Masonry sand vs play sand

There are so many decisions we have to make every day. What should we eat? Which route should we take to work? Which sand should we put in the kids’ sandbox?

I’m going to help you to make an informed decision regarding the latter conundrum. We’ll look at the differences between masonry sand vs play sand. See which one you prefer. Enabling you to tick off one of your to-do list items.

What is sand?

Basically, sand is made from rocks. Through the action of waves, erosion, and wind, these rocks have been eroded, broken, and ground down into small particles. 

This happens over a long period of time and gives us the lovely sea sand we know and love so much. Other sand is found around lakes, river beds, and other shorelines.

Is masonry sand safe for sandboxes?

Masonry sand is also known as river sand, builders sand, bricklayer’s sand, screeding sand, plasterer’s sand, sharp sand, and bricklayer’s sand. It is used, as the name suggests, for construction work. The different uses are general masonry work, plastering, bricklaying, and rendering.

This type of sand is collected from riverbanks and beds and areas that are more inland, not coastal. Salts and organic matter have to be kept at a minimum as this could influence the moisture absorption of the sand. And like all builders know, damp and rust issues are never good for building projects.

The grains found in masonry sand are made up of different-sized grains. They consist of sharp, smooth, and rounded shapes, which is why many builders use them for construction projects. 

The very fine particles that cause the dust in masonry sand are beneficial for building purposes and therefore the dust is not washed out of the sand.

Good for the building industry. Not so good for use in sandboxes.

Since the sand has not been washed (on purpose), it causes dust clouds when incorrectly used as play sand. The dust particles, called microcrystalline silica, in masonry sand cause dust to rise when children are frolicking about in the sandpit. It is this particular product that causes dirty little hands, adheres to clothes, and could affect allergies and asthma in kids and adults.

What is play sand?

Play sand also called sea sand, washed sand, silver sand, beach sand, and jointing sand. This type of sand is best suited for children’s sandpits but has to be double washed to remove the contaminants. 

Other uses of this type of sand include paving and patio slabs, golf bunkers, and recreational areas, like long jump pits, free slide landings, fire pit, molds for metal casting, and volleyball courts.

The reason why it is sometimes called washed sand is because of the way they process the sand. The sand is washed and any unwanted dust, sediment, silt, clay is removed. It is then left to drain and dry out.

Some play sand is collected inland from deserts, rivers, and mountain ranges. Safe play sand comes straight from the source. It is not pulverized or crushed in the processing phase as this could potentially cause harmful dust particles. 

Other play sand is collected from beaches and areas around the coastline. Due to the salt content, builders tend to stay away from this type of sand for big construction projects as the salt could cause moisture absorption. 

That being said, salt is a natural disinfectant that is good to use in sandboxes where little ones play. Even though this type of sand is very fine, it should not cause dust clouds if it is given a proper double wash in the processing phase.

The difference between play sand and builders sand


The basic difference between play sand and builders sand is play sand has a softer, finer texture. Builders’ sand is rougher in nature. The grains found in building sand have sharper edges and feel rough to the touch. Under a microscope, play sand particles appear smoother, rounder, and feel softer.


Another difference is the color. Builders’ sand is usually yellowish in color. It can also have a reddish tint due to the iron oxide found in the sand. Play sand is usually a light cream color.

Washed vs Unwashed

Play sand is washed thoroughly in the preparation phase. This washes out the unwanted oxides, contaminants, resulting in a lighter color.


Another big difference is the dust content in these two types of sand. There is a lot of misinformation floating around on the internet about how dangerous silica is to have in play sand. Many people warn that play sand should be silica-free. This is impossible seeing that silica is found in about 99% of sand.

Let me explain the confusion. The crystalline silica is not the concern. The portion of the material that can be inhaled is the concern. These particles are called microcrystalline silica. This toxic ingredient is washed out of safe play sand.


Play sand does not crumble as easily as builders’ sand. This is very important because we don’t want the kid’s sandcastles to come crashing down. 

The builder’s sand grains, as previously mentioned, are rougher with sharper edges. This causes cavities between the particles and does not allow the grains to “grip” each other, causing falling castles and tears of disappointment. 

Grain Size

Sandbox sand should be uniform in grain size. If the grains consist of non-uniform particles, the bridges, roads, and walls created by little ones will not keep their shape. Also, different grain sizes could cause it to become coarse, dusty, and dirty.


The moisture absorption and retention of play sand are better than builders’ sand. This helps to keep the shapes created with molds intact. Builders’ sand absorbs water well but retains it poorly, becoming dry quickly.

Due to the double wash process that the play sand goes through, there is less dust. This is good in a sandbox as the sand won’t become as muddy as the builder’s sand. 

Hopefully, this information helped you to decide to choose the right sand for the sandbox.

If this seems a bit much and taxing, know that your children will benefit from your tenacity to find the perfect sand for them. 

Image credits: Canva Pro

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