean but don’t be fooled, it’s not magic, you have to get down and clean them. (all the time if you have )animals.

    August 17th, 2009 at 8:37 pm

  14. dustin says:

    i forgot,
    they were $18 and change for a 4 pack about 1/2 inch thick with edges, the edges are what made it the best deal.

    August 17th, 2009 at 8:40 pm