Why Should You Use Sand In Aquariums? (Various Sands Explained)

Image of an aquarium with sand in it

Aquariums with substrates have a more natural look and are hence more attractive than those with empty bases. When choosing a substrate for a tank, you have three main options: sand, gravel, and soil. It’s apparent why you should use gravel and soil, but why should you use sand in an aquarium?

You should use sand in an aquarium because it helps create a natural-looking base in the aquarium that’s similar to the natural habitats of fish, like riverbeds and ocean floors. Aquarium sand is also easy to clean as it has compact particles that limit the waste accumulation to the upper layers.

Let’s talk about this in more detail now.

Is Sand Good For Aquariums?

Each substrate, sand, gravel, and soil, has its pros and cons.

However, sand is better than gravel and soil when you want a natural look. It’s also comparatively easier to clean.

Moreover, compared to gravel, sand is compact. The tightly packed particles prevent waste and debris from reaching the lower layers.

So, cleaning a sandy substrate is easier. Also, if your tank has strong water currents, it will naturally drag the waste and help it reach the filters.

However, if you use gravel instead of sand, the particles will be larger. They would also shift around and trap the waste within them.

Waste that sinks to the lower layers becomes a pocket for anaerobic bacteria. Left undisturbed, it will expel toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide into the water.

This would affect the hygiene of the tank and adversely affect the health of aquatic pets and plants. To prevent such issues, you will have to regularly deep clean the gravel substrate.

However, sand doesn’t pose such problems. Therefore, you can limit your cleaning to the upper layers, and the aquarium would still be a healthy habitat for your pets.

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4 Main Reasons To Use Sand In An Aquarium

Sand is suitable for freshwater and marine aquariums for the following reasons:

  1. Natural appearance: You can recreate the natural look and feel of a river bed or ocean floor with sand. Sand is available in different colors, and you can find coarse and smooth varieties. You can choose from these options based on the aquascape you wish to create.
  2. Easy to clean: The tiny, compressed particles of sand are tightly packed. Due to their compact nature, dirt and debris can’t sink into the lower layers. So they will remain on top of the substrate. You can easily remove them with an aquarium gravel vacuum. In a tank with good water flow, the particles will also rise and get trapped by the filter.
  3. Prevents toxic microbe pockets: Anaerobic bacteria grow and thrive in spaces where dirt and debris accumulate. These parasites produce toxins like hydrogen sulfide gas that harms the health of aquatic animals. They also cause foul odors and make the water look murky. The risk of such toxic microbes growing is less in tanks with sandy substrates.
  4. Plant and animal needs: Some aquatic animals grow best in tanks with sandy substrates. Cichlids and loaches are bottom dwellers. These animals dig and burrow in the sand. Catfish and ghost shrimp also do well in tanks with sand. Similarly, certain plant species like Java Fern, Hornwort, and Amazon Sword prefer sandy substrates for good growth.

Different Types Of Sand And Their Suitability In Aquariums

Different varieties of sand display different properties. While some of them are specifically suited for aquariums, others may be unsuitable for aquatic environments. Let’s explore this in closer detail.

Can you use play sand in an aquarium?

You can use play sand in an aquarium. However, pay attention to the below factors if you decide to use play sand in your fish tank:

  • Play sand shouldn’t contain calcium carbonate, which is harmful to aquatic life in a freshwater tank.
  • Avoid dust-free or anti-dust sand varieties since these are usually treated with strong chemicals that adversely affect aquatic life.
  • Some play sand is high in clay content. It can be a nightmare to clean your aquarium if you use such sand.

Before adding play sand into an aquarium, clean it thoroughly. Sift any dirt particles and repeatedly wash the sand with water.

Remove all the dirt and debris that rise to the top of the container. Repeat the process several times to clean it well.

Experts recommend baking the play sand at a temperature of 200°F for several minutes to eliminate the bacteria or parasites.

Once the play sand cools down, you can lay it out in batches in your aquarium before adding the water.

Can you use normal sand in aquariums?

You can use normal sand that doesn’t contain any clay in aquariums. However, ensure that the sand doesn’t alter the water parameters.

Certain sands that alter the pH and other water parameters are unsuitable for aquariums. They can affect the health and well-being of aquatic plants and animals.

Normal sand that contains clay will dirty the tank. It will make cleaning very difficult. You may find that your tank always looks messy, and the water is cloudy if there’s clay in the sand. So, it’s best to avoid it.

Before introducing any type of sand into your aquarium, you should clean and disinfect it. Sand that you obtain from your yard or a store will carry various pollutants.

So you should clean it well to eliminate any contaminants and wash it several times before using it in a fish tank.

Exposing the sand to high heat will also help to disinfect it and eliminate any parasites or germs.

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Can you use construction sand in aquariums?

You can use construction sand in aquariums. However, it’s not the best choice because it can be highly contaminated, and the chemical composition is not great for aquatic organisms. This sand can also be dirty and dusty.

You will have to clean this type of sand extensively before using it in an aquarium. It would also make your tank look very cloudy and take a long time to settle if agitated.

If you still decide to use construction sand, take care to clean it properly. Wash it several times and let it dry thoroughly.

You should also test the water parameters after introducing this sand into your aquarium to ensure it doesn’t alter the water chemistry.

Now, if you use construction sand in your aquarium, move it around regularly. This type of sand is prone to developing anaerobic bacteria.

These microorganisms can release toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide into the water, which will compromise the health of your aquatic pets and plants.

Either choose construction sand with coarse grains or move it around frequently to prevent it from becoming a hub for anaerobic bacteria.

Can you use river sand in aquariums?

River sand is a cheap and practical option for aquariums. However, you should check the sample for the presence of clay before using it in your tank. Some varieties will also have sharp edges. These can injure the fish and invertebrates that burrow into the substrate. So, check for this factor as well.

Moreover, river sand allows oxygen to circulate through it. So it’s good for plants.

When collecting river sand for an aquarium, pick it from shallow areas. Always wash, disinfect, and clean it thoroughly before adding it to your tank.

River sand will make your aquarium water look cloudy when you first add it. However, you can help it settle quickly by performing frequent water changes and getting rid of the fine particles that rise to the top in the first few days.

Can you use sand in freshwater aquariums?

Yes, sand is suitable for freshwater aquariums. However, there are different varieties of sand, and you should choose the right one based on your tank conditions.

Pay attention to factors like the grain size, composition of sand, and how it affects pH and other water parameters when making a choice.

Preferably choose inert sands as they don’t alter the water pH. Additionally, they shouldn’t contain clay.

The grain size should be small, and the particles should be compact. Also, the sand particles shouldn’t have sharp edges that can injure the fish or aquatic animals that burrow into the substrate.

Aquarium sand is the ideal choice for freshwater aquariums. It has a coating that prevents brown algae growth and is inert. The particle size is also just right to prevent toxic bacteria pockets.

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Can you use beach sand in aquariums?

Normal sand which you pick from beaches is usually very contaminated. It will have pollutants like plastic, unwanted chemicals, crushed corals, and shells. So you can’t directly use beach sand in aquariums.

The presence of shells and corals in the sand will affect the pH of your aquarium water. If you directly deposit beach sand into your fish tank, you will also introduce parasites and toxins into the tank.

Moreover, beach sand doesn’t contain a good amount of beneficial bacteria.

However, you can use beach sand in your aquarium if you thoroughly clean it and eliminate all pollutants. It’s also a good idea to test the sand and check if it will alter the pH and water parameters before adding it to your fish tank.

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