How to leave the sand behind on your next beach trip

Clean up sneaky grains of silica.

When you leave the beach, you bring sand with you. These tiny particles are part of the fun at the shore, but they get very annoying very quickly when you track them into your car or house. If you’re tired of sand clinging stubbornly to your skin and getting wedged in your rugs, we have a few tricks to keep the grains at the beach where they belong.

Why sand sticks

One of the oddities of sand as a material is how it changes when you add water. Sand is highly hydrophilic; H2O molecules can stick directly to it, and then more water molecules glom on to the ones attached to the silica. So anything wet—towels, toes, chairs, shoes, pets—will collect sand.

Once the water evaporates, which happens quickly in a car that’s been baking in a shadeless parking lot the sand may get caught in clothing, stick to the crevasses of our skin, and otherwise hang on where it’s not wanted. Or it’ll fall off, waiting for your foot to grind it into carpets or your skin to pick it back up.

This means that managing moisture is the key to keeping sand off your body and clothes, and ultimately out of your house.

Keep grit off your gear…

Unless you only head to the beach for long thoughtful walks, you’re going to get wet on your trip. However, you can take steps to limit your moisture, and thus the sand you pick up.

Start with the materials your beach gear is made out of. Wear open-toed shoes that you can easily kick the sand out of, and as much as possible, carry bags, chairs, and other potentially-sandy items made out of open materials like mesh. Gravity easily gets rid of dry sand, so if these items remain dry, all you’ll need to empty them out is a good hard shake.

For items that can’t be made out of mesh, look for materials that are easy to de-sand. Metal beach chairs, for example, will certainly attract these particles, but you can easily brush them off or rinse them in a little water.

Beach towels and blankets are harder to clean on-site, so we recommend you stick with a chair alone. However, if you must bring one of these cloths, wash it beforehand with fabric softener, which is hydrophobic and will repel some moisture. Then try to use it for lounging only, rather than drying off with it and making the material damp.

For shoes and flip-flops, apply a hydrophobic spray, such as Rust-Oleum NeverWet ($15 on Amazon), to the soles and sides before you head to the beach. You can also use this treatment to coat the bottoms of chairs, coolers, and other potential moisture sources. Just check to ensure the spray you buy is non-toxic, and remember that these are temporary coatings, so you’ll eventually need to reapply them.

With drinks and other cold items, you’ll also face also the issue of condensation. There’s a surprising amount of water in the air at any given time (even the Sahara has an average of about 25 percent humidity). When you pull a soda out of the cooler, the air around the can rapidly hits the dew point, the temperature where water is cool enough to form droplets on a surface. This happens particularly frequently when the surface is a good conductor like aluminum, which removes the heat those liquid droplets need to evaporate.

Although no surface will stop condensation entirely, plastic and glass containers gather less, and double-walled bottles are ideal—they have an inner layer that insulates the drink, preventing the outer surface from reaching the dew point. If you do have to set condensation-collecting containers on sand, put them on a dry towel or other surface. For aluminum cans, use a foam koozie, which will also insulate your soda.

…And your skin

Once you’ve chosen or treated your supplies to keep them dry, the next step is to protect your skin. First, avoid coming into contact with liquids immediately before touching sand. That means, if you plan to apply any sprays, lotions, sunblock, or other moisture-rich products, do so well in advance so they have time to dry. And when you need to reapply, step somewhere without sand and take care of it there.

If you go swimming in the ocean, make sure to come out of the water when the tide is coming in. When the tide pulls out, it draws loose particles of sand with it, which could stick to you.

Even with the best precautions, you might get sand on your wet feet or hands. There’s an easy trick to solve this problem: Bring some talc or baby powder. This chalky material is even more hydrophilic than sand, so when you sprinkle it on hands or feet, it will slurp up the moisture that makes sand sticky. After that, the grains should easily loosen and fall away.


Leaving the beach

You’re unlikely to keep entirely sand-free at the beach, but you can take steps to clean up after you leave. Again, getting rid of these particles is a matter of fighting moisture.

If a beach shower is available, everyone should use it to wash off any errant grains sticking to their skin. “Everyone” includes pets, as undiscovered sand can irritate their skins.

As for your shoes, before you leave, take them off, remove the soles (if possible), and give them a good hard shake. Also bring a hard, bristly welcome mat, and have anyone getting into your car thoroughly wipe off their shoes before boarding. If all else fails, wear shoes that can survive a heavy hose-down or a cycle in the washing machine.

Before you toss your sandy stuff into the car, line its trunk with old blankets or towels, ideally material that you’ve pre-washed with a dose of fabric softener. If you have to ride with wet and potentially sandy suits, take the same precaution with car seats. For the floors, use rubber mats instead of carpeted ones.

Put anything wet in a mesh bag before stashing it in the car, so as it dries and the sand falls off, the debris will filter out of the carrier and onto the liner blanket. When you get home, shake the blanket off outside your house.

Hang up any wet items outside your home and let them dry completely. Then give them a good shake before you take them inside. If you’re in a hotel or can’t hang your suit up, try the following process instead.

Soak the item in cold water for ten minutes, which will pull sand out of fabric where it’s become embedded. Then, lay it out on a clean, dry towel. Either let the suit air-dry or blow-dry it with a hair dryer on the cool setting. Now a brisk shake (outside, of course) should remove the sand.

When all else fails

Even with all this preparation, a few grains of grit might sneak their way into the house. To get them out, use dry cleaning methods like running a vacuum cleaner over the stubborn mess.

For smaller rugs, if you can remove them, then hang them up and beat them out. Fallen sand can drop between the fibers and hang on with some tenacity, so beating the rug forces them to the surface.

If you can’t beat the rug, simply remember that wet cleaning methods don’t remove sand. To pull these particles out of a material, they generally need to be floating in water—and you don’t want to flood your house. So grab a vacuum with a deep brush and run it aggressively over the carpet, going over the problem area at least three times. It’ll be hard on your rug, but no harder than sand.

Unless you plan to avoid the beach entirely, a grain or two will likely slip through, no matter how thorough you are. But a little moisture control can go a long way—and a little common sense even further—toward keeping sand on the beach where it belongs.