Why Do Aquariums Need Gravel? (5 Pros And 4 Cons)

Image of gravel kept in an aquarium

Aquariums need gravel because it provides a secure place for the fish to rest and hide. It also provides the surface area required for beneficial bacteria to grow. Moreover, gravel helps keep the water moving in the tank and provides plants with essential nutrients for their healthy development.

Let’s now delve deeper and understand the various advantages of aquarium gravel and the factors to consider while choosing it.

5 Main Advantages of Aquarium Gravel

Given below are the advantages of having gravel in an aquarium.

1. Aesthetic appeal.

Gravel provides an aesthetic look to an aquarium.

It comes in different shapes, sizes, and textures which you can’t create using other materials such as plastic or wood.

Moreover, gravel is available in a wide range of colors. This makes it easy to use them to match the color scheme of any aquarium.

2. Provides home to beneficial bacteria.

The most crucial function of gravel is that it provides a home for beneficial bacteria.

Besides, it allows beneficial bacteria to grow and build colonies in it.

These bacterial colonies are necessary to neutralize uneaten fish food, fish waste, and decaying plant debris.

They also help reduce the number of harmful substances from the aquarium.

3. Beneficial to plants.

Gravel is critical to plants as it provides a strong anchor point for plant roots to attach.

It’s also beneficial because it absorbs the nutrients released by decaying organic matter.

These nutrients become part of the gravel, where the aquatic plants readily absorb them for healthy development.

Also, the fish waste accumulated in the gravel acts as a natural source of fertilizers for the aquarium plants.

4. Provides a hiding place for fish.

Gravel serves as a good hiding place for fish when they are sick or scared.

Moreover, it’s suitable for bottom-dwelling fish that dig in the gravel to forage for food.

Gravel is also a safe place for fish eggs. Large gravel allows the fish eggs to be safe and out of reach of hungry fish.

Moreover, gravel also helps reduce the reflections within the aquarium that stress the fish.

5. Regulates water flow.

Gravel allows the water in the tank to move freely than some of the other substrates like sand.

The movement of water through the gravel promotes oxygenation of the water and prevents stagnation.

Free-flowing water also prevents the formation of air pockets where harmful bacteria can accumulate and contaminate the tank water.

Alright! Now that you know about the advantages of gravel, let’s look at its disadvantages.

4 Disadvantages Of Aquarium Gravel

Aquarium gravel has many advantages and hence is preferred by many aquarists. However, it has some drawbacks as well.

Following are some of the disadvantages of aquarium gravel.

1. It needs regular maintenance.

Gravel needs regular maintenance, and it’s a time-consuming process to clean it.

Moreover, if the gravel gets dirty, it may affect the health of fish.

If not cleaned regularly, fish get sick from the bacteria that get accumulated over time.

Even the water quality deteriorates, and the accumulated waste burdens the filtration system.

2. Gets very dusty.

The biggest drawback of gravel is that it tends to get very dusty.

So you need to rinse it thoroughly under running water till the water runs clear before adding it to the aquarium.

This is tedious and time-consuming if you have a large tank.

Even the gravel purchased from the store that’s termed pre-washed is smothered in fine dust and requires adequate cleaning.

3. Low-quality gravel poses a danger to fish.

Low-quality gravel is dangerous to fish as it has sharp edges that can injure the long flowing and delicate fins of fancy fish like goldfish and others.

Also, bottom-dwelling fish have sensitive barbels.

If the gravel has sharp edges, it can tear or damage the delicate barbels while the fish search for food in the gravel.

This leaves them susceptible to bacterial infections.

Even decorative snails don’t prefer to move over sharp gravel.

4. Traps fish food.

Live food such as brine shrimp get trapped easily in the gravel.

They can then perish in the gravel and rot if not removed immediately.

The rotten food pollutes the tank water and harms the fish.

Besides, the uneaten food, debris, and fish waste easily accumulate and decompose in the gravel, which isn’t good for the aquarium.

How Much Gravel Is Needed In an Aquarium?

Gravel forms the base that holds all other aquarium components together. So it needs to be strong enough to support them.

The amount of gravel required in an aquarium depends on various factors like:

  • Tank inhabitants and the fish species in the aquarium,
  • Dimensions of the tank,
  • Whether the tank is planted or not, and
  • Whether you have an undergravel filter or a canister filter.

As a general rule, for a small tank of up to 55 gallons of water, 2 inches of gravel is sufficient. Whereas for larger tanks, gravel of 3 to 4 inches is ideal.

You can use this Aquarium Gravel Calculator to calculate the exact amount of gravel needed for your aquarium.

Factors To Consider While Choosing Aquarium Gravel

You should avoid choosing any random gravel because it might not suit your tank inhabitants.

Given below are the factors to consider while choosing gravel for an aquarium:

  • Fish species: Different fish species prefer different types of gravel. For example, some fish prefer smooth and fine gravel so that they can easily dig and forage for food, while other fish species prefer coarse gravel. So make sure that you buy the appropriate type of gravel based on what kind of fish you want to add to your aquarium.
  • Texture: Smooth surfaces tend to hold onto bacteria and dirt, while rough textures let through loose particles easily. So, you can choose the gravel depending on how well you can maintain it.
  • Types of decorations: The decorations that you place in your aquarium also determines the gravel type. Many aquarists add colorful rocks, seashells, and plants to their aquarium. So they prefer natural-looking gravel that make their aquarium look attractive.
  • Plants in the aquarium: The gravel type doesn’t make a difference to plants without roots as they draw the essential nutrients from the water. However, big rooted plants require a deep layer of fine gravel. This is because large plants with more extensive roots need a deep area to absorb nutrients from the bottom.

Related Questions

What are the different types of gravel?

Gravel comes in various shapes and sizes. They differ based on their purpose.

Some common types of gravel are pea gravel, inert gravel, colored gravel, coarse gravel, etc.

Is bright-colored gravel suitable for a fish tank?

Bright-colored gravel isn’t suitable for fish tanks. It’s said that bright colors stress the fish leading to a weak immune system.

The weak immune system makes the fish prone to diseases and illnesses.

So, it’s better to choose the gravel that’s suitable for the fish.

Is pea gravel safe for aquariums?

Pea gravel is safe for aquariums and is best suited for a goldfish tank. However, it needs regular maintenance.

Since pea gravel has large grains, it traps more dirt and debris. So it needs frequent vacuuming.

Moreover, pea gravel raises the pH level of the water.

So, even if pea gravel is safe for aquariums, the pH level of the water needs to be monitored constantly.


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