DIY Kinetic Sand: Does it work?

kinetic sand

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We’ve all seen that BabyFirstTV video. The one where they throw together some sand, corn starch, dish soap and water and they have high quality kinetic sand that looks oddly similar to the stuff sold in stores.

Take a look through the comment section of that video and you’ll find a number of people who claim that recipe won’t work. But, despite those Negative Nellies, I was intrigued. I did some research (a.k.a. Googled it) and found a ton of other bloggers touting their DIY kinetic sand abilities with similar recipes. So I decided I’d give it a shot.

I went in to this thing knowing there was a good chance it wouldn’t work. But worst case scenario, my kids’ sand would have some corn starch mixed in. They’d still be able to play with it. I purposely avoided the recipes that called for glue because I didn’t want to have to throw sand out. Turtle and Buddy probably wouldn’t appreciate our experiments as much if I started ruining their stuff.

DIY Kinetic Sand – Round 1

Materials

*In hindsight, 50 lbs is a little extreme. No one needs that much kinetic sand. 1-2 cups for each kid would suffice.

The Process

  1. Dump all your sand into a large container that has enough space for mixing (and playing). Our “sandbox” is a 60 qt plastic bin with wheels so we can store it easily.
  2. Add 6 cups of corn starch and mix thoroughly.  
  3. Mix half the water and half the dish soap in a separate cup and pour into the sand.
  4. Mix as much of the remaining water and dish soap as it feels needed. Stay on the conservative side of the water. You can always add more but if you put too much in, you’ll need more corn starch and/or sand to dry it out.
  5. You should probably let the mixture sit for at least an hour to allow some of the water to evaporate. We don’t have that kind of patience, though, so we played right away.

The Outcome

The sand turned out slightly firmer than it would be if we just added water but not by much. If I had more cornstarch, I would have taken a bucket of sand out and added more to that to see if it helped. But I was running low and the kids were having too much fun playing. Maybe using ultra fine play sand would make a little difference, but probably not much.

It was fun mixing everything together. Turtle and Buddy always enjoy measuring, mixing and playing in sand so I wouldn’t call this a fail. But I wouldn’t call it kinetic sand, either.

DIY Kinetic Sand – Round 2

I guess I should mention, we don’t have any actual kinetic sand. I’ve seen it before but never really played with it for an extended amount of time. When I tested this recipe, I was testing it against the ads and videos posted about the real stuff.

After taking another look at those videos, I decided to do a quick round 2. I knew the cornstarch and water is what was supposed to give the sand its moldable qualities and I decided to switch up how we added ingredients to see if that made a difference.

Materials

  • 2 handfuls of oobleck (to start)
  • 2 cups of the “failed” kinetic sand from above (to start)
  • roughly 1 tsp of dish soap
  1. Make yourself some oobleck by mixing 1 part water to 1.5-2 parts cornstarch. We started with 2 cups of water  (because I have 2 kids and each one had to dump their own cup) and added a little over 3 cups of cornstarch. Add the cornstarch in increments to make mixing easier. Here’s what it should look like in the end. (Read the lessons learned section for oobleck clean up tips!)
  2. Add 2 handfuls of the oobleck to the sand. Mix thoroughly.
  3. After mixing, the sand began to feel a little like a runny dough. Like oobleck, you could roll it and mold it as long as you continued to apply force. As soon as you let it go, it would start to run. We added a little less than 1 tsp of soap to the mixture to see if that would firm anything up and/or make it less sticky.
  4. The soap did make it less sticky but didn’t firm it up at all (soap is mostly water, so that really should have been obvious). I added more sand and a little more oobleck to counterbalance the soap. Here’s how it ended up.

You can see that it’s definitely firm and moldable. But it’s still crumbly and sticks a little to your hands, unlike the kinetic sand you would buy. It would be great for building sand castles.

This is definitely one of those activities where you can get stuck adding things to your mixture all day and never being “finished”. After letting it sit overnight, it dried out quite a bit. A little water brought it back. Some more oobleck probably wouldn’t have hurt but I didn’t have it in me to start that cycle all over again.

Lessons Learned

All in all, if you enjoy the adding/mixing/playing process, I would recommend this activity. But if you’re going for the final product, just buy it. This is a much bigger difference than homemade play dough vs. Play-Doh.

That said, it is a fun experiment to do with your kids. It’s a great introduction to the scientific method as well as great sensory play. As you mix the sand, ask your kids if they can feel the texture of the sand changing. Before adding more ingredients, ask them what they think will happen. They’ll pay more attention to how the sand is changing if you make it part of the conversation.

If you decide to try this, do it on a smaller scale than I did. 50 lbs of sand is a lot, especially for a 4 and 2 year old to mix. Next time, I’ll give them each 2 cups of sand in their own bowl. That’ll save on the amount of cornstarch I have to buy in the future. I’ll be honest, I felt a little weird going to the grocery store to buy 4 cans of cornstarch.

Clean Up

Hopefully you know not to put sand down your drain but, just in case, don’t put sand down your drain. The same goes for oobleck. If you can’t hose everyone down in the yard, get a bowl of water and have them rinse their hands in that. Let the bowl sit for a while to allow the sand and/or cornstarch to sink to the bottom. You can pour the water on top down the drain but save the solid stuff for the trash can!

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Have you ever tried to make kinetic sand? How did it turn out?