Pavers are a popular choice to create walkways both in private homes and in public areas. Natural stone pavers and manmade alternatives give a beautiful appearance to pathways, patios, and gardens and come in an array of colors and sizes.
One of the most common questions people have when they are installing new pavers is about whether it’s preferable to use polymeric sand vs regular sand for pavers. While both options look similar–and might be difficult to tell apart–there’s more to them than meets the eye.
What Are the Differences Between Polymeric Sand vs Regular Sand for Pavers?
While regular sand and polymeric sand have a lot in common, they are not identical and each has its advantages.
Regular sand consists of the same coarse sand particles you might find at the beach. Composed of natural stone, regular sand may be used to anchor pavers while still offering the option to change pathways should it become necessary to reconfigure them.
Polymeric sand is manufactured by mixing fine sand with other compounds, typically silica. The consistency is similar to that of regular sand but there are some key differences. The most important difference is that adding water to polymeric sand creates a bond that holds pavers in place and makes it difficult to change their orientation once they are laid.
What is the Best Sand to Use Between Pavers?
Both regular sand and polymeric sand have advantages when used between pavers. Here are some of the key benefits to consider.
Benefits of Regular Sand
Regular sand is easy to obtain and offers several advantages when compared to polymeric sand.
- Regular sand is less expensive than polymeric sand.
- It is easy to distribute regular sand to create a leveled base to install pavers.
- Regular sand is not permanent and is easy to remove if there is a need to adjust pavers.
- There is no maintenance required.
Many homeowners and builders may find natural sand to be preferable when costs are an issue or when there may be a need to move pavers after they are laid. The biggest downsides of using regular sand are that it may wash away in heavy rain and it doesn’t prevent the growth of weeds.
Benefits of Polymeric Sand
Now, let’s review the benefits of polymeric sand for pavers.
- Polymeric sand is available in an array of colors to match or complement pavers.
- It has a more durable finish and longer life expectancy than regular sand.
- It is quick and easy to install polymeric sand.
- It helps to prevent insect infestation and weed growth between pavers.
- It won’t wash away in the rain and provides better drainage than natural sand.
The two biggest downsides of polymeric sand are its cost, which is higher than for natural sand, and the fact that it cannot easily be removed or rearranged after it is sealed.
Sealing Pavers after Polymeric Sand
If you choose to use polymeric sand, you’ll need to calculate how much sand to buy for the area you want to pave. Here are some tips to understand how to use polymeric sand.
- Polymeric sand works best when it fills the entire joint between pavers and when joints are between ¼” and 1.5” wide.
- Clean any existing sand out from between the pavers by power washing.
- Pull any weeds.
- Make sure pavers are completely dry before applying polymeric sand, since moisture can stain and discolor the sand.
- Spread the sand, making sure to fill the joints until the sand is within ⅛” of the top or, in the case of beveled pavers, even with the bottom of the bevel.
- Sweep or blow any stray sand from the top of the pavers.
- Spray the pavers with a hose on a gentle shower setting. All pavers and sand should be saturated but be careful not to water too much because the silica may float to the top and wash away.
- Cover the pavers with a tarp because a heavy rainfall in the first couple of days after installation can wash polymeric sand away.
- Test the polymeric sand to make sure it’s sealed by trying to push a pencil into the sand. If the pencil goes in, the sand has not properly sealed.
After the pavers are dry, you can seal them. Make sure to take the locations of pavers into consideration. For example, pavers near a pool must be sealed with something that’s compatible with pool chemicals.
Removing Polymeric Sand from Pavers
Polymeric sand is more durable than regular sand but it’s not impossible to remove. The most important thing to know is that using warm to hot water will reactivate the silica in the sand, making it possible to remove polymeric sand.
For a small area, simply use boiling water to reactivate the polymers. When the sand has washed away, it’s easy to remove the paving stones and reconfigure them.
To remove polymeric sand from a large area, use a pressure washer with water at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. It may be necessary to use a brush to remove stubborn sand from pavers.
Polymeric Sand Provides the Best Combination of Durability and Beauty
While both regular sand and polymeric sand may be used to create paved walkways and patios, polymeric sand is the best choice in most cases. While it costs more than regular sand, the fact that it is available in an array of colors, won’t wash away in the rain, and prevents the growth of weeds, makes it an ideal choice for most pavers.