Nothing is better in the warm weather months than watching our children explore the joy of digging in the sand. I love their carefully cultivated sandcastles! It’s even better to watch in their very own sandbox from the comfort of your own back yard.
Undertaking a task of setting up a sand box can be time consuming. If you take the position that play time is important in early childhood (especially messy outdoor play), it’ll be worth the effort. But after you do all that work, you come to find that other critters (spiders, ants, cats) find your sandbox as cool as the kiddos do. Most of them won’t hurt the kids. But as parents we’d still prefer that the creepy ones (like spiders) to find some place else to hang out.
In this post, we’ll talk about some ways that you can discourage insects from making your sandbox their home.
Tip#1: Build or Set Up With The Problem of Spiders (and other Pests) in Mind
Most parents know of some of the problems that a sandbox on the property will cause (sand in the bathtub, the beds, and the couches). However, most of us don’t realize until much later that our dark and cool covered box become a haven for spiders, usually well after we’ve already purchased, constructed, filled, and played with, the sandbox.
When you get started with your sandbox, you have to decide if you’re going to use plastic, store bought or self-harvested wood. Each of these materials have their own strengths and weaknesses. When you build anything in the yard, you are looking at price, durability, attractiveness and ease of maintenance. When you are thinking of pests and bugs, you’ll want to consider whether the wood (and structure) will create/cause your pest problem.
Let’s start with the materials. I recommend avoiding natural wood collected directly from the forest or off the side of the road. While this is a low cost solution for materials, it is highly likely that bugs of all kinds have already made these materials a home. Even if bugs can’t be seen crawling on or flying around the wood, they could be deep inside where you can’t see, or there could be eggs ready to hatch, and you will run a really high risk of introducing more bugs to your yard of all kinds.
If you are purchasing wood from a store/lumber supply, you’ll want to examine your boards for evidence that bugs have made the wood a home (visible insects, rotten spots, egg sacs, etc. Consider painting or treating the wood pieces before you assemble the box (or before you fill it with sand) to make it more difficult for insects that like to make homes in wood to make their nests. Fill in all attractive looking crevasses (to insects) in the wood as well. You might also want to line the wood (and the ground) with plastic or vinyl to keep bugs from crawling up through the dirt or in from the sides. The same is true if you decide to purchase a sandbox or play structure kit with wooden board and components.
Another option would be to take a pass on using wood altogether, and purchase a plastic sandbox kit. These have come a long way since I was a child. Now the plastic looks very similar to wood (this one is brown, square, and pretty attractive), or you can go with a plastic sandbox shaped like a turtle, which helpfully comes with a lid (which will also help keep the critters out who want to live there are use it as a place to poo.
(Disclosure: These links to products above and below are Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
The upsides of using a plastic sandbox (or a kit with plastic components) to combat bugs are many:
- bugs can’t bore in to the material to make a nest or lay eggs
- any egg sacs or nests can be easily spotted and removed/cleaned
- you can spray down the plastic pieces with water without any fear of damaging the box
- generally lighter, and easier to move around if needed
- won’t rot
- less maintenance (paint, water seal, etc)
Avoid Plastic Boxes That Create Spaces Underneath
As noted above, I’m a big fan of using easy to move plastic boxes. Just one caveat–if you are buying a cute back that has lots of details on the sides or the bottom of the box, which are created by lifting up the floor of the box from the ground, you might be creating a happy and dry place for spiders. If you move your box now and then, and spray underneath the box, you’ll probably be okay. Just keep that in mind though, if you are buying something plastic to put sand in.
Tip #2: Keep the Area Around the Sandbox Clear
Keep the sides of your sandbox clear. This might mean mowing, trimming back bushes or hedges, or weeding. It can be pretty easy to mow around the box regularly, but run out of time and forget to edge that area. Over time, what can get created is a damp and secure little habitat for spiders made up of grass or weeds right in there next to the box.
Because that green stuff covers the sides of the box as well as the area where the base meets the ground, you’ll have a hard time treating the sides of the box and the ground if you decide to follow through with the nuclear chemical attach (as described below) or if you decide to move forward with a more natural substance attack (vinegar/essential oils).
It is also harder to see what is crawling around.
Tip#3: Treat the Sandbox, Sand, and Surrounding Areas With Pest Killing Substances
Sometimes the infestation is just too significant, and a drastic nuclear type option is necessary. The market is flooded with chemical solutions that come with serious warnings about keeping it out of children’s reach. Further, the area you spray can remain toxic for children for a long time. Many times, these products are best for areas children and pets don’t often access. This is less than ideal.
If you are planning on using a chemical attack, talk with your pest control technician about the substances they are using and ask them to use the least toxic products, specifically in the areas where your children are frequently present. It is common for providers to have access to Pyrethins and Pyrethroids, which imitate botanical insecticides, but represent a low toxicity risk to us humans.
If you are looking to keep costs low for a chemical solution, you can purchase Permethrin products and apply them on your own. They come in liquid form (so you can spray) and also in granules for wide application.
But if you aren’t interested in a chemical attack, let’s talk organic solutions.
Tip #4: Use Vinegar As Your Weapon of Choice
Spiders hate vinegar. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which burns them. They are sensitive to the smell and the taste. Many families choose to utilize vinegar as an alternative to post killing chemicals (as well as for cleaning and disinfecting). As someone who has used both, I can say that the primary downside of using vinegar (over professional chemical treatment) is that you have to consistently and persistently spray the areas where you want to keep spiders at bay. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can do a few times a year and expect it to work.
Make up a mix of white vinegar and water (I like 30-70 vinegar to water but others recommend 50-50 or even higher, depending on your level of infestation), and spray it anywhere you have seen the spiders. On a regular basis (daily, every few days, weekly, or whenever you see a spider), spray down the sides of the sandbox on the outside, get inside and spray up under or into any attractive nooks or shady spots (like under seats), and even spray the sand.
I generally spray vinegar when the kids aren’t playing in the box, and I give the solution a chance to dry before I let the kids back in.
You can get a gallon of white vinegar at most grocery stores for $3-$4, but if you want the stronger stuff, you’ll need to go to a more specialized store, or order it. The stuff you get at the store is only 5% strength, but you can get 20%-30% if you shop around, or order it from Amazon.
If you are going to use the stronger stuff, I’d recommend that you use more water, otherwise your solution will be very strong. Industrial strength vinegar can burn your skin and hurt your eyes, as well as kill the grass and other plants in the areas where you spray. It will strip the paint, and can cause discoloration on stone. And don’t spray when it is windy!
Tip #5: Plant Smelly Plants that Spiders Hate
Do you have a green thumb? Maybe you desire to turn the area around your child’s sand box into an oasis? Another alternative to chemicals is to plant spider repellent plants near the edge of your child’s box. This option is particularly appealing if your child’s box is stationary.
And I know, I know, I said earlier in this article to keep the sides of the box clear. Here’s the difference–we will be purposefully planting foliage rather than just letting the grass and weeds grow up against the sides.
Now…what to plant? Spiders hate the smell of Lavender, Peppermint, and Lemon Grass.
If you use herbs in cooking, Basil and Dill are duel use plants. Not only will they keep the eight-legged critters away, but they also taste good in your garlic and herb chicken.
If you choose to put in plants, make sure that you plant them on all sides of your box. Otherwise the spiders will come up from the backside. You also want to make sure that your plants are as close as possible to the box itself.
Just remember, putting plants close to the sides can make it hard to treat those areas with vinegar or with any insecticide you want to use. Having plants close to the walls may also shorten the lifespan of wooden boxes (water/moisture), which is yet another argument in favor of plastic materials over wood.
Side benefit of these herbs–you can use them to cook, work them into flower bouquets, or even dry them in the oven for use later.
Tip #6: Utilize Essential Oils
If you don’t have a green thumb or the time to care for multiple plants, you can try essential oils. Looking again at the plants spiders dislike, you can look at the oils created from these plants. Lavender and Peppermint Oil are well known to keep spiders away. Peppermint in particular is a wonderful spider repellent and comes with the bonus of also being repellent to ants as well. You can also try anything with a lemon smell.
The upside of using the plants is that the plants are pretty cheap; you can get starts for a few dollars. Essential oils (especially high quality ones) can cost a lot. You can find them for really cheap (like this six pack of essential oils including Lavender, Lemongrass and Peppermint here), or you can look at higher quality oils like this Lavender oil.
Applying essential oils to your sandbox
For the essential oils, choose which ones you’re going to use. Combine them in a bowl with your base oil. You can experiment with the potency, but I like to err on the strong side.
Take a rag twice a month and oil the inside of your sand box cover. The oil will repel spiders from crawling on the cover and creating their webs. Use a liberal amount of oil because you want the scent to permeate the sand. This makes the sand unappealing for them to crawl into. Close up the box if you can for the oil to dry. If you leave it open to the air while the oil dries, the scent will escape and possibly make it too weak to actually repel the spiders.
For extra protection, leave a line of the oil on the edge of the box or the ground next to the box.
Alternately you can use white vinegar as your base and add essential oil to it. Put the mixture in a spray bottle and shake well before spraying the ground around your sandbox. Use this method as extra protection when you oil your sand box rather than your repellent method as it isn’t as strong nor does it last for an extended period of time.
Tip #7: Try Cinnamon
I haven’t personally tried this method, but some other moms I know have tried and had some success with mixing ground cinnamon into the dry sandbox sand. It has a strong smell, and may also have the side effect of repelling other animals which might seek to use the sandbox such as cats.
Tip #8: Replace the Sand
The longer the sand is in your yard, the more time pests have to find it and try to make it their home. Consider moving some or all of the sand in the sandbox to the garden, compost bin or other places in the year each year, replacing it with new sand, or or save it to spread on your icy driveway and sidewalk when winter arrives. If you get enough of the sand out, you could also clean the sandbox (sides and underneath if necessary) or move it to a different part of the yard.
This is a good idea even if the spider population seems under control, as sand is also a happy home for other annoying pests, such as fleas, ants. roaches, rodents, and snakes. You might also notice mold growing in a long neglected sandbox.
Aren’t fond of finding the perfect amount of oil to use for your space from trial and error? An eco-friendly brand called Earth Kind has a store-bought solution for you. Their Stay Away Spider Repellent is reasonably priced and has excellent reviews.
It uses the same concept to repel the spiders as oils and plants by combining Citronella, Lemon Grass, and Rosemary in a self-contained pouch for easy use. You can close the pouch up in your sandbox when not in use and remove it during play.
The package says its can be used for 30-60 days. I did notice that the few negative reviews it has says it only lasted two weeks so that might be a safer span of time to rely on it. It will leave a vague pleasant scent and isn’t harmful for your child.
Whether you’re a green thumb gardener, a devoted follower of essential oils, or an on the go parent who likes easy to use solutions you don’t have to fret over stinky endangering chemicals.
As a parent we have enough on our plates during the warm seasons without worrying about common pests in our child’s fun space. The best part of each of these solutions is that they’re not mutually exclusive. You’re welcome to combine two or use all three.
Involve Your Child in the Maintenance
Finally, let your child (at whatever age) be a part of the upkeep of the sandbox. Children don’t necessarily understand why it is important to replace the lid on the box every night, or why it is important to take the time to weed or mow around the box. They might not enjoy weeding with you, but they will LOVE helping you spray their playspace with good smelling solutions or mixing cinnamon into their sand.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.