Organic Fish Tank With Gravel

Top 4 Best Aquarium Sand in 2020 (Detailed Buyer’s Guide)

Aquarium substrate plays an important role in your tank. Not only does it provide beneficial bacteria with a large surface space to grow on, but it’s also necessary for certain species of fish.

Aquarium sand is ideal for bottom dwelling fish as it allows them to burrow and forage for food. Additionally, gravel can be too rough for fish like corydoras, so sand is a much better option. 

There is a lot you need to consider before putting sand in your tank, as there are a few issues that can arise from using it. 

To make sure you don’t experience any problems with using this type of substrate in your tank, I’ve provided you with everything you need to know about aquarium sand. I’ve also reviewed a number of aquarium sands if you’re looking for recommendations.

After considering all the options our top picks were…

Results Summary

Best All-Rounder

CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

Affordable and high quality. It comes in a variety of natural colors to help replicate a more organic habitat for your tank.

CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

Out of all the aquarium sands I’ve reviewed, this is my overall recommendation.

The CaribSea aquarium sand comes in a variety of natural colors to help replicate an organic habitat for your fish. It features soft and fine granules, which makes it beneficial for bottom dwelling fish. In addition, the sand is PH neutral and contains no dyes or paints.

Best on a Budget

CaribSea Aragonite Aquarium Sand

The sand is made up of soft, small grains that make it ideal for bottom dwelling fish and invertebrates. Its smooth texture makes it easy for your tank’s inhabitants to dig and burrow in.

CaribSea Aragonite Aquarium Sand

This sand is the best option for aquarists on a smaller budget but looking for a quality product.

This aragonite aquarium sand is ideal for saltwater, reef, and African cichlid setups. It raises PH and water hardness, so it’s great for aquariums that require higher levels of these two parameters. The grains are smooth and small to make it suitable for bottom dwelling fish.

Editor’s Choice

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand

A fantastic option for your aquarium. It can be used in freshwater and saltwater tanks. It helps simulate a natural environment for your fish and can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand

My personal favorite aquarium sand. It’s a little pricey but will look great in any aquarium. 

The black sand from Imagitarium is suitable for freshwater and saltwater tanks. Its dark color makes it the perfect substrate for black water and natural aquariums. Unlike light-colored sand, dirt or debris won’t look as visible keeping your talk looking cleaner and healthier.

Benefits of Using Sand 

There are a number of advantages to using sand instead of gravel, as it’s healthier for certain species of fish and will keep your tank looking nicer for longer.

it’s healthier for certain species of fish and will keep your tank looking nicer for longer…

Firstly, sand is much easier to clean than gravel because there’s less space for dirt or debris to build up. As the space between pieces of gravel is very large, uneaten food or waste can easily get trapped. Over time, this debris will break down and rot, which can affect the quality of your tank water.

For the most part, dirt tends to stay at the top of sand and can easily be picked up by your filter, provided it has good suction.

Better for Some Species

Another key benefit of sand over gravel is for species of fish that originate from muddy/sandy or slit substrate waters. These types of fish like to dig or burrow in the substrate, which is easier for them to do in sand. Bottom dwelling fish such as corydoras or plecos do best in sandy substrates for this reason. 

Not only is sand easier for these species to dig through, but it’s also much safer for them. Corydoras, in particular, have delicate barbels near their mouths that they use to scavenge for food. Rough or sharp substrate like gravel can damage these barbels, which can impact their ability to search for food. 

TIP

If you own any bottom dwellers in your tank, sand is a better and safer alternative to gravel. Besides, it’s much easier to clean and looks more natural.

White Sand
White Sand

Types of Sand for Aquariums 

Although you might not think it, there are a few different varieties of sand you can use in your fish tank. In addition to standard aquarium sand, you might be surprised to know that you can also use pool filter sand and play sand for fish! 

Play Sand

Play sand or playground sand is exactly what its name suggests. It’s the type of sand that is designed for children to play in. This kind of sand is less coarse and finer than “normal” sand. It’s also gone through specific processes to make it safe for children.

Fortunately, play sand is perfectly safe to use in your aquarium. It isn’t usually too expensive and should be available at most toy stores.

Pool Sand

If you don’t mind the white color of pool sand, then it’s a good choice for your aquarium. It’s a better option then playground sand as it’s made up of more uniform particles, which creates a better surface area. Like with all types of sand, make sure you clean it before you add it to your tank. 

Speciality Sand

Specialty sand is made especially for aquariums. It has a neutral PH and comes in a plethora of colors, which allows for a lot of creativity when it comes to designing your tank. The only downside with this type of sand is that it can be pricey. 

Gravel Versus Sand

Both gravel and sand each have their positives and negatives. In most freshwater tanks, gravel is normally recommended, but a lot comes down to personal preference. As I mentioned earlier in the article, if you own certain species of fish like corydoras or plecos, then sand is the safer choice over gravel.

Let’s take a look at the advantages of using gravel in your tank… 

Aquarium Gravel
Aquarium Gravel

The Benefits of Gravel…

One of the biggest benefits of using gravel is it allows for ample water flow to seep through it. This prevents the build of toxic gas pockets and bacteria. Unfortunately, with sand, these are common occurrences, which means you have to stir up the substrate regularly.

One of the biggest benefits of using gravel is it allows for ample water flow to seep through it…

Another positive with gravel is that it is a safer choice for goldfish. As you might already know, goldfish are messy and greedy eaters. If sand is used in a goldfish tank, then there’s a high risk of the fish accidentally consuming it. This can be very harmful and can lead to an intestinal blockage.

With gravel, you don’t need to worry about this happening as goldfish won’t be able to fit the rocks inside their mouths.

Finally, due to the fine particles sand is made up of, it’s very easy for it to get inside your filter. Over time, this can clog up the motor and affect its performance. Gravel is a lot heavier than sand, so it’s very unlikely for it to get sucked up by your filter.

However, there are a few negatives with using gravel…. 

The Disadvantages of Gravel…

For one, debris and bits of waste can easily get trapped between the substrate. If you don’t clean your gravel regularly, this debris can break down and rot, which can severely affect the quality of your water. 

NOTE

Bad water quality is one of the most common causes of poor health in fish, so it’s crucial you keep your water sparkling clean.

In comparison, debris typically stays on the top layer of sand. This makes it very easy for your filter to suck it up and cuts down on maintenance.

Although gravel is safer for goldfish, it’s not recommended for bottom dwelling fish. Species like corydoras benefit from sand as it allows them to easily burrow and scavenge for food. There’s also no risk of them damaging their barbels, which they require for foraging.

Lastly, if you’re going for a natural aesthetic in your aquarium, sand is a better option than gravel. In addition to looking more natural, it’s usually preferred by most live plants.

Yellow Fish Swimming Above Aquarium Substrate
Yellow Fish Swimming Above Aquarium Substrate

How to Choose the Right Sand for Your Aquarium 

Choosing the right sand for your aquarium isn’t as black and white as it might seem. There are a few factors you need to consider, so I’ve provided you with some useful points to keep in mind to help you pick the best sand for you and your fish!

Sand Type

If you own specific species of fish or live plants, then certain types of sand might be more beneficial. Some fish or plants might prefer specialty sand, while others might be fine with play or pool sand.

TIP

Additionally, take a look at the grain size of the sand you want to get, as some bottom dwelling fish might appreciate fine particles to burrow or dig in.

The overall look you want to go for in your aquarium is also important. If you prefer a more natural style, then specialty sand might be a good option as there are a lot of colors to pick from. 

The Price

Specialty sand can be a bit costly, so it might not be a good match if you want a cheap substrate. Playground sand is relatively inexpensive and is very easy to find, making it the best choice for aquarists on a budget.

Grains of Sand
Grains of Sand

Sand Quality

Cheaper brands of aquarium sand are often silica-based. This can cause brown algae outbreaks, which can be difficult to eradicate. Using high-quality sand in an aquarium can prevent this from occurring. 

How Much Aquarium Sand Should I Use?

You should add around a 1-inch to 1.5-inch layer of sand in your aquarium. Be careful not to add too much as this can cause toxic gas pockets to develop. 

How Do You Clean Aquarium Sand?

Cleaning sand is extremely straightforward. Simply pour the sand into a bucket of water and stir it around thoroughly before emptying the liquid out. Repeat this process until the water is no longer cloudy. 

Issues with Sand

Fish tank sand might seem like the winner of all substrates to the point that you might not want to ever use gravel again! However, there are a few issues with using sand that you need to be aware of before you take the plunge.

Toxic Gas Pockets

Pockets of anoxic bacteria can develop in sand, which can give off toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. This can kill your fish, so you need to prevent it from happening.

Pockets of anoxic bacteria can develop in sand, which can give off toxic hydrogen sulfide gas…

Cheap sands that are not uniform in grain size can increase the risk of toxic gas pockets from developing. This is because oxygen can struggle to aerate the entirety of the substrate.

Having a deep layer of sand in your tank can also contribute to hydrogen sulfide for this reason. To prevent toxic gas pockets, make sure you use a good quality sand with a uniform grain size. 

TIP

You should also make sure you stir your sand regularly and thoroughly to allow for ample oxygen to flow through it. Using burrowing species of fish like Kuhli loaches can help aerate sand. Malysian trumpet snails are also a good option.

Clogging Filter

Sand can easily get inside filters, particularly internal filters with an intake tube. This can clog your filter up and affect its efficiency as a result. To rectify this, you can place a nylon stocking (new) over the intake tube to stop it from sucking up the sand. Undergravel filters are not recommended in tanks with sand.

Best Aquarium Sand for Your Tank

Now that you’ve gathered all the information you need to know about using sand in your tank, you’re probably wondering what are the best products that fit you and your aquarium’s needs.

It can be a bit overwhelming looking for aquarium sand recommendations, especially as there are so many options available. To limit your frustration and save you time, I’ve taken a close look at an array of sands to find out the best aquarium sand to use in your tank.

Best All-Rounder

CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

Affordable and high quality. It comes in a variety of natural colors to help replicate a more organic habitat for your tank.

CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

The CaribSea aquarium sand is my overall recommendation as its affordable and high quality. It comes in a variety of natural colors to help replicate a more organic habitat for your tank. 

The granules are soft and fine, which makes it ideal for bottom-dwelling fish. This also makes it easy for fish to dig and forage through.

This sand is PH neutral, so it shouldn’t affect the PH levels in your tank water. Some types of sand can raise the PH and hardness of your aquarium water. A lot of freshwater species prefer low PH levels and soft water, so this can be problematic.

I like that the CaribSea aquarium sand doesn’t have this issue. However, to be on the safe side, keep an eye on your water parameters after adding the sand into your aquarium.

No dyes or paints are used in the sand, which is a bonus! You don’t need to worry about the sand containing any harmful chemicals. 

My only gripe with this aquarium sand is how difficult it is to wash. Even after rinsing it for a long time, the sand can still make your aquarium water look murky and cloudy. 

Specs

  • Packaging Size: 12” x 8” x 10”
  • Shipping Weight: 20.4 lbs
  • Color: Natural
  • Recommended Tank Type: Freshwater

Pros

  • Comes in a variety of natural colors
  • Contains no dyes or paints
  • PH neutral
  • Soft and fine granules

Cons

  • Difficult to wash

Best on a Budget

CaribSea Aragonite Aquarium Sand

The sand is made up of soft, small grains that make it ideal for bottom dwelling fish and invertebrates. Its smooth texture makes it easy for your tank’s inhabitants to dig and burrow in.

CaribSea Aragonite Aquarium Sand

This substrate aquarium sand works best in marine, reef, and african cichlid tanks. This is because it has buffering properties that raise the PH levels in your water. A lot of freshwater fish prefer a habitat with a low PH, so be cautious before using this sand in a tropical setup.

The sand is made up of soft, small grains that make it ideal for bottom dwelling fish and invertebrates. Its smooth texture makes it easy for your tank’s inhabitants to dig and burrow in. 

The sand is white in color, so it could look dirty fairly quickly. This is especially true if you own fish with heavy bio-loads that produce a lot of waste. 

The biggest downside of this sand is its cloudiness. Even after cleaning the sand for an extended period of time, it can still turn your water cloudy. While this doesn’t harm your fish, it can make your tank look unsightly. 

Specs

  • Packaging Size: 1” x 10” x 13”
  • Shipping Weight: 10 lbs
  • Color: White
  • Recommended Tank Type: Saltwater & marine

Pros

  • Ideal for saltwater, marine, or african cichlid setups
  • Smooth and small grains
  • Buffering properties

Cons

  • Could look dirty quickly
  • Can be difficult to remove cloudiness
  • Not the best option for freshwater tanks

Editor’s Choice

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand

A fantastic option for your aquarium. It can be used in freshwater and saltwater tanks. It helps simulate a natural environment for your fish and can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand

This black sand from Imagitarium is a fantastic option for your aquarium. It can be used in freshwater and saltwater tanks.

It helps simulate a natural environment for your fish and can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Due to its dark color, you don’t need to worry about it looking dirty.

I really like using black sand in black water aquariums as they complement one another nicely. I think this one from Imagitarium would look particularly great in natural setups. 

Unfortunately, this black sand can be difficult to wash. It can often still retain some cloudiness even after it has been rinsed thoroughly. 

The sand has been known to raise the PH and hardness of your water, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your PH levels and water hardness after you add it. If you own fish who prefer soft water or a low PH, then Imagitarium black sand might not be the best option. 

Specs

  • Packaging Size: Unknown
  • Shipping Weight: 5 lbs or 20 lbs
  • Color: Black
  • Recommended Tank Type: Saltwater or freshwater

Pros

  • Looks great in natural and black water tanks
  • Can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria
  • Can help simulate a natural environment

Cons

  • Known to raise PH level and water hardness
  • Hard to wash

Stoney River White Aquarium Sand

The aquarium sand from Stoney River is a good choice for either a saltwater or freshwater tank. Its soft and fine granules make it advantageous for bottom dwelling fish like corydoras as it won’t injure their barbels.

Stoney River White Aquarium Sand

The aquarium sand from Stoney River is a good choice for either a saltwater or freshwater tank. Its soft and fine granules make it advantageous for bottom dwelling fish like corydoras as it won’t injure their barbels.

The sand doesn’t affect the PH of your water, which is useful. Some other types can cause the PH of your water to skyrocket. In a freshwater aquarium, this isn’t ideal as most species prefer low PH levels.

This sand has a non-toxic coating, so it won’t hurt your fish. However, this does make the sand very dusty.

In general, the sand is a hassle to wash and can take multiple rinses before it stops making water cloudy. The sand is also prone to floating. 

It’s important to note that the Stoney River aquarium sand is silica-based. This substance won’t harm your fish, but it can contribute to the growth of brown algae. 

Specs

  • Packaging Size: 10” x 7 “ x 1”
  • Shipping Weight: 5 lbs
  • Color: White
  • Recommended Tank Type: Freshwater or marine

Pros

  • Non-toxic coating
  • Neutral PH
  • Very fine grains

Cons

  • Floats
  • Very dusty
  • Silica-based

Conclusion

Here’s a quick recap of all our top picks…

Overall, I think the best aquarium sand to get for your tank is CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand. It comes in an array of natural colors to provide your fish with an organic environment.

I like that the sand doesn’t affect the PH or hardness of your water, which is a problem a lot of other types of aquarium sand get. Despite its affordability, it isn’t silica-based. The majority of cheaper aquarium sands are silica-based which can make brown algae more likely to grow. 

The soft and fine grains of this aquarium sand means it works best for bottom dwelling fish like corydoras. 

One negative with the CaribSea aquarium sand is it can be a bit difficult to wash. Normally, you need to rinse the sand multiple times to make sure it doesn’t get your water cloudy.

Consider Other Great Options

If CaribSea’s natural sand doesn’t appeal to you, then two other great choices to get for your tank are Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand or CaribSea Aragonite Aquarium Sand. 

The latter is very inexpensive but is more suited to saltwater or marine tanks. This is because it raises the PH and hardness in your water. It has fine and smooth granules, but can be a bit time-consuming to wash. It’s also a lovely crisp white color of sand.

The black sand from Imagitarium is also very fine and can slightly affect the hardness and PH levels of your water. However, it’s black color makes it an excellent addition to any black water or natural tank.

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