I don’t know about you, but using a little shovel to scoop sand from our backyard sandbox is a core memory of my childhood.
Turns out that playing in the sandbox has more to offer to kids than just being a fun game. It helps improve their motor skills, learn hand-eye coordination, and enhance muscle control.
Now that you got your kids a sandbox, you might be wondering what type of sand you use for a sandbox. We’ll answer your questions below.
There are three main sources of sand for a sandbox.
Play sand is the default option when it comes to filling in a sandbox, given it’s specifically made for this purpose. It’s regular sand made of quartz that undergoes several processes to end up softer and cleaner.
First, they wash regular sand to clean it of harmful bacteria and debris. Then, clean sand goes through a rigorous process of pressurized water blasting to crush any larger grains and round the rough edges of sand particles that might hurt children.
Play sand might appear dusty because of its extremely fine particles. It’s not dusty, though. This happens because the fine particles are easily airborne. Dampening the sand a little with water can help solve such an issue.
The appeal of play sand is that it complies with governmental safety standards, so it’s mostly tested and free of harmful chemicals. This highly depends on the brand, though.
When shopping for play sand, look for brands that are free of lead, asbestos, and crystalline silica dust. Play sands made of feldspathic sand or Oolitic Aragonite sand are better options.
Going natural is a safe bet. Beach sand is an excellent option to use for a sandbox. Although its texture varies depending on the beach itself, it’s mostly fine with little dust percentage.
Beach sand is relatively cooler than other types of sand, making it a nice option for hot summer days. To get beach sand for your kids’ sandbox, you’ll need to contact a local supplier that sources beach sand.
There’s a big chance you’ll find shells, rocks, and other mineral particles in beach sand. While they might be annoying to kids, they’re non-toxic.
River sand is another fantastic option for a sandbox. It’s as natural as beach sand and free of tremolite, silica, and limestone.
The only problem with river sand is that it’s hard to get. You won’t get it as easily as you can get beach sand.
If you can get river sand for your sandbox, by all means, get it. However, ask your supplier about its source. Make sure it’s actual river sand, not mine or quarry sand.
No, using all-purpose sand for your sandbox isn’t recommended.
Why? Because all-purpose sand is coarse and dusty. Leaving your kids to play in such sand scratches their skin and hurts their lungs.
Besides, there’s a big chance that all-purpose sand contains tremolite, a form of asbestos fibers associated with mesothelioma when inhaled. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the tissues of internal organs. You can’t take such a risk.
No, regular sand isn’t safe to use in a sandbox.
Kids will breathe in contaminated air when they’re playing in a sandbox. Since regular sand is mostly quarried from quartz, it likely contains crystalline silica or asbestos.
Breathing in such particles can increase the likelihood of some diseases like silicosis, an inflammation of the lungs that impairs their capacity to inhale oxygen as a result of prolonged exposure to silica. Also, as we discussed before, asbestos is a carcinogen.
Masonry sand or mortar sand can be used for a sandbox. You should be cautious, though.
Technically, masonry sand is quite similar to play sand. The main difference between the two is intended use.
Masonry sand is an all-purpose sand that’s used to make smooth concrete and mortar for brick layering. Play sand is a type of sand made specifically for kids in settings like a sandbox.
Looking at their grain size, both play sand and mortar sand are fine-grained. Yet, play sand undergoes extra processing, so its particles are softer.
Regarding availability, masonry sand is way more available and easier to get than play sand.
Practically, there’s no big difference between using masonry sand or play sand for a sandbox. They have the same concerns when it comes to safety because they both might contain crystalline silica.
While manufacturers of play sand might pay more attention to clearing their product of crystalline silica, you can find masonry sand that’s free of silica, too. In this case, it highly depends on the brand and manufacturer you decide to go with.
Remember that these differences affect the cost. Play sand is usually more expensive than masonry sand because it undergoes more processing. Besides, any extra processing to remove toxins like silica will result in a price increase.
Yes, kinetic sand is a good option for filling a sandbox.
Kinetic sand is regular sand coated with a non-toxic silicon polymer that’s used in soft clay products.
The benefit of using kinetic sand in a sandbox is that it’ll be easier for the kids to play with and mold. No need for water to hold a sand composition.
The downside is that kinetic sand is pricier than natural sand and play sand.
No matter what type of sand you choose to fill in your sandbox, it should pass the following three tests.
The sugar test takes its name from the uniformity of white sugar. Think of moving your hand through a plate of sugar. How does it feel? Even, uniform, with no coarse granules.
This is what you do to the sand you’re testing. Sift some sand using a kitchen strainer and see if any coarse particles remain on the strainer. If this is the case, the sand has failed the sugar test.
What does this mean? It means that the sand isn’t fine enough for your kids to play with. It might be rough around the edges and can scratch your kids’ skin.
For the second part of the test, put the sand in a zip lock bag and tap against it using your hand for 10 minutes. If there’s dust in this sand, it’ll accumulate at the bottom of the bag, with a clear line separating it from the sand itself.
If that’s the case, this sand has failed the test because of its excessive dust percentage.
In this test, we want to see whether the sand was properly cleaned or not. If it’s not properly cleaned, it’ll result in large amounts of dust clouds.
It’s recommended you perform this test outdoors because it’s messy and might result in a lot of dust.
To perform the test, get four cups of sand in a clear container, then pour it into a larger container from a waist high. That should be 6 to 12 inches high. For a clearer view, you can use a black backdrop to see the dust clouds.
No matter how fast you pour the sand, if a dust cloud is formed, the sand has failed the test.
Failing the nuisance dust test is a result of unnatural sand not being processed enough. Thus, it produces large amounts of dust, which might cause asthma and allergies in children.
We’re testing here the efficiency of the sand, or what we call “its enjoyment levels,” not its safety.
It might sound trivial, but the sandcastle test is vital when it comes to testing sandbox sand because it determines whether or not your kid will be able to enjoy playing with it.
As you might know, building a sandcastle requires damp sand. You can start by dampening the sand and making a sand ball. Roll the sandball and see if it shows any cracks.
If cracks show, it means that the sand particles aren’t uniform. This isn’t a good sign.
You can proceed and build an actual sandcastle and see if it holds. If it doesn’t hold, then the sand has failed the test because of varying grain size.
If you don’t like the whole idea of using sand in a sandbox, you can use some alternatives.
All the alternatives we’re listing are safe. However, you’ve got to match them to your children’s age because some of them might be choking hazards to kids at certain ages.
Pea gravel is similar to sand in texture but with no dust. It also prevents the growth of mold so it’s way healthier and cleaner than sand. If you decide to go for pea gravel, make sure it has round edges.
Dried rice is all-natural. No toxins, no chemicals, and it can be used indoors as well!
This option is more convenient for younger kids, though.
The same applies to dried beans and legumes, in general.
Flaxseed can also be used indoors and outdoors. If you’re going to use it outdoors, it has to be dry to avoid mold.
These are some FAQs regarding other types of sand that might be used for filling a sandbox.
No, we don’t recommend using tube sand for a sandbox.
Tube sand isn’t washed so you can’t say it’s free of contaminants. Besides, it’s coarse, so it might hurt your kid’s skin.
Yes, you can.
Pool filter sand is pretty similar to play sand except for the fact that it’s even finer. It’s safe to use in a sandbox, but keep in mind that it’s pricier than play sand.
No, not really. Paver sand has larger particles than what’s required in a sandbox. Also, it doesn’t undergo processing, so it’s full of harmful contaminants.
Washed sand can be used for a sandbox given that you ensure it’s free of silica and other harmful chemicals.
Going natural is your best bet when it comes to filling in a sandbox. If you can get beach sand or river sand, it’d be perfect.
If you can’t, you can go for play sand or one of its alternatives given that you make sure they’re free of asbestos and silica.
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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