A sandbox can be the source of countless hours of fun for your kids as they build sandcastles, play with trucks and toys, and let their imaginations run wild. But since they’re typically located outdoors, sandboxes can be vulnerable to the forces of nature. One such force that many parents worry about is insects. After all, no one wants to let their child play in a sandbox that’s infested with bugs. So it’s only natural to wonder if having a sandbox is asking for trouble from creepy-crawlies.
Unfortunately, sandboxes do attract bugs of various sorts. The most common bugs that sandboxes attract are ants, spiders, beetles, wasps, and mosquitoes. Some of these insects are attracted to the sand itself, while others come seeking food.
Fortunately, however, keeping bugs out of your kids sandbox is easier than you might think. In this article we’ll share with you which bugs you’re most likely to encounter in your child’s sandbox and what you can do about it!
What Kind of Bugs Do Sandboxes Attract?
Sandboxes can potentially attract or become home to many different kinds of bugs, the most common and harmful of which include ants, mosquitoes, spiders, ticks, fleas, wasps, and even parasitic worms. Some burrow into the sand itself while others set up shop in, under, or around the sandbox frame. Ultimately, the kinds of bugs attracted to the sandbox depend on the sandbox’s materials, surroundings, and condition.
As you can see, a wide variety of bugs take an interest in sandboxes. So to understand which bugs you might expect to find in your sandbox (and how to combat them) it’s important to understand why they’re drawn to sandboxes in the first place – not all bugs are there for the same reasons.
Mostly, bugs will view your sandbox either as a place to live or a place to feed, or both. (Some also view it as a place to breed, but we’ll file that under the first category).
Ants are among the most common bugs found in sandboxes because they’re interested in both the real estate and opportunities for food that they can provide. The sand looks like a perfect place to tunnel in and build a home for the colony, particularly if it hasn’t been turned in a while. And if the sandbox contains anything edible, it only sweetens the deal – food crumbs, candy, spilled juice, fallen leaves, and the carcasses of other bugs will all attract ants like nobody’s business.
Ants also don’t particularly care whether the sandbox is plastic or wooden. It certainly helps to have a barrier of some kind in between the sand and the ground underneath, as well as a tight-fitting cover or lid (more on that later) but ants can often find their way in regardless.
Speaking from experience, disrupting an anthill and getting swarmed by angry, biting ants is no fun at all. Some species, such as fire ants, can even be deadly to a child who’s allergic to their venom – so you’ll definitely want to keep these pests away from your sandbox.
Spiders aren’t so much attracted to the sand as they are to the sandbox frame. They’ll view any crevices or sheltered nooks as a great place to spin a web and get comfy. This is mostly a problem with wooden frames that have a lot of gaps or shady crevices, but the hollow underside of many plastic sandboxes can also harbor eight-legged tenants. The other insects that the sandbox attracts will also be a prime source of food, so spiders will have everything they need.
Some species of spider are much more dangerous than others (namely the black widow and brown recluse) but even a harmless arachnid can give most children quite a fright and make them never want to go near their sandbox again, so a spider-free sandbox is generally best.
One species of wasp called the sand wasp makes its home in sandy soil, which could make a sandbox look mighty appealing. Other types of wasps like to burrow into wood or climb into deep crevices to make their nests, and a wooden sandbox frame may look like the perfect spot. Wasps are territorial and aren’t afraid to sting anyone or anything they perceive as a threat. Their stings can be very painful and extremely dangerous to anyone who’s allergic – discouraging their presence is a must.
Fleas & Ticks
Fleas and ticks tend to hang out in shady areas and where people and animals usually spend time. Since sandboxes are usually in the shade and are often visited by kiddos, they can look like the perfect feeding ground for these nasty bugs. Both can wind up in the yard by hitching a ride on a wild animal, and both can crawl into the sand and wait for an unsuspecting victim to come along.
Not only are flea and tick bites itchy and painful, but they can also spread viruses and diseases. These are two tiny pests you’ll definitely want to keep far away from your sandbox.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so the only way they’ll find a sandbox appealing is if it’s waterlogged or constantly soggy – or if any water is allowed to pool for more than a day in any part of the frame. Of course, mosquitoes will likely be attracted to the sandbox when kids are playing in it, so it’s best to use a natural repellant and try to keep the yard free of standing water.
Worms, Parasites, and Bacteria
Certain types of worms, bacteria, and parasitic microorganisms can also wind up in a sandbox if the sand itself isn’t sanitized and treated to be kid-safe, isn’t changed often enough, is constantly damp or full of organic matter, or if cats or other animals leave their droppings in the sand. This is why it’s crucial that the sandbox is kept clean and fresh and that children wash their hands before touching their faces – and certainly should never eat the sand, as tempting as it may be!
Plenty of other bugs can be drawn to the sandbox, some of which are perfectly harmless. But since even these can attract the more dangerous kinds of creepy-crawlies, it’s best to keep the sandbox as bug-free as possible.
How To Kill Bugs In Your Sandbox
The best way to kill or get rid of bugs in your sandbox is to dispose of the infested sand and start fresh. Any other way runs the risk of making the sandbox unsafe for your kids or failing to remove the infestation entirely. However, you’ll also need to follow a few additional steps to ensure you’ve eliminated all bugs and eggs, render the sandbox safe, and help prevent future infestations.
Here’s a brief step-by-step guide to getting rid of bugs from your sandbox.
1. Dump the Sand
Firstly, you’ll want to get rid of the contaminated sand. If you can put it to use somewhere else on your property, all the better. If not, check with your local waste management authority to find out the proper way to dispose of sand, whether it’s the local landfill, a special garbage pickup service, or a designated disposal location in your town or county.
2. Sanitize the Sandbox
Once the sandbox is empty, the next step is to kill any stragglers. Spray the whole frame or container with the pesticide of your choice (as long as it’s effective). Make sure to spray in any cracks and crevices that may harbor bugs or egg sacs, as well as any hollow parts of the underside. Let the box sit for at least two days to let the pesticide do its thing, preferably covered with a sheet of plastic drop cloth or a tarp to keep away rain and pets.
After the two days are up, wash out the container thoroughly with soap and water to get rid of any detritus and pesticide residue.
If you have a wooden sandbox that’s cracked or splitting, or that has a lot of crevices and potential hiding places, it’s a good idea to fill in these gaps with wood putty or foam. If the wood is rotting or in rough shape, you may want to consider replacing the wood entirely.
3. Line the Sandbox Floor
Once the sandbox is clean and dry, you’ll want to put in a barrier to help keep bugs from crawling up into the sand from the ground. You can use landscape fabric or a durable plastic sheet with several holes poked in it for drainage. (Disregard this step if your sandbox already has a bottom barrier that’s in good condition.)
4. Add Fresh Sand
Next, it’s time to put in your new sand. Make sure you buy play sand that’s sanitized and treated specifically to be safe for children; untreated natural sand can harbor bacteria and some synthetic sands contain harmful substances.
Next, it’s time to protect the sandbox against future infestations. This can typically be done very simply with household items and basic maintenance. One of these methods seems too simple to be true, so I’ll address it first.
Does Putting Cinnamon In a Sandbox Keep Bugs Away?
Putting a generous amount of cinnamon in your sandbox, mixed in with the sand, does help to keep bugs away – insects like ants, flies, mosquitoes, and silverfish are repelled by the scent of cinnamon. The effect doesn’t last forever, though, so you’ll need to add fresh cinnamon periodically. It also doesn’t work on every insect and likely won’t drive away insects that have already infested the sandbox.
When you dump in your new sand, mix in a cup or so of cinnamon, depending on how big your sandbox is. You don’t want to overdo it, since a strong aroma may encourage your tykes or pets to confuse the sand for a snack.
Now, let’s look at some of the other ways to keep your sandbox bug-free.
How To Keep Bugs Out of Your Sandbox
In addition to the steps mentioned above, you can use the following methods for long-term bug prevention.
- Keep It Covered – Most store-bought sandboxes come with a lid or cover, but they’re also sold separately. If your sandbox is homemade, you can always fashion your own cover. The important thing is that it fits snugly and keeps rain out of the sandbox. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a perfect seal, but the tighter the better.
- Use Bug Repellent Around the Perimeter – Spray around the perimeter of the sandbox with a non-toxic, naturally derived bug repellent that’s safe for use around children and pets. These contain essential oils and other plant-based substances and are sold in most hardware stores. Vinegar, citronella oil, or a sprinkling of cornstarch around the perimeter also help repel some insects.
- Keep Food and Drinks Away – This is a big one. The tiniest crumbs or sugary spills in or around the sandbox are paydirt for insects, so a strict no-snack policy will need to be implemented for the sandbox. This also means keeping pet food or bird-feeders well away from the sandbox.
- Keep the Surrounding Area Clean – Keeping a few feet of open space around the sandbox can also make a difference since many insects like to hang out in nearby vegetation. This means no weeds, tall grass, or any objects that insects can hide under.
- Turn the Sand – Turning and mixing the sand with a shovel every week or so will tell any burrowing insects that this isn’t a safe place to build a nest.
- Sift the Sand – Pour the sand through a sand sifter to remove any organic debris such as leaves and twigs. This should be done every month at a minimum.
- Replace the Sand – Every year or so, it’s a good idea to get rid of the old sand and replace it with a fresh batch, once again mixing in cinnamon and replacing the ground barrier if need be.
Sandboxes can attract a variety of insects, but that should dissuade you from getting one. If you keep it clean, well-maintained, and protected by simple and safe deterrents, you can keep your sandbox safe and bug-free all year round.