4 Polymeric Sand Alternatives: Pros & Cons (with Pictures)
Polymeric sand can be used for various projects, though it is mostly required for compacting pavers and keeping them in place. It is swept into the gaps between the pavers, which are then compacted to ensure the sand is distributed easily. The sand is then swept away from the top of the pavers, and water is added, making the sand harden.
This is the easiest way to use pavers by a long shot. However, it is easy to run out of this sand in the middle of a project or be unable to find any in your area. Luckily, there are a few alternatives.
It is essential to point out that none of these alternatives are as good as the real thing. But they can work in a pinch.
1. Builder’s Sand
Builder’s sand is the most common replacement for polymeric sand, as it is easy to access and not expensive. It is used heavily in construction projects, hence its name. Because this sand is very coarse, you will need to use it regularly. You’ll have to reapply it for years as it settles. It is very cheap, so this won’t put you out too much trouble.
This kind of sand is very prone to erosion. This can happen during heavy rainfall or high winds. It may need extra attention after these periods of disruption.
Another effective solution is to use mechanical compactors when you use this sand. However, not everyone has a mechanical compactor lying around. You can rent a machine, but you’re ruining the cost-effectiveness of the sand at that point. Plus, if you don’t have time to get polymeric sand, you probably don’t have time to get a compactor either.
Furthermore, this sand is often significantly affected by animals and plants. For example, ants seem to love this sand and will carry it away. Typically, this isn’t an issue as there aren’t enough ants to make a dent in the sand. In some areas, this can be a problem. Plus, it attracts sands to your pavers, which may cause issues.
Weeds can also grow in the sand, so they will need to be pulled out regularly. Larger weeds can disrupt the sand with their roots. However, plants may also prevent erosion, so many people see them as a good thing.
If you want something that will stay stuck, cement may be a reliable option. Cement doesn’t erode or anything of that sort. Once it’s there, it is there. It’s a trendy choice for keeping just about anything in place, including pavers.
To use cement with your pavers, you’ll need to lay down a cement base and then push the pavers into it. Once the pavers are there, they are there. You must get them in the right place the first time. You will not be able to get them back up.
Cement is very stable – more stable than most other options. For this reason, it is a reliable option if stability is essential to you. However, you can’t precisely re-add cement whenever it starts to wear-and-tear. Instead, you’ll have to redo the whole thing. This is one of the severe downsides of cement. The pavers will likely stay in place for an extended period.
If you only want the cement to fill the holes between the pavers, you can pour the cement between the pavers. This is a bit more time consuming and requires a lot of patience, but it can be another good option. This will not create such a solid surface, so there isn’t as much cement involved.
Cement is inexpensive and one of the more prevalent alternatives to polymeric sand. However, it does take a bit more skill to use, as you won’t get a do-over.
3. Stone Dust
Stone dust is a by-product of crushed stone like gravel. It is all the very tiny pieces that don’t make it into the completed product. This by-product can be beneficial when you’re doing paver projects, as it is a rougher version of sand. Besides just being an alternative to polymeric sand, stone dust can also be used in landscaping and paving driveways. It is a versatile “waste product.”
The dust is very easy to lay as a flat surface for pavers. You can apply multiple layers to ensure that it will last for an extended period. You can also use it as a filler between the stones and prevent weeds from growing in that area. It makes your patio look neat and tidy with little continued effort on your part.
It also prevents water from seeping underneath the pavers, which can make them shift and slide. It is non-porous so that it won’t get wet either. It will make the water drain off of the pavers instead of soaking into the area below the patio. This can prevent water from sitting next to your house.
Plus, it is incredibly inexpensive!
4. Plain Sand
Polymeric sand is a type of sand. For this reason, many people may opt for plain sand as an alternative. While this can work, sand is not as suitable for filling the area between pavers as regular sand is for a few different reasons.
Sand is very prone to erosion. It will wash away. This may not be a massive problem since sand is very cheap but plan to maintain it regularly. Regular sand also doesn’t prevent weeds or ants. You’ll have to spend maintenance time here as well. Sand also doesn’t come in many colors, so you’re stuck with just a plain, tan option.
On the good side, sand is very inexpensive and accessible. Many stores have sand – even those that aren’t specifically construction-related. It is also very inexpensive.
When using an alternative to polymeric sand, you may find yourself with a considerable amount of questions. We’ll answer some of those questions below so you can choose the best alternative for you (or skip choosing an alternative altogether).
Can you make your polymeric sand?
Not from scratch. Some companies do sell polymeric sand concentrated, which you mix with regular sand or some other product. However, you do have to purchase the concentrate. You can’t make polymeric sand easily from stuff that is accessible to most homeowners. For this reason, it is a more straightforward option to choose an alternative rather than trying to make your own.
Does polymeric sand wash away?
This sand includes chemical binders that harden when water is added. When you use this sort of sand, you add water to it to harden it. This prevents the sand from washing away and also keeps the weeds and ants away.
This is one of the main benefits of polymeric sand when compared to many of the alternatives.
Is polymeric sand necessary?
When you’re putting down pavers, polymeric sand is the go-to option for filling the joints. However, that doesn’t make it the only option out there. There are quite a few alternatives that you may find helpful if you can’t find polymeric sand. These alternatives include things like cement and even regular sand.
Each alternative has its pros and cons. You aren’t going to find another construction material that will act precisely like polymeric sand, but there are quite a few that do a good enough job for most projects.
Can I use cement instead of polymeric sand?
Yes. Cement is just a bit harder to apply and may not hold up as long, depending on your location and environment. Cement is one of the better alternatives to polymeric sand.
Featured Image Credit: bogdanhoda, Shutterstock