Have you ever wondered why not all sands are suitable for construction purposes? Well, the answer lies in the composition and characteristics of these grains. From the fine, soft texture of beach sand to the coarse, rough texture of desert sand, each type has its own unique properties that determine its usability in construction projects. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind why some sands are deemed unsuitable for construction and the potential consequences of using them in building endeavours. So, let’s dig deeper into the science behind sand selection and discover why choosing the right type of sand is crucial for constructing stable and durable structures.

Composition of Sands


The mineralogy of sands refers to the types and abundance of minerals present in the sand particles. Different minerals have varying physical and chemical properties, which can affect the suitability of sands for construction. For example, sands with a high content of reactive minerals like pyrite or mica can lead to undesirable chemical reactions, causing long-term stability issues in structures.

Particle Size Distribution

The particle size distribution of sands is an important factor in determining their suitability for construction purposes. Sands with a uniform particle size distribution tend to have better compaction and increased load-bearing capacity. In contrast, a wide range of particle sizes can result in poor compaction, leading to settlement and reduced stability.

Shape and Texture

The shape and texture of sand particles also play a significant role in their suitability for construction. Well-rounded and smooth particles tend to interlock better, enhancing the overall strength and durability of the sand. On the other hand, sands with angular or rough particles may have lower interlocking ability, making them less suitable for certain construction applications.

Chemical Properties of Sands

pH Levels

The pH levels of sands can vary depending on their composition. Sands with high alkalinity or acidity can adversely affect the integrity of construction materials, such as concrete. Alkaline sands can cause corrosion of reinforcements, while acidic sands can degrade the binding properties of cement, compromising the structural stability of buildings.


Sands can get contaminated with various substances, such as organic matter, chemicals, or pollutants, which can impact their suitability for construction. Contaminants present in the sand can leach into the surrounding environment or react with construction materials, leading to potential health hazards, material degradation, and structural weaknesses.

Physical Properties of Sands


The compaction properties of sands influence their load-bearing capacity and stability. Properly compacted sands create a solid and dense layer, capable of supporting heavy loads. However, sands with poor compaction characteristics may result in settlement and uneven foundations, compromising the structural integrity of buildings.


The porosity of sand refers to the volume of void space within its structure. Highly porous sands can absorb and retain water, making them prone to swelling, reduced load-bearing capacity, and increased settlement. Sands with low porosity are generally preferred in construction, as they offer better stability and resistance against moisture-related issues.


Permeability refers to the ability of sand to allow the passage of fluids, such as water or air. Sands with high permeability are desirable in certain construction applications, like drainage systems, as they facilitate the flow of water. However, excessive permeability in other contexts can lead to issues like erosion and uneven settlement.

Strength and Durability of Sands

Aggregate Interlock

Aggregate interlock refers to the ability of sand particles to interlock and create a stable structure. Sands with good aggregate interlock offer better load-bearing capacity and resistance against settling. Failure to achieve adequate interlock can result in reduced structural integrity and increased vulnerability to shifting or collapsing.


Cohesion is the property of sand that allows it to stick together and maintain its shape. Sands with high cohesion are more stable and less prone to erosion. In construction, cohesive sands are preferred for building foundations and retaining walls to ensure long-term stability and prevent soil erosion.

Abrasion Resistance

The abrasion resistance of sands relates to their ability to withstand wear and tear caused by external forces. Sands with low abrasion resistance can result in the gradual breakdown of construction materials, such as concrete surfaces or pavement. Therefore, for applications requiring longevity, sands with good abrasion resistance are preferred.

Freeze-Thaw Resistance

Sands subject to freezing and thawing cycles can experience significant changes in volume. Sands that do not possess good freeze-thaw resistance may undergo expansion during freezing and shrinkage during thawing, leading to cracks and structural damage. Sands with higher freeze-thaw resistance provide better durability and longevity in harsh climates.

Sands with High Silt and Clay Content

Effect on Compaction

Sands containing high amounts of silt and clay tend to be cohesive and less permeable, making them more difficult to compact. These fine particles hinder proper compaction and can result in settlement issues and reduced load-bearing capacity. Consequently, sands with high silt and clay content may require additional measures to achieve suitable compaction.

Effect on Drainage

Sands with high silt and clay content tend to have lower permeability and, therefore, reduced drainage capabilities. Excessive water retention in these sands can lead to saturation, instability, and the potential for increased settlement. Proper drainage is crucial in construction, making sands with lower silt and clay content more favorable.

Reduced Load-Bearing Capacity

The presence of high silt and clay content in sands can greatly reduce their load-bearing capacity. Fine particles like silt and clay contribute to weaker interlocking and increased compressibility, compromising the stability and strength of structures built upon these sands. It is essential to assess and address this issue to ensure the safety and longevity of construction projects.

Presence of Organic Matter in Sands


Organic matter present in sands can undergo decomposition over time, leading to changes in the sand’s physical and chemical properties. As organic matter decomposes, it produces gases and byproducts that can create voids within the sand, causing settlement and instability. Sands with significant organic matter content may require remediation or replacement to avoid long-term issues.

Loss of Strength and Stiffness

Organic matter can also contribute to a decrease in the overall strength and stiffness of sands. The decomposition process can result in a breakdown of the sand particles’ bonds, reducing their ability to resist external forces. Sands with high organic matter content should be carefully evaluated and may not be suitable for construction applications that require stable and durable foundations.

Sands with Excessive Moisture Content

Reduced Load-Bearing Capacity

Sands with excessive moisture content are prone to decreased load-bearing capacity, as the water fills the void space within the sand particles. This water-filled void space reduces the interlocking effect of the particles, resulting in reduced strength and stability. Proper drainage and moisture control are necessary to ensure suitable load-bearing capacity.

Loss of Stability

Excessive moisture content in sands can lead to instability, particularly when subjected to the additional weight of construction materials or structures. The excessive water presence weakens the sand particles’ bonds, making them more susceptible to shifting, settling, or even collapsing. Measures such as proper compaction and moisture control are essential to maintain stability.

Increased Shrinkage and Settlement

Sands with high moisture content are prone to drying and shrinkage once exposed to heat or dry conditions. This shrinkage can result in settlement issues and cracks in construction elements. It is crucial to manage the moisture content of sands during construction to minimise shrinkage-related problems and maintain the stability and integrity of structures.

Sands with High Salt Content

Corrosion of Reinforcements

Sands with high salt content can lead to corrosion of steel reinforcements within concrete structures. The presence of salt promotes the electrochemical reactions that cause corrosion, compromising the strength and durability of the reinforcements and potentially leading to structural issues. Avoiding or minimising the use of salt-contaminated sands is essential to prevent corrosion-related problems.

Reduced Strength of Concrete

High salt content in sands can have a detrimental effect on the strength of concrete. Salt can disrupt the cement hydration process, resulting in decreased bond strength between aggregates and weakened overall concrete performance. Sands with low salt content should be preferred to ensure the desired strength and longevity of concrete structures.


Sands with high salt content can lead to the occurrence of efflorescence, which is the formation of white powdery deposits on the surface of materials such as concrete or masonry. The salts within the sand can migrate to the surface and crystallise, causing aesthetic issues and potentially compromising the durability of the construction materials. Using sands with low salt content helps reduce the risk of efflorescence.

Sands Subject to Weathering

Loss of Strength and Cohesion

Sands exposed to prolonged weathering can experience a gradual loss of strength and cohesion. Factors such as rainfall, temperature fluctuations, and wind erosion can cause the breakdown of sand particles and weaken their interlocking properties. Weathered sands may require additional stabilisation measures to ensure adequate strength and cohesion for construction applications.

Increased Erosion

Weathered sands are more susceptible to erosion due to their weakened structure. Wind and water action can dislodge and transport the sand particles, leading to the loss of soil volume and stability. To mitigate erosion risks, erosion control techniques and stabilizing measures should be implemented when working with weathered sands.


Weathering processes can result in the destabilisation of sands, making them prone to shifting, settling, or even slope failure. Unstable sands pose a significant risk to construction projects, potentially leading to structural damage or collapse. Careful evaluation and appropriate engineering measures are necessary to address concerns related to the instability of weathered sands.

Impacts of Poor Sand Quality on Construction

Decreased Structural Integrity

Poor sand quality can have a detrimental effect on the overall structural integrity of constructions. Sands with inadequate composition, physical properties, or contamination levels can lead to weakened foundations, settlement, and structural failures. It is crucial to utilise sands of appropriate quality and undergo rigorous testing to ensure the long-term stability and safety of construction projects.

Reduced Lifespan of Buildings

Buildings constructed with poor-quality sands may experience accelerated wear and degradation over time. Inadequate sand quality can lead to increased moisture retention, settlement, erosion, or chemical reactions that compromise the lifespan of the structures. Utilising high-quality sands that meet the required standards and specifications helps ensure the longevity and durability of buildings.

Increased Maintenance Costs

Poor sand quality can result in a higher need for maintenance and repairs. Structures built with subpar sands may require frequent interventions to address settlement, erosion, or other issues arising from the sand’s unsuitability. The increased need for maintenance can lead to higher costs and inconvenience for property owners. By using quality sands, the need for extensive and frequent maintenance can be minimised.

In conclusion, the suitability of sands for construction depends on various factors, including their mineralogy, particle size distribution, shape, and physical and chemical properties. Sands with inadequate composition, contamination, excessive moisture content, high salt content, or weathering can have detrimental effects on the strength, stability, and lifespan of constructions. It is crucial to select and test sands carefully to ensure their suitability and avoid potential issues that may compromise the integrity of the construction project.