The Virtual Sandbox - Museum of World Sands

Collecting Sand

Starting Your Sand Collection

Why collect sand? There are many reasons. It's a way to reminisce about exotic places you have visited. It's an area of rock collecting that hasn't been "picked over" like most popular mineral sites. It's a cheap hobby that really requires nothing more than some common household items. To make the most of your new (or old) found hobby. Here's a few pointers:

Finding Sand:

Don't think that just because you don't live beside the sea that this hobby isn't for you. Most of the best sands I have found have been far from the shorelines. Some interesting places to try include mountain tops (especially volcanoes), river beds, gravel pits, caves. I've even found beautiful sand in garden soils by simply washing the dirt away as described below.


The first thing to mention is to be careful of where you are removing sand from. Some areas are private property while other areas forbid the removal of sand. When in doubt, just ask the locals. Most people I have met (especially the old timers) have no problem with sand collectors and often become quite interested in the hobby themselves.

Be forewarned, when collecting sand from beaches or lakes: try to select sand that is dry and away from the waterline as this sand contains a lot of microscopic animals that often stink when drying the sand (trust me). If you dry sand outside, this shouldn't be a problem.

Almost any water resistant container will do for collecting sand. Leaving a box of plastic sandwich or freezer bags in your car is a handy method. Many people use film cases (30ml) to collect and store sand in, however, you will want more sand than this if you plan to trade.


There's nothing worse than looking at a small unmarked sample of beautiful sand and then trying to find it's source later on when everyone wants to trade it. Always clearly mark your samples AT THE SITE with the location and as much other helpful information as well.


Often it's hard to get large amounts of well sorted sand due to branches, rocks, leaves, and a host of other junk. This is where sizing or sorting comes in. A kitchen sieve or piece of window screen works well in this case. Try to find a screen that allows 2mm grains to pass through. Simply strain out the junk. You may want to keep different size strainers to sort different size materials. Note that if you are trading sand, some people prefer to have the "junk" left in to preserve the natural state of the sand.


Although this is step is optional, I find it helps when viewing sand if it's cleaned, especially if it has a high content of dirt and debris. Simply put the sand in a pail or dish and slowly run water through it while stirring until the water becomes clear. Note that many sands over time will form a concrete in your sink pipes so DON'T wash sand in the sink!

After the water is clear, lay the sand out to dry on newspapers in the sun. The sand will dry faster if the paper is changed often as the paper will absorb most of the moisture. A faster way to dry sand indoors is to place it under a heat lamp which can be purchased at any good hardware store. Again, note that if you are trading sand, some people prefer to have the silt and other junk left in to preserve the natural state of the sand.


Depending on your budget, there are many options for displaying your sand collection. Almost any transparent container can be used. The cheapest option is to use plastic film containers, unfortunately most of these are not transparent. Most places thad develop film will give you hundreds of these containers if you simply ask.

For a professional looking collection, you can use scintillation viles or test tubes with stoppers. Keep in mind though that this is more expensive and a sand collection can grow very large quite quickly. For North America, two good places to purchace vials in bulk are Wheaton Scientific (United States of America) and Fisher Scientific (Canada).


This is the fun part. Find a good magnifying glass or jewelers loop. A 10x magnification is good. Take a look! You'd be amazed what you'll find in there. I've found everything from gold, to emeralds, even fossils & seashells. Some people collect sand for gemstones while others may collect sand for bioclasts (tiny sea creatures). No matter what type you collect, you'll soon find that every handful of sand can keep you busy exploring for hours.


The Sand Gallery