7 Best Aquarium Sands – Reviews & Buying Guide

Best Aquarium Sand

Many aquarists use a certain type of substrate in their tanks, with the most common ones being gravel, rocks, soil, marble, and sand. Some even mix these substrates so as to build up a blended bottom layer to support different kinds of plant and fish.

However, there are some benefits to using sand as a substrate and these probably make it the best type to use.

For instance, sand is very clean as compared to gravel because it does not have large cavities that allow waste to build up inside. Sand is also very common in most of the natural habitats of fish and thus, it is natural for them.  

Because of such reasons, it is important to consider sand as your tank’s substrate and this article looks at the best aquarium sand, with the aim of helping you find the most suitable one for your tank.

You can also read other product reviews such as substrate for planted tank, substrate for betta

7 Best Aquarium Sands – Reviews

Product Name

Image

​Features/Benefits

Rating

Current Price

1. Caribsea Aquatics Super Natural Aquarium Sand


Caribsea Aquatics Super Natural Aquarium Sand

Versatile aquarium sand that is pH neutral and can be used in both fresh and saltwater tanks

4.2

2. Carib Sea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand

Carib Sea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand

Biologically and mineralogically complete aquarium sand that contains beneficial marine bacteria and minerals that support coral growth

4.7

3. Nature's Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Aquarium Sand

Nature's Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Aquarium Sand

Affordable aquarium sand that is 100% ocean sand and contains a lot of live marine bacteria for helping in biological filtration

4.3

4. Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Black Aquarium Sand

Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Black Aquarium Sand

Expensive aquarium sand that is black in color, very inert and can be used in fresh and saltwater tanks

3.4

5. CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete Aquarium Sand

CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete Aquarium Sand

Eco-complete aquarium sand that raises the water pH level to support the keeping of African Cichlids

3.8

6. Stoney River White Premium Aquarium Sand

Stoney River White Premium Aquarium Sand

White aquarium sand that does not affect the pH level of the water and has a non-toxic coating that will not harm your livestock

3.6

7. Seachem Flourite Black Aquarium Sand

Seachem Flourite Black Aquarium Sand

Porous clay gravel substrate that has the nutrient to support plant growth and is porous enough to support plant root structures.

3.4

1. Caribsea Aquatics Super Natural Aquarium Sand

Our pick for the best aquarium sand

Editor's Rating: (4.2 / 5)

Caribsea Aquatics Super Natural Aquarium Sand

Caribsea Aquatics’ aquarium sand is ideal for use in both fresh and saltwater tanks and this versatility is possible because the sand re-creates a very natural home and experience for all kinds of water animals.

Another reason for the product’s versatility is that it is pH neutral. This means it does not affect the chemical composition of the water, which might negatively affect your livestock. Additionally, the sand contains no paints or dyes and thus, it is purely natural.

The product is available in multiple colors, which include amazon, crystal river, sunset gold, torpedo beach, peace river, and Tahitian moon. These options make it possible to match your aquarium color with your interior’s décor for better aesthetics.

In terms of use, a ratio of 1 – 2 pounds of sand per gallon of water is recommended, which means that this 20-pound bag is suitable for at most a 20-gallon tank. The product is also available in a 5- and 50-pound bag for aquarists with Nano or big tanks.

On the downside, the sand needs to be rinsed beforehand or else it will cause cloudiness in the tank. It is also not very ideal for supporting plant growth.

Pros:

  • Ideal for use in both fresh and saltwater aquariums
  • pH neutral
  • Contains no paints or dyes
  • Available in multiple colors
  • Comes in a 5, 20- or 50-pound bag

Cons:

  • Not suitable for heavy plant growth
  • May cause cloudiness if not properly rinsed

2. Carib Sea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand

Best aquarium sand for growing corals

Editor's Rating: (4.7 / 5)

Carib Sea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand

This Carib Sea’s product it a top-rated aquarium sand because it has a biologically and mineralogically complete formula that is supportive of beneficial bacteria and coral growth.

Biologically, Arag Alive contains millions of specially selected marine bacteria, which are included to deal with the new tank syndrome by helping suppress ammonia levels. This basically means that the sand helps in biological filtration.

In the process, this also helps discourage the growth of nuisance algae by creating a biological balance inside the tank

Mineralogically, this sand holds a lot of calcium and carbonates, which are essential elements that support the growth of corals. A combination of this and the biological filtration properties make it ideal for use in saltwater reef tanks.

These minerals, however, raise the pH level to about 8.2, which might not be good for fish that prefer more neutral waters. However, this level is generally very conducive for coral growth.

For installation, it is recommended to use 1 pound of the sand per 1 gallon of water, which means this 20-pound bag should be used on at most a 20-gallon tank. If you want a deeper bed, you can increase this ratio to 2 pounds per gallon and still get the same performance.

Pros:

  • Biologically and mineralogically complete formulation
  • Contains marine bacteria that help in biological filtration
  • Discourages the growth of algae
  • Contains minerals that support reef growth
  • Comes in a 20-pound bag

Cons:

  • Slightly alters the pH level
  • Not ideal for freshwater tanks

3. Nature's Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Aquarium Sand

Best aquarium sand for the money

Editor's Rating: (4.3 / 5)

Nature's Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Aquarium Sand

Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ aquarium sand is the most affordable product in this review but this does not mean it is a low-quality product. The low price is actually as a result of its small packaging, in which it comes in a 10-pound bag.

The sand is harvested from the ocean, which means it is 100% natural. This helps create an environment for your saltwater animals that is very close to their natural habitat. By being natural, it prevents biofouling and thus, algae and other microorganisms will not grow on it.

In terms of contents, the pack contains a ton of live marine bacteria in the ratio of at least 10,000,000 per pound and this ensures that it stabilizes your tank in a very short time by boosting the biological filtration process.

As a result, you can add your fish immediately after adding the sand to your aquarium because it starts breaking down ammonia and nitrites instantly; no waiting is required.

Inside the tank, the bio-activ sand maintains a proper pH that is ideal for a saltwater environment and thus, creates a very conducive habitat for your saltwater fish as well as reefs.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • 100% natural ocean sand
  • Prevents biofouling
  • Contains a very high number of marine bacteria for biological filtration
  • Maintains a proper pH for supporting saltwater fish and reefs

Cons:

  • Not for use in freshwater tanks
  • Comes in a small 10-pound bag

4. Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Black Aquarium Sand

Best black aquarium sand

Editor's Rating: (3.4 / 5)

Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Black Aquarium Sand

Carib Sea’s sand is the most expensive product in this review but it comes in a 20-pound bag and is very versatile in terms of use. This basically means it can be used in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

As the name suggests, the sand is black in color and this gives it the benefit of providing a great color contrast to the fish or other animals that you keep in your tank.

In terms of contents, this Tahitian moon black sand is very inert, which means it lacks the nutrients for supporting both plant or coral growth.

On the bright side this inertness means that it does not affect the pH level in the water and therefore, it can be used as a substrate for most types of fish. Additionally, it contains no paints or dyes and a lack of these means that it does not contaminate the water in any way.

Pros:

  • Ideal for both fresh and saltwater use
  • Black color makes it provide a good background contrast to your fish
  • Does not affect the pH of the water
  • Contains no paints or dyes
  • Comes in a 20-pound bag

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Not ideal for growing plants

5. CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete Aquarium Sand

Ideal aquarium sand for African Cichlids

Editor's Rating: (3.8 / 5)

CaribSea Aquatics Eco-Complete Aquarium Sand

CaribSea Aquatics’ is an eco-complete aquarium substrate, meaning that it is mineralogically and biologically complete.

On minerals, this sand contains Aragonite, which raises the water pH level to a point where the water is conducive for African Cichlids. This mineral is also responsible for maintaining the pH at a high level and thus, there’s no need of adding any chemicals to do this task.

Other than that, magnesium, calcium, and carbonate are also included in the substrate, and these support fish and coral growth, while its dark color brings out the best coloration in the fish.

Biologically, live water purifying bacteria are included in the sand and they help in the biological filtration process by getting rid of ammonia and nitrites. They also create a biological balance that discourages the growth of algae.

An important thing to note is that when adding the sand into the tank for first use, it should not be rinsed because this may cause it to lose some of its minerals and biological benefits. However, this means that it may cause some cloudiness, although this usually settles is a day or two.

Pros:

  • Mineralogically and biologically complete substrate
  • Supports Africa Cichlids due to high pH levels
  • Dark color brings out the best coloration in fish
  • Contains beneficial bacteria that help in biological filtration
  • Does not require rinsing

Cons:

  • Not conducive for other types of fish because of high pH levels
  • Causes some cloudiness on first use

6. Stoney River White Premium Aquarium Sand

Best aquarium sand for a small tank

Editor's Rating: (3.6 / 5)

Stoney River White Premium Aquarium Sand

Stoney River’s aquarium sand comes in a very small pack of only 5 pounds and this makes it suitable for use in small tanks (Nano aquariums).

The substrate is white in color and although this does not bring out the best coloration in fish, it brings out a natural ocean-like bedding, which recreates a familiar and conducive habitat for saltwater fish.

In terms of chemical composition, this aquarium sand is mostly composed of silica, which is very neutral and thus, it does not alter the pH level of the water. This means it is suitable for use in both freshwater and marine tanks.

Additionally, the product has a non-toxic coating and this means it is very harmless in the sense that it does not alter the chemical composition of the water or contaminate it. This makes it one of the best white aquarium sand substrates.

Pros:

  • White color recreates an ocean-like environment that is conducive for saltwater fish
  • Composed of silica, which does not alter the pH level of the water
  • Suitable for use in both fresh and saltwater tanks
  • A non-toxic coating makes it harmless to the fish

Cons:

  • Comes in a small 5-pound bag
  • White color does not enhance the coloration of fish

7. Seachem Flourite Black Aquarium Sand

Best aquarium sand for planted tanks

Editor's Rating: (3.4 / 5)

Seachem Flourite Black Aquarium Sand

Flourite sand is basically porous clay gravel and this means that Seachem’s aquarium sand is a very good substrate for supporting plant growth in freshwater tanks.

The product is most effective when used alone as it contains all the nutrients to support heavy plant growth and is porous enough to support the plant root structure for long-term success in planted aquariums.

However, it can still be mixed with other gravels but it is important to note that whether mixed or not, this Flourite black sand is good for the entire life of the aquarium. It does not require changing from time to time and this makes it the best freshwater aquarium sand.

In addition to this, the substrate is not coated or treated by any chemical and thus, it does not alter the pH level of the water.

The only issue with the product is that it comes in a 15.4-pound bag, which is not that small but will give you a smaller coverage per gallon of water as compared to the 20-gallon bag substrates that are available for the same price range.

Pros:

  • Contains the nutrients to support plant growth
  • Porous enough to support the root structure of plants
  • Can be used on its own or when mixed with other gravels
  • Does not require to be changed for the entire lifetime of the aquarium
  • Does not alter the water’s pH level

Cons:

  • Not suitable for saltwater aquariums
  • Comes in a small 15.4-pound bag

Sand vs. Gravel

Sand and gravel are the most common types of substrates that are used in both fresh and saltwater aquariums. However, there are some differences between the two, with each type having its own pros and cons

Gravel

Large gravel grains may allow fish food and other kinds of waste to fall in between their cavities and rot to produce toxic compounds.

However, these cavities allow water to flow through, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria in anaerobic zones.

The other benefit of having gravel as a substrate is that the grains are usually too large to be sucked into filters or vacuums and thus, they make the task of maintenance much easier.

Sand

Sand, on the other hand, works best if you have fish that like to burrow inside such as African Cichlids. By doing this, the fish will help get rid of the anaerobic dead zones that might otherwise harbor harmful bacteria.

The advantage with sand, however, is that it does not allow food and waste to penetrate and settle inside and thus, toxic compounds from rotting substances won’t exist inside this substrate. 

How to Buy the Best Aquarium Sand

How to Buy the Best Aquarium Sand

#1. Types of Aquarium Sand

There are 3 main types of sand that you can choose from. These are:

Play Sand: Play sand is the most common type of aquarium sand. It is non-toxic and this ensures that it does not harm your fish as they burrow inside.

An important thing to note is that when choosing play sand, ensure that it does not have high levels of clay content in it. If it does, once the fish start playing around with the sand, it will make the water very murky and cloudy and this will complicate the maintenance process.

Pool Sand: Pool sand is usually white in color and has very uniform grains that create a very nice top layer for aesthetic purposes.

This type is also usually free of contaminants and thus, if you don’t mind the white color, this will work for you.

However, white sand does not bring out the best colors in fish and thus, you should expect some dull looking fish due to the reduced background contrast.

Specialty Sand: Specialty sand is the best type of aquarium sand that you can buy because it is specially made for this job. It is non-toxic, free of contaminants, has uniform grain sizes and most importantly, it won’t affect the pH level of your aquarium water. However, this type is quite expensive.

#2. Compatibility with Aquarium

Aquariums can either contain freshwater or saltwater. Aquarium sand substrates are usually specific to the type of aquarium water that they are compatible with.

If you have a freshwater fish tank, it is better to buy sand that is meant for freshwater use. The same case applies to saltwater fish tanks.

However, there are those products that can be used in both types of aquariums and thus, if you have the idea of switching from fresh to saltwater or vice versa, such a substrate is the best one to buy.

#3. Grain Size

Grain size plays a crucial role in the way that you can use your substrate. Very small grain sizes such as those in clay can support plant growth because they are firm, yet porous enough to allow roots to penetrate. However, cleaning these grains is very difficult.

Large grain sizes are easier to maintain because filters or vacuums cannot suck in the grains and thus, dirt can be easily reached from cavities in between the grains. However, plants cannot do well in such a substrate.

Therefore, if you intend to grow plants, the clay type of grains is the best option but the large grains are the best for easy maintenance.

#4. pH Level

The pH level is important to consider because of the animals and plants that reside in the tank. An aquarium sand that raises or lowers the pH level from the neutral point (around 7), might affect the life inside the tank.

Therefore, it is important to be cautious about this. Again, there are certain fish such as African Cichlids that prefer a high pH. For such, you should get the type of sand that raises the pH and maintains it at a high level.

FAQs

#1. How much aquarium sand is required per gallon?

As a general rule of thumb, you require about 1 pound of aquarium sand per gallon of water. However, this might change depending on the tank bed depth that you want.

Planted tanks might require more sand for growing their root structures and thus, more substrate will be required per gallon.

#2. How do I Add Sand to An Established Aquarium?

For an established tank, it is important not to disturb the water or make it cloudy and thus, you need to scoop the sand using a container, then dump it at the bottom of the aquarium by dipping the container into the water and taking it all the way down before dumping.

#3. How do I Clean the Sand for Aquariums?

First, you should scoop all of it out of the aquarium and place it in a bucket. Fill the bucket with water and stir it continuously so that the water can reach the far depths of the sand.

After this, you will see dirt and debris floating around while the sand settles at the bottom. Pour out the water containing this dirt and repeat the process until the water is left clean after stirring.

Conclusion

This clearly shows you that you cannot just buy any type of aquarium sand and use it as a substrate in your tank. There are certain factors that you need to consider.

By going through this article, you will find some of the best aquarium sand substrates that you can choose from, and a guide that will help you get a good bed for your fish, plants or both.

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