Polymeric Sand vs. Regular Sand for Pavers

When it comes to pavers’ joint filler material, the common options for homeowners include polymeric sand and regular sand. These two types of sand have several differences, with each having its advantages and advantages. Ultimately, your project requirements will determine whether you should go for polymeric sand or regular sand.

What is polymeric sand?

Polymeric sand is a special type of paver jointing sand that contains various water-activated additives like quartz and silica that form a strong binding agent. When you wet polymeric sand, these additives are activated to facilitate the interlocking of the sand particles. Meanwhile, the sand used in polymeric sand is fine-graded, resulting in smaller voids in paver crevices.

Note: Regular sand is also referred to as plain sand. Builder’s sand, concrete sand, and washed river sand are all considered as different types of regular sand.

Polymeric vs. Regular Sand – Differences

Despite both types of sand being used as paver seam filler material, polymeric sand and regular sand are hardly the same. They differ significantly in terms of binding power, durability, permeability, and cost.

The differences between polymeric sand and regular sand:

Polymeric SandRegular Sand
Contains water-activated additives like silica and quartz for stronger bindingHas no additives
Forms a permanent bond that can’t be washed awayProne to erosion due to rainfall and pressure washing
Available in an array of colorsOnly available in tan brown
Harder to work with (residue may form haze on the paved surface)Easier to work with (residue doesn’t form haze)
An expensive paver joint fillerAn affordable paver joint filler
  1. Polymeric sand contains additives like quartz and silica, while regular sand doesn’t. These additives form a stronger bond between patio pavers when activated with water. As such, paver joints filled with polymeric sand are more impenetrable compared to joints filled with regular sand.
  2. Polymeric sand, once activated, forms a stronger binding agent compared to regular sand. As such, regular sand is prone to erosion during downpours or when the paved surface is power-washed. Polymeric sand, on the other hand, is permanent and doesn’t get washed away whenever it rains.
  3. Polymeric sand is commercially available in a wide range of colors, making it easy to find a shade that fits with your landscape design ideas. On the contrary, regular sand is only available in tan color, thus limiting homeowners’ design options.
  4. Regular sand is easier to work with than polymeric sand. When working with polymeric sand, you have to take precaution to blow off excess sand on the paver surface before wetting the joints and sealing them. Failure to do so will result in the formation of white haze on the paved surface. By comparison, after filling in paver crevices with plain sand, you can simply seal the joints with paver joint sealant and sweep off any residual sand on the paver surface later.
  5. Regular sand is cheaper and more readily available compared to polymeric sand. Screened regular sand costs $5-$30 per ton, while polymeric sand costs $20-$40 per 50lb-55lb bag.

Pros and Cons of Using Regular Sand for Pavers

Regular sand is versatile, cheap, readily accessible, and easier to work with. However, it comes up short in terms of bonding strength, durability, and ability to keep off weeds and insects.

Advantages of Regular Sand for Pavers

  1. Regular sand, including concrete sand and washed river sand, has multiple uses in paving projects. Apart from being used as a paver joint filler, it’s also commonly used as the bedding for paved surfaces. It’s easier to level regular sand into a uniform bedding due to its coarse texture.
  2. Regular sand is an affordable option for paver joint filler material.
  3. Regular sand is easily accessible.
  4. Regular sand is easier to remove, making it easier to work with in projects that may call for design adjustments.

Disadvantages of Regular Sand for Pavers

  1. Due to its coarse particles, regular sand is permeable. Water, weeds, and burrowing insects will readily penetrate through this type of sand.
  2. Regular sand easily washes away during rainfalls. Thus, you have to refill your paver joints every 2-3 years to compensate for the sand lost via erosion.
  3. Regular sand doesn’t form a compact bond with paving blocks, thus the blocks are more likely to shift as you walk or drive over them.  

Pros and Cons of Using Polymeric Sand for Pavers

Professional landscapers prefer polymeric sand for its greater interlocking capability, durability, and impermeability. On the downside though, this type of paver joint filler sand is harder to work with during installation, expensive, and harder to find.

Advantages of Polymeric Sand for Pavers

  1. Polymeric sand hardens upon exposure to water, thus bonding tightly to the pavers. This keeps the pavers in position/prevents the pavers from shifting.
  2. Polymeric sand forms a strong seal between paver joints, making it harder for weeds and insects to penetrate through. It also prevents damage to the foundation of your paved surface by preventing rain water from seeping through to the bedding/base layer.
  3. Polymeric sand is durable due to the fact that it interlocks to make the joints immovable. Typically, paver joints filled with polymeric sand will stay structurally sound for up to 10 years before requiring maintenance.

Disadvantages of Using Polymeric Sand for Pavers

  1. Polymeric sand will bind to any surface when wet, forming unsightly haze. As such, residual polymeric sand that’s left on the surface of pavers after the sand has been swept into the paver gaps usually forms this whitish blemish if it comes into contact with water.
  2. Polymeric sand is significantly pricier than regular sand.
  3. Polymeric sand is less accessible vis-à-vis plain sand. It’s easier to find a regular sand retailer than a store that stocks polymeric sand.

Which sand is better: polymeric or regular?

The better choice between polymeric and regular sand depends on what you’re going for. If you prefer less hassle during installation and are working on a tight budget, you’re better off using regular sand. However, if you want a hard-wearing joint filler that will last for years and prevent paving blocks from shifting, then go for polymeric sand.

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