Is Play Sand Safe for Reptiles? (How To Prepare It!)

There are a lot of things that you need to be aware of when you’re setting up a new home for your reptiles, and keeping them safe is obviously the top priority. You might want to know: is play sand safe for reptiles?

Play sand is designed to be 100% natural and free from all chemicals, so it is largely considered safe for most reptiles. To make sure that it doesn’t contain anything that could be harmful, you should sift play sand and clean it. The main problem that you want to avoid is accidental ingestion and blockages that can occur with coarser sand.

Read ahead in this article to find out how and why you might be able to use play sand for your reptiles, so that you can be sure they will be safe and happy in their home.

What Type of Sand Is Best for Reptiles?

The best kind of sand to use for your reptiles is one that has been specially formulated for their species. Not all types of reptiles need the same kind of sand, and many sand types can actually be harmful to their health or limit their ability to move around comfortably.

Any sand that you plan on introducing to your reptile’s enclosure needs to be fine. Larger particles can clog up the intestinal tract of your reptile, and many sand types contain sharp granules that bind together in their digestive system and form blockages. Construction sand, for example, is considered dangerous for many reptiles. It is also best to clean any sand before use.

So basically, you do not want the sand particles to be too fine or too large, but the perfect grain size depends on your exact reptile.

With that being said, you don’t necessarily have to spend large amounts of money on reptile-specific sand.

Many people use play sand instead, as long as it is fine, chemical-free, and 100% natural. Sometimes, play sand should be mixed with another substrate – like soil – so that it is not too soft for your reptiles to move around on.

In general, for smaller reptiles you can use finer grains as they are better at sorting their food items from the sand when eating.

Smaller reptiles will also not sink into fine sand as larger reptiles might and too large grains will be hard for the smaller reptiles to walk on without the rocks rolling, whereas larger reptiles have the mass to hold them in place.

Play sand (left) and rough gravel (right) can be used for reptiles, but each species has its preference. The downside of collecting sand outside is that it may contain insects, bacteria and viruses so see my guide on how to sterilize it later in this post!

I would recommend a mix of fine play sand and larger gravel-type sands as part of any terrarium décor, but much skewed to either type depending on the size, eating and leisure habits of the reptile in question.

Snakes for example, like the finer sands as they are much easier to slither through compared to rough gravel.

On the other hand, larger reptiles will sometimes swallow sand if it sticks to larger food items in the terrarium. For example a larger snake or a turtle, will eat the food regardless of sand content, which can cause digestive problems for them.

Can I Use Play Sand for My Bearded Dragon?

Bearded dragons are certainly one of many reptile species that do like to have sand in their environment, but does play sand work for these lizards?

If you have a bearded dragon, you might think that calcium sand is safe for reptiles. However, this substance can be toxic to bearded dragons. Instead, use normal sand, mixed with a small amount of clay.

Play sand will be safer for your bearded dragon, as long as you make sure that it contains low amounts of calcium.

Bearded dragons really like to dig, so sand is an ideal substrate for them. They will even be safe and happy with calcium sands, unlike some other species.

Bearded dragons are medium-sized reptiles and can handle a wide variety of sand types.

Play sand is definitely a good option for bearded dragons, as long as it is acceptable and has been properly cleaned. If the play sand that you buy comes a little wet, you will want to let it dry out before you put it into their terrarium.

They also like to have some rocks to climb on and perhaps a bit of safe wooden material for variation.

Is Play Sand Safe for Leopard Geckos?

Although most leopard geckos can be perfectly happy living with play sand, there is a risk of ingestion and blockages, which is why there is some controversy around this topic.

Juvenile or sick geckos, for example, are much better off with a paper towel substrate that is easier to clean and won’t be ingested or inhaled.

Leopard geckos do, however, like to burrow, so adults may prefer sand to other substrate options. Play sand is generally a safe type of sand for leopard geckos, as long as you make sure it is fine, natural, and well-cleaned.

Leopard geckos do fine on play sand if you make sure it is clean and changed regularly.

To reduce the likelihood of your leopard geckos consuming the sand, you should feed them from a dish.

If you see any sand in their bowel movements, that is a sign that they are eating it by accident, and you should change their environment.

It is also important to keep an eye out for signs of internal blockages, which include:

  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced bowel movements
  • Dark spots on the abdomen

Sand for geckos should always be washed and dried before use as a substrate as the dust and soluble calcium content seems to be the main challenge for smaller gecko species.

Is Play Sand Safe for Turtles?

When it comes to turtles, you don’t need to worry too much about how the sand might affect their digestive system – it’s the water you need to think about.

The wrong kind of sand can affect the chemical makeup of the water in a tank, which can have a serious impact on the health of your turtles.

Unwashed or coarse sand can also cause problems for the water filters in your tank, so it’s important that you choose the right stuff.

Play sand is generally a good choice for turtles, as it is usually completely natural and free from chemicals that may interfere with their water.

Turtles do, however, tend to like rocks and gravel more, though, because they make a good basking surface and are easy for turtles to walk on.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, turtles do produce some saliva and this can be a problem when they eat things from a surface of fine play sand as the sand will stick and potentially clump in their mouth.

How To Wash Play Sand for Reptiles

Before you can start your terrarium project, you need to make sure that your sand is sterile and clean. If the sand isn’t, you run the risk of your reptiles developing diseases. To prevent these problems, you should follow a few simple guidelines I have written out below.

Washing and sterilizing play sand is an important part of ensuring that it is safe for your reptiles. Even after you’ve added sand to the tank or terrarium, you will need to take it out and wash it regularly, to remove waste that will build up over time.

Or, alternatively, pick up some new sand. But regardless, the sand has to be washed and sterilized before use.

Fortunately, it is a very easy thing to do.

To clean your play sand, follow these simple steps:

  1. Ensure your reptile is in a safe enclosure.
  2. Scoop your sand into a bucket, pouring it through a sand sifter to remove larger particles and bits of debris.
  3. Fill the bucket with water and a small amount of bleach, leave it to soak for a few minutes, then stir.
  4. Pour out the liquid and then repeat Step 3 two more times.
  5. Pour the wet sand into a thin towel or pillowcase to drain off some of the water.
  6. Spread the sand out onto a lined baking tray and then bake in the oven at 400°F (200 °C) for 30 minutes
  7. Allow the sand to cool before placing it into the enclosure.

You can also use a disinfectant that is designed for reptile substrates to help keep your play sand safe and clean.

Putting the sand on a tray in the oven at 400F for 30 mins is the best way to make sure it is free of any harmful bacteria and parasites!

But as for the sterilization of rocks for reptile enclosures, I do prefer heat for sand and gravel materials as this also removes many organic particles that can cause unwanted microbial growth afterward.

At the end of the day, though, you do need to consider whether sand is the right choice for your reptile at all. Many species are better off living on a different surface altogether. Depending on the reptile that you are looking after, it might be better to use:

  • Diggable clay
  • Moss
  • Paper liners
  • Mulched wood
  • Wooden planks
  • Coconut Husk
  • Gravel
  • Slate
  • Rock
  • Pebbles

Other substrates like these can be easier to maintain and do also provide a safe environment for your reptile.

The best reason to consider using sand instead is if it is specifically required by the reptile species that you are looking after. And of course, because it is relatively easy and cheap to acquire for most people!

Conclusion

Now that you know whether sand is safe for reptiles, it should be a lot easier to make the right choice when it comes to setting up your reptile’s habitat. Different reptiles will have different needs and they won’t all be able to live happily on sand.

Play sand is an inexpensive alternative to a specialized reptile substrate. However, be sure to buy a product without any pesticides or additives.

So, always check with your vet or research the specific reptile species that you are looking after before buying any substrate at all!

There are lots of different types of sand that you can use for your reptiles, but play sand is a safe option that is a good choice for many species.

While many reptiles are perfectly happy with play sand, it is important, though, that you clean it well before you add it to your terrarium or tank as you risk infecting your reptile with microbes or parasites otherwise.