Sandboxes are one of the most fun things a kid can do – but did you know there are safer sandbox alternatives for regular sand that can kids can enjoy – and stay safe with?
Our best sand for sandbox post was created based on a question we received from a reader – it was such a great question we thought it was worthy of a response in a post so everyone can see the options that are out there! Not only did we add some options for non toxic play sand options, but also for sandbox alternatives for those that prefer not to use sand at all.
Thank you Erin for the following question:
This seems like a EnviroMom question, and I apologize if you’ve covered it already…is there an alternative to sand for sandbox play? I’ve heard of some health hazards with specifically Home Depot play sand, not to mention the mess of sand everywhere! I think I’ve heard of using walnut shells but I’m unsure of where to find them or the cost. Is there anything else that would be environmentally friendly?
Oh and I should ask too, once the sand/shells/etc have been thoroughly abused, how do I best dispose of them?
So let’s break down some answer that we hope can help you understand what sand alternatives exist so your child can still safely enjoy their sandbox!
Why Sandbox Sand May Not Be Safe
According to a case study done by Upstate Medical University some sandbox sand may contain tremolite – which is a form of asbestos, or crystalline silica – which is another human carcinogen.
These ingredients are usually found in the sand you buy from your local hardware store or even the big box retailers.
BUT – crystalline silica is not an item that parents should be overly concerned with – it is a mineral that is found in many of natures natural elements. This item is actually the same silica that you would find on your beaches. The concerns with silica is that if it is too fine or too “dusty” it can be inhaled and that is what is concerning.
But even with inhaling of it – in small amounts it is rarely harmful.
The finer the sand you get the increased risk of your child inhaling the dust that it produces, this is where the danger lies for your child. If you do prefer regular old sand, then make sure you are buying sand that has a larger grain size which typically will have less sand.
Another option is to mildly wet the sand to keep it from becoming too dusty which will prevent your child from inhaling as much as they would if it were dry sand. Of course this comes with other issues like bacteria or bugs looking for some moisture.
So what’s an EnviroMom to do?
Not having a sandbox is an option, I mean there are other fun eco-friendly activities kids can do like making DIY shrinky dinks from #6 plastic – but a sandbox is just so much fun and are actually great for your child’s development – so not having one is not something we recommend.
There are several options for buying safe sandbox sand online some are even silica -free and others are non-toxic. You can also check local stores for these brands as well.
But what you should care about the most is how dusty a sand is – preventing your child from inhaling the sand should be the ultimate goal when making a purchase!
At some preschools, the indoor sand table is filled with everything from rice to dried beans and legumes to cornmeal (the latter of which is kind of messy) but I imagine those things would attract wormy bugs and critters outdoors so I would only use them indoors.
Below are some places to find healthier sand for your child to play with as well as options for what you can use in your sandbox.
Let’s Talk About The Sand Options!
Below are the best sand options we could find that are non-toxic, silica free, asbestos free and safe for your kids to enjoy with less dust than other brands.
The Safe Sand Company
Safe Sand is safety-tested and is free from asbestos, lead and crystalline silica dust. There are no bleaches or dyes and is almost dust free making for the healthiest of options.
Sandtastik Play Sand
Sandtastik white play sand is 100% natural and toxic-free. No crystalline, silica, gluten or asbestos are used in the production of the sand.
Pure Organic Ingredients Play Sand
Pure Organic Ingredients is more of a brown sand as opposed to some of their competitors but it is eco-friendly – even down to the packaging. Some have stated this one has a little more dust than expected but the manufacturer recommends keeping the sand slightly damp to alleviate that issue.
Jurassic Mojave Play Sand
All natural beige sand that is free from chemical dyes and is almost dust free making it perfect for kids with allergies. The sand is a natural sand from the Mojave Desert and is one of the cleanest sands available on the market.
As a mom, I want to be able to give choices. While these brands are all popular options – I would not personally recommend them – but want to make sure you had options so you can do your own due diligence.
Quikrete Play Sand
Quikrete sand is a pre-washed specially graded sand that was manufactured just for children’s sand boxes.
Why I Do Not Recommend It
There are many reports of this product having way too much dust – which is the one thing we are recommending you stay away from! If you look carefully at many reviews and search for “dust” you will see many complaints about the amount of dust Quikrete produces.
If you do want to purchase this brand – we recommend visiting your local hardware store since it will be much cheaper than ordering it online due to the weight of the item.
Sandbox Alternatives For Sand
If you are hoping to have an indoor sandbox we are kind of guessing you do not want the mess of real sand in your home! You will be happy to know there are some other options for you to use in a sandbox that will still offer some fun and education without the mess.
If you do choose to use some of these options just be sure to keep an eye on the little ones to prevent choking issues.
- Dry rice
- Dried beans
- Crushed walnut shells
Why Sandbox Play Is So Important
Kids are naturally attracted to sandboxes – it is the one place they can get messy, have fun and yet – still be building important life skills. Some of the benefits include:
Motor Skill Improvement
When your child has better motor skills it can decrease their frustrations in being able to do tasks. Building with requires doing things like molding and shaping and during the building process of their sand art they will learn how to be patient and keep hands steady which are all important skills to have.
Eye And Hand Coordination
Building with sand requires the skill of seeing something in your mind and being able to make it happen with sand. They will need to work these skills from ideation to creation and learn how to use their thoughts and eyes to create beautiful works of sand art.
Imagination & Creativity
Sand art is limitless – which means your child can build so many different things. From castles to boats to animals – the sky is the limit. The fact that they can easily finish an item – knock it down and start again on something new are all great reasons to encourage sand play.