Pros & Cons: Using Sand as a Playground Surface

May 3, 2021

Sand has been a universal element in playgrounds and parks for decades. There are many exciting activities people associate with sand, from constructing sandcastles to leaping around with friends. In recent years, the safety of sand as a playground surface has been called into question. Is sand a really safe option for a playground? Can you use other surface options in place of sand? While we prefer poured-in-place rubber for playgrounds or rubber playground tiles, we still want to provide you with all the information you need to make a decision. We prepared a thorough review of sand for playground surfaces, examining the pros and the cons.

Playground Sand

Sand playgrounds may bring back memories, but should sand be used for playgrounds?

Playground sand brings a natural esthetic often associated with fond childhood memories. It’s smooth and soft to the touch. We all have a general sense of what sand is (a loose granular substance or sediment, generally pale yellow or brown). It’s typically produced by the erosion or weathering of rocks and minerals. The composition of sand can vary based on local rock sources and conditions, making a range of colors like pale yellow, brown, white, black, green, and even pink. Commonly found blanketing beaches, riverbeds, deserts, and playgrounds, not all sand should be used as playground sand (read on to learn more).


Safety and Accessibility of Sand as a Playground Surface

Pros:

  • Sand is deemed an appropriate surface for playgrounds by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) if you have enough depth. How deep does the sand need to be? It really comes down to fall height requirements and the thickness of the sand. CPSC says that sand should be 9 inches deep for a fall height of 4 feet.
  • With safety in mind, manufacturers of playground sand submit the sand to various measures to protect children’s welfare. First, they wash the playground sand to remove unwanted debris, bacteria, or other minerals.
  • The sand is also water pressurized to round out and smoothen any larger, sharp particles. Then it’s submitted to a sieve analysis to evaluate and assess particle size distribution.
  • Sand doesn’t easily support microbial growth, making one less thing to worry about.
Playground Sand Safety
Playground sand has to be deep enough in order to cushion falls. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that sand should be 9 inches deep for a fall height of 4 feet.

Cons:

  • Sand is one of the less effective materials regarding impact absorption.
  • You’ll need more of it to achieve safety requirements. To ensure sand offers proper fall protection for children, the National Safety Council (NSC) recommends maintaining a 12-inch depth in areas where equipment requires a six-foot drop or fall zone. The NSC and CPSC (as mentioned above) requires a 9-inch depth in areas with a four-foot fall height. That’s a lot of sand.
  • Sand also doesn’t meet the Americans with Disabilities Act’s accessibility standards, so you can’t use sand to have an ADA playground.
  • It can be difficult for people with disabilities to navigate, particularly wheelchairs.
  • One of the biggest dangers of sand if you’re not careful about what type of sand you choose for your playground is the possible presence of asbestos and silica. Silica can cause asthma and inflammation of the lungs, where asbestos fibers can cause cancer. The play sand you select should be thoroughly tested by manufacturers. According to the Healthy Schools Network, “The sand used in children’s playground sand boxes may not be natural beach or river sand. Many times play sand is made of crushed rock or crystalline silica. The silica is made from quartz stone and is a known carcinogen. Tremolite, a form of asbestos, another recognized carcinogen, can also be found in some brands of play sand. Dust from play sand can contain these hazardous substances, and weathering and repeated use will lead to further separation of the fibers, producing more asbestos dust.” (as stated in this PDF).

Cost of Sand as Playground Flooring

Sand is a relatively inexpensive option up front, however it does require ongoing replacement and refill costs.

Pros:

  • Sand is one of the cheapest options for playground surfaces.
  • Sand typically costs $1.50 to $3.00 per square foot and you can usually find bulk play sand available at a local hardware store or landscaping company.
  • At $2.00 per square foot, a 2,500 square foot playground could cost about $5,000 for sand.
  • Hiring a professional installer will be an added cost, but it should take less than a full day to install the sand. While you can opt to install it yourself, you don’t get the work guarantee that comes with a pro.

Cons:

  • The lifetime cost of sand can start to add up.
  • You’ll need to replace the sand once a year, especially in high-traffic areas.
  • If you want to keep your playground sand clean and play-ready, expect to pay to refill at least 25% of the sand each year, or about $1,250 or more for a 2,500 square foot playground.

Quality and Maintenance of Sand as a Playground Surface

Foreign objects, weeds, bugs, and other misc sharp objects can make sand difficult to maintain for playgrounds.

Pros:

  • Unfortunately, when it comes to outdoor playground flooring, the quality and maintenance of sand don’t contain very many positives other than to say that it can be cheap to replace.

Cons:

  • Sand can be pretty challenging to maintain.
  • It attracts animal waste and insects.
  • Grass and weeds can start growing through it, especially on less-used areas of the playground.
  • Sand is also messy and easily tracked indoors on clothes, hair, and shoes.
  • You should replace the sand every year or more frequently if necessary.
  • As kids play in the sand, it can move around significantly, meaning you need to smooth it out on a regular basis.
  • Plus, you never know when you’re going to find something harmful buried in the sand. Therefore, you should rake the sand weekly into a level uniform surface at a depth of 12 inches and inspect it for (and remove) foreign objects like rocks and twigs.
  • If the area you live in is often dry or windy, you may want to rethink sand. Nobody enjoys dust and sand particles blowing in their eyes.
  • In cold or wet weather, sand tends to compact into an unsafe, more solid surface.
  • Not all playground sand is created equal. Particular sand can contain harmful materials, making it extremely important to select sand explicitly made for playgrounds.

Installation Sand for Playground Flooring

To keep sand in your playground area, you’ll need a fixed border installed.

Pros:

  • One significant positive to sand is that it’s relatively easy to install.
  • You can easily find sand at your local hardware store. Look for Minus 30 play sand, as it’s thoroughly tested and rated for safety.
  • When it comes to site prep sand is one of the more straightforward surfacing options to install.
  • As with most playground installations, ensure the area is level and even, free from rocks and debris, and deep enough to accommodate the fall depth, at least 12 inches in the case of sand.
  • As with most loose-fill surfacing options, you’ll need a retention area or fixed border to keep the sand in place.
  • A sub-grade of about 3 inches of loose-fill pea gravel may also be necessary for drainage.

Cons:

  • Wash plaster sand, commonly used in mason projects, maybe okay for private school or residential playgrounds with minor usage. However, it’s not the best option for a heavily used playground.

Alternatives to Sand for Playgrounds

Playground flooring is an important factor for children’s safety when playing on the equipment, making surfacing material one of the most crucial playground construction factors. While sand might be right for your new or existing playground, it’s not the only surfacing option out there. Consider poured-in-place rubber surfacing or rubber playground tiles for a comfortable, soft cushion for playing and an ADA-compliant option for your playground.

Contact adventureTURF today for premium poured-in-place surfacing designed made to keep your playground safe, fun, and enjoyable for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sand typically costs $1.50 to $3.00 per square foot. At $2.00 per square foot, a 2,500 square foot playground could cost about $5,000 for sand. See more pricing details here.

Sand is deemed an appropriate surface for playgrounds by the American Society of Testing and Materials if you layer the sand to a depth of about 12 inches however, there are various pros and cons of sand safety. To ensure sand offers proper fall protection for children, the National Safety Council (NSC) recommends maintaining a 12-inch depth in areas where equipment requires a six-foot drop or fall zone.

Sometimes they do, but it’s typically not recommended. Why? Because sand is a loose granular substance, it can be dusty and get all over kids clothes. Not all playground sand is created equal. Why? Because sand is produced by the erosion or weathering of rocks and minerals, the composition of sand can vary based on local rock sources and conditions. That means both the texture (how rough or smooth the sand is) and color can vary. For example, you can find sand in a range of colors like pale yellow, brown, white, black, green, and even pink. Should you use it for your playground? See some pros and cons here.

The lifespan of sand as a surface option is fairly short due to numerous maintenance needs. You should replace the sand every year or, depending on the amount of use and weather conditions, more frequently. You should rake the sand weekly into a level uniform surface at a depth of 12 inches and frequently inspect it for (and remove) foreign objects like rocks and twigs.

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