Sand play is widely regarded as one of the best activities for children to promote creativity and motor skills.
Plus, it’s mindblowing how sandboxes keep our kids occupied for hours in their own little sand kingdom.
Nonetheless, a lot of alarming information about this activity surfaced, leaving most parents wondering, “Are sandboxes safe for toddlers?” Continue reading to find out!
Are Sandboxes Safe for Toddlers?
Sand play is generally safe for kids aged 12-18 months. This means your toddler is of sufficient age to explore a sandbox, especially if he has passed the mouthing stage.
However, if your little one is at his mouthing peak, you should keep a close eye on him so he doesn’t turn the sand into his next meal!
That said, additional risks are associated with the sandbox itself, regardless of your baby’s developmental stage.
Potential Dangers Associated With Sandboxes
We’ve compiled a list of all the major negative effects that this outdoor activity can have on your child to help you control or, better yet, avoid them.
1 – Bacterial Infection
There’s no easy way to put it, but sandboxes, especially shared ones, are home to numerous bacteria and infectious germs.
Our children are already exposed to various types of bacteria in the air or in their surroundings. However, what has been discovered in sandboxes was somewhat different.
A study conducted in Spain revealed something quite intriguing. According to the researchers, Clostridium difficile, a dangerous bacteria, was found in 53% of the sandboxes tested!
This bacteria can cause symptoms as simple as mild diarrhea or as serious as a potentially fatal colon inflammation. The tricky part is that it can be challenging to treat at times.
Further research in the United States discovered other dangerous parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii, which display symptoms resembling the flu.
In light of this, remember to use disinfectant products to clean your child’s hands after sand play. You should also follow the sandbox cleaning tips listed in the section below.
2 – Corneal Abrasions
Corneal abrasions are common in kids, and thankfully, they’re usually minor.
Your young artist can rub his eyes while he works on one of his sand sculptures. When he does that, sand particles may touch his cornea, causing superficial scratches.
For context, the cornea is the transparent layer that covers and protects our eyes.
In fact, the wind can blow sand into your toddler’s eyes without him putting his hand near them.
Don’t worry; in most cases, your child’s vision won’t be affected. However, corneal abrasion may cause temporary blurred vision and discomfort.
Here are some of its symptoms to help you identify it:
- Bloodshot or/and watery eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Swollen eyelids
- Increased tears
If you notice these symptoms, wash the affected eye with water to help clean it of foreign particles.
You should also consult a doctor to ensure that it doesn’t turn into an infection.
3 – Wood Toxicity
The thing is, most wood used in outdoor projects is treated to protect it from weather, termites, and fungi.
Before 2003, manufacturers treated wood with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). Later on, CCA was discovered to be hazardous and was phased out.
Exposure to this type of treatment has been linked to skin and eye irritation, common cold symptoms, lung cancer, liver damage, and a variety of other side effects.
The loophole here is that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t mandate removing existing structures made of CCA wood.
This means that CCA sandboxes that were in use before 2003 may not be disposed of.
The greenish hue of CCA structures is one of their primary distinguishing features. Thus, if you see it on a sandbox, it would be best to turn around and look for another one!
If you want to build a wooden DIY sandbox, use arsenic-free wood such as alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ). Alternatively, you can use rot-resistant woods such as cedar and ironwood.
4 – Injuries
Your toddler may get hurt while playing in sandboxes that aren’t properly constructed.
Consequently, you should inspect the box’s edges for wood splinters, cracks, and other potentially dangerous flaws.
You should also avoid sandboxes with rocks or gravel because they can easily scratch your child’s sensitive skin.
Does the Type of Sand in Sandboxes Matter?
The short answer is, of course! The type of sand your little one is playing with is critical.
Commercially available play sand typically contains high levels of crushed minerals, which emit harmful dust.
For example, the following two carcinogens have been found in some, if not most, of store-bought sand:
1 – Tremolite
Tremolite is a naturally occurring asbestos fiber that poses many health risks when inhaled or consumed. When these fibers reach the lungs, they remain there for a long time.
Constant exposure can cause more of these fibers to accumulate in the lungs, causing inflammation. This leads to general breathing problems like shortness of breath and coughing.
What’s even more concerning is that tremolite has been associated with a higher risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the membranes lining the chest and abdomen.
2 – Crystalline Silica
Inhaling the infamous crystalline silica can result in silicosis, which currently has no cure. Simply put, silica dust particles adhere to the lungs, impairing their ability to absorb oxygen.
This can eventually lead to permanent lung damage and even lung cancer. Silicosis symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing.
Fortunately, it takes many years, specifically 10 years, of breathing this harmful dust to develop chronic silicosis.
Therefore, in addition to the sandbox at home, you should inspect the type of sand used in the playground where your child frequently plays.
Safe Play Sand
Always opt for beach or river sand; both are natural, so they’re toxin-free. You can now easily buy them from multiple websites and gardening supply stores.
We simply love how both sand types produce little to no dust and are gentle on our toddlers’ skin!
Remember to steer clear of any sand that generates a noticeable amount of dust. You should also avoid sand that contains potentially harmful minerals such as quartz or limestone.
If you already have play sand and are unsure whether it’s free of carcinogens, we recommend sending a sample to a laboratory.
How Can You Keep a Sandbox Clean?
One of the most crucial responsibilities of owning a sandbox is keeping it clean.
The cleaner they are, the better you can ensure that your child is spending his playtime in a safe environment. There are three golden rules to follow to help you with this:
1 – Cover the Sandbox
The first thing you can do to keep a sandbox clean is to cover it when it’s not in use. This will keep animals from contaminating the play area and prevent debris from entering.
We recommend getting a waterproof cover to keep water out of the sandbox. If it got in, it would make it easier for dangerous microorganisms to thrive.
You see, because microbes require water to survive, moisture in any environment promotes their growth.
2 – Keep Pets and Pests Away
When your toddler is playing in the sandbox or whenever it’s exposed, keep your family’s furry friend inside.
Pets may mistake this play area for their litter box and answer the call of nature in it. If this occurs, it’ll serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites.
Moreover, we find adding pest-repelling plants near the sandbox to be a brilliant idea! Some of these plants are basil, mint, and garlic.
3 – Change Sand Regularly
As a rule of thumb, for maximum safety, change the sand every two years. Despite your best efforts to keep the sandbox clean, pathogens will inevitably be present.
Thus, to reduce their potential harm, you must ensure that they don’t accumulate over time.
So, are sandboxes safe for toddlers? They shouldn’t be a problem as long as you inspect their upkeep, use a safe type of sand, and maintain their cleanliness.
If your child played in a sandbox and you were concerned about its safety, just remember to give him a good bath afterward.
We wish all of the little ones out there a magical, and most importantly, safe, sand play!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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