Living on Planet Earth, we encounter sand at just about every turn. While it is fun to play at the beach, for people living on the coast, this plentiful material causes corrosion in wood, metal, and glass and can easily scratch wooden floors underfoot.
Sand corrodes wood and everything else it comes into contact with, especially on the coast, and this is not good news for timber. Sand picked up by the wind becomes a natural sandblasting machine, and nothing is safe from this highly abrasive material unless it’s indoors.
By examining sand itself, what makes it so corrosive and erosive, the combination of sand and salt at the coast, and what measures can be taken to prevent corrosion, you will be able to protect and preserve your wood from the ravages of sand.
What Is Sand?
The sand is a granular loose material that is the by-product of millennia of erosion and is a natural mixture of tiny rock particles and other grains that are finer than gravel but more coarse than salt. The type of sand varies depending on where you are in the world.
Beach sand is found on many US Coastlines and other non-tropical locations, and inland is mainly silica dioxide, mostly quartz, making it highly abrasive. In contrast, the white sands found in Bermuda and other tropical areas are made from calcium carbonate, giving it that characteristic white color.
This is because tropical coastal sand comprises fossilized remnants of sea creatures, while inland and non-tropical sand come from the Earth’s rock, mainly quartz, felspar, and mica. Over millions of years of erosion by forces of wind and water, rock slowly erodes down to these ultra-fine particles of sand.
Sand And Wind – The Earth’s Natural Sandblaster
Sand on its own is quite benign, and if you have been to the beach on a quiet day with no wind, your only real concerns with sand are how hot it is underfoot and how to prevent it from getting into places it should. Not be!
But, add a light breeze or light wind to that same day, and what started as a pleasant beach outing can quickly become an unpleasant experience where you could be pulling sand off clothes, shoes, and other delicate areas for days.
If you have ever been exposed to sand moving at speed in the wind, you will have a better idea of what it feels like to be sandblasted, and the wood at the coast suffers the same kind of corrosion but on a larger scale.
What Does Sandblasting Do To Wood?
Sandblasting is an industrial process whereby sand grains are propelled under high pressure to strip off layers of paint and rust or used to engrave designs on the surface layer of glass, steel, or wood under controlled conditions.
On the coast, there is no control, and wooden areas of structures and homes are faced with the full brunt of the wind and sand all year round. This constant battering by natural elements will cause finishes on wood to wear off, and if not maintained, the sand will etch deeper layers into the wood over time.
This can cause wooden structures to become unstable as the support and integrity are slowly worn away and could need to be replaced with a more resistant material like plastic or steel or require that the wood be re-treated or moved to a less exposed location.
The Effect Of Sand On Wooden Floors
Many coastal and inland property owners opt for hardwood floors as they are beautiful to look at, lovely to walk on and provide a sense of natural style and elegance to a home, but they are also at risk of damage by sand.
Remember that most sand is essentially fine rock, and homeowners with wooden floors need to be aware of this to prevent their floors from corrosion. When people walk over wooden floors with fine particles of sand in their shoes or on their feet, micro-abrasion occurs on the surface of the wood.
As the sand is scraped across the floors during walking, the hard sand grains scratch and abrade the wooden floor surfaces, and after a while, this can lead to patches of the floor (where the most traffic is) losing the protective layer and becoming lighter in color.
Ways To Protect Your Wooden Floors From Sand Corrosion
There are several simple and affordable options to prevent your wooden floors from getting damaged by sand, so let’s look at some of those in more detail.
Choose Veneer Flooring
Firstly, if you are building a beach home, consider the option of veneer flooring rather than real wood. A veneer floor is designed to be more durable, and if it gets scratched, it can be polished out or replaced with the same color and design as the original, provided the hardwood layer is thick enough.
Plus, it will be much cheaper to install veneer flooring than original wooden floors, and it is less environmentally damaging than using real wood.
Cover The Floor With Carpet Or Matting
Have the entrance to your home covered with carpet or matting to catch any sand particles that could be walked into the house. Also, it is a good suggestion to have people leave their shoes outside or ensure that all the sand has been totally removed from the soles and tread before walking on the floors.
Most wooden floors are sealed for protection before or after installation. While that seal will provide some protection, having some additional measures in place will certainly extend the life of your wooden floors.
How To Protect Wood From Sand Corrosion
Owning a coastal property brings visions of lazy summer days by the sea and outdoor barbecues with friends and family, but below the happy veneer lies the reality of seaside living, which is the harsh environment.
Salty air, wind, and sand are some of the most corrosive conditions to which you can expose wooden furniture or structures. You must add protection to prevent them from withering away or becoming cracked, discolored, and brittle.
Fortunately, you can utilize a few methods to protect your wood from sand corrosion. While continued regular maintenance is required, taking care of your wood will extend its lifetime considerably; let’s look at those options.
Sealing Your Wooden Floor Will Protect It From Sand Corrosion
Using a durable outdoor-rated sealant like epoxy, urethane, lacquer, or varnish on your wooden floors provides a protective layer against sand and the sea air. These sealants form a thin layer over the surface of the wood; if sand does rub, it will scratch this layer, not the wood underneath.
If you do this yourself, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to achieve the maximum benefit of these products and keep your wooden floor in top condition.
Use Linseed Or Tung Oil To Protect Your Wood From Sand
These penetrating oils have been used for centuries to protect outdoor wood from the elements and to prolong its life and beauty.
Oils are designed to bring out the grains in the wood and enhance the natural elegance and beauty; plus, they form a protective coating at the cellular level that will create a protective layer as the sealants do.
With oil, you would need to apply at least two coats, with the first being a generous but evenly layed application of the oil across the wood. If that layer is dry within five minutes of applying the oil, apply another layer until the surface stays slightly wet.
The engrain in the wood will suck up the oil quickly and hungrily, so check the wood after the first application and then apply the second layer to finish it off.
Painting Your Wood To Prevent Sand Corrosion
Much like varnishing and sealing, painting your wood also offers a solution to the issue of sand corrosion, and using paint designated for outdoor use is recommended. As with other coatings, follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely to get the best results and protect your wood for the longest time possible.
Change Your Furniture’s Location
When wooden furniture is placed in locations exposed to wind and sand, it will suffer corrosion over time. Aside from the sealing or painting options, you can also relocate this furniture to a different area of the house where there is protection from the elements that reduce exposure.
For example, if the wind blows onshore most of the time, place the wooden furniture on the other side of the house, which would minimize the exposure to this sandblasting effect. Or you can move it indoors, which would be the best option.
You should never place untreated wood outdoors at the coast if you want it to last, and having it indoors or under cover will go a long way to reducing the corrosive effect of sand.
Covering Your Wooden Furniture To Prevent Sand Corrosion
Getting covers for wooden furniture that can be used permanently, to cover it overnight, or when not being used is an affordable option. Combined with sealants, it is probably the best way to protect the wood from the effects of sand corrosion.
If the cover then gets dirty, it can be washed and then replaced over the furniture once dry, and covering your wood overnight or through the winter ( if the furniture is outdoors) will also slow the effects of sand corrosion.
Covers come in many options, from simple utility covers designed to cover and protect, similar to those used on outdoor cookers and grills, to useable ones that can be sat on and used permanently as protective and comfortable coverings with a variety of designs to suit the look and feel of the house.
Clean Your Wood To Prevent Corrosion
This should be done regardless of your protective options, as keeping sand off your wood and out of the corners and crannies in tables, chairs, desks, and decks will help maintain the wood finish.
While you might think those innocuous wooden grains won’t harm, remember that sand is small rock particles, and even slight movements against softer material like wood can cause erosion.
You can use a lightly damp cloth to wipe your furniture down every so often or even use a vacuum, leaf blower, or any device that can blow the sand away to keep your wood clean.
There Are No Permanent Solutions To Stop Sand Corroding Wood
All suggestions above are temporary measures and require regular reapplication every 12-18 months, depending on the coastal conditions. Where no severe wind and sand is being blown, the time frame would be a little longer before touching up is required.
Remember that wind-blown sand shaped deserts and rock formations over millions of years, and if rock cannot withstand the effects of sand erosion, your wooden furniture certainly won’t. Of course, the ultimate solution is not to have any wooden furniture where it is exposed to sand, but for many coastal homeowners, that is not an option.
Since the cure is not an option, prevention is the next best step. Combinations of these measures like covering, placing wood in less exposed areas, and sealing or painting will provide the most protection against sand corrosion.
Sadly, like most things, wooden items left untreated and exposed to sand will eventually, and if you value them, you will make an effort to maintain them over the years.
Ironically, items buried in the sand with no wind acting on them can last for thousands of years, as we have seen with ancient Egyptian artifacts that continue to be unearthed. While there has been some erosive effect, the overall impact on their original condition is mild compared to those exposed to the sand AND the wind.
The truth about whether sand corrodes wood is really down to the wind, so if you live on the coast and have wooden furniture that you love, concern yourself more with the wind than the sand.
Sand is one of the Earth’s most plentiful materials, and it has played a vital role in shaping our planet. No material exposed to it on the surface can withstand its slow creeping erosion and ultimate demise back to the dust from which it was made.