Best Aquarium Sand

Published on August 2, 2019
Best Aquarium Sand

Setting up an aquarium is a tedious task, but for many aquarists, it is a fulfillment to create an underwater landscape out of knowledge, dedication, time, and resources.

The work is not just focused on fish, and aquatic plants for there are many parameters to consider in providing a healthy living condition for various types of species on display.

The light system, filtration, rocks, wood, and decorations are of great concern plus selecting the best aquarium sand in the fish trade.

Why do we use sand in aquariums?

Sand as a substrate is an essential component in setting up your aquarium for it adds aesthetic appeal, not just benefits. This is where the fish sift, play, or burrow. It is also a factor in the growth of your plants and corals.

Know the limits in putting the right amount of sand depending on what type of aquarium you maintain. What is your priority? Your fish, plants, or corals? You want to provide all the living organisms in your tank with the best ecosystem close to their natural habitat.

There’s no problem when you are an experienced aquarist, but if you are a novice, get all the information in choosing the substrate appropriate for the fish and plants you keep. An inch depth of substrate is enough for my fish. However, a planted aquarium needs at least 3 inches of substrate depth to root.

Aquarium Sand vs Gravel?

Both gravel and sand share an equal spotlight to beautify your display. Aquarists will settle for the one that will serve a specific purpose.

Gravel is the right choice because they said the gaps between granules would allow water to flow, thereby reducing microbial growth. Crushed coral is also an option for reef tanks but not for some fish as raises the pH level of the water.

Over these years, fine aquarium sand is a constant favorite because the tight spaces between grains will limit bacterial growth from debris.

You should know the best aquarium sand for your tank inhabitants, and what kind of look you want to display. Would you prefer some gravel, crushed coral, black or white sand, neutral or colored sand for a substrate?

Fish behavior counts in choosing the right substrate for they used to dig and stir into it, mixing the sand, which is a good source of aeration. Just consider the barbels and the delicate fins of your fish, the pH level they are most adapted to, and the behavior they exhibit while on the substrate.

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All the Variations


This is specialty sand that comes in a variety of sizes and colors; some with dye or with epoxy coatings. You want this in your aquarium for decorative purposes.

Filter Sand

You notice that this sand comes in white as its standard color, pre-washed and not expensive. The light particles are in same fine grains that can filter the water, saving you from constant cleaning.

Play Sand

This sand is so beautiful it can float and compact because it has clay contents. Although it comes cheap, I don’t like it with my fish because it’s hard to separate the grains when cleaning.

Why should we use sand?

  • It is natural-looking sand that does not fall far from the natural habitat
  • Sandy environment contributes to breeding
  • Aids in fish digestion as it keeps the fish active
  • For burrowing, playing, sifting and digging purposes
  • Comes in a variety of colors and sizes for added appeal
  • Sand is gentler to the fish
  • Provides biological filtration to combat unwelcomed bacteria
  • Prevents trapping of debris
  • Supports the growth of plants
  • Provides a smoother surface area for the growth of beneficial bacteria
  • Easier to maintain

Top List of Aquarium Sand

For Freshwater

Fairmount Minerals Pool Filter Sand #20 Grade Silica Sand - 50 lbs.

When I was still a novice in this hobby, I opted to try Pool Filter Sand by Fairmount Minerals. I wanted a failsafe and easy to manage sand for my first aquarium ever.

I could find the sand in any LFS and can access its website online. It is not costly for pure and high-grade aquarium sand without the chemicals.

One bag is enough to cover an inch depth of substrate for my 50-gallon aquarium. Its vibrant white color with specks of brown and black that is so natural and refreshing for the eye.

It comes in dense with uniform sizes, 45mm, and 55mm that can settle on the bed. This is what I needed, fine aquarium sand with a filtering property for my big eater fish that give off massive wastes too.

I found out that this sand is perfect for my goldfish that love sifting through sand as the fine sand settles back after they snuffle and dig. This must be the reason this brand is famous among aquarists gaining reviews in flying colors.

Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

I wish for a natural look in my miniature environment. The brand is the best aquarium sand for it did not fail me.

This sand comes in neutral pH in uniform sizes that speaks of benefits more than destruction. It can resist the build-up of detritus on the base that might float on the water surface or stay on the base as a dead zone.

The natural sand maintains the carbonate hardness while being submerged in the water. It’s soft and ideal for fish with barbels and thinner fins.

Its color turned golden brown because of the joint black, taupe, and brown sands. It contributes to making your water will appear as clear as crystal.

Brookstone Sand Net

These are traditional sands you see in sandboxes and sandpits for children play. It is inexpensive but of high quality, toxin-free, and safe for kids.

This makes the sand safe to use for the aquarium as long as you wash it several times before putting in your aquarium. Although the label says “pre-washed,” you still need to make sure they are clean and refreshed.

This brand of sand comes in several colors (blue, purple, yellow, red, and natural), which suits my nano aquarium.

If your kid wants to pet a fish, this sand works excellent for a starter aquarium. Colors will fascinate children and enthusiasts that want a technicolor substrate.

The sands are available in your LFS (a local fish store), hardware, children’s toys department at the mall and online. Its ubiquity is a plus but, what I don’t like in this sand is its tendency to accumulate dirt because its particles can clump and compact. Dirt can stuck up on clogged areas we call “dead zones.”

If you experience this, try to disperse the sands through your hand or a stick. Clumped sand is not suitable for plant growth and will prevent your fish sifting through it.

UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants

I prefer to put this sand for my planted aquarium for a crystal clear view. Some plants and fish I keep can adapt well in low pH level like 6.5pH perfect for this sand

It has a higher quantity of clay ideal for plant growth on the substrate. The fertile soil can hold the plant roots stable.

Although the color fades when it breaks, still you won’t regret buying it because the functionality counts more than appearance.

For others looking for vibrant sand color, they might not like this product considering it fetched a higher price. Think twice, the brand speaks more of quality more than quantity.

For Saltwater

Carib Sea ACS00050 Aragonite Reef Sand 

The dry sand works best in maintaining a good pH level.

Although it can also sit on the freshwater aquarium, it is more suitable for reef and marine tanks, for cichlids,  invertebrates and burrowing fish.

It has a right combination of sands in 1-2mm in size, and coarser grains of crushed shells and corals for a natural-looking substrate. Your fish needs fine aquarium sand to dig, burrow and sift through, while the larger particles can help in filtration and preventing the build-up of detritus.

This one-style aragonite reef sands are free of impurities, more comfortable to maintain with a gravel cleaner, and won’t cause clogging along the line. You can add and mix other sands and gravel to it for added benefits and aesthetic appeal.

Carib Sea ACS00150 Crushed Coral for Aquarium

This substrate contains crushed corals rich in aragonite and calcite.

Since I have installed an under gravel filtration system, this type works well in my aquarium with a reverse-flow bed.

The size of the grains in this 40-pounder single-style dry mix varies between 20mm-555mm. Its aragonite composition blends well with crushed oyster and dolomite for reef and marine tanks.

It is not for sifting fish species that form burrows. However, it suits cichlids, plankton, and invertebrates. For easy maintenance, I picked this out for my marine aquarium.

I like its single style substrate because I am not particular with the looks but for what it can deliver for my corals and marine life. It will take weeks of usage before bacteria form on the bed since this mix is prepared dry.

Nature’s Ocean Bio-Active Reef Sand


If it troubles you with the levels of ammonium and nitrate in your reef or marine aquarium, this live sand mix from Nature’s Ocean is what you need. It spikes up the standard and controls it to maintain the required minerals in the water.

It differs from the rest in the league of best aquarium sand because it preserves its real live sand stature through a sea breathe technology they have innovated (under pending patent)

Each bag of the mix is alive as in “breathing” because its latest technology can preserve the beneficial bacteria of about 1,000 times than the leading technology.

They encapsulate every grain in a thin film that contains the real water from the ocean. This is necessary for gas exchange to prevent the build-up of some metabolic by-products.

Silt comes along in this single-style mix that’s why it’s chalky white. Such is an advantage to boost its buffering capacity.

Since they made it from aragonite, they coat every grain with its live natural bacteria.

I keep a reef tank and already have crushed corals and gravel as substrate, but I can only add some of this sand because the potency of the mix is too strong. It comes in a 20lb-pack of 2, so I could use one and save the other bag when needed.

This exceptional aquarium sand measures a diameter of 1mm or less, which is contrary to its advertised size of 1-2.5mm.

Carib Sea Ocean Direct Substrates

The light tan color of this single-style sand makes it attractive to look at like sands in the white beaches. I recommend this live sand mix from Carib Sea for a starter aquarium to prevent the level of ammonia from spiking.

Since the sands are alive, it keeps beneficial bacteria within the damp mix.

The 40-lb. The Pack comprises two  20-pounder bags that are prepared breathable and lined with ocean water to preserve the living bacteria.

When you include this as a substrate, it regulates cycling because of its alive and chemical-free composition. This will make a quick change for all the fish in your environment.

Including this media will aid in reducing the nitrate level in your tank. This prevents from algae to form, and you now have a healthier and cleaner environment for your fish and plants.

What I don’t like with this sand type is it took several days for it to stabilize before I see a crystal clear view of the water column. The substrate is excellent in texture and not desirable for some of my fish that burrow and sift.

Once it settles, I knew that there are lesser chances of deep layer build-up on the bed if oxygenated. Maintenance could be difficult for the standard-depth aquarium but ideal for tanks with deep sand beds like in public aquariums.

Both Freshwater and Saltwater

Carib Sea ACS00821 Tahitian Moon Sand for Aquarium, 20-Pound, Black

If you want an all-natural composition without artificial coloring, paints, and dye, go for the black sand that will make an excellent contrast to any aquarium.

Tahitian Moon sand by CaribSea is another high-quality sand from the USA with a reasonable price tag.

The neutral pH in this formulation can adapt to both marine/reef tank and freshwater.

If the inhabitants in your aquarium need various pH level, choose fine aquarium sand like this that can neutralize the pH level for all biota in your tank.

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand

If I want a natural ocean, look in my tank, the best aquarium sand that comes in black is the Imagitarium.

It is suitable for freshwater in securing the soil for a planted aquarium and safe for marine tanks like in nano and pico reef aquariums.

It’s a high contrast to rockscape and bright-colored plants. Colorful fish will stand out in this black bedding. The sand is inert and won’t affect your water parameters, hence can even regulate.

This must be your best bet for natural black sand that can provide healthy bacteria in your fish tank. It stimulates the ocean look that is nearer your known fish habitat.

Live bacteria in this sand can break down high chemical levels of water and harmful waste from your fish. It aims to reduce unhealthy debris and algae formation.

Its smooth and fine sand can hold fertilizers near plant roots and allows a gradual release of nutrients in the water. They prepare the sand in a 20-pound pack, but they also have a 5-pounder option in case you want additional media to the existing one.

The only downside is the settling time. These sand needs days to get stable before it exudes its natural look, so I advise a thorough washing before the first use.

Nature's Ocean No.1 Aragonite Sand 

Aragonite is a mineral known as calcium carbonate or CaCO3 that came from the seabed.

If the Aragonite sand has 100% on its label, the organic content is genuine and inert under real ocean condition.

Its crystal structure locks up the mineral content of the sand. It is insoluble as long as it doesn’t get exposed to low pH or strong acid.

If you include deep bedding of this media, it will regulate the flow of water for releasing nitrogen compounds into the air.

Therefore, the indigenous bacteria in Aragonite sand can denitrify the groundwater of your tank.

The “live sand” in this product aids in a popular reef tank technique as a sound biological filter.

Avoid other calcium supplements if you will use Aragonite sand for anything in excess won’t deliver a good outcome.

Do not rely on the label; it can control the pH level in a saltwater tank. Aragonite has yet to prove that it has a pH buffering property for reef aquaria.

However, it is an excellent burrowing substrate for some marine fish like jawfish, gobies, and wrasses to dig, snuffle, and sift through.

Nature’s Ocean Mix No.1 brand is also best for freshwater fish species like African cichlids that keep digging. I find one drawback of the product; the grains are coarser than I expected it to be real fine aquarium sand like the ones in the beaches

You have to monitor your tank’s pH level, alkalinity and water hardness for balanced water chemistry. Aragonite inclusion might dissolve if more than enough carbon dioxide is injected in the water. This will increase the alkalinity and water hardness which might not be suitable for some fish and plant species.

Stoney River White Aquatic Sand Freshwater and Marine Aquariums

This product contains uniform grain texture, light-colored sands (not white) designed for both freshwater and saltwater aquaria.

Your bedding will look natural because this fine aquarium sand can be an excellent contrast to your dark-colored fish and plants.

It is a medium grit to avoid compacting together that can lead to harmful gases build-up. I would say it is inert, with non-toxic coating, and won’t affect the level of pH in any tank.

However, the fine-grain particles are lightweight and can clog up your filters. Rinse the sand mix thoroughly before the first use because it takes time before they settle.

You notice they are visible in the water column for several days and when siphoning during the maintenance period.


Small grains when the compact can create dead zones that prohibit aeration. The lack of oxygen contributes to the rise of the toxins.

Although including sand in your tank can create hydrogen sulfide, some fish species like bottom feeders can dig in to develop pits, burrow or sift between grains, controlling the toxin build-up.

You can also prevent the worse scenario by agitating the sand now and then with the use of a stick (can do by hand too) to prevent the sand from sticking together.

I don’t recommend vacuuming the sand but siphoning the bedding may help. You can avoid the sand getting into the filter by putting it off from the area to clean.

Be careful in moving your plants. Everything in this hobby is a work in progress. Your inclusion of sand is not just for aesthetic; there are more benefits to gain than for the eye.

Every product label speaks good, but it has its downsides too even the best aquarium sand may perform otherwise if you do not have the knowledge and dedication. Play your part well.

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