Play Sand vs Regular Sand: Which One Is Better?

Sand appears simple but there is a lot to learn about how to choose it and care for it. Once the perfect sand is chosen for the sandbox, upkeep is very important. We all wants the sand to last and to be a safe place for children to play

Sand play is always a favorite of kids.  Sand is everywhere. The beach, parks and even homes have sand for kids to play in.

With sand being such a common material, it is important to know which type of sand is best for sand play. Play sand goes through a thorough cleaning and sifting process before use.  Regular sand has no regulations and does not go through a preparation process. Play sand is made for children and is the better sand.

There is a lot to learn about sand.  From testing the sand to sanitizing the sand.  It is an entire new world.  However, learning all about sand and sandboxes is important for anyone who is around kids or who just wants to build a sandcastle.

Play Sand

Play sand is sold in bags at garden centers, toy centers and hardware stores. The sand goes a through a refining and cleaning process to remove harmful stuff and dust. It is also blasted with pressurized water, which makes the sand grains smaller.

A kid playing on the sandbox.
Play sand has been refined and cleaned to make it suitable for the kids’ playgrounds.

Regular Sand

Regular sand is used for construction and has not gone through a refining process that play sand has gone through. Another name for regular sand is builders and sharp sand. They are sometimes rough to touch and are used in foundation and concrete work. They do not pass the play sand tests and contain dust and varying size pieces.

Common Play Sand

Buying play sand can be a difficult task.  There are many different types to choose from. Below are some of the most common types of play sand.

Caribbean Beach SandWhite and looks chalkFeels fine and smooth Comes from the Caribbean sea  All-natural and contains no added colors or chemicalsGreat for sand castles  
Fun SandComes in different colorsCan be used inside or outsideFeels like beach sandGreat for sand castles.  
White Safe SandMade from feldspathic sand (no silica or quartz)Fine like beach sandGreat for sandcastles.  
SandtastikComes in different colorsFeels soft and smoothSimilar to ocean sandCan be used for indoor or outdoor playNeeds a little water

The Best Test Methods for Play Sand

All play sand is not the same.  To check sand to see if it is good play sand try performing the following tests on the sand.

Dust Test: Sand that is not cleaned correctly will make dust clouds. This dust is unsafe for kids and adults. Go outside and fill a clear container with sand (4 cups).  Pour the sand onto a plate.  If any dust appears then the sand has not been properly washed or screened to remove particles.

Sugar Test: Play sand needs to be uniform sand. Use a kitchen strainer to scoop up sand. Strain it and see what is left.  If large particles are left in the strainer then

How Often To Change The Sand

Everything gets wear and tear and needs replacement. Sand, if properly maintained, can last a year or two in your sandbox.  Under the best circumstances.  Sand that is used in an unideal space (no cover, no way for sand to dry safely, water build up etc.,) needs to be changed often, even up to 2x in a year.

A boy with a sand trolley.
Sand, if properly maintained, can last a year or two in your sandbox. 

How To Clean Play Sand

Sand should be cleaned regularly. It is a very simple process to clean the sand. 

Raking: Use fine-tooth rake to clean the sand and remove debris

Sifting: Use a colander (small sandbox) or sand sieve (large sandbox) to remove all foreign objects and debris

How To Sanitize Play Sand

Play sand gets used a lot and can be full of germs from the children using it to insects. Bacteria and fungus can grow in the sand. Sanitizing is a very important step in play sand maintenance.  It is very easy to do but can take time.

A woman holding a cleaning materials.
White vinegar and bleach are two of the best products that can help you sanitize play sand.

White Vinegar

White vinegar can eliminate mold and help keep animals away.

  1. Mix 1 part vinegar and 1 part water and put a spray bottle.
  2. Soak the top layer of the sand.
  3. Rake sand around, repeat 2-3x.
  4. Let the sand dry completely.
  5. Rake again.


Bleach can kill the bacteria.

  1. Mix 1 part bleach and 1 part water and put it in a spray bottle.
  2. Soak the top layer of sand.
  3. Rake the sand around, repeat.
  4. Let the sand dry completely.
  5. Rake again.
  6. Wait a few days for sand to dry before kids can play in it

The Issue With Bugs

Bugs are unwanted guests in a sandbox.  Bugs carry disease.  Some come from animal feces. There are simple and safe ways to stop bugs from invading a sandbox.

A sandbox with cover.
A cover keeps the sand clean from hazardous materials.


Cinnamon is a natural and safe insect repellant. It smells good and helps with mold issues. 1lb of cinnamon is enough to stop the insects.

Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is made up of ground organisms called diatoms. It naturally kills bugs and insects.  Not toxic or harmful to humans or pets unless inhaled.  It is placed around the sandbox and not in the sand.  

Caring For Sand

Play sand can be expensive.  It is important to take care of the sand so that it lasts longer and can be a safe environment for children.

  • Cover it up: A cover keeps the sand clean from hazardous materials. Covers can be a tarp or a plastic lid.  
  • Rake regularly: Raking removes debris and helps the sand dry.
  • Repel insects naturally: Insects can enter the sandbox and bring bacteria and other stuff. 
  • Keep it dry: Let the sand dry after each use.
  • No food or drinks: Food and drinks can invite insects to the sandbox.
  • Clean diapers only: Dirty or leaky diapers can put germs into the sand.
  • Clean toys: Sand toys should be checked often for damage and for cleaning.

What Is The Benefit Of A Sandbox

Sandboxes are a big hit at playgrounds and at home.  For the untrained eye it looks like the children are just digging and scooping but there is so much more going on with sand play.

  • Motor skills- building castles
  • Sensory development- molding sand with hands
  • Eye and hand coordination- seeing something in your mind and making it happen in the sand
  • Imagination and creativity- build anything they want
  • Social interaction/speaking skills- play with other kids and team work
A kid looking at the toy on the sand box.
Sandboxes help the kids develop motor, sensory, and communication skills while playing with peers.

Top Sandbox Options

There are many options on what to use for sand play from a sand table to a sandbox.

 Age AppropriateNumber of Children Who Can Use ItInsideOutsideComes with Lid or Cover
Little Tike Turtle SandboxAll ages4 xX
Kidkraft Pirate SandboatAll ages3 xx
Frame It All SanboxAll ages6 X 
Step2 Store and Play SandboxAll ages4 xx
Step2 Crabbie Sand TableToddler2-4xxx

Final Thoughts

Sand appears simple but there is a lot to learn about how to choose it and care for it. Once the perfect sand is chosen for the sandbox, upkeep is very important.  One wants the sand to last and to be a safe place for children to play.  By following the guidelines of sand maintenance, a sandbox can be a fun and safe place to play for all ages.

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