Building a sandbox for your child sounds like a great idea at a glance. But, when you start to research how best to go about it, the downsides, and what kind of sand to use, things start to get a little more complicated. There are some definite downsides to sand (which we’ll cover briefly below). So, those thinking outside the (sand)box may consider pea gravel instead of sand. But, this brings up the question of whether pea gravel is an ideal replacement.
Using pea gravel for a sandbox is a great alternative to sand. Its easy to clean, doesn’t contain much dust, nor does it attract animals, like sand does. Its also a cheaper. Because pea gravel is small and smooth, its easy for children to play in without getting hurt, although it can pose a choking hazard to younger children.
In this article we’ll cover all the reasons you should consider using pea gravel in your child’s sandbox while also brining to your attention the reasons some people decide not to.
Benefits of Using Pea Gravel in a Sandbox
First, let’s start with the positives. To do this, we’ll compare sand and pea gravel to see how each shapes up.
Pea Gravel is Easier to Cleaner Than Sand
Since pea gravel is larger than sand particles, it’s easier to clean than sand is. Using a hose is a simple way to clean the pea gravel. Simply spraying down the sandbox regularly can help keep the pea gravel clean, which can help keep your child healthy.
It’s also quicker to dry than sand is, which means you won’t have to worry about mold growing in the pea gravel like it can in wet sand.
Pea Gravel Doesn’t Contain As Much Dust
Sand contains a lot of dust particles. These particles can fly into the air and enter your child’s nose, mouth, or throat. Children also spend a lot of time playing with their mouth open or putting things into their mouth, which means that they could end up breathing in sand while playing outside. (More on the choking hazards of pea gravel under the “Drawbacks section”.)
Pea gravel does not contain as much dust so it won’t irritate your child’s lungs as much when they’re playing outside in the sandbox. Some types of sand can also contain dangerous dust particles such as tremolite and crystalline silica. With the right kind of clean and safe pea gravel, you won’t have to worry about this.
Pea Gravel Doesn’t Attract Animals
Unlike sand, which is an ideal bathroom for some animals, pea gravel is not likely to attract these animals. This means that you won’t have to worry about unexpected presents in the sandbox. However, that doesn’t mean that you should leave your pea-gravel sandbox open when it’s not in use. All sandboxes should have secure covers to keep unwanted pests and debris out.
Pea Gravel is Cheaper Than Sand
Pea gravel is usually cheaper than sand, which makes it attractive for many parents. This is especially true if you’re looking for natural sand that is certified to not have any harmful dust or other particles. You can find natural, washed, low-dust pea gravel for between $4 and $8 per 50 pounds. Natural sand is often triple this price.
Pea Gravel Won’t Get Everywhere
Pea gravel is also less likely to get tracked indoors by your child. Whereas sand tends to stick to shoes and clothing, pea gravel tends to stay put. This can help keep the sand off of carpets or floor surfaces in other parts of the house.
Still, it is likely you will wind up with some pea gravel outside the confines of the sandbox. But, thanks to the size of the gravel, you can simply sweep it up and dispose of it or put it back in the box.
Drawbacks to Using Pea Gravel in a Sandbox
Make no mistake: pea gravel is not without its downsides. Read on to find out what those are before you decide to use it in your sandbox.
Some people don’t like pea gravel because they say that children can easily ingest too much at once or choke on the small pieces. Children under the age of three may be tempted to stick pieces of pea gravel in their mouth to eat them. Children under this age should not be left unattended at a pea-gravel sandbox.
Likewise, some older children may not be over the phase of sticking objects into their mouths. If your children are prone to doing this, you may want to stick with sand if you must have a sandbox.
Not the Same as Sand
Another drawback of pea gravel is that you can’t make sandcastles with it. This is one of the biggest draws to sand. Children enjoy playing with the sand and shaping it into different shapes or creating an iconic symbol of a castle. But, many children still like to play around with pea gravel using buckets, shovels, and other toys.
Pea Gravel and Yards
If your sandbox is in the middle of your yard, you may want to stick to sand instead of pea gravel. Pea gravel doesn’t mix well with lawnmowers, whereas sand is small enough that the lawnmower blades won’t touch it. Of course, you can always put the sandbox in a corner of the yard or under a tree where grass has trouble growing.
How Much Pea Gravel Do You Need for a Sandbox?
How much pea gravel you’ll need for a sandbox depends on the size of the box. You’ll generally want to have several inches of pea gravel in the box. You can determine an estimated amount of pea gravel by determining how many cubic feet you need.
Length (ft) * Width (ft) * Depth (ft)
So, say your sandbox is 4 feet long, 4 wide, and you want 6 inches of pea gravel in it.
4*4*0.5= 8 Cubic Feet.
Armed with that information, you can tell a supplier that you want 8 cubic feet of pea gravel if you’re ordering it. If you’re picking it up at the local home and garden store, you should be able to find 1/2 cubic foot bags for around $3 or $4. So for 8 cubic feet, you would need 16 of these bags.
How Much Does Pea Gravel Cost?
As mentioned above, the cost of pea gravel at the local home and garden store is likely to be $3 or $4 dollars per 1/2 cubic foot bag. However, depending on where you live, this price could fluctuate. You could pay as much as $6 per bag.
This is why some homeowners opt to go straight to a supplier for pea gravel. This is a much cheaper option, costing somewhere between $20 and $50 per ton of pea gravel.
Now, a ton is likely more than you’ll need for a small sandbox, but you may be able to get smaller portions at around the same prorated price. Or, maybe you want some pea gravel for other landscaping projects you have in mind. If so, it only makes sense to buy it all at once.
Tips for Getting the Right Pea Gravel
Not all pea gravel is ideal for use in a sandbox. You’ll want rounded pea gravel with no sharp edges. This will keep small children from getting injured, especially if they’re playing in the sandbox and they decide to get adventurous, as kids often do. Rounded pea gravel is ideal for use in playgrounds as a shock absorber, and that’s just the kind you want in your sandbox.
You’ll also want to make sure that you get pea gravel that is clean and free of twigs, dust, and other debris. If it’s not sorted properly for use in a sandbox or on a playground, then you may want to take the time to clean it before putting it in the sandbox. You can do this easily..
Cleaning Pea Gravel for Your Sandbox
The easiest way to clean pea gravel is by putting it in a large bucket with pre-drilled holes in the bottom (and a couple on the sides near the base, if you want). 5 gallon buckets are ideal for this purpose.
Fill the bucket about halfway up with pea gravel, then use a hose to soak the gravel. Use a stick or garden shovel to mix the gravel around while you clean it with the water. This method will clear out any dust and small debris as the water moves over the gravel and drains out the holes in the bottom.
Do this until the water comes out (somewhat) clean. Then dump the pea gravel out to dry in the sandbox. Repeat until all the pea gravel is clean.
Protecting Your Pea Gravel
If your sandbox doesn’t have any kind of bottom, you’ll want to lay down a landscaping fabric to put the pea gravel on. This will prevent any plants from growing up through the sandbox and will keep your child from mixing dirt in with the pea gravel.
You’ll also want to invest in some kind of cover for the sandbox. Because some animals and insects may still be attracted to the pea gravel, even if it’s not quite the pest-magnet that sand is.
Sandboxes are a great place for children of all ages to play, but they can also be quite messy. Children tend to get very dirty when playing in sand, which is then tracked inside the house. Plus, some sand can have dangerous particles like crystalline silica or tremolite. If you’re looking for relatively clean and safer material than sand, then consider using pea gravel as opposed to sand.
Your kids can’t build sandcastles with pea gravel, but they can still have fun and learn fine motor skills and socialization. Rounded pea gravel is ideal for sandboxes and is usually cheaper than sand, making it a great option for your child’s sandbox.