Why Does Aquarium Sand Float? (How To Clear And Stop It?)

Image of an aquarium with floating sand

Many aquarium owners prefer to use sand as their tank substrate because it creates a natural look and has good buffering qualities. However, it can be unattractive if the sand floats in the water. Floating sand can also mess up your filter operation and make the fish sick. So, why does aquarium sand float?

Aquarium sand floats because it has fine dust particles that rise and float in water. If you don’t remove these dust particles before adding the sand to the tank, they remain afloat and make the water cloudy. The sand may also float if you disturb the substrate during cleaning or other activities.

Let’s take a deeper look at this now.

Causes Of Floating Aquarium Sand

A clear aquarium is a beautiful sight. However, your tank may look messy if you use sand as a substrate.

Freshly set up tanks with sandy substrates may look cloudy and dirty in the initial days. This is because most varieties of sand have fine dust-like particles. These tiny particles are lighter than water.

When you place this sand at the base of a tank and add water, the particles rise up. While most of it will finally settle down, the fine particles remain afloat and make the water cloudy.

The good news is that you can eliminate these fine dust particles by washing the sand well before adding it to the tank. If you wash it until the water runs clear, you can eliminate most of the fine dust.

Nonetheless, when you first add water, some of the sand will get disturbed. However, the sand particles will slowly settle, and the water will become clear.

Depending on the type of sand you use, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for all the particles to sink.

Wait until then to add aquatic animals into the tank. It’s also wise to wait till this time to start the filter.

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How To Get Rid Of Cloudiness From An Aquarium?

You may end up with a cloudy aquarium when you add water to a tank with a sandy substrate. It can also happen if you add fresh sand to an existing tank or disturb the substrate during cleaning.

Now, cloudy water in an aquarium doesn’t look good. But more importantly, it’s also a health hazard for your aquatic pets. Fish and other aquarium animals can ingest fine sand particles. These can end up in their respiratory and digestive tracts and cause illnesses.

So you should get rid of any cloudiness in an aquarium before it affects your aquatic pets.

If you wait for it to settle by itself, it may take several weeks. Now, the good news is that you can speed up the process with the following steps.

1. Clean the sand thoroughly before adding it to the tank.

Sand is light and floats in water. The fine particles in it make a fish tank cloudy.

The larger particles will settle down after some time. However, fine particles will stay afloat and make the tank look ugly.

Washing aquarium sand several times will remove these fine dust particles. The remaining large grains will not stay suspended for too long in the tank.

They will settle to the bottom of the tank, and the water will become clear.

2. Keep the filter off.

Filters disturb the water in a tank. They produce bubbles and currents. The water current helps to circulate the water through the filter so that the device can trap waste.

It’s not a good idea to disturb the sand in the tank while it is still settling. A filter will agitate the water and not allow the sand to settle.

So don’t switch on the filter while the tank is still cloudy. Apart from taking more time to settle down, the sand particles may also clog the filter and affect its operation.

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3. Perform frequent water changes in the initial days.

Frequent water changes in the initial days will help you get rid of most of the smaller, floating sand particles after adding the new substrate.

By removing around 50% of the water in an aquarium, you can get rid of the fine sand particles on the top.

This will help it settle faster. Don’t agitate the water much while performing a water change.

3. Wait until the sand has settled to add plants and pets into the tank.

There are two main issues when adding plants and pets before the sand in the tank settles.

Firstly, your aquatic pets may ingest the fine dust particles that are suspended in the water. The sand can get into their eyes, mouths, and gills and make them sick.

Secondly, the sand will be further agitated while you will move it around to root your plants. This will only delay the settling process. So, your water will remain cloudy for much longer.

Wait until the water is clear to add aquatic life to your aquarium. It will be better for your aquatic pets and plants.

4. Use a water clarifier.

Cloudy water is a common phenomenon in new tanks. However, older fish tanks may also face the same problem occasionally.

You may notice sand floating in the water if you agitate the substrate. This may happen while you move around your aquatic plants or clean the substrate.

Fortunately, you can fix this problem quickly with a water clarifier. Water clarifiers work by causing tiny particles to adhere to large particles.

So, when the large particles settle at the base of the tank, they take the dust with them as well. There may still be a few tiny particles. However, these will be easily caught and eliminated by the filter.

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How To Stop Sand From Moving In Fish Tanks?

Many fish tank owners face the problem of substrate shifting after a while. This is most commonly observed when you use a strong water pump or filter in a tank with sand as the substrate.

Since sand has fine particles, these move around with the water flow. So, you may end up with bald spots in some areas of the tank.

It’s not very pleasant to see the exposed base of the tank when this happens. The sand that shifted may also settle in other sections of the tank and create a clumpy look there.

Now, sand shifts in fish tanks because it’s light and floats easily. Flowing water can easily move it.

Depending on the placement of the pump, your tank may end up with the base exposed in areas where the flow is highest. However, there’s an easy fix for this problem.

Lay down heavier grain sand in places where the sand tends to move. You can choose sand with a grain size of 2.5 mm to 3 mm for these spaces, and it should not shift.

Use smaller grain sand of 1 mm to 2 mm size for the rest of the tank with medium current. So, the sand in your tank will stop moving, and it will stabilize.

This solution will address the problem of sand shifting due to flowing water. The substrate will also look full.

Doing so will also be helpful if you keep bottom-dwelling fish that like to dig the substrate.

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