Do you have betta fish or are thinking of getting some?
Betta are some of the most mesmerizing fish to own, but taking care of them requires thoughtful consideration of the substrate you choose for their tank.
Some substrates won’t benefit your fish as much as others, while some can be downright dangerous. That’s why I put together this complete buyers’ guide to the best substrate for betta to lessen the confusion you may have about this topic.
I discuss the purpose of aquarium substrate, what bettas prefer, detail the top substrates that won’t harm your fish, and disclose which substrates you should avoid.
By the end, you’ll be able to take your knowledge and purchase the ideal substrate for your betta tank and enjoy watching your fish live a healthy, happy life!
What Is The Purpose of Aquarium Substrate?
Aquarium substrate is the material you use to line the bottom of your aquarium, but its decorative value is not the primary purpose of putting it in your tank.
The substrate aids in keeping water pH levels in balance, helps filter or hold tank debris and fish waste between cleanings, and be a base for anchoring live or plastic aquarium plants.
Why are specific substrates better for bettas than others?
Bettas do best when their environment matches closely to their natural home of rice paddies, marshes, and streams. Plants and water cleanliness are vital in helping betta thrive when you place them into their new fish tank home.
Making it comfortable for your fish should take priority over your decorative desires. Luckily, you can find a substrate that is not only beneficial for the betta but also suits your style.
Betta like plenty of plants to hide in, so using a suitable substrate to support this type of habitat is essential for the overall well-being of your fish and tank. While bettas can survive in an aquarium without plants, why not give them what they love?
Lastly, substrate harbors the good bacteria that a tank needs to break down nitrates, ammonia, and nitrogen in the water that can harm your fish.
The Best Substrate for a Betta Tank
Next, I provide details on the many substrates that are safe for betta tanks, along with the benefits and disadvantages of each type to help you determine the right one for your needs.
Gravel is the classic choice for betta tank substrate and is proven to be safe for fish when you tend to the tank properly.
Betta health: Great, since gravel filters waste and can hold beneficial live plants.
Maintenance: Easy. A good gravel vacuum makes quick work of substrate cleanings.
Holds live plants: Yes, plants stay secure and grow well in a gravel base.
Color options: Excellent amount of colors to choose from.
Enthusiasts favor gravel as the best substrate for betta for more than the myriad of color options.
All debris from plants and fish waste fall into the cracks in the gravel and hold it in place until you vacuum. A good gravel vacuum makes this task quick and straightforward.
Gravel is weighty enough to anchor live plants if you make sure you bury them well, so your fish have places to hide and can reap the benefits live plants add to the tank environment.
Sand is a top choice for substrate in a betta tank because it closely resembles the natural environment the fish live
Betta health: Great, betta do well in a sand substrate, especially with live plants.
Maintenance: Medium. Vacuuming the surface without sucking up the sand takes practice.
Holds live plants: Yes, plants hold well if the sand substrate is deep enough.
Color options: Adequate enough to let your personality show.
High-quality aquarium sand should be free of any dyes or chemicals that change the pH balance in the water.
Bettas do well with sand substrates because the material is soft, does a good job holding waste on top of the compact surface for easy vacuum removal, and can hold live plants.
Sand may be too loose to hold some plants in place, so the addition of a few tank-safe rocks around the base of the plant may be necessary.
Sand is best for large tanks since the frequent water changes in smaller aquariums will quickly reduce the amount of sand, as it’s challenging to prevent the tiny particles from washing down the drain.
Going without any substrate is another option that is safe for bettas, but has a few drawbacks.
Betta health: Okay for most fish, but males may have issues.
Maintenance: Quick and easy to vacuum up the bottom or change the water.
Holds live plants: Only betta-safe floating plants will work.
Color options: None.
For those with small tanks, no substrate makes it easy to clean and provides more swimming space for your fish. It also makes it easy to see any fry if you are breeding your betta.
Without substrate, you’ll also not have to worry about material that could catch and tear their fins.
The biggest issue with bypassing the substrate is that the bottom of the tank can be reflective, which means bettas may see themselves and perceive it as a threat, especially male Siamese fighting fish. The fish may flare up or attack their reflection and cause injury.
Another disadvantage of choosing to skip a substrate is that the water can build up too much ammonia from fish waste if you don’t add any live floating plants to offset this issue.
Flat marbles made for fish tank substrates are safe for bettas but do have disadvantages over sand or gravel substrates.
Betta health: Fine, it’s not the best but not the worst either.
Maintenance: Traps more debris, but easy to clean during water changes.
Holds live plants: Yes, if the marbles are deep enough.
Color options: Plentiful enough to find one that makes your fish stand out.
Marbles in betta tanks cut down on time necessary to keep the tank clean. The spaces between the marbles is also an excellent breeding ground for baby bettas if you plan to breed the fish.
The gaps between the marbles catch a considerable amount of debris, keeping the waste at the bottom of the tank. The issue is that you can see this waste accumulation, and will need to clean the tank more often to keep it looking neat.
The good news is that cleaning the marbles is quick, with no loss of material in the process. Many people enjoy the look of marbles, but they do create an unnatural aesthetic in the tank that can turn others off.
In reality, marbles are best for smaller tanks without plants. While you can anchor live plants using marbles, the layer must be deep to hold the roots secure.
In large tanks, the marble substrate makes it difficult to vacuum without continually fighting the large marbles from impeding suction.
Betta love hiding in live plants, and the best way to help plants thrive is by using soil substrate. You can leave the soil as the only base, or choose to cover it with a decorative layer of sand or gravel.
Betta health: Excellent for overall tank balance, which increases betta health.
Maintenance: High level of care necessary for dosing fertilizer and cleanings.
Holds live plants: Yes, root-feeding plants do best in soil substrate.
Color options: Poor. Soil substrate comes only in shades of brown/black.
An excellent soil substrate offers minerals to aid in vigorous plant growth, and also microorganisms that assist in breaking down fish waste and converting it into plant food.
Following directions carefully when using soil substrate is critical, as it’s possible to raise the tank pH to dangerous levels. Test your water frequently, and use a neutralizer when necessary.
Maintaining a tank with lots of plants requires care to keep the tank in balance.
Many people who use a soil substrate find they do not need to vacuum the base of their tank, as the waste settles and dissolves in the soil, where the plant roots gobble it up.
What Substrates to
Some substrates leach out minerals or have other negative impacts on your tank, which can end up harming or killing your betta.
Avoid using coral sand. The calcium carbonate material in coral sand dissolves over time and decreases the acidity of the water, which is terrible for betta fish.
You should also never use stones found outside, play sand, or sand from a beach since it harbors bacteria and chemicals that could cause algae to bloom or otherwise taint the water.
Another substrate to avoid is crushed rock or glass, which have jagged edges that can tear the delicate fins of your betta.
The best substrate for betta combines efficient waste filtering, a place to secure plants, and interesting colors. The information this guide provides can help you select the ideal substrate for your betta tank so it can live in a healthy environment while keeping maintenance needs to a minimum.
The right substrate can also highlight the colors of your betta and increase the visual impact your tank brings to your space. By following the tips in this betta substrate buyers’ guide, you can increase the enjoyment of your betta tank for both you and your fish!