Play Sand vs All Purpose Sand: Pros and Cons of Each

play sand vs all purpose sand

Take a trip to the beach and the world is literally a playground. Sand is the ultimate, natural source for hours of play. 

Digging holes, building a sandcastle, and tunneling trenches, the options are endless and even parents can be easily convinced to join in the fun. It’s easy to see why so many parents are eager to make it possible for kids to play with sand at home. 

There are many benefits to setting up a sand environment at home. Whether you make a sand table or fill up a sandbox, it provides hours of entertainment for your kids and their friends. Not only does it provide plenty of occupied time (great for kids and parents alike), it’s also good for development. 

Sand play promotes physical development by building hand-eye coordination, developing motor skills, and strengthening muscles. It enhances creativity and imagination– the opportunities to create and build are endless. And it also helps develop social and language skills when playing with other kids. 

Sand is also used in a myriad of building and landscaping projects, as most do-it-yourselfers already know. It’s used as the base for concrete and mortar, the construction of patios, and to make slippery walkways safe. It’s an essential component to building, construction, and landscaping. 

Play sand and all-purpose sand aren’t the same but are often used interchangeably. While you can substitute all-purpose sand with play sand, you shouldn’t replace play sand with all-purpose sand. Learn which sand is better for different situations here. 


Overview of Play Sand

play sand

Play sand goes through a refining and cleaning process to remove harmful ingredients and dust. It’s rigorously tested to ensure that there is no dangerous bacteria growth and fewer chemicals. It’s sifted thoroughly and blasted with pressurized water so that only the finest grains remain. 

Play sand is more refined and of higher quality so it’s safe for children to play with. It’s often sold in your local hardware store, but finding the right type of play sand can be tricky. There are certain ingredients that you want to stay away from, including crystalline silica and tremolite. 

Microcrystalline silica is made from quartz and is considered a carcinogen. Silica dust can cause a myriad of health issues when breathed into the lungs. The main concerns here are the long-term effects of silica on the respiratory system. It can cause silicosis, which is an incurable disease, as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, autoimmune disease, and renal disease. 

Tremolite comes from crushed marble and limestone and contains tiny fibers that can easily be inhaled when playing in the sandbox. Long-term exposure to tremolite can cause the same health concerns as asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma and serious complications of the throat and GI tract. 

Silica and tremolite both enter the body through the dust in the air, so sandbox dust is the main concern here. Luckily, there are safe play sand options that don’t contain tremolite, silica, or quartz and are dust free. With natural sand, the texture is round and smooth, whereas man-made sand is often jagged. 

When looking for safe sandbox sand, natural is best. If you’re able to find river or beach sand, that’s an ideal option. There are also safe options that are made without silica and quartz. Here’s a solid choice:

Top pick
Sandtastik Play Sand

No free silica or quartz. Safety approval from the Toxicology Professionals at a University School of Medicine.

Check Price on Amazon


Overview of All-Purpose Sand

all purpose sand

All-purpose sand is made primarily for mixing with cement to make gravel and concrete, used under paving slabs, and mixed with potting soil. Typically, all-purpose sand is used in building and landscaping and is not advisable for use in sandboxes or for playing. 

All-purpose sand is an essential part of mortar and cement, is a great option for under flagstones, and is commonly used in construction to strengthen other materials. It can also be used on an icy or slippery pavement in order to create traction.

When children play in all-purpose sand, they often leave feeling itchy and covered in scratches, and the dust can damage their lungs, in ways that we’ve previously discussed. While it’s sifted so that it’s free from most large particles and washed to reduce dust, this type of sand is still coarse, dusty, and has many rough edges. 


Main Differences Between Play Sand and All-Purpose Sand

Shape and size: Play sand is made of much finer grains that are more rounded in shape. It’s basically safe sand and the best sand for sandboxes, sand tables, and in playgrounds. All-purpose sand is coarser and made of slightly larger particles. Since it’s designed to be used for building and landscaping, it’s okay that it’s sharp sand and as a result, it shouldn’t be used for playing. 

Dust: Play sand should have very low levels of dust, to prevent particles from getting into the air and into the lungs of small children. All-purpose sand is typically much dustier and can result in dust clouds. 

Safety: Obviously, safety is the biggest issue here. Play sand is the safest and best sand option when it comes to incorporating an at-home sand play. While all-purpose sand isn’t safe for children to play with, it’s perfectly safe for use in building, construction, and landscaping.


Pros and Cons of Play Sand

When setting up a sandbox or a sand table, here are the pros and cons of play sand.


  • When you choose a type of play sand that’s free of harmful ingredients and made of soft, fine sand, you can rest assured that it’s safe for your children. 
  • Playing with sand is beneficial for your child’s development. 
  • Play sand can easily be used in place of all-purpose sand and in some cases, will even be a better option. 


  • Sand can be messy, kids can bring it inside the house, and it can get everywhere. 
  • Sandboxes that are outside should be tightly covered at all times, as it can attract animal waste, neighborhood pets, and insects. 
  • Sand can be difficult to maintain and keep clean. 

Pros and Cons of All-Purpose Sand

All-purpose sand has a wide variety of uses as well as some pros and cons.  


  • All-purpose sand is used to make concrete, mortar, and plasters, so it’s versatile and adds strength and bulk to these materials when used in building and construction. 
  • It’s durable, multifunctional, and affordable, making it an ideal asset on a building construction site. 
  • All-purpose sand is an essential element in concrete sand, used in the base layers of patios and walking paths.  
  • It can be used to fix drainage problems. 


  • This is not a safe option for any type of sand play and should be kept away from children. 
  • Because of its coarse structure, it can take more water and cement to create a workable product. 


Final Verdict: Best Uses for Each

When you’re looking to create some type of sand play in your home or your backyard, you’ll want to be sure and choose play sand. Be sure that it’s free of tremolite and silica (or quartz) and as natural of a product as you can find. Play sand is an ideal option when you want to fill a sandbox or a sand table. You can even put sand in a small, clear container, including little toys for a portable or tabletop option. 

All-purpose sand is ideal for home projects, such as under interlocking pavers or flagstones, mixing with cement, or can even be used to create an outside seascape effect. It’s also commonly used in frigid, icy conditions, as it creates traction when spread over slippery surfaces.


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