When it comes to setting up a home for your fish, you need to think about everything—top to bottom—including the substrate. There are some things that are less important, like the decorations; but everything that needs to be planted needs aquarium sand. If you want a habitable tank, you need a great substrate, and it turns out that marine sand is ideal for promoting a good life for the entire tank.
That is why we are going to talk about the different kinds of sand substrate out there and which brands are the best aquarium sand. That way, you can choose the sand that is best for your fish and tank.
Different Kinds of Sand You Can Use In An Aquarium
You can use a couple kinds of sand in your aquarium. Each type has pros and cons to consider. Here are the common substrate sands to consider:
Pool Filter Sand
Since pool sand has a neutral pH level, it is a fairly decent and economical choice for an aquarium. It is usually white and comes with uniformly sized granules.
Marine Sand/Specialty Aquarium Sand
As you may have guessed from the name, marine sand is designed specifically for aquariums. These sands are specially formulated to be free of contaminants, non-toxic, and have a neutral pH. Aquarium sand also inhibits the growth of algae and is heavy, so they won’t be sucked into filters, either.
Always look for non-toxic play sand, since it will poison your fish otherwise. Also, never confuse play sand for construction sand. The latter contains a lot of materials that could disrupt the balance of your tank. Also, some play sand is high in clay, which can muddle the clarity of the water and will make the tank difficult to clean.
Benefits of Using Sand For Substrate
Why should you use sand as substrate? There are a few benefits to think about:
Sand Is Organic
The biggest advantage of choosing sand is that it is a natural substance. Most fish reside in areas where sand is the organic substrate, or near silt and mud. That is why, over gravel or glass beads or anything else, sand is best and supports a more natural water flow.
Sand Stays Cleaner, Longer
Compared to gravel, sand is a cleaner substrate. Gravel is larger and has plenty of space of waste and debris to get stuck, allowing for rot and bacteria to spread, thus dirtying the water faster than it would with sand. On the other hand, sand compacts down, and debris cannot get stuck, so it’s swept up more easily by the filter or bottom feeding fish.
Best Aquarium Sand for your Fish Tank
Here are our top 10 choices for the best aquarium sand:
1. Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand
Caribsea is a favored brand for substrate, so you can be confident that it will deliver exactly what it promises to do. First, the Super Naturals sand is always neutral pH and will not increase the hardness of the water either.
This sand is also highly resistant to capturing food and other waste in the substrate bed, meaning your sand maintenance will be easier in the long run. Also, if you have a saltwater tank, this sand will not pack down and create anaerobic dead zones around coral and rocks, so your fish can thrive.
- Beautiful color
- No added chemicals or colors
- Will not affect the pH level of the aquarium
- Unique grain size limits collection of debris
- Creates a stunning natural world
- Sand should be rinsed well before using
2. Flourite Black Sand
Plants are one of the best things you can get for your fish tank. If you want a vivid environment, then you need substrate that is up to the task of supporting that goal. Flourite Black sand is premium substrate designed specifically for plants.
It provides nutrients and is made to last for many years, increasing the chances of keeping your plants alive. The substrate is porous for aeration, helping with root growth, but it also is fine enough to prevent a buildup of waste.
- Never needs to be replaced, so you save a lot of money
- Provides vital minerals and nutrients to live plants
- Not chemically coated
- Neutral pH level
- Ideal for tanks with a bunch of plants
- Made for freshwater tanks
- Very dusty and cloudy at first, so be sure to rinse well before using
3. Caribsea Ocean Direct Caribbean Live Sand
Many aquarists with marine tanks swear by this Ocean Direct Caribbean Live Sand. First, it comes with the patented “sea breathe technology,” which means it comes with natural bacteria to increase the health of your tank.
This is done by encasing each grain of sand in film made from ocean water, thus preserving the bacteria. Once you put it in your tank, the beneficial bacteria will allow for more complete gas exchange without adding any toxins.
- Coarser sand that may even contain whole shells, adding a natural appearance to your saltwater tank
- Does not blow around the bottom of the tank upon settling
- Comes with a small package of water cleaner
- Fine grains won’t be sucked up by filters
- Some users say that it takes a very long time to settle
- Not ideal for freshwater tanks
4. Nature’s Ocean Marine White Sand
Are you looking for some straight from the ocean for your reef tank? Then Nature’s Ocean has a white sand that will do the trick. This sand has been sterilized and becomes a beautiful white when added to water.
It can naturally reduce impurities in the water while assisting in the growth of live sand and healthier coral. This option is also budget-friendly.
- Perfect for marine tanks or ones with reefs
- Pure white and very fine in appearance
- Reduces nitrates
- Maintains pH levels while increasing carbonate hardness
- Helps culture live sand
- Taken from the ocean floor and sterilized with heat
- Can be too fine for some tanks
- Must be rinsed very carefully
5. Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Sand
Does your tank have problems with ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites? Then you need this sand. It works to remove nitrogenous waste, making the environment much friendlier for fish.
This also means you don’t have to clean the tank as often as before. Another benefit is that it helps maintain pH, has excellent buffering capacity, and is highly affordable.
- Maintains proper pH levels
- Enhanced buffering capacity
- Helps remove ammonia, nitrites and nitrates
- Instantly cycles, so you don’t have to wait to add your fish
- Excellent for tanks containing saltwater and coral
- Not suitable for takes with high flow rate or wave-makers
- Not for freshwater tanks
6. Stoney River White Aquatic Sand Freshwater and Marine Aquariums
As you may have noticed, most aquarium sand is either for freshwater or saltwater but rarely both. This sand is perfect for use in either kind of tank. It is designed to balance the pH level in the water and has a non-toxic coating for your bottom feeders.
The coating is also soft, so fish that like to drift along the substrate won’t get hurt. You will also notice that the sand is “live,” meaning it encourages the growth of plants while reducing toxins in the water.
- Inert—doesn’t change the chemistry of your tank
- Perfect for smaller tanks
- Fine grain that reduces cloudiness
- Does not form air pockets
- Rich white color that looks great in all kinds of tanks
- May need to rinse the sand before adding to your tank
- Not completely sand (contains some gravel)
7. Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand
There are aquarists who pass up the chance to use sand in their freshwater aquariums because their live plants don’t always take to the substrate. However, they often underestimate the usefulness of black aquarium sand, like the kind from Imagitarium.
This sand is ideal for freshwater tanks with live plants, since it acts more like soil than dirt. The sand is smooth to the touch and is chemically inert. It will also promote healthy bacteria growth.
- Ideal for shrimp tanks and aquariums with lots of plants
- Accelerates waste breakdown
- Reduces amount of toxins and debris in the water
- Helps aquarium plants grow more easily
- Will not alter pH, alkalinity, or hardness
- May create air pockets at first, but give it time to settle
- Needs rinsing prior to use
8. Caribsea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand
Here is a product that is truly alive, because it comes jam-packed with heterotrophic, autotrophic, and chemolithotrophic marine bacteria that are naturally beneficial to the health of any marine aquarium.
The millions of bacteria work to improve cycling, suppress waste production, and generally reduce the need for continuous maintenance. This product is considered the best aquarium sand in terms of biological filtration and reducing ammonia build up.
- Biologically complete – contains millions of marine bacteria that will enhance biological filtration
- Aragonite is both functional and aesthetically pleasing in marine aquariums
- Helps maintain ideal pH levels
- Discourages algae growth
- Reduces waste and cleans ammonia
- Cycles faster than other sand substrate
- Some bags arrive a little dry
9. Fairmount Santrol AquaQuartz Silica Sand
A wonderful choice in silica sand is Fairmount Santrol’s AquaQuartz. This sand is for either pools or aquariums, primarily freshwater tanks. It is designed to filter out anything—dust, oil, leaves, algae, among other things.
The sand also doesn’t clump or clog filters. It is odorless, chemically inert, and contains no trace chemicals. Though the grain size is fine, it is also heavy and does not get swept up for the tank’s current.
- Ecologically safe pool filter sand
- Ideal for cleaning up tanks that get dirty fast
- Will not change the pH level of your tank
- Does not clog filters
- Requires rinsing to bring out the true color
- Not for marine tanks
10. Up Aqua Aquarium Shrimp Sand
There are many examples of substrate that stars to decompose over time, becoming toxic to the tank. If you want to avoid that issue, Up Aqua has the aquarium sand for you.
Not only does it last for a long time, it will lower pH levels to 6.5-7.0 and keep it there. Also, this sand does not cloud water. Another notable feature of this sand is that it is perfect for tanks containing snails and frogs. If you have an unorthodox addition to your tank, this may be the best aquarium sand for you.
- Grain size is small and uniform
- Ideal for shrimp tanks—contains vital minerals for shrimp to thrive
- Helps promote ideal breeding conditions
- Decreases the chance of ammonia spikes
- Some plants will “walk” out of the substrate if the current is too strong
- Not really black in color
How To Choose The Best Aquarium Sand For Your Tank
Choosing the best aquarium sand is more involved than you might think; but that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Now that you have seen some of the best options available, it’s time to consider various factors so you can choose the one that will match your aquarium. Here is what to look for:
Not every bag of sand you find on the market is going to be applicable for freshwater and saltwater aquariums. You need to select the sand that is made for the water, plants, and the fish in the tank. Be sure to read the product description so you don’t make a mistake. Consider the ingredients of the sand, the grain (fine or coarse), and other things to make a choice.
Although price is often what people are preoccupied with, you should do some cost comparisons. Some brands are more expensive than others because of the quality of the sand. However, if you find that two brands are similar but one is far cheaper, go with the more budget-friendly option.
Many aquarists have a preferred brand that they trust wholeheartedly. If you are new to keeping fish, then it is best to do some research on the top brands for aquarium sand. Learn a little about the brands, their mission, and how other hobbyists review their products. Then, look at a couple of brands side-by-side to see which one matches your needs.
Bacteria and pH Level
More experienced aquarists know the horror of a sudden shift in pH level. Sometimes, the sand you buy is not neutral—and the results can be disastrous. Always purchase sand that has a neutral pH. Similarly, you need a sand that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria. You need bacteria in your tank, because they work to remove waste, nitrates, and other toxins that could hurt your fish and plants.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sand As Substrate
Here are some other questions you might find yourself thinking:
Can Sand From Outside Be Used In My Aquarium?
At the end of the day, you really should use sand that was designed for aquariums. You don’t want to go dredging up sand from a playground or from a riverbed or the ocean. The main reason for this is cleanliness.
You never know what is growing in sand picked up from random locations. There could be harmful bacteria and microorganisms that will upset the balance of your fish tank. The safest option is to go with aquarium sand, not playground or pool sand or anything else.
How Much Aquarium Sand Per Gallon?
There are different ways to figure this out, but the typical route is to add 1 pound of sand per gallon (or 0.45 kg per gallon). So, if you have a 10 gallon fish tank, you need about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of sand. Also, keep in mind that if you have plants, you need about 3 inches of sand for the root system to establish itself.
Don’t worry if the sand looks to be too much when you first add it. Sand generally takes about 3 days to settle and compact down.
How Do You Maintain Aquarium Sand?
Aquarium sand is a bit more work than gravel substrate, since you have to actively clean it. The best way to maintain your aquarium sand is to vacuum once a week. Remove as much waste as you can. Also, make sure you have some bottom feeding fish and a decent filtration unit.
There you are—a complete buyer’s guide to help you find the best aquarium sand. Now, you should be able to figure out from the examples provided which sand would be great for your tank. Remember to look at the contents of the sand to confirm whether it can support your tank’s environment. If you do that, you can find a budget-friendly option that will look beautiful.