Stock photography by Siim+Sepp at Alamy

Sand types

How many different types of sand are there? Nobody knows an answer to this seemingly simple question because there are no such thing as an official sand classification.

However, sand is a highly variable substance and therefore it is definitely possible to make an attempt to classify it into separate categories.

Nine sand samples above represent nine different sand types. Row by row from left to right: 1. Glass sand from Kauai, Hawaii 2. Dune sand from the Gobi Desert, Mongolia 3. Quartz sand with green glauconite from Estonia 4. Volcanic sand with reddish weathered basalt from Maui, Hawaii 5. Biogenic coral sand from Molokai, Hawaii 6. Coral pink sand dunes from Utah 7. Volcanic glass sand from California 8. Garnet sand from Emerald Creek, Idaho 9. Olivine sand from Papakolea, Hawaii.

Coral sand“Coral sand” has several meanings. Find out what it really is.
Volcanic ashVolcanic ash is a fine mixture of minerals and rock fragments thrown out of a volcano during exposive volcanic eruption.
Glass sandTraces of human activity are visible almost everywhere. Even sand may sometimes contain artificial fragments in quantities that justify the creation of a separate sand type.
Immature sandSand composed of the same minerals that made up its parent rocks.
Gypsum sandA rare sand type composed of gypsum grains.
Ooid sandOoids are rounded pellets formed in a shallow wave agitated water.
Silica sandSilica sand is almost pure quartz.
Black sandThere are two types of black sand.
GreensandGreensand and green sand. What is the difference?
Desert sandWhat are the characteristic features of dune sand?
Lithic sandSometimes sand is composed of tiny rocks.
Mixed carbonate-silicate sandSome sand samples are mixture of organic and inorganic sand grains.
Biogenic sandSand may be composed entirely of tiny skeletons — sea shells, corals, forams, etc.
Garnet sandGarnet is a common mineral in sand but sometimes it forms the majority of it.
Olivine sandOlivine is very unstable in the weathering environment. Still, it is surprisingly common sand mineral in some regions and sometimes makes up major part of the sand.
Volcanic sandVolcanically active regions have their own unique type of generally dark-colored sand with a characteristic mineral assemblage.
Heavy mineral sandHeavy minerals are present in most sand types. However, they rarely make up more than few percent of it. Sometimes heavy minerals get concentrated enough to form heavy and usually very beautiful sand.
Sands with hematitic pigmentHematite is the mineral that gives reddish color to desert sands and sandstone formations all over the world.
Continental sandThe name says it all. This sand is common weathering product of the continental landmasses.
Quartz sandQuartz is the most common sand forming mineral. This sand type consists little else than this mineral.

You may also like my gallery of Colors in sand.

Further reading

Pettijohn, F. J., Potter, P. E. & Siever, R. (1973). Sand and Sandstone. Springer.
Siever, R. (1988). Sand, 2nd Edition. W H Freeman & Co.