It might be humanity’s eternal love affair with the beach, but sand is a staple feature of just about every childhood. It’s easy to set up, too. Just buy a box and pick up some sand from any old place.
The sand you’re buying from hardware stores and home improvement big box stores isn’t really sand. It’s manufactured from things like ground quartz and tremolite. Quartz produces a carcinogenic substance called silica that’s dangerous when regularly inhaled (ever seen a sand blaster’s face? No because it’s always covered in a thick breathing mask for a reason.) Tremolite is related to the asbestos family. Not such an idyllic childhood now.
Many people argue that it’s not harmful until someone is exposed to substantial amounts of the dust and breathes that dust in for prolonged periods. However, anyone with a child can tell you that sand ends up everywhere including the mouth, nose, and sometimes ears. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
So what can you do? Before you get rid of your sandbox idea entirely, let’s take a look at some alternatives for your sandbox play and recommend a few different products.
Does Sand Really Cause Cancer?
The silica and tremolite isn’t an issue by themselves. What gets people into trouble is the size of the grain. The more delicate the grain, the more dust is produced each time your child interacts with the sand. The dust is what puts children at risk to develop certain kinds of cancer.
When you buy large grains, it’s much harder to inhale particles into the lungs where they can cause damage. Some people recommend going with that cheap hardware sand but buying a larger grain size.
Another thing you can do is moisten the sand a bit before your child plays with it. The moisture prevents dust from becoming airborne, reducing chances your child is breathing it as he or she plays.
The downside to this method is that moist sand is a breeding ground for nasty bacteria and organisms. It also attracts buts and animals looking for places to hide, go to the bathroom, and fulfill instinctual tasks like burying. Gross.
It might be cheaper, but it’s going to be a lot more time intensive to go this route because you have to wet the sand slightly each time your child plays. Then, you must allow the sand to dry out completely, preferably in full sun where it can heat up and kill organisms. You’re going to have to regularly turn the sand over to get down into the bottom layers.
It’s going to be a major headache, so proceed with caution and know what you’re getting into.
Non-Toxic Play Sand
Instead of all that fuss, you could buy non-toxic sand for a sandbox. “Oh!” you say, “Why didn’t you say that before?”
Well, non-toxic sand is going to be a significant jump in investment. You can get that 50-pound bag of builder’s sand for less than $10, or you can invest in the non-toxic sand for as much as $1 per pound.
A pound of sand isn’t a lot. For a full-sized sandbox, you could need anywhere from 50 pounds (for younger children) to 150 pounds (for elementary age children). Ouch.
If money is no object, by all means, go this route. However, investing in this sand isn’t a one time deal. Every time your child dumps sand out of the box, are you going to hyperventilate? Again, consider carefully because the last thing you want is to be too worried about the sand to allow your child to play freely. That defeats the entire purpose of open-ended play.
Our Picks of the Best Sand for a Sandbox
Let’s take a look at two excellent options for those of you who choose to invest in the non-toxic sand.
Sandtastik Play Sand
Sandtastik’s play sand is made from a naturally occurring, silica-deficient rock known as Feldspar. It has a natural white color, no bleaching, and a tiny bit of sparkle. It contains no type of asbestos and is certified as non-toxic by CPSIA standards. It’s Prop 65 compliant.
Sandtastik’s sand goes through multiple stages of safety certifications. It’s safe to use indoors and outside and can be washed to remove any foreign debris or to remove any built-up dust.
It’s used in many different areas such as hospitals and therapy centers where children are encouraged to heal through open play. The rigorous safety certifications mean the sand has made its way to many organizations who use sand play as tools for development or other types of activities.
It moistens well and is easily moldable for building activities. It dries out easily in the sun and produces only a small amount of dust. If you’re using it outside, it’s best to place the box in a protected area to prevent the wind from picking up finer grains and blowing them around.
Safe Sand Company’s Natural White Play Sand
Safe Sand Company’s play sand isn’t bleached or dyed. It’s a natural white, low dust sand that’s safe to use indoors or outside. It doesn’t contain any inhalant silica, and for you Californians out there, it’s also Prop 65 compliant.
It’s made of a naturally occurring Feldspar from a mine in Canada. It’s not crushed, so it’s less scratchy than other types of sand. It can be moistened to build with, and when it dries, only a little fluffing is needed for it to flow smoothly through your hands with minimal chalky residue.
If your child is going to play with this outside, it might be a little too fine to play with completely dry. The ultra-light particles are easily blown around by the wind and might irritate eyes and faces. Moistening the sand just a bit prevents this from happening, or having your sandbox in a sheltered area where the wind cannot reach it also helps.
It’s soft enough to use without irritating the skin. It comes in at a little over $1 per pound which is on par with most non-toxic sand products on the market right now.
What do I do? Don’t panic. There are alternatives to the sandbox if you can’t find stomach the hassle of cheap “sand” but don’t have the budget for non-toxic.
Some people use small pebbles in their sandboxes instead of sand. This solution gives kids the chance to dig and excavate without the hazards of silica dust. The downside is that pebbles don’t stick together, so that makes building out of the question.
Sand Tables and Table Top Boxes
You can also use sand tables or tabletop boxes to limit the amount of sand you have to purchase but still give your child the experience. Sand tables and tabletop boxes only require a few pounds of sand at a time, but your child can build and bury and excavate just like a giant sandbox.
Another upside to the cheaper investment? Your child can’t get inside a sand table or a tabletop box, reducing the amount of sand that follows him or her inside.
Sandboxes might not be as simple as you thought, but hopefully, we’ve found your solution. Open-ended play is a vital part of a child’s development, and playing in sand taps into a child’s imagination and sensory experiences.
Which solution is the right one for you? Pebbles? Non-toxic sand in a smaller space? Let us know your plan in the comments below!