A sandbox is a great way for your little ones to build motor skills and muscle, stimulate their creativity, and spend more time in the great outdoors. But in most regions, it’s not exactly ideal for year-round use. Sandboxes tend to sit vacant during the colder winter months as indoor activities start to look more appealing.
This isn’t exactly a big deal in itself since your toddler will probably be even more excited to play in it again come springtime, but the harsh winter weather and months of disuse can do a number on your sandbox. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect it and keep it in good shape all winter long. In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about winterizing your sandbox, step by step.
1. Clean the Sand
The first thing you’ll want to do is get all the toys and debris out of the sandbox. Extreme cold and moisture can cause toys (especially the flimsier plastic sandbox toys) to become brittle and crack when they’re used again – which is not just a hazard but also a waste of a perfectly good toy!
Any organic materials in the sandbox, such as sticks or fallen leaves, will slowly decay over the winter, clutter up the sand, and potentially attract insects looking for an easy snack.
You can move sand around with a shovel (carefully, so as not to break any buried toys or penetrate the bottom liner) and use a sifter to get out any smaller debris. Make sure to get down as deep as possible to get all buried objects. When you’re done, rake the sand fairly level again, so it’s not piled up higher than the frame.
2. Apply Weather Sealant To the Frame (for Wood Sandboxes)
If your sandbox is made of wood, you’ll likely want to add extra protection from the elements to keep the frame from warping or cracking. If you stained and sealed the wood when you installed the sandbox, simply check to see how it’s holding up. But even if the wood is unfinished, it’s probably not too late to add a layer of sealant (unless it’s already coming apart).
Pre-made commercial sandboxes are typically already treated to be weather-resistant, but even these may need a fresh coat of sealant after a few years. Regardless, if you do decide to apply sealant, make sure you use one that’s safe for kids and pets.
3. Cover the Sandbox
Next, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to keep the sandbox covered for those months that it’s not being used. Ideally, it should be covered whenever it’s not in use, no matter the time of year, but it’s especially important in the winter since it will be left unattended for so long.
A cover will help keep debris from accumulating in the sandbox, protect it from excess moisture and flooding due to snow or rain, and prevent neighborhood critters like raccoons and cats from using it as a bathroom.
If your sandbox didn’t come with a lid or cover, you can always buy one or make one yourself. Either way, your sandbox cover should be waterproof and fit snugly without completely suffocating the sand. This Oslimea polyester canopy with a drawstring is a good example of such a cover.
But if your sandbox is homemade, you may not be able to find a cover that fits, in which case you’ll have to make your own. Many people build sandbox covers out of wood (weather-sealed, of course), while others simply use a waterproof tarp.
If using a wood cover, you’ll want to weigh it down with bricks or large rocks to keep it secure against wind gusts and enthusiastic animals. If using a tarp or other flexible material, you can use bricks, rope, or yard stakes to keep it in place.
It’s also a good idea to place a bucket or similar object underneath your flexible cover, directly in the center of the sandbox, to act as a tentpole and keep rainwater or snow from collecting in the middle. Any sturdy object will do, as long as it’s slightly taller than the sandbox frame and won’t pierce the cover material.
4. Put the Sandbox In Storage (Optional)
Finally, if you’re so inclined, you can protect your sandbox by storing it in a garage, basement, or shed for the winter. Obviously, this isn’t possible for sandboxes built into the ground and likely isn’t practical for most larger sandboxes. And if you follow the steps above, it’s probably not even necessary – but it’s an option nonetheless.
Above-ground wooden sandboxes (with wooden floors) would benefit most from being stored out of the elements since they’re more susceptible to temperature and moisture damage – but they’re typically bulkier and harder to move. Ironically, pre-made plastic sandboxes like this classic turtle model are a bit more resilient against the cold and yet are the most portable.
With either type, however, you’ll need to take all of the sand out before trying to move the box – even a few inches of sand in a small sandbox can weigh hundreds of pounds. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though – it’s generally good practice to replace the sand in your sandbox every year or so to keep it clean and fresh, so winter is likely the most convenient time to do it.
Once the sand has been removed and properly disposed of (or put to use elsewhere in the yard), all that’s left is to clean off the sandbox and tuck it away in a safe place until spring rolls around again!