While you can just head to the toy store or hardware store and pick up sand for your child's sandbox, you may not want to. Cats mistaking the sand for a litter box and potty training accidents are not the only things that can deteriorate the quality of sandbox sand. Many sands sold for sandboxes actually contain elements that could pose health and safety risks to your toddlers.
Most sands contain crystalline silica, a component known to cause cancer and a lung disease called silicosis. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, most cases of silicosis occur either a few months after exposure to extremely high amounts of silica or over 15 to 20 years of moderate exposure to silica. Unless your child is swimming in thousands of pounds of silica-laden sand, he's not really at risk, and rinsing the sand before your tot plays in it will get rid of most of the dust. However, if your toddler has allergies or you want to be cautious, you can either strap a dust mask on him while he plays or search for a silica-free sand.
Your bright idea to get free sand from the local beach or steal it from the local playground may not be such a bright idea, as many of those sands contain high levels of bacteria. Since you know at least one of your tots will develop a new taste for sand and others will eat with sandy hands, you want to keep them safe. Search for a manufactured sand that has been washed and dried before being packaged to avoid harmful bacteria. Make sure to cover your sandbox, too. Should an animal or child ever have an accident in the sandbox, it's best to replace the sand.
Not all sand is created equal. Most play sands are designed to be very fine because they are more comfortable for toddlers. These are the sands you will find in every nook and cranny of your home and all over your child's body for days. They also create more dust and do not mold well. If your child has asthma or other allergies or loves to build sand castles, a slightly coarser sand will not be as dusty and hold together better when wet.
Alternatives to Sand
For some children, the safest sand is not sand at all. You can avoid most of the cancer-causing components, dust and other safety issues by opting for a different filler for your sandbox. Dried rice, beans and corn kernels are alternatives you can find at nearly any grocery store. Pea gravel is another alternative. However, all of these alternatives can be much more expensive than sand and cannot be molded like traditional sand. To give your toddlers as close to a traditional experience as possible without using actual sand, your best and cheapest option may just be to fill the sand box with dirt from your yard. It might get a little messy, but your kids are guaranteed to have fun.