I’ve been asked this question countless times – and even yesterday – over my 25 years of selling play sands as well as my 42 years as a geologist (read about my credentials). My specialty is analyzing sand from hot and dry deserts to the most beautiful beaches in the world, and the question that keeps coming up is, ‘Isn’t sand dirt’?
No. Sand is not dirt or made from dirt! Many people assume sand is dirt and the geologist in me begs to differ. The confusion stems from the fact that the basic ingredients of dirt are; clay, silt, loam, and sand with the percentage of each varying by location. So sand is an ingredient found within dirt.
Let's look at common definitions of dirt. The American Heritage dictionary defines dirt as ‘a filthy or soiling substance such as mud, dust, or excrement'1. That is a good description of dirt, because dirt can be an array of substances.
Wikipedia says ‘Dirt is unclean matter, especially when in contact with a person’s clothes, skin, or possessions. Common types include: dust, filth, grime, and soil’2. Remember the Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schultz with Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen? He's a great representation of being dirty, because he always had a cloud of dirt coming off his clothes and on his face.
My dictionary of geological terms3 doesn’t even list dirt as an official word because geologists like to be more scientific on the meanings of things. A better way to understand what’s in dirt is to think of spaghetti sauce. It has many ingredients like home-grown tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and other spices.
Dirt also has many ingredients that compose it like organic matter (think leaves and soil), clay and silt which make dust, rocks of all sizes, AND sand-sized particles. But unlike spaghetti sauce where all the ingredients blend together to make a great tasting sauce, the ‘other’ ingredients in dirt mix with the sand particles to create dirt. And its this mixture of bad ingredients that creates the grime and filth that gets on you, and your clothes dirty, like Pigpen.
Because we have received this question so often we decided to do a series of blog posts further explaining the differences in quality of sand, why some people may think sand is dirt, and to provide reliable sources for sand safety, quality, and cleanliness, so you know exactly what is in your sandbox. The next post we recommend reading is 'Do you have clean or dirty sand in your sandbox'.
1American Heritage Dictionary of the American Language, pg. 373, dirt
2Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, online, Dirt
3Dictionary of Geological Terms, Anchor Press/Doubleday
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