The Best Aquarium Sand Substrates for your Tank 2020

The gravel, sand or crushed coral that rests on the floor of your aquarium is what we call substrate. Gravel and sand are the two most common substrates found in aquariums.

Best Sand Substrate for your Aquarium Including Live Aragonite

Typically, Sand and ground/crushed coral are for saltwater tanks while gravel (or pebbles or small rocks) are for freshwater tanks.

Reasons to Use Sand as the Substrate in your Aquarium

As mentioned above, sand is mostly used in saltwater tanks. It doesn’t allow water to flow through it in the same way that gravel does. But not to despair about that because with a sand tank, you can get some scavengers that enjoy burrowing and they can help with the substrate filtration.

Another benefit of sand is that it doesn’t have to be changed out as frequently, because of it’s density, it’s less likely old food particles and such can get in between it’s particles. They more have the tendency to rest on the top of the sand whereby with gravel, they can sink under and cause rot.

Many owners also feel that sand better mirrors ocean, river or lake bottoms and makes the tank look more natural.

Why Use Gravel as your Aquarium Substrate?

If you have a freshwater tank, then gravel is probably the right choice for you. One of the reasons gravel is great for your aquarium is that water can flow through it. The water flow is a big benefit because it prevents bacteria and amoebas from accumulating in your substrate. Those are two things which can cause mold accumulation in your tank and make your fish sick. Gravels are also heavier than sand so they generally heavy enough that they won’t get sucked into and clog your filters.

An added benefit is that gravel comes in different colors and you can do the matchy-match thing with your fish!

Top 5 Sand Options for Aquariums 2020

We have worked hard to try to investigate and review the best sand out there that will not only look the best in your aquarium but make your fish happy and healthy as well. There are different options such as aragonite and different colors such as pink or black sand. But we reviewed many and feel we got the best of them below.

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1. Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Sand for Aquariums

Nature's Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand for Aquarium, 10-Pound, Natural White

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This product is collected and packaged in its natural state and environment. Once in your tank, you can simply add your saltwater and fish without having to wait as is the case with some products.

We found it to work best on deep, low flow tanks and not as well on shallow, high flow where the sand can tend to get disturbed. The bags arrive mostly with very fine sand, but the small shells are not a bad look at all.

  • Helps balance out PH levels
  • Looks quite beautiful in most tanks
  • Great for deep tanks and low water flow tanks
  • Very clean look to sand
  • Not for fresh water – only use in saltwater
  • Avoid shallow high-water flow tanks
  • Fogs up water initially but settles fast

2. Stoney River White Aquatic Sand for Freshwater and Marine Aquariums

Stoney River White Aquatic Sand Freshwater and Marine Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag

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This is an aesthetic looking white sand that does not affect your PH levels and is therefore recommended for use in your freshwater tank while also working for your marine aquarium.

We found that while it was very fine, it was not so fine that it caused issues with the vacuum during cleaning and water swap out.

  • No need to wash before use, no cloudiness detected in test
  • Doesn’t affect PH Levels
  • Not as fine as some prefer. While others love it for that reason.
  • Tendency to float

3. Carib Sea Crushed Coral “Sand” for Aquariums

Carib Sea ACS00110 Crushed Coral for Aquarium, 10-Pound

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This is a natural product that can be used both as a textural admixture or as a standalone product. The Carib Sea Coral in reality, isn’t actually crushed, but is just screened down to size. This product helped improve our tank stability significantly.

It’s the only crushed-coral product we have found on the market that has aragonite which gives you more than twenty-five times the buffering ability as other products on the market. We found the price to be quite good for a 10-pound bag.

Tip: Wash it as many times as you need until it becomes clear, then rinse a few more times.

  • Very effective in Helping stabilize PH
  • Looks Great in your tank
  • Great for buffering
  • Lasts a long time in most tanks
  • Initially, you need to rinse VERY well

4. Carib Sea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Fiji Pink Sand

CaribSea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Fiji Pink Sand

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This is a beautiful sand that will impress anyone you show you tank too. Some of the most exotics reefs in the world can now be in your aquarium. This sand helps your tank to stay at the correct pH levels without having to dump tons of chemicals into it endlessly to kill of algae.

This sand is very similar to the powdery sand from a nice beach. It is very fine, but at the same time isn’t so fine that it is going to be constantly unsettled in your tank at the first flow of water or fish movement. The Arag-Alive has millions of bacteria to each pound which by design, reduces waste significantly in your fish-tank.

While it does cloud your aquarium on initial addition, it settles really well. Don’t let the name fool you if you’re expecting a special kind of “pink” like Himalayan salt. This is actually a sandy sand with some pink particles in there. Don’t get us wrong, we like this brand a lot and this product as well. We want to fairly explain the color to people new to this product.

  • Nice color and great sand
  • Millions of beneficial bacteria
  • Comes with seawater, not dry
  • Lots to really love about this sand
  • Not ideal for Freshwater as it will kill the good bacteria

5. Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand – Our Best Dark Colored Sand Pick

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand, 20 LBS

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This is our favorite black sand substrate available on Amazon. It looks good while promoting health bacteria growth in your aquarium. It also helps eliminate debis in your tank that is unhealthy for your fish.

This sand does require some good rinsing before use. If you like black sand for your tank, this is a great option you should certainly consider.

  • Looks good
  • Reasonably priced
  • Promotes healthy bacteria growth
  • Lots to really love about this sand
  • Needs to be well-rinsed to avoid clouding
  • Does float a little initially, but settles great

Final Considerations

With buying the best sand for your tank, here are a few more things worth thinking about.

What does your fish/animal/plant Like?

Let’s face it, there’s what looks nice and there’s also the factor that your pet or plant might have a very strong inclination towards a specific substrate. If you have goldfish, sand is probably a pretty bad idea since they can die from intestinal blockage if they ingest sand. With them, you surely want to go with gravel or small stones/rocks.

But then, there are many cichlid species which must have sand to really do well since they require the sand particles for proper food digestion.

Depending on the type of plants you have in your aquarium, they too have a preference and whether they thrive or struggle depends on whether your tank has sand or gravel. Choosing the correct substrate is essential to the health of your aquarium occupants.

How to Clean or Wash your Aquarium Sand

We all know how important it is to keep our aquariums clean. Cleaning your aquarium’s sand is as simple as:

  • Gently turn over the sand with your fingers causing the debris particles to rise to the top
  • Use a gravel filter/vacuum to suck up the particles by holding it slightly above the sand

That is pretty much all there is to it! Compared to other substrates, cleaning out sand substrate may feel a bit more challenging. This is because the small size of the sand particles put it at risk of being sucked up in the filter or vacuum. We didn’t buy or sand so it could be sucked up in a filter! But with our simple strategy above, you should be all set!

Setting up or Switching Out Your Aquarium Substrate

It’s important to use the correct quantity of substrate when setting up your tank. If you have a bigger sized aquarium, you want to have two inches of sand or three or four inches of gravel. If you have a small or medium tank; an inch of sand or two to three inches of gravel will do.

There’s no need to switch out your aquarium’s substrate on a fixed schedule, but when it starts to get slimy, you’re becoming due.


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