Intra-home and kindergarten transmissions were the reported major modes of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) transmission in preschool children. However, infection at home is not common and 65–80% of cases do not attend preschool. We conducted a matched case-control study to explore the role of public playgrounds in the transmission of HFMD in addition to direct and indirect exposure to HFMD patients. We used 156 hospital source cases and 156 community source controls. Univariate analysis was followed by conditional logistic regression with attributable fraction computed. Adjusted odds ratios were 11·70 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1·26–109·40] for having HFMD cases in the same class, 14·19 (95% CI 3·55–56·74) for having HFMD cases within the 20 nearest neighbourhoods, 6·03 (95% CI 2·84–12·80) for exposure to public playgrounds, 2·13 (95% CI 1·05–4·32) for finger sucking and 0·29 (95% CI 0·11–0·78) for hand washing with soap before meals. The attributable fractions for the first four risk factors were 6·4%, 20·9%, 57·2% and 27·5%, respectively, while the population prevented fraction for hand washing with soap before meals was 18·7%. Based on our findings, hand washing with soap should be advocated. Health education could include topics which underline the precautions which need to be taken and the advice given regarding avoiding the use of public playgrounds during epidemic periods, especially when children have been getting sick.