The right aquarium substrate not only adds an aesthetic appeal to your fish tank but also provides a conducive environment for your fish to thrive in and promote bacterial growth. And one of the best and most popular aquarium substrates that you can use to make your aquarium habitable is sand.
High-quality aquarium sand helps keep your fish comfortable as most types of fish come from sandy habitats. Unlike aquarium gravel, sand makes cleaning your aquarium easier as they don’t collect dirt as easily. Sand also helps some aquarium animals digest food better while others burrow in the sand, acting as a biological filtration system to keep the aquarium clean and habitable.
We Think You’ll be Interested in: Best Aquarium Substrate
It’s crucial to choose the right type and size of sand as some may end up clogging your fish and make them sick. The good news is that there is a wide variety of sand available on the market. The not-so-good news is that different types vary greatly in terms of materials, colors, and sizes, which can make
Choosing the right one for your aquarium pretty challenging. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the best aquarium sand out there and important factors to consider when shopping so you can pick the right one.
So, let’s get right into it:
Best Aquarium Sand for Planted, Fresh, and Saltwater Fish Tanks
In this section, we’re going to review some of the best aquarium sands out there along with a list of pros and cons so you can know what to expect from each type of product. This will also help you choose the right sand type for your unique needs.
1. Best Overall: CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand
Our top pick is the CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand that stands out for its super-soft grains and neutral pH, making it a safe option for nearly all aquarium systems. One of the highlight features of the Super Natural Aquarium Sand by Carib Sea is that it’s made from natural sand and doesn’t contain any dye or artificial color, creating a safe habitat for your fish. This Carib Sea product is also designed pH neutral, so it doesn’t affect the pH levels or increase the carbonate hardness of your water column.
This sand boasts small-sized grains of between 0.5mm to 1.0mm in diameter, which helps prevent the collection of detritus, fish waste, and food in the substrate bed. Another great thing about the small sand particles is that it makes cleaning your fish tank a lot easier for you.
Related: The Aquarium Cleaning Guide
Despite the small-sized grains, the Caribsea Super Naturals does not create anaerobic dead spots creating a safe and healthy environment that your fish can thrive in.
This sand comes in a 20 pounds bag, which is more than enough for your 20-gallon tank.
What more? This Carib sea sand is made to maintain your aquarium water looking crystal clear for an amazing view of your fish.
- Available in a range of natural color options to choose from .
- Maintains a neutral water pH.
- Doesn’t contain any dyes or pain
- A safe substrate for use in nearly all aquariums
- Requires lots of rinsing before use
- Can easily become compacted due to the fine grain sizes
Why We Like It
One thing we love about the Carib Sea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand is that it comes in a wide range of natural colors to give your aquarium the highest level of authenticity. We also like that it’s pH neutral and resists anaerobic dead spots, making it one of the most versatile and safest sand out there.
2. Best for Planted Aquariums: SeaChem Flourite Black Sand
Our second pick for best aquarium sand is the SeaChem Flourite Black Sand. This aquarium substrate is made using a type of sand that will make your aquarium look incredibly great. Made from high-quality natural sand, this product by SeaChem is best for planted aquariums but you can also use it in your freshwater tank. It doesn’t have any chemical coating or treatment and doesn’t alter the pH, ensuring a safe environment for your planted aquaria to thrive.
This substrate has a grain size of approximately 0.5 to 2 mm that ensures good porosity and consistency necessary for your plants to develop a strong and healthy rooting system. This uniquely fracted stable porous clay gravel contains a wide range of nutrients that are essential for the healthy growth of aquatic plants. It will also absorb and hold any nutrients and fertilizer you add. This helps supply the plants with the essential nutrients for growth, increasing the success of your planted aquarium.
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The black sand’s porous nature promotes better delivery of water, nutrients, and other essential components to the plant roots for faster and healthy growth. The substrate is fairly dense to allow roots to grow quickly while also firm and stable.
When it comes to ease of maintenance, you can effortlessly clean this substrate by siphoning out any dirt and debris using the best aquarium gravel siphon, so you don’t have to replace it every time.
- Black coloration makes your fish and plants pop
- Allows easy maintenance
- Nutrients rich
- Suitable for rooted plants
- Absorbs and holds nutrients efficiently
- May cause some cloudiness initially
- Creates a thin film at first
Why We Like It
We like that the Flourite Black Aquarium Sand not only looks great in the aquarium but also has ideal grain sizes for easy planting and improved growth of plant roots.
3. Best for New Aquarists: Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand
The third best option on our list is the Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand that makes a great option for new aquarium owners due to its instant cycling and ease of maintenance. This substrate by Nature’s Ocean is an aragonite substrate that doesn’t contain any silicate elements that often cause algae problems in fish tanks. The Nature s Ocean bio comes in a 10-pound bag with each pound containing over 10-million Heterotrophic bacteria that works perfectly in eliminating harmful nitrogenous waste such as ammonia and nitrites often found in aquariums.
This means this sand will require little to no maintenance to keep it clean. The Nature s Ocean bio live bacteria also helps maintain the pH at ideal levels, which ensures a safe and comfortable environment for your fish to thrive.
Besides that, The Nature s Ocean Bio consists of fine grains of about 0.1 to 0.5mm and is praised by many users for enhancing the buffering capacity of fish tanks. as well as lowering cycling times tremendously.
- Guarantees instant ammonia cycling, allowing for the immediate introduction of fish into the aquarium
- Suitable for both new and established fish tanks
- The natural light color of Nature s Ocean adds a beachy feel to the tank
- Contains nice-looking shells that help harden soft water
- Maintains a balanced pH in the tank
- Requires minimal maintenance to keep it clean
- Enhances buffering capacity
- It may cause some cloudiness at first
- Not usable in freshwater aquariums
Why We Like It
For that reason, the Nature s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Sand is undeniably one of the best live sand you can find out there. Due to its instant cycling guarantee, you don’t have to wait to add your fish after you’ve added the sand to the tank. This makes aquarium keeping pretty easy, especially if you’re a new aquarist.
4. Best Aragonite Sand: CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand
If you’re looking for the most functional and aesthetically appealing aragonite substrate available for marine aquariums, you can’t go wrong with the CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand.
This Carib Sea Arag- Alive sand substrate features a pale pink coloring with a golden glow, which creates a visually appealing warm effect in your tank. It also creates an attractive contrast when mixed with most rockwork and corals.
The Carib sea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand comes in a 20-pound bag, which is enough for a 20-gallon tank. You can also add just enough for a two-inch sand bed to create a habitable environment for your fish.
This Carib sea Arag Alive Fiji Pink sand boasts millions of beneficial bacteria that help speed up your tank’s cycle, allowing you to add fish almost instantly after setting up your aquarium.
The Carib sea Arag Fiji pink sand boasts a grain size of approximately 0.5 mm to 1.5 mm, which provides great porosity, low resistance to burrowing, ingestability, and enhanced diffusive flux properties. The CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand is also made to maintain your water at ideal pH levels without the addition of any chemicals.
- Buffers the pH value to 8.2
- Carib sea Arag comes ready to use
- Best for use in both reef and marine aquariums
- Provides a large surface area ideal for bacterial adhesion
- Suppresses algae growth
- It gives your tank a unique and visually appealing appearance
- Promotes coral formation
- Supports natural biological filtration
- Helps prevent new tank syndrome
- Only for saltwater aquariums.
Why We Like It
We like that the CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand contains massive amounts of bacteria, which promotes bacterial filtration by reducing the levels of ammonia and other harmful elements in the water and suppressing the growth of algae, which can be a problem for your tank.
5. Best Black Aquarium Sand: Imagitarium Black Sand
If you’re an aquarium owner and are looking for the best black aquarium sand that works best for both your freshwater and marine aquariums, the Imagitarium Black Sand is hard to beat. It boasts a unique black color that will look great when used in natural setups and black water aquariums. The dark color makes your aquarium stand out while making dirt not easily visible. You can mix it with colorful coral reefs to make it even more visually appealing.
The Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand features fine grains, which makes it ideal for your planted aquarium. Due to its smooth, fine grains, you can also use it for your shrimp and fish tank. It is made to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, which help reduce the amount of uneaten food and fish waste in your aquarium water. It is made not to alter the ph, providing a safe and healthy environment for your fish, shrimps, and plants.
- Its dark aesthetics looks great in black water and natural setups
- Promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria
- Can help simulate a natural environment
- Best for freshwater and saltwater aquariums
- Ideal option for fish, shrimps, and plants
- Requires rinsing before adding it to the tank
- Tends to cause sandy air bubbles along the bottom
Why We Like It
The Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand stands out for its unique dark aesthetics and versatility as you can use it in freshwater and saltwater aquariums. The substrate’s smooth, fine grains make it perfect for your fish, plants, and even shrimps.
6. Most Affordable: Stoney River Aquatic White Sand
Next up is the Stoney River Aquatic White Sand a great option if you’re looking to create a safe and tranquil environment for your fish with white sand. The Este Stoney River Sand is white in color that makes your aquarium stand out and your creatures pop. Despite its affordable price, this sand is made of high-quality materials that include silica with a non toxic coating. It also doesn’t alter the water ph, making it a safe substrate for your fish and plants to thrive in.
Another great thing about this white sand is the fact that you can use it in freshwater aquariums without any issues. It consists of fine grains that are soft enough to provide a comfortable environment for your fish including African cichlids to swim in without scratching or injuring their soft bodies. This product collects dirt and waste at the top, which makes cleaning and maintenance a breeze for you.
- A great budget-friendly product
- Great for freshwater aquariums
- The product is environmentally friendly
- Does not alter the pH
- Non toxic coating makes it safe for fish
- Holds plant roots firmly
- The white color makes your aquarium look really great
- Requires minimal maintenance
- The product is only available in 5-pound package only
- Requires rinsing before use
Why We Like It
While it’s one of the most affordable sands out there, we love that the Estes Stoney River Aquatic White Sand creates a nice-looking natural bed. It has neutral pH and non toxic, making it an ideal substrate for all freshwater aquariums.
7. Best for Cichlid Tanks: CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand
Biologically and mineralogically complete, the CaribSea Aquatics Eco is specifically designed great for use in cichlid tanks. This product is an aragonite substrate that helps maintain the pH high without the addition of harmful chemicals.
The CaribSea Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand buffers automatically to prevent the water pH level from dropping, which is usually a common problem with cichlid setups. This helps create the ideal conditions that your African cichlids require to thrive and live happily.
This product features larger grains of between 4 and 10 mm in diameter, which help ensure the water flows across the entire bed. The increased internal porosity helps provide a larger surface area that’s required for bacteria to colonize.
It adds magnesium, carbonate, and calcium to the water, creating the perfect water chemistry for your cichlids. The black color also helps enhance the natural colors of the African cichlid. It comes in a 20-pound bag, meaning you can sufficiently use it in larger cichlids tanks.
- Large, porous grains provide a large surface area for bacterial activity
- Comes packed with beneficial bacterias
- Maintains ideal water pH level for cichlids without the addition of chemicals
- No rinsing is required
- Recreates the African Rift Lake environment.
- The cloudiness takes time to settle
Why We Like It
This sand looks great in any aquarium and works best for cichlid owners who want to buffer the aquarium water for their cichlids.
8. Best for High-Impact Visuals: Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Sand for Aquarium
Looking for a substrate that will transform your tank into an aesthetically pleasing aquarium? Then, you can’t go wrong with the Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Sand for Aquarium with its unique velvety moon look.
The Carib Sea Tahitian consists of naturally collected silica-based sand and doesn’t contain any additional black paint or dye. The Carib Sea sand has a deep and rich black color to create a visually appealing contrast to your aquarium.
- Great-looking natural black color
- Neutral ph level
- High-quality from exotic islands of Tahiti
- Ideal for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums
- Doesn’t have any additional paint or dyes
- Comes in a 20-pound bag, so you can get plenty of coverage
- Causes some cloudiness at first
Why We Like It
We love that this Carib Sea black sand is uniquely designed to give any aquarium high-impact visuals with its beautiful black natural color. The sand is ideal for freshwater aquariums and saltwater fish and has a neutral pH, so it won’t alter the water chemistry. The product has fine grains without sharp shards, making it a safe substrate for your fish tanks.
9. Best for Shrimp Tanks: U.P. Aqua Shrimp Sand
Last on our list is the U.P. Aqua Shrimp Sand, specialty sand designed specifically for aquarium owners who keep shrimps. If you don’t like white sand, its soothing black color will look remarkably great in your shrimp aquarium. It features small uniform grain sizes that measure about 1mm in diameter.
Apart from fine grain sizes, the grains are also smooth and lightweight enough for your shrimps to play around with or rest on without getting scratched. The sand also contains trace minerals that your shrimps require for healthy growth. You can also use this sand in your breeding tank. It is also relatively easy to clean and maintain.
- Boasts a soothing black sand color
- Contains essential minerals for shrimp growth
- Easy to maintain and clean
- Ideal for shrimp breeding tanks
- Perfect grain size for shrimps
- Not the best substrate for live plant and regular fish
Why We Like It
Overall, the U.P. Aqua Shrimp stands out for its small grain size, softness, presence of trace minerals, and maintains ideal pH of the water, creating a healthy and safe environment for shrimps.
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Buyers Guide: What To Consider When Buying Aquarium Sand
While the market is flooded with different types of sands to choose from, not every one of them will be suitable for your aquarium. As such, here are some of the crucial factors you should consider when you’re out shopping for the best aquarium sand for your fish tank.
Type of Sand
The first thing to consider is the type of sand you’re looking to use in your sand aquarium. Typically, there are two main sand types that you can choose from; live and dry sands.
Live sand is a type of sand that contains beneficial bacteria and microorganisms and comes packed in freshwater. With live sands, you don’t need to do any rinsing before adding it to your aquarium. This type of sand also comes colonized by bacteria, meaning you can add fish instantly. However, this sand works best for your freshwater aquarium but can also be great for your planted tank.
On the other hand, unlike live sands, dry sands don’t contain any bacteria when shipped. But, by cycling your fish tank, you can cultivate bacteria in the dry sand. The only downside is that this can take a few days or even weeks, meaning dry sands may not be the best option if you want to get your aquarium up and running immediately after adding the sand. Dry sands are usually best suited for a saltwater aquarium. A great example is an aragonite substrate.
Other types of sand for aquarium include play sand, which comes in varying grain sizes and colors to give your aquarium the most natural look. If you prefer a more refined sand but with a natural look as that of play sand, consider choosing blasting sand.
Another common type is the Silica pool sand, which is commonly used for swimming pools but is also an excellent substrate for aquariums.
Size of Grain
Another equally important factor to consider is the size of the grain of the sand. Typically, the average particle sand grains measure approximately 0.1 to 2 mm in diameter. Sands with large grain sizes usually offer better aeration but less protection and increase the chance of detritus to build up. They also provide habitats for burrowing creatures. Smaller grains, on the other hand, helps keep detritus at bay but can often become compacted and anaerobic.
With that in mind, the best aquarium sand should have medium-sized grains to provide a safe and healthy environment for your fish to thrive.
The amount of sand
Generally, the amount of sand you need for your aquarium will vary depending on the size and shape of your tank and the size of sand grains. For instance, fine sand will occupy less room for a specific weight than coarse sand.
But, for you to get 1-inch layer of sand in your aquarium, you may require approximately one pound of sand per gallon. This means if you have a 20-gallon tank, you should consider getting about 20 pounds of sand.
Ease of Cleaning and Maintenance
Not all sands are cleaned the same as some aquariums with sand are challenging to clean while others require little to no maintenance. For instance, while sands with larger grains allow waste and uneaten food to penetrate to the bottom, the dirt and waste can easily be accessed and siphoned out using a suction-based sand cleaner.
Finer sands may also be easy to clean as they collect waste and dirt on the top, making cleaning a breeze. However, if you have species that sift sand to find food, the waste and dirt may end up at the bottom, making cleaning a challenge.
If you want an option with little to no maintenance, you may choose sand with bacteria and other microorganisms. The bacteria will decompose any fish waste and uneaten food that gets to the bottom of your tank, keeping your aquarium clean.
Different sands have different colors. And the color of your sand will impact the overall look of your aquarium. As such be sure to choose sand with a color that will enhance the aesthetic appeal of your tank, this can be white sand or black sand.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my fish eating sand?
Your fish can eat sand as they forage through the sand bed looking for food remnants. So, if the fish type you have eats sand, it’s best to have sand that’s fine-grained.
Should I clean aquarium sand?
Yes, it’s highly recommended that you clean your sand by rinsing it first. You should clean it even if it is indicated pre-washed as it often contains some dirt which can cause cloudiness in your water.
Do goldfish like sand or gravel?
Goldfish love to forage and sift in the substrate. This means they end up swallowing anything they pick, which poses a risk of intestinal blockage or even choking if the substrate grains are large such as gravel substrates. This makes sand the best substrate for goldfish since they are small enough to swallow without choking and also helps promote natural foraging behavior.
How do you maintain aquarium sand?
The best way to maintain your sand is by cleaning the substrate at least once each week and replacing about 40 percent of the water with a batch of clean water.
Can you mix sand and gravel in an aquarium?
Yes, you can mix sand and gravel in your aquarium but the sand will fall into the voids of the gravel and end up settling to the bottom. This can be problematic especially if you’re using under-gravel filters as the compacted soil will hinder the motor from sucking the water.
Can you wash sand?
Yes, you can wash sand by rinsing it in a bucket using clean water to remove dirt and dust.
How do you dry out aquarium sand?
You can dry out sand by pouring it on a large tarp and spreading it across using a gardening shovel or even with your hands. Then, leave it to dry in the sun while flipping it over periodically to make sure it dries evenly.
Can I use pool filter sand for my aquarium?
Pool filter sand can be a perfect option for your aquarium, especially if you’re looking to keep fish species that burrow or sift sand. It is also a safe substrate for shoaling and schooling fish.
Can I use any sand in my aquarium?
No. Not all types of sand are suitable for aquariums. You should only use sand that will work best for the type of fish you’re planning to have in your aquarium. For instance pool sand isn’t recommended.
Is aquarium sand hard to maintain?
Just like aquarium gravel, maintaining sand is pretty easy as waste products usually sit on the surface of the sand. This makes sucking out the dirt using a siphon hassle-free and less time-consuming compared to cleaning gravel substrates.
How do you remove fish poop from sand?
You can get rid of fish poop from sand by vacuuming or scooping it out. Another great way is by blowing and stirring the sand using a powerhead or airstone where there is poop build-up.
This will help keep the poop floating, which makes it easy for the filter to eliminate it.
Can you vacuum aquarium sand?
Yes, you can vacuum aquarium sand using a siphon. It is actually one of the easiest ways to clean an aquarium with a sand substrate.
Should I clean aquarium sand?
Yes, it is important to clean your sand regularly to reduce the amount of waste products and other harmful elements mixed in the sand. This not only makes your aquarium more visually appealing but also provides your fish with a healthy and safe environment to thrive in.
Why is my aquarium sand turning black?
When not properly cleaned, sand usually becomes dirty and compacted, eventually turning black.
What brings about the black coloration is hydrogen sulfide gas buildup caused by anaerobic microbial activity in the sand due to compactness and poor maintenance.
How thick should aquarium sand be?
Your sand should be approximately 1 to 3 inches deep. This amount of sand is not only pleasing to look at but also allows proper aeration and proper growth of plant roots without floating away.
What is aquarium sand made of?
Different types of sand are made from different materials just like aquarium gravel There are sands that are made of a combination of substrates, hard rocks, and other materials. Then there are some that are made purely using organic materials while others consist of a mixture of artificial elements and beneficial substrates.
As you’ve seen from our review, there are lots of great sand types available on the market to choose from just as we saw in aquarium gravel. However, each type of sand has its own unique features as well as pros and cons, which you should carefully consider before making the final decision.
This will ensure you choose aquarium sand that will work best for your fish.
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Choosing the wrong type of sand or aquarium gravel for your aquarium can be quite expensive as you may have to swap it out and may cause health problems for your fish. To prevent these issues from happening, our experts recommend choosing the best sand based on the fish type you plan to have in your aquarium.
So, consider choosing aquarium sand that will provide a safe and healthy environment for your fish to live in comfortably and nutrient-rich to support healthy growth of live plants. Besides that, it should add a visually appealing natural look to your aquarium tank and be easy to clean and maintain.
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Did you know?
Stout Infant is the tiniest fish in the world, measuring only 0.6 cm or 0.25 inches long.
- 100% Natural Beige Sand
- Fine grain size, suitable for various arts and crafts projects
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- Great for marine and freshwater tanks
- Safe and non-toxic