Written by Denine W.
Do you remember your days in the sandbox?
Playing with sand can be important role for a kid’s development. It helps improve their motor skills, confidence, muscle control, and hand-eye coordination. It is also a fun activity during spring and summer, and it lets children be creative as they use their imagination to make and explore.
You may have seen reports about how regular sandbox sand can be harmful to your little ones. So where can you get non-toxic play sand that you can trust?
I’ve got all the details you need about the best, safest play sand.
(P.S. For making sweet snacks to cool down those summer days in the sun, check out our picks for non-toxic popsicle molds. And if you’re looking for non-toxic toys for the sandbox, check out this guide.)
Table of Contents
- Is Traditional Sand for Sandboxes Safe?
- The 3 Best Safe, Non-Toxic Play Sand Brands
- Alternatives to Non-Toxic Sand for Sandbox
- Other Safe Play Sand Options
- What About Sandboxes?
- How to Choose the Best Non-Toxic Sandbox
- Other Safe Sandbox Practices
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Is Traditional Sand for Sandboxes Safe?
Traditional sand isn’t always safe for sandboxes. Generally, most of the sand is quarried from quartz rock, which contains a carcinogen: crystalline silica or microcrystalline silica.
Some play sand brands also contain a form of asbestos called tremolite. This compound is also a carcinogen, and with repeated play can produce more asbestos dust as the sand fibers separate more.
These substances also increase the risk of silicosis—a lung disease where the sufferer doesn’t inhale enough oxygen because the lungs are inflamed—from breathing in crystalline silica. More dangerous heart and lung diseases, renal failure, pulmonary tuberculosis, and autoimmune disorders can also occur.
Exposure to asbestos could also result in a type of lung cancer called malignant mesothelioma, as well as throat and gastrointestinal tract complications.
Proportionally, kids breathe in more air than adults, and since they play close to the ground, the potential impact of breathing in these toxicants is increased.
I know that might sound scary, but the good news is that there are brands that sell non-toxic play sand that’s quartz-free, silica-free, and asbestos-free.
The bad news is that finding a non-toxic kiddie pool is a bit of a challenge, considering most of them are made from PVC. So, here’s what to look for when you’re shopping (and a few safer brands).
The 3 Best Safe, Non-Toxic Play Sand Brands
Looking for the best non-toxic sandbox sand for your little ones? Here are the top brands to check out:
Safe Sand’s White Playsand is made from feldspathic sand, which is naturally fine. According to the company, it’s a popular choice for schools, aquariums, and museums, and it’s perfect for sand trays and sandboxes.
The White Playsand is free from:
- Crystalline silica dust
As such, this sandbox sand is non-toxic and safe for kids to play with. The company also gives you access to the test results of its sand so you can see for yourself that their safety claims are valid. There’s also a Material Safety Data Sheet that proves Safe Sand is indeed safe.
Safe Sand does state that the White Playsand may produce a small amount of dust as the sand grains rub together while it’s being transported. Simply wet the sand and the dust will settle.
The White Playsand also holds its shape when it’s wet, so your children can build elaborate sandcastles and really let their imagination run wild. (And it can be a great alternative to Kinetic Sand.)
The sandbox sand is available in various weights, and if you aren’t sure how much sand you need, you can use their sandbox sand calculator to find out if you need:
- 25 pound box
- 500 pounds or a ¼ ton
- 1,000 pounds or ½ ton
- 2,000 pounds or 1 ton
Sandtastik refers to their Sparkling White Play Sand as “sand with peace of mind.” The play sand is environmentally friendly, 100% natural, and is ideal for indoor and outdoor use.
Like the Safe Sand White PlaySand, Sandtastick’s play sand is also made from feldspar rock, so there may be some dust. Sprinkle the sand with water and the dust will settle.
The Sparkling White Play Sand is free from:
Sandtastik says their sand is tested by toxicologists at the Duke University School of Medicine, and that their testing is compliant with California Prop 65, CPSIA standards, as well as the Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) industry certification. Even their plastic products are tested to be free from lead and phthalates.
Plus, the fact that this sand is allergy-friendly means it’s used in a lot of preschools, child care centers, hospitals, and therapeutic offices.
The play sand also comes in various sizes, from 25 pounds, 50 pounds, and 100 pounds, all the way up to 1,200 pounds. And the company also has a sand calculator if you aren’t sure how much you need to order. They have various colors available, too.
(or right from their website if you need a larger amount)
The Calclean Bahamian play sand is sustainably obtained from Oolitic Aragonite, which is a renewable resource. Oolitic aragonite sand contains around 98% pure calcium carbonate and forms on the banks of The Bahamas.
The Baha Play Sand is free from:
As such, this play sand is safe for kids, and with the smooth grains and round texture, your children can even build sandcastles with the Baha Play Sand.
Possibly even better is that there are Colored Play Sand options, so you can create a rainbow sandbox for your little munchkins. The Colored Play Sand comes in aqua blue, onyx black, sunny yellow, sunset red, orange sherbet, flamingo pink, and palm green. They’re dyed using food-safe colorants.
With these colors, your kids can also create sand art, and you can set up a sand art activity area in your DIY natural playground.
The silica free sand is available in 2 weights:
- 0.50 cu ft
- 0.20 cu ft
If you, like me, are trying to find more non-toxic and eco-friendly toys for your kids this summer, I’ve rounded up my recommendations for the best non-toxic pool, sandbox, and beach toys for kids.
Alternatives to Non-Toxic Sand for Sandbox
If you are looking for silica-free sand alternatives for your kid’s sandbox, consider:
River sand is produced naturally by nature, and that’s why it’s ideal play sand that’s safe too. It doesn’t contain crystalline silica, tremolite, or other harmful particles.
It isn’t easy to source river sand, but you can search for local companies that will supply river sand. Just make sure you ask the supplier where they got the sand since you need to make sure it’s safe river sand that’s not obtained from a mine, quarry, or otherwise man-made.
You’ll also want to consider the local surroundings and whether or not that water may be contaminated with industrial chemicals. If there have been any chemical spills in your area (like what happened in East Palestine, Ohio) or if you live near a Superfund site, manufacturing plant, or military base, then you may want to consider not sourcing sand from a local site.
Moldable sensory sand is a popular playtime activity, but what is it actually made out of? Is kinetic sand toxic? Here’s what you need to know.
Beach sand is all-natural, and since it contains less dust than regular sand, it’s a safe play sand for your child’s sandbox. You’ll find rocks and shells and other natural mineral particles with beach sand, but this is non-toxic.
This kind of sandbox sand is also cooler than other play sand.
Unfortunately, you can’t just rent a truck, go to the beach, scoop up bucket loads of beach sand, and transport this to your home and load it off into your kid’s sandbox.
If you want to use beach sand in a sandbox, it needs to be properly sourced. Again, I would recommend searching for companies local to you that source beach sand.
Other Safe Play Sand Options
If you’d rather experiment with some different alternatives to sand for your child’s sensory playscapes, here are some more ideas. (But be careful to make sure whatever you choose is age-appropriate for your child, as some of these sandbox alternatives can be choking hazards.)
- Mini corn cobs
- Fish tank rocks
- Dried legumes and beans
- Pea gravel
- Small pebbles (with no jagged edges)
What About Sandboxes?
Just like play sand can be toxic, so too can sandboxes.
If a sandbox is made from railroad ties, it can be toxic because of the creosote and various other carcinogens. These ties can also cause splinters, which of course are painful and can become infected.
Similarly, if the sandbox is made from treated wood, the box isn’t totally safe. Treated wood often contains arsenic and copper arsenate, which can off-gas into the sand and the air in which your child plays, potentially contributing to negative health effects.
Engineered wood (a.k.a plywood, MDF, etc.) can also contain a lot of glues that contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds, so go with solid wood instead, if possible.
How to Choose the Best Non-Toxic Sandbox
The best option is to choose a sandbox that’s made from solid wood—fir and cedarwood are good choices. Finish the wood with a natural oil or wax to make it water-resistant and prevent mold and mildew growth.
Plastic sandboxes are much lighter weight and therefore easier to move. They can also be easier to clean compared to wooden ones. That being said, plastic will bake on a hot, sunny day, which can make play uncomfortable for your kids. Plastic sandboxes also probably aren’t going to last as long as wooden ones.
If you’re going to choose a plastic sandbox, choose a hard plastic one instead of a blow-up sandbox or one that is soft and foldable. Hard plastic sandboxes are less likely to be made out of PVC, which is one of the worst kinds of plastic.
Here are our recommendations for the best kiddie pools, many of which can double as sand boxes!
Other Safe Sandbox Practices
Here are a few other pointers to keeping things safe for your little ones in their sandbox:
- If making a wooden sandbox, the box should also be nailed well together in the corners with corner joints to ensure sturdiness.
- You can extend the life of the wooden sandbox by adding a natural sealant coating once a year.
- The sandbox you choose should also have proper drainage to prevent mold from forming on the sand. A moldy sandbox can spread spores to children, exacerbating asthma, eczema, and other conditions.
- Keeping a cover on your sandbox when it’s not being used can also help to prevent mold growth. This will also keep animals from getting into your sandbox, which can potentially become very unsanitary!
- If you live in a four-season climate, consider packing up your sandbox and putting away the sand for the cold months in order to keep things sanitary.
- Make sure to check on the sandbox regularly to make sure there isn’t anything potentially dangerous like animal feces, sharp objects, etc.
Is all-purpose sand safe for sandboxes?
Play sand and all-purpose sand (or regular sand) look similar. However, all-purpose sand is coarser and has dust that may contain carcinogens like asbestos, making all-purpose sand unsafe for children to play with.
Is play sand carcinogenic?
Play sand that isn’t explicitly non-toxic may contain carcinogens. Toxic sand may be a result of quartz rock that’s been quarried. This sand contains a carcinogenic called crystalline silica, which carries a cancer risk and can negatively impact a child’s lung development.
One of the best parts about being a kid during the spring and summer months is the sandbox. It represents hours of freedom, where you could simply build and make and not worry about whether it was right or wrong.
In this article, we covered the problems with traditional sandbox sand and gave you our favorite recommendations for safer play sand for kids that’s not only non-toxic but also affordable and easy to maintain.
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