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What Sand Do You Use For Sand Pits?

Years ago, we built a sandbox for our kids in the backyard in an old tractor tire. They loved it. Years later, the sandbox was repurposed into a raised garden bed. What a well-loved project that sandbox was. Choosing the sand that goes into one of these is important though…

There are many types of sand that include harmful additives which are not safe for children. So it’s best to fill your sandbox with certified play sand, which is clearly labelled as being safety tested and non-toxic, with no asbestos, lead, toxins, dyes or crystalline silica dust. 

Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail, considering the differences between industrial/commercial sand and play sand – and looking at how to keep your sand box clean and safe for your kids.

What Sand Do You Use For Sand Pits?

What is The Safest Play Sand?

When you’re building your sandbox here’s a question – what sand do you fill it with? Are there some that are unsafe? You can’t protect your kids from every little thing, and we here at Take A Yard love nature, but your children are going to be playing with that sand for hours, days – even years.

Experts say that, yes, some sands are not safe. 

The problem is that, with some bagged sands, there is a risk of lung damage through asbestos, lead, and crystalline silica dust. Other sands you can buy have chemicals, like fungicides and dyes added.

Sand grains are little pieces of bigger rocks. The rocks may have started out on a mountain somewhere. They get eroded, then broken into little pieces and rounded by wind and water.

Rocks are made of many different minerals. All minerals have natural crystalline structures. Asbestos, for example, forms as long, soft fibers. The good news is that asbestos is a natural insulator. The bad news is that the long, soft fibers, when inhaled into human lungs, can cause inflammation and even cancer.

Lead is a common mineral in rocks. Lead is soft, flexible, and metallic. Because it is so soft and flexible, it was used extensively for water pipes. Unfortunately, too much lead is poisonous. The human body has no natural use for lead. Too much lead in human bodies can lead to blood and kidney problems.

Many rocks are rich in crystalline silica. In fact, silica (silicon dioxide) is the most significant mineral in the Earth’s crust. Crystalline silica is used for concrete, mortar, glass, pottery, ceramics, and bricks. 

Workers exposed to crystalline silica dust while blasting, crushing, or cutting silica can damage their lungs. Silicosis, lung cancer and chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) can be the result of prolonged exposure to this crystalline dust.

OK, maybe the risk from crystalline silica, asbestos and lead in your children’s sand box sand is small, but still – why risk it?

The good news is you don’t have to. There are several safety-tested and non-toxic choices for sand box sand.

What’s The Difference Between Play Sand, Builders Sand & All Purpose Sand?

Builder’s sand (aka plasterers, mason, or brickwork sand) is used for brickwork, paving, mortar, and smoothing floors. Check the bag for chemical additions. Some builder’s sand also has fungicide and chemicals that help it mix up smoothly.

All purpose sand is a washed, coarse sand that is used for the underlaying layer of pavers and flagstones. Or – throw it out for increased traction on ice. It can be added to Portland cement with gravel for a good concrete mix.

Play sand is graded, screened, and washed to remove all very fine grains. It is a natural product, not man-made. Check the bag label. It should be labeled non-toxic and safety-tested. No asbestos, no lead, no crystalline silica dust. It should be toxin-free with NO cancer warnings. It should be a natural color – no dyes. 

Will Play Sand Stain My Children’s Skin & Clothes?

Builder’s sand may contain a dye. Builder’s sand is for – builders. Not kids. Builder’s sand can contain several chemicals, like fungicides, that simply aren’t meant for prolonged skin exposure

Builder’s sand can also contain dyes. If your child has played in a sandbox and come out with yellowish orange skin or clothes, chances are, builder’s sand is to blame.

White play sand is naturally white and doesn’t contain any dyes. No staining.

Should I Cover My Sand Pit To Deter Cats? (How To Do This)

When cats use the sandbox your precious kids play in for pooping, it’s a health risk. But mostly, it’s just – nasty! 

You can cover your sandbox nightly to deter roaming cats from using it as a litter box. If your sandbox is store-bought, it may have come with a cover. Otherwise, this is a fairly common problem, and stores offer several different covers. There are many clever designs, too. One folds into a handy bench.

If you DIYd your sandbox, consider DIYing a cover. DIY sandbox covers can be made from cloth, vinyl, plastic, or wood. The cover doesn’t have to be solid, just solid enough for a cat. Vinyl lattice works well and is attractive. Chicken wire works well but isn’t as attractive.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can make a custom cover with a drawstring. Use landscaping fabric or mesh. Solid fabric will catch rain, so consider adding some drain holes. To fix the edges, people use tie-downs, snaps, weights, or grommets. Some used lawn staples.

There are some natural deterrents you can use too. Cats don’t like the smell of vinegar – of course, you kids might not love it either. You can spray a vinegar and water solution around the edges of the sandbox. 

Cats also dislike citrus smells. Some “green” cleaners are heavy in lemon or orange – just spray the outsides of the sandbox.

Which sand pit sand?

How Do I Clean & Treat Sand Pit Sand?

If you are at the designing stage, try to design in some drainage. If you are building the edges up with timbers or pavers, you can leave gaps for rainwater to drain out. Consider the sandbox substrate and try to build in natural drainage.

Keeping the sandbox covered routinely will help a lot. Not only will you stop gross cat poop, but it will stop other garden materials like fall leaves and small tree limbs from blowing in.

Raking the sandbox routinely is good for the sandbox and for you – a Zen moment. Raking sand introduces air into the sand. Raking also brings up any trash or debris.

For a real deep clean, you can sift the sand. Use a kitchen colander or, if you have a large sandbox, you can consider buying a sand sifter. A sand sifter is also easy to make with a wooden frame and small metal mesh.

If you live in a place without routine rains, consider washing the sand with a hose.

If you live in a place with too much rain, and you notice a musty smell, you can kill mold non-toxically with vinegar. Be aware that vinegar kills mold but also grass and insects. Try to limit your cleaning solution to just the sandbox.

Pick a sunny day. Mix one part white distilled vinegar to one part water. You know your kids. If you think they might turn up their noses at the smell of vinegar, consider adding some essential oils to the mix. Citrus or lavender works well.

Pour your mix into a spray bottle, then spray down the sandbox. Let the vinegar solution soak in for several minutes. Then rake the sand. Soak the sand, wait, then rake the sand. Do this several times. For the last soaking, let it stay without raking for one hour. Then rake a final time.

If your cat or your toddler poops in the sandbox, use a kitchen sieve to scoop out the offending materials. Then disinfect the immediate area with a dilute disinfectant. 

If you notice too many bugs in the sandbox, consider adding some cinnamon. Cinnamon is a great non-toxic method for keeping bugs and cats out of the sandbox. Cinnamon is not toxic for cats and dogs and you can buy organic cinnamon by the pound.


I watched all three of our kids play in that sandbox in the old tractor tire as they grew from babies who could just sit up, to toddlers who could run off and do something else if they wanted.

When they all had their heads turned by tricycles, scooters and little bikes – it was time to turn our sandbox into a raised bed, which we used to grow runner beans with one of those bamboo wigwam things.

We made the mistake of getting builder’s sand when we first set up the sand box, but the orange dye came off on our hands while we were getting the pit ready for the kids – so we had to dig the whole thing out and start again with play sand.

It was quite a bit of hassle but good peace of mind knowing the sand was non toxic while they played out there in the sunshine. We all loved every minute. Our eldest is 12 now but he’s nearly six feet tall. Don’t they grow up fast? 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >