A sandbox is an excellent addition to any backyard, and you probably knew that as soon as you saw your child’s face when they saw it for the first time. It really is a special experience to see what children do with a sandbox: unlimited adventure, building castles, playing with toy trucks, and nothing but fun. Yet, as parents, we see more of the realities of these playtime centers.
When not taken care of properly, a sandbox can potentially get gross over time, collecting unwanted creatures or what they leave behind, but if you don’t know how to maintain it effectively, it can be challenging to keep up with its cleanliness.
Don’t worry — in this article, we’re sharing everything we’ve learned about maintaining a high-quality sandbox in your backyard so your kids can know the joy of playing in the sand all year long without having to leave the comfort of their yard. From setting it up the right way the first time to cleaning, if you follow the steps and tips below, you’ll have an always-clean sandbox available for use. If you’re building your first sandbox, make sure to read our guide on how to make a sandbox as well.
The foundation of sandbox maintenance is regular cleaning. Without a cleaning schedule that you can stick to, unwanted visitors like bugs, gravel, and pet waste can overtake your sandbox. Follow the seven tips below and feel good about your child playing in a clean sandbox:
Establish Regular Cleaning and Raking Routine
You need to clean your sandbox regularly, at least once a week, if your kids are using it constantly. To do this, use a rake or a shovel similar to a litter box scoop to sift through the sand, holding onto any large or unwanted debris in the process. Foreign objects can easily hide inside the sand, so combing through the entire box is necessary to remove them.
Replace Sand As Needed
While you don’t need to replace all of the sand in your sandbox every time you clean it, you should have scheduled times to replace the sand. We recommend removing and replacing the sand at least once a year. If you’re noticing it get dirty much sooner than that, follow your intuition and go ahead and replace it.
While some people might argue that regular sifting of the sand is enough to keep it clean, there’s still no way to guarantee that you catch 100% of the debris or foreign objects each time. Even the most thorough cleaner will likely miss some bits, so replacing the sand entirely now and then will give you the peace of mind that it’s fresh and clean.
Wash Sandbox Toys
It’s not just the sand that needs cleaning. When you think about it, any toy used in a sandbox touches dirt and bacteria every time your kid uses it. You don’t want germs lingering on your children’s toys, so you should plan on washing sandbox toys after every use, or at least try to wash them out once a week.
When cleaning the toys, bring them inside and run them under hot water to get all of the sand off. Then throw them in a bucket with an antibacterial soap to cleanse them thoroughly, and let them dry out in the open air. It’s wise to keep them somewhere safe inside and then bring them outside each time you use them to reduce the chances of picking up bacteria outdoors.
You could also choose to clean them with rubbing alcohol if you want to ensure extra cleanliness.
Keeping Your Kid Clean
Likely a rule following any outdoor play, you should make it a routine for your child to wash their hands after every sandbox play session. Teach them how to properly clean them — by washing with soap and warm water for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
If you have a young child who enjoys sandbox play, you need to diligently check for any diaper leaks before and after playtime. If you notice any signs of diaper leakage, take them out of the sandbox as soon as possible and remove any of the contaminated sand. Then, clean off your baby to ensure no sand sticks to unwanted places where it could itch or burn. In general, any child sitting in a sandbox with a diaper will benefit from a diaper change and thorough wipe-down when transitioning out of the sand.
Importance of Dry Sand
It’s essential to keep your sand dry. Wet sand may dry out quickly at the beach, but it will take much longer to dry when contained in a sandbox. There’s also a chance for the wet sand to hold moisture, which could lead to mold or mildew growing. If the water gets stuck in the sandbox, it could also start rotting the wood, which could mean you have to start from scratch with a new sandbox.
Covering your sandbox with an impervious material (like a tarp) will serve many purposes for keeping unwanted things out of your sandbox. Obviously things happen and some rain will get into your sandbox that one time you forget to cover the unused sandbox. The best way to handle that is to cover it as long as it is raining to avoid further moisture, even if you are a little late during a storm. When the sun is shining again, uncover it and try to turn the sand over with a shovel every 15 minutes for an hour or two to help the natural drying process. Then plan to clean out the sand again, if needed. If you need a cover, we really like this option from Maius.
Wood Splinter Checks
If your sandbox is made out of wood (chances are high that it is), you should do regular checks for wood splinters to keep them from coming off inside the box. The last thing you want is playtime ruined by a mean splinter. When you go to replace your sand annually (or more frequently), check the frame for splinters. If you notice any areas wearing down, sand down the area until it is smooth. You may also want to reseal the wood while you’re working on it.
If you keep running into splinter issues, try constructing a sandbox from a different material.
Keep Out What Doesn’t Belong
Finally, the last step to complete sandbox cleaning is keeping out what doesn’t belong. Sand? Yep. Toys? Sure. But bugs, animals, and gravel? No way.
To keep out bugs, you can try making a bug-repelling garden nearby to keep bugs away from the general area. Plus, you can add insect repellants to the garden’s soil for an extra boost of protection. If you prefer a more natural route, use coffee grounds and cinnamon to keep slugs, snails, and ants away. You should avoid putting your sandbox too close to bushes and flowers, but if you have many flowers nearby, you should consider cutting them, as flowers almost always attract bees.
For dogs, it’s really up to you to monitor them and keep them out of the sandbox. This goes for cats, too – especially outdoor cats who may accidentally think the sandbox is their litter box. Pet feces are a biohazard for any sandbox, so if any gets in the sandbox, either remove it with clean margins or replace the sand altogether.
If you have gravel in your backyard, try to keep it far away from the sandbox. Small bits of gravel tend to find their way into a sandbox, so increasing the distance between the two areas is the best way to keep them truly separate.
There’s more to maintenance than just cleaning — it’s also about proper setup and after-play steps. For this, we recommend using a cover and suitable materials both for the frame and the sand itself.
Utilize a Cover
When your sandbox is not in use, the best thing you can do is put a cover over it. This eliminates the worry about pets, bugs, and debris finding their way inside and also protects the dry sand from any wet weather conditions. Keep the cover somewhere dry and out of the way when the sandbox is in use, and then attach and make sure all openings are covered when playtime is over. We recommend attaching a tarp to a rod or dowel that can be unrolled when needed and easily rolled up and stored while your kids are playing.
Use the Correct Kind of Wood
If you’ve yet to build your sandbox and still have the opportunity to make adjustments to your plan, it’s a good idea to double-check the kind of wood you’re going to use. You may not realize it, but some wood can be toxic to humans–especially the kind of wood that is treated specifically for outdoor use.
Some of this wood is treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), which contains three toxic chemicals: arsenic, copper, and chromium. This treatment is becoming less and less common, though. Please check out our article on woods used for playsets for more info.
Are you wondering how you can tell if the wood you plan to use has been treated? It usually has a greenish tint to it, although that’s not a sure sign it’s been treated. Instead, use it as a clue and ask your wood provider for more details about its sourcing and treatment.
If you want to treat your wood to last better outside, you can use wood treated with borates, cyproconazole, borates, or propiconazole.
Use the Right Sand
There’s also a right and wrong kind of sand to use. Some sand that’s easy to buy contains minerals that are unsafe for children. Your biggest concern should be tremolite, which can lead to similar health effects as asbestos. You should only purchase river sand or natural beach sand for your playbox to avoid this risk.
Note that you should also avoid marble, quartz, and limestone sand as they could also contain tremolite.
While it might seem like a lot of work to maintain a children’s sandbox, it’s worth it to see their smile light up every time they play in it. By cleaning out the sandbox regularly and using the proper setup tools to protect it when not in use, you can preserve it for longer and keep your children safe and smiling. If you have a playset in your backyard too, be sure and read our guide on playset maintenance as well.