Sand is one of the most popular materials used in a sandbox. It provides a comfortable surface for kids to support their weight, and it’s relatively easy to find. However, there are many reasons why sand may not be the best option, though. For instance, it can play host to bacteria and fungus if left in an area where other animals live or visit often. It can also be messy and hard to clean up.
So, what can you use instead of sand in a sandbox? If you’re looking for something more durable and safer than sand, then you should consider using pea gravel, engineered wood fiber, play pellets, or wood chips. You can also use rubber mulch, packing peanuts, and even uncooked food such as beans and rice.
Read on to discover more about these sand alternatives, including their pros and cons.
Why Is Sand Not a Good Option for Your Sandbox?
Before discussing the alternatives for sand in your sandbox, we need to look at why sand it is not the best option. Sand can become dusty, and when it does, the dust becomes airborne.
It’s also a material where bacteria and fungus like to live if it isn’t kept dry or heat-treated all the time. This means you’ll have to be diligent about keeping your sandbox clean so that these organisms don’t turn it into their habitat.
Sand also isn’t the most durable material and can quickly be crushed by a child’s weight or destroyed by an animal digging in it, which is why you’ll need to replace your sand often.
Some studies have also shown that some commonly used sand for sandboxes may contain tremolite which is a form of asbestos fibers. Obviously, you don’t want anything to do with asbestos near your little ones.
What Are Some of the Best Sand Alternatives?
If you’re looking for some safe and durable sand alternatives, you should consider using the following alternatives.
1. Pea gravel
Pea gravel is one of the best sand alternatives because it’s clean, safe for children to play in, and very durable so that it won’t get crushed or destroyed by animals or kids.
It also makes a great material for sandboxes since the individual pieces are relatively small. They can provide enough surface area for sand particles while still being large enough that little ones cannot accidentally swallow them.
Some of the pros of using pea gravel include:
- It doesn’t contain silica dust.
- It can’t be used as a restroom by animals.
- Relatively easier to clean than sand.
- Relatively cheap and easy to find.
- Good for the development of motor skills.
- It can’t be tracked everywhere like sand.
The downsides of pea gravel include:
- Your kids can’t use it to make sandcastles.
- It can be a choking hazard for your children.
- The hard edges can hurt your kids.
2. Engineered wood fiber
Wood pellets or chips are another safe alternative because they’re made from materials that won’t get crushed under children’s weight.
They also provide a very durable material to use in your sandbox, so you won’t have to replace them often like sand. Just keep in mind that these will need to be replaced more frequently than gravel.
Some of the pros of using wood pellets include:
- It can be used for making sandcastles just like sand.
- Good for the development of motor skills and sensory exploration.
- You won’t need to dump your sandbox as frequently since it’s durable; keep an eye on them so they don’t get too muddy or dirty before you clean them.
The cons of wood pellets include:
- They may get too hot in direct sunlight, so it’s important to keep an eye on that and make sure your kids don’t touch the chips because they can burn their hands or legs if not monitored carefully.
- May be a choking hazard for some children.
3. Crumb Rubber
If you have little extra money to spend, you should go with crumb rubber as your sand alternative. It’s a safe and durable material that will last for years without you having to replace it with something else.
Crumb rubber is made from pure rubber, making it safe and highly comfortable. You may be already familiar with crumb rubber since many public playgrounds now use it as a surface material.
Some of the pros for using crumb rubber include:
- It’s soft and comfortable to play on, even if you sit or lay down in your sandbox.
- The bits are small enough that your kids won’t be able to swallow them but large enough that they can still build sandcastles and other structures.
- Good for the development of motor skills and sensory exploration.
Its cons include:
- Maybe a bit pricey compared to the cheaper options discussed above, but it is still affordable in most cases, so you should consider this one if money isn’t an issue.
- Your kids may not like the texture at first because it’s different from regular sand, but they’ll get used to it quickly.
- It may not be able to withstand heavy rain because the bits can wash away, so you should consider using something else in your sandbox if you live in an area that gets a lot of rainfall.
4. Coconut coir
Another great alternative to sand is coconut coir which comes from shredded coconut husks.
It’s a great material for sandboxes because it doesn’t get too hot and makes an excellent surface to build on as well as being soft enough that your children won’t hurt their hands or legs when they play in the sandbox.
It can be easily replaced if it gets dirty, so you don’t have to worry about having to dump your whole sandbox every time it gets muddy.
It’s also great for the environment because coconut coir can be used as fertilizer to help grow plants that are edible or useful in nature, making it a good option if you want something that will give back to nature once it can no longer be used in the sandbox.
Some of the pros of coconut coir include:
- It’s soft and comfortable to play on.
- It doesn’t get too hot or cold like other materials, so it’s perfect for kids of all ages.
- Great environmental benefits since you can use it to help grow plants.
The cons of coconut coir include:
- It can be difficult to clean when your kids are finished using their sandbox.
- It May not be very durable since it’s made from natural materials.
5. Dog Sand
Many pet stores now carry a product called “dog sand,” which is basically finely ground-up gravel that works well as an alternative to regular sand in your sandbox.
It’s not designed for children since it can be pretty rough on their hands and feet, but if you have older kids who are more careful with their sandbox play, this is a great alternative.
Some of its pros include:
- Dog sand can be found in most pet stores, making it readily available and easy to replace.
- It’s also very affordable, so you don’t have to worry about breaking your bank account for something that should last only a couple of years at best before your kids outgrow it.
The cons of using dog sand include:
- It is not designed for children, so the bits are way too large to be safe in a sandbox that’s meant for them to play with.
- It is not very comfortable when compared to other alternatives, which is why its use should only apply if your kids don’t mind playing on gravel-like sand.
6. Uncooked food
You can also use uncooked food such as uncooked beans or rice as an alternative to sand in your sandbox.
However, you need to ensure that the uncooked food is soft enough that it won’t damage the kids’ hands, but not too soft such that you can’t build things like castles with it.
Some of the pros of using uncooked food in your sandbox include:
- They are safe and no-toxic.
- Readily available.
- Widely accessible.
The cons of using uncooked food include:
- It may not be the best option for outdoor sandboxes.
- It may lead to the growth of mold when wet.
- Can present a significant choking hazard.
- May attract animals and insects.
7. Play Pellets
Lastly, you could also use play pellets as an alternative to sand in your sandbox.
You can buy them online from various manufacturers, and they work great for building both structures on the ground and creating fun games with towers or other structures that you build up on top of the pellets.
Some even have colors already added so kids can create different structures that they can play with later.
Some of the pros of using play pellets include:
- They’re readily available and very affordable for whatever budget you have.
- Kids love them due to their bright colors and consistent size, so they will play with them for hours without getting bored.
The cons of using play pellets include:
- They can be a bit messy.
- Not very durable, so you may need to replace them every few years.
- They can be too small and can present a significant choking hazard.
The sand alternatives we’ve listed are all great options to try if you want a more sustainable and eco-friendly sandbox for your kids.