Alternative to Sand

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    I’ve been running the AR sandbox for almost a year at a small science centre, and it has been great, apart a massive problem with the sand. We get a lot of kids through and the sandbox cannot be supervised at all times. We ended up with sand everywhere, in all the other machines, and we had to sweep the sandbox room 2 to 3 times a day. Eventually the projector stopped working because it had about 2cm of sand in it. We then changed to white rice, but it doesn’t have the same sharpness to the image that made the sandbox so amazing, and it gets thrown around just as much.

    Does anybody know any other alternatives, or box construction that would stop whatever the material is being spread around?


    Hi friend,

    I just started on my own construction and experimenting with various materials.
    I live on an island so i have a abundance of white beach sand (it has zero dust particles) it projects very well. If you have trouble getting white beach sand I can recommend it may sound crazy but thermocol beans you can get them at any art supply shop depending on the store selection you are looking for the weight and size ratio (when trying to make a mountain) or you can even check at upholstery shops. Hope this can help you out.



    P.S. if you have dust problems in your projector you can always buy 3M dustfilter screen material used in air-conditioning dusts you can cut it to size and place infront of the air intake only use 3M it has the right membrane material that lets enough air through while taking particles out and not overheat your projector.


    I built a sandbox using white marble powder, you can purchase it in hardware stores or building materials stores. It makes a lot of dust but adding a little of water you can remove it.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by sotoglzz.
    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by sotoglzz.

    I’m just picking up this thread again to see if there’s anyone out there that has found a suitable, preferably environmentally sustainable, alternative to sand. We have an AR sandbox in our museum, and have the same issue as the initial poster – the sand gets everywhere, we have to sweep constantly, and it does tend to find its way into the electronics of the computer and sometimes projector. I thought I’d seen a larger particle rubber material replacement at a science conference years ago, but can’t seem to find it online. Has anyone had luck with something similar to this, or to shredded paper?

    spectrUM Discovery Area


    I built a portable sandbox 1m x 0.75m and I did not fancy lugging a 100kg of sand around with me, aside from any dust/mess issues. So I mounted 3 x 120mm centrifugal fans under the tray (mesh over intakes) and used expanded polystyrene balls (small ones 0.5-3mm) all covered up by a very loose sheet of white light weight rip stop nylon. The fans create sufficient differential pressure to for whatever shape you create to stay put. I have a speed controller on the fans so I can use less suction for small people and more if you want sharper edges.
    This has these advantages; good color reproduction as it is all bright white, no mess the eps balls are trapped and cannot escape (a bad thing), light weigh (whole thing; 2x 19″ monitors, projector, 9 button box, wires, legs, uprights, tray, etc. 70kg + 20kg computer (I need to find a less well built one)).
    There are disadvantaged; eps not very environmentally friendly in a plastic sort of way (but I don’t see any reason that they will need replacing and I am reluctant to let them out), As it is covered by fabric creating DEM surfaces is hard work as changing one bit influences another, If you are in a quiet environment the fan noise is a bit irritating, but kids make enough noise for this to be unnoticeable in its normal operating environment, there may come a time when I need to replace/clean (more than a wipe over) the nylon sheet (my design does not make this easy and the balls will escape).


    I have heard that Paper Pulp is an alternative but I cannot find a provider. I know the Topobox LLC utilizes paper pulp but I could not get the vendor who could sell it to me. Paper pulp looks lighter as well which will help with sandboxes that are portable.


    If you’re looking for something eco-friendly, then I’d recommend an unpopped corn (our local zoo has it in a regular sandbox) – still it could be messy and gets all over but much easier to clean up. Also pea gravel, though it’s not that versatile.
    As for rubber material – are you talking about crumb rubber? You can find this stuff at Amazon or in a hardware store, depends on your location.

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