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How To Choose The Best Playsand For Your Sandbox

Essential Characteristics when Choosing the Best Play Sand for your Sandbox

We created this series to help parents and grandparents, teachers, and therapists know how to evaluate children's play sand to make sure they are getting the best sand for their kids. Over the years we have heard parents say they will never let their kid play in the sandbox because it is dirt but Geologist Jerry Bergosh is here with some easy tips to help you pick a great sandbox play sand!

What Makes A Good Play Sand for Children & Grandkids

To have safe, clean, and fun play sand it must pass these four tests:
  1. The Nuisance Dust Test
  2. The Sugar Test
  3. The Sandcastle Test
  4. The Plays Sand Safety Test
Jerry Bergosh has been a geologist for over 40 years and wants to share his knowledge of sands with everyone. His first advice: don't fall into the trap of picking a cute sandbox only to ignore the most important ingredient - the sand! Armed with these four tests you can be sure you are getting the best play sand for your children, grandchildren, or students. In this series we analyzed 5 different sources where you can purchase play sand:
  • Home improvement Store Play Sand
  • Big Box Store Play Sand
  • Beach Sand
  • Educational Store Play Sand
  • Online Play Sand
Jurassic Sands wanted to be as impartial as we could be so we don’t identify any of the tested sands by their actual name. Instead here's what geologists look for.

The Nuisance Dust Test

Purpose of the Nuisance Dust Test

The nuisance dust test was designed to illustrate how certain sands that have not been properly cleaned will result in dust clouds. This test helps illustrate how smaller or finer particles can float when played with causing dust clouds. We used 25-50 lbs of the play sands we tested and poured from waist high against a black backdrop to illustrate how much dust certain ‘play sands’ can contain.

Why Your Sand Needs To Pass the Nuisance Dust Test

If your sand isn’t washed properly the finer particles left in the sand can cause dust clouds. These dust clouds get your children’s clothes dirty, their hands dirty and can affect asthma and allergies in children and adults alike.

How You Can Perform The Nuisance Dust Test At Home

The test is very simple to perform at home, but can be very revealing. We recommend you perform this test outside.
  1. Fill a clear container (about 1 quart or 4 cups) of your sandbox sand. Pour the sand onto a plate or into any type of container
  2. Pour your sand 6”-12” above the container. The faster you pour the more potential finer particles (or dust) will become airborne  - Important note: No matter how fast you pour, if there is a dust cloud your sand has failed this test
  3. If particles clearly become airborne then your sand has not been properly washed and screened to remove different sized particles that cause dust

Why Do Some Sands Fail The Nuisance Dust Test

Some sands fail the Nuisance Dust Test because they are not natural sands. These sands were most likely created in a quarry by smashing large rocks into smaller and smaller pieces. Even after being crushed and washed many don’t receive the correct amount of sifting and washing to remove these non-uniform particles. This process creates and allows varying sizes of the sand grains which many would call dust and dirt. These different sized sand grains take us to our next test, The Sugar Test.

The Sugar Test

Purpose of The Sugar Test

The sugar test is the perfect test to make sure you have a uniform sand for your kid’s sandbox. This test helps illustrate how certain sands contain foreign particles or varying grain sizes. When sands are crushed and not created by natural erosion you get sand with large pebbles and dust. When you do this test you should think of pure white sugar, because sugar is uniform in color, grain size, and texture.

Why Your Sand Needs To Pass The Sugar Test

If your play sand fails the sugar test it is most likely a 'manufactured sand' made by crushing rock and soil. When your sand has different grain sizes this is a great indicator that your sand will be coarse, dirty, dusty, and can be difficult to create sandcastles or molds. Many people don’t realize there are multiple options when it comes to sand for your sandbox. The uniformity in grain size will ensure consistent texture, less likelihood of being dusty, and helps to keep your kids hands and clothes cleaner after playing in the sandbox.

How You Can Perform The Sugar Test At Home

The test is very simple to perform at home, but can be very revealing when you really evaluate the grains of sand in your sandbox. We recommend you perform this test outside and can be performed directly after the Nuisance Dust Test.

Grain Sifter

  1. With a simple kitchen strainer scoop up samples of your sand after performing the Nuisance dust test or select a random sample from your sandbox
  2. After sifting the sand, if there are large particles left in the kitchen strainer then your sand has failed the sugar test

Ziplock Bag

  1. This test can be shocking - place some sand into a ziplock bag
  2. Tap the bag against a table or your hand about 5-10 taps
  3. Examine the bottom portion of the bag - dust (if present) will shift to the bottom and create a line distinctly different from the larger grains at the top
  4. If there is a distinguishable difference, your sand has failed the sugar test

Why Do Some Sands Fail The Sugar Test

Some sands fail the the Sugar Test because they are not uniform in size because they were pulverized from larger rocks into play sand. Unwanted and hazardous dust is created by crushing and pulverizing rocks. By contrast, play sands that have been naturally formed over eons of erosion have a uniform texture, grain size and will not contain foreign particles. With uniform grain size the result is the best molding and shaping for children especially when it comes to making sandcastles (our next test). Special note: The sugar test is not concerned with the color of the sand because natural sands from across the world occur in a variety of colors.

The Sandcastle Test

Purpose of The Sandcastle Test

The Sandcastle Test is obvious - we want to show how play sand from different suppliers will perform when making sandcastles which is crucial to a child’s enjoyment! We have developed a system to ensure you have the right amount of water to build a perfect sandcastle!

Why Your Sand Needs To Pass The sandcastle Test

Obviously if your sand fails the sandcastle test it will greatly affect your child’s ability to have fun and to build, develop, dig, and explore their creativity in the sandbox. Sand with uniform grain sizes will keep your child cleaner and build taller, stronger, and more detail sandcastles. This is also a great indicator for how well your child could build other structures in the sandbox: bridges, molds, arched or cities.

How You Can Perform The Sandcastle Test At Home

This is a simple test anyone can perform, but here are a few tips to get the best results and make better sandcastles with your kids.

The Sandball Test

The most important piece to creating a detailed strong sandcastle is having the correct amount of water. The sandball test ensures you have the right amount of water for every sandcastle.
  1. Add some water to your sand (less is better than more to start)
  2. Make a sand ball much like a snowball
  3. Roll the sand ball around in the palm of your hand
  4. If the ball cracks open or falls apart you will want to add more water
  5. Once the ball stays together you have the perfect amount of water in your sand

Making the Perfect Sandcastle

Once you have the right amount of water you will want to pack the sand tightly into the mold. Hey adults - make sure you help the first couple of times to show your kids how to pack the sand in tightly. Next, turn the mold over and tap it with a shovel (I like a tablespoon) while pulling up on it - this will cause the sand to release easier and make for the best results. So remember: pack - tap - and pull upward! 

Why Do Some Sands Fail The Sandcastle Test

Some sand is not ideal for sandcastles because of the varying sand grain sizes.

The Playsand Safety Test

Jurassic sands wanted to include this section, because we have seen many claims online about the safety of play sand and tons of misinformation. This is a very technical issue and one Geologist Jerry is extremely familiar with since Jerry ran an analytical laboratory for many years.

One important note, all play sands must comply with government regulations. Most play sands (whether sold in home improvement, online, and big box stores) have crystalline silica in them because they contain quartz sand grains (which is the common name for crystalline silica). These are the same quartz grains found on 99.9% of the ocean, lakes, and stream beaches in the US.

We would like to shed some light on the more accurate facts concerning crystalline silica because much of all the 'information' out there is re-reported by people without a clear understanding of the facts. Additionally, some manufacturers of play sand materials often refer to cancer warnings on bags or cite California Prop 65 warnings in an effort to raise concern but don’t bother to describe why the warning or who it is intended for.

  1. Fact 1: It is not the crystalline silica that is the concern of OHSA or the California Prop 65 legislation. It is the 'respirable' portion of that material – the tiniest of particles that can get deep into your lungs. These are generally created when sand is crushed or pulverized or used in sand-blasting operations. It is these processes that create the respirable dust of concern. Most of our Jurassic Sands come from US deserts (or mountain ranges) where Mother Nature makes our sands nearly perfectly pure and they aren’t crushed or pulverized.
  2. Fact 2: These warnings are for industrial workers who have extended periods of exposure every day, 8 hours/day for 20-40 years. That's what the epidemiological studies have determined. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (US CPSC) has looked at the issue of crystalline silica and respirable silica, and decided it was not a hazard to children using play sand in a sandbox.
  3. Fact 3: Makers of alternative play sand material such as feldspar, marble and limestone don't bother to explain this because they rely on people not digging deep enough to understand what the warnings are for. And I'm only aware of one manufacturer (who sells in educational stores) that actually discloses their play sand contains nuisance dust. Nuisance dust occurs because the process they use to manufacture the sand makes dust, and dust is one of the worst triggers of asthma and allergies.

Appropriate Age For Children to Play in a Sandbox

This page has become very long but the geologist in us wants families that want to have a sandbox to have all the facts. Playing in the sand is one of the most valuable developmentally-appropriate activities a child can do.

The US CPSC even publishes a product age-rating chart and play sand is recommended for children 12 months and older. The Toy Industry Association (the trade group that monitors toy safety) says 6 months and many early childhood professionals recognize the age when an infant can sit up as an acceptable minimum age to use sand. This government agency and trade association wouldn't make these recommendations if there was a concern to children. So go set up that sandbox, find a GREAT play sand and have FUN!