Getting to the Bottom Sand of Aquariums

aquarium with sand bottomIn choosing what will go into the bottom of the aquarium, there are two possible ways to go for the basic substance: gravel or sand. For the moment, let’s just consider sand and the options available.

For many aquarium owners, there’s a feeling that sand looks more natural, but there are considerations that have to be weighed in making that choice. Because an aquarium is a small, closed environment, the owner has to take good care to make sure the selection won’t create more problems than can be dealt with. There are several different types that can be chosen, but the owner needs to evaluate whether a specific type will suit the fish that will be living with it.

Maintaining a Sandy Bottom

One of the first things the aquarium owner needs to consider when choosing the sands for the bottom is the matter of simple maintenance. The biological debris from the fish will settle on the bottom and can easily sink into a sandy base to decompose. This decomposition will release gases that can get trapped in the sand. A sudden massive release of methane into the water would not be good for the finny residents. So the substrate will need to be stirred and turned over from time to time. Consider how much time you have to give to this activity. There are various means for handling this task, but it will require time and attention.

Type of Habitat

Another factor in choosing the material for the tank’s substrate is whether or not there will be live plants included. If so, the plants need to be carefully selected, as many will not thrive with a sandy bottom. The weight of the substrate will prevent the roots from gathering nourishment. Learn as much about the requirements for the plants if you want to have them in your sandy bottomed aquarium.

Chemical Balance

Some sands will slowly leach chemicals into the tank water, even after the sand has been washed and prepared for the aquarium. The type of sand needs to be evaluated for such possibilities and whether the fish that will be living in the aquarium can tolerate the additional chemicals or not. These considerations are not about pollution effects, by the way, but rather the make-up of the sand itself. The calcium from a limestone sand, for instance, might be detrimental to some fish.

Tropical fish in a colorful aquarium habitat.Types of Sand

There are several types of sand which can be used in aquariums. The steps to prepare the different sands might not be the same, but they are not difficult to learn. Silica, which is also used for sandblasting, is considered the easiest to clean. Play sand, which gets used for playground sand boxes and construction purposes, is easily found at hardware stores. It is more work to clean, however, and is darker in color than the silica sand.

Black Beauty is also easily available, but has some special considerations to it. It is in fact iron slag and not really a sand. The small particles have sharp edges to them, so if you have fish that like to sift substrate and move it about, this is not the ideal selection. Plus, being iron, it will react chemically to the water environment.

Three other sands that are frequently used in aquariums are Coral Sand, Aragonite, and Black Tahitian Moon Sand. These are somewhat more expensive and mostly available through fish shops and stores that service aquarium owners.

Making a Good Fish Habitat

In the end (or at the bottom), the choice of whether to use sand or not and which type if the choice is “yes” depends on the fish that will live with it and your ability to do the maintenance work.  But once the choice is made, a sandy substrate can provide a lovely, natural look to the tank.  If you’re curious and want more information about designing your own aquarium, whether you have questions about tank substrate or any other aspects of aquarium design or installation, check us out on our website  — we’ll be happy to help!