The sedimentation rate of sand grains in the hindered settling regime has been considered to assess particle shape effects. The behaviour of various particulate systems involving sand has been compared with the widely used Richardson–Zaki expression. The general form of the expression is found to hold, in as much as remaining as a suitable means to describe the hindered settling of irregular particles. The sedimentation exponent n in the Richardson–Zaki expression is found to be significantly larger for natural sand grains than for regular particles. The hindered settling effect is therefore greater, leading to lower concentration gradients than expected. The effect becomes more pronounced with increasing particle irregularity. At concentrations around 0·4, the hindered settling velocity of fine and medium natural sands reduces to about 70% of the value predicted using existing empirical expressions for n. Using appropriate expressions for the fluidization velocity and the clear water settling velocity, a simple method is discussed to evaluate the sedimentation exponent and to determine the hindered settling effect for sands of various shapes.