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7 Best Aquarium Sand for Plants, Fresh & Saltwater Aquariums

When it comes time to set up your aquarium, choosing the right sand is one of the many decisions you are going to need to make.

From setting up your accessories, your filter, your pump, choosing the right plants, adding the right fish, making sure it all works together, and the substrate you use, giving your aquascape the perfect environment can be a tedious ordeal.

Top 7 Best Aquarium Sand Options Compared

The type, size, and brand of aquarium sand you use play a significant role in keeping your aquascape healthy and thriving for years to come.

Below are 7 of the best aquarium sand brands and types we’ve found.

beautiful sand - Great quality
  • Beautiful Texture And Luminescence
  • Good Looking Sand
Perfect and great sand - one of the best aquarium sand
  • Beautiful White Color And Texture
  • Live Sand And Help Maitain Your Tank 
Keep your water clean
  • Won't Make Your Water Being Cloudy
  • Helps Maintain Your Aquarium Health
creates great color contrast - High Quality
  • Great Looking Sand
  • Clean, Soft, Smooth, No Sharp Shards
  • High Quality Black Sand
best planted aquarium sand - great value
  • Great For Inverts And Peaceful Fish
  • Perfect Planted Tank Substrate
  • Great Value And Easy To Use
comes directly from the ocean
  • Great Clean Substrate At A Good Price
  • Very Fine And Clean
  • Great Live Sand
Excellent for wide range of tanks - excellent quality product
  • Great Addition To Your Aquarium
  • Awesome And Looks Great On Your Tank
  • Provides Natural Looking Landscape

Highlights

  • Beautiful texture and luminescence
  • good looking sand
  • great quality

After extensive research, we have found the best aquarium sand for freshwater is Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand substrate. It is formulated to maintain a neutral pH level in your tank, so you don’t have to worry about shocking your fish and plants.

When it comes to freshwater aquarium sand, the Caribsea Super Naturals has been designed to avoid increasing carbonate hardness. The uniquely sized grains resist buildup of food and waste in the substrate, making it incredibly easy to maintain your tank.

Customers have reported that their water stays crystal clear when they’re using Super Naturals, too — giving your fish a healthy environment to thrive is easy when you’re using high-quality sand, like Super Naturals.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • Super Naturals doesn’t throw off your tank’s pH levels.
  • The sand helps avoid dead spots underneath decorations.
  • This sand will not cloud your water; it will keep your water clear.
  • Super Naturals is aggressively priced, one of the best deals we’ve found.

Cons

  • Super Naturals are only available in a single, natural color

Highlights

  • beautiful white color and texture
  • live sand and help maitain your tank 

One of the best aquarium sand for plants is Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Active Live Aragonite Sand. If you’re not familiar, Bio-Active sand actively works to help maintain your tank.

The Live sand will remove the nitrogenous waste that is generated by your fish and plants.

This waste can remove oxygen from the water, forcing your aerator to work harder and potentially causing your fish to gasp at the surface for air. Waste and by-products include everything from nitrite and nitrates, to ammonia and old food.

One of the most significant benefits of Live sand is that you have guaranteed cycling. That means you do not need to wait until the sand settles before you begin adding fish and plants. The sand is designed to maintain a neutral pH level, so it doesn’t stress your fish or plants.

 Another benefit of Live sand is that it is formulated to provide enhanced buffering. Enhanced buffering helps reduce the maintenance schedule in your tank.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • Live sand actively works to help maintain your tank.
  • The Bio-Active sand will remove harmful toxins from your water.
  • Enhanced buffering and a neutral pH are safe for fish and plants.
  • You can immediately add this sand to an existing tank without worry.

Cons

  • If you’re looking for colored aquarium sand, this brand doesn’t provide it.

Highlights

  • won't make your water being cloudy
  • helps maintain your aquarium health

Carib Sea Arag-Alive sand is another form of Live Aragonite sand that has become incredibly popular over the last few years. Each bag is packed chock full of chemolithotrophic, heterotrophic, and autotrophic bacteria that help maintain your aquarium’s health.

All of those big words mean that you spend less time maintaining the tank while the sand’s natural bacteria help does it for you.

Arag-Alive is also great at helping stimulate a living, natural environment which works excellent when your tank is brand new, and you need to introduce fish to it quickly. The natural filters in the sand help keep contaminants down and keep your water clean. It acts as a natural filter.

 Another critical benefit of Arag-Alive is that it will keep your water crystal clear. The naturally neutral pH levels in the sand do not shock the water, so you are not required to add additional chemicals or supplements.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • Each bag includes specific bacteria to help aid waste removal.
  • The sand acts as a natural filter to help keep your water clear.
  • The sand will not cloud your water or create a clay-based fog.
  • Each bag contains a neutral pH level, requiring no additional chemicals.

Cons

  • Arag-Alive sand can be expensive compared to other sand we have featured.

Highlights

  • great looking sand
  • clean, soft, smooth, no sharp shards
  • high quality black sand

For black aquarium sand, the Carib Sea Tahitian Moon is one of the best that you’re going to find. It is, arguably, one of the best black sands currently available. It has been specifically designed to cost less upfront while helping reduce your maintenance schedule.

Each bag is formulated at a neutral pH level, so it doesn’t upset your precious ecosystem. The bags are also great for all types of aquariums and ponds, from freshwater to saltwater and even brackish water.

 Tahitian Moon black aquarium sand is manufactured in the United States using only the most high-quality sand available. The black sand is not artificially dyed, so you do not have to worry about it clouding or leaching into your water.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • The black sand is naturally black; it does not cause your water to darken.
  • Black sand provides a natural contrast to the lively colors in your tank.
  • The bags are neutrally pH balanced, requiring no additional chemicals.
  • Each bag is made in the United States and known for being a quality product.

Cons

  • This is one of the more expensive black sands currently available.

5. seachem Fluorite Black Sand - Best planted aquarium sand

Highlights

  • great for inverts and peaceful fish
  • perfect planted tank substrate
  • great value and easy to use

Fluorite Black from Seachem is another black aquarium sand but has one significant difference when you compare it to Carib Sea’s Tahitian Black. The Fluorite Black is specifically designed to work well with your plants.

Each bag includes nutrients that your plants will need to grow and thrive while also making sure the black color does not leech into your water. The sand is naturally black, not dyed black like many other brands.

 The grains vary in size, so your plants can firmly root themselves in it. This, when compared to Carib Sea’s Tahitian Black and their finer particles, makes it a lot easier to maintain your plants without worrying about the roots losing oxygen.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • For planted aquariums, there are no better black sands.
  • It is priced competitively against many other brands of floral sand.
  • Each bag contains different sized particles to help your plants root.
  • The makeup of the sand will not starve your plants for oxygen.

Cons

  • The Seachem Fluorite is only available in black. No white aquarium sand available.

6. carib Sea Ocean Direct Substrate - Best planted aquarium sand

Highlights

  • great clean substrate at a good price
  • very fine and clean
  • great live sand
  • comes directly from the ocean

If you haven’t noticed, we have found that the Carib Sea is one of the most reputable manufacturers of aquarium sand and substrate in 2019. The Carib Sea Ocean Direct Substrate is no different.

Each bag is breathable to help preserve the precious bacteria that occurs naturally in the sand. This bacteria will be used by your fish and plants to help offset their waste production and buildup of harmful toxins like ammonia.

This sand comes directly from the ocean.

Each bag contains ocean water which helps maintain the bacteria and pH levels as it is shipped to you. Ocean Direct includes some of the highest standards of natural bacteria we have seen in any sand explicitly designed for saltwater aquariums.

 This is one of the most commonly used sands in large commercial tanks.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • Commercial aquariums around the world trust Ocean Direct.
  • Each bag contains naturally occurring saltwater bacteria.
  • The sand comes direct from the ocean, hence its name.

Cons

  • The sand is not suitable for freshwater tanks.
  • Because of its makeup, this sand is expensive but worth the costs.

Highlights

  • great addition to your aquarium
  • awesome and looks great on your tank
  • excellent for wide range of tanks
  • provides natural looking landscape

Last up on our list is Carib Sea’s African Sahara black and white aquarium sand. This is a unique blend that is perfect for African Cichlid and other feather-finned species of freshwater fish.

Customers have reported that their maintenance schedule drops when they’re using this sand in their tanks and that they love the offset of black and white particles. The mix of both colors helps provide a more natural-looking landscape.

 Like other Carib Sea sands, African Sahara has the same neutral pH balance and contains the same toxin-reducing microbes to help reduce the amount of ammonia and waste buildup in the water. These microbes help limit the number of filter changes you do each year.

Pro Tip


Pros

  • African Sahara is excellent for a wide range of tanks, not just freshwater.
  • A mix of black and white aquarium sand provides a unique appearance.
  • The sand contains the naturally-occurring microbes your tank needs.
  • A mix of particle sizes helps your plants build active root systems.

Cons

  • The mix currently isn’t available in any other color.

How We Rated Our Aquarium Sand Recommendations

Before we made a single recommendation, we poured through countless different aquarium sands available. We looked at quite a few various factors to help us come up with our list of what we think are the best sands open.

Below is a small handful of the criteria we used to help build our list of recommendations.
  1. application

  2. Not all aquarium sands are created equal. What works great in a small freshwater tank may be the completely wrong choice for a larger saltwater tank, for instance.

    Finding the right sand for your specific needs and aquarium type is critical to making sure you’re not upsetting the tank or creating more maintenance for yourself than necessary.

    Most companies will include the specific uses and applications of their sand on the packaging, itself. Sometimes, they will design the sand so it can be used across a wide range of situations where other sands may only be used in particular cases.

    To help make our recommendations, we’ve weighed the most common applications and recommend sand that fits into the general broad picture. This makes it easier for people to take our suggestions.

    If you know your tank requires a specific setup, make sure the sand you choose has been formulated especially for that need.

  3. Price

  4. There’s a delicate balance between getting a deal with a low price and overpaying for a product that is only backed by marketing hype.

    While we tend to recommend against buying the cheapest aquarium sand you can find along with purchasing the most expensive you come across, we do weigh how price affects your decision.

    We all have different budgets and different needs. That means we look at the value being offered by a company and then compare it to the price they are charging for their sand.

    The best aquarium sands are going to offer a mix of value, price, and quantity.

  5. brand

  6. Most people have a favorite brand of everything they purchase. For aquarium and pond keepers, this is no different. We all know what we like, and we tend to stay loyal to a single brand.

    While we do consider which brands have made their name in the industry and have developed a reputation for providing excellent customer service, their reputation isn’t the only factor we consider.

    We also make sure that the companies are staying ahead of the times and giving aquarists products that they need and will use. Many companies push products that aren’t required while charging outrageous prices. We avoid recommending these brands.

  7. customer reviews

  8. Even though we’re a reliable source of information, we also revert to listening to what other customers have to say about the sand they have purchased. Listening to active customer reviews helps us make our decisions and recommendations to you.

    People who have used the products before us are usually honest about their experience and help us understand what you should be looking out for. They can also help us find out when a manufacturer isn't reliable in their claims, so we can avoid recommending them to you.

    Taking the time to read through their reviews can help you avoid making the same mistakes they may have caused. But, you want to make sure you are reading reputable reviews if you intend to take what they say and use it in your own purchasing decision.

  9. PH Levels and bacteria

  10. Once you start maintaining your aquarium, the water’s pH level and bacteria levels are going to become essential factors you should pay attention to.

    A sudden change or spike in the water’s pH level can cause trouble for your plants and fish. To avoid these problems, buying aquarium sand that has a stable pH level is critical.

    If the sand has a stable pH level, you can easily add it to your tank without worrying about supplementing the water or having to change it out completely.

    This goes for the bacteria levels in your water, too. Healthy bacteria cannot be shocked, or they will die, and you’ll start from scratch again.

     These bacteria typically remove nitrates and waste from the water, so consider sand that helps promote the bacteria you need to maintain your tank.

Your Aquarium Sand Questions Answered

We’ve seen and heard nearly every question you can imagine. When it comes to choosing the right aquarium sand, below are 5 of the most common questions we come across.

Q: How much sand do I need in my tank?

If you’re unsure of how much sand you should be using in your tank, you want to start by figuring out how many gallons of water are in the aquarium.

As a general rule, you can use 1 pound of sand for every gallon of water in the tank. If you have a 25-gallon tank, you can use 25 pounds of dry sand.

The shape of your tank will affect the level of your sand once you have added it. This rule applies to rectangular tanks. Square containers may need a different amount of sand.

Q: How do I add sand to my established tank?

If you are starting to set up your tank for the first time, you will want to start slowly. Begin by scooping small amounts of sand into a plastic cup and pour the container into the bottom of the tank.

You want to make sure that you are not dumping massive amounts of sand into a single area because it can cause stress cracks on your glass.

If you have already established your tank, begin by scooping small amounts of sand into your cup and disperse it near the bottom of the tank. You want to avoid dumping the sand in from above the water because it will get caught on everything in your tank.

Dumping your sand in from above the water’s level will also create a cloudy tank, requiring you to wait until the sand settles before you can move forward.

Q: How long does it take the sand to settle?

Depending on the makeup of the sand you purchased, settling can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and even a few days in some cases.

The length of time it takes dramatically depends on the size of your tank, how much sand you’re using, and the structure of the sand you’ve used.

If you dumped the bag of sand into your tank, it could take upwards of 72 hours to ultimately settle on the bottom and the fog to go away.

Q: How do I clean the sand in my tank?

Figuring out the best way to keep aquarium sand clean isn’t too tricky.

To start, empty the sand into a bucket and fill the bucket with water. Then, begin stirring the sand in a circular motion while making sure you are mixing sand from the bottom to the top.

Let the sand settle every 30 seconds or so, and then begin stirring again. Good sand will start to sink to the bottom, and the lighter sand will start to float at the top.

Once you have correctly stirred the sand, separating good from bad, slowly pour the water out.

What you will find is that the excellent sand stays in the bottom of your bucket while the bad, floating sand will be emptied as you pour the water. Continue this process for 5 to 10 minutes until you’re left with only the excellent sand you can reuse.

Q: Should I use aquarium sand or gravel in my tank?

Choosing between sand and gravel can be a tough choice.

On the one hand, gravel tends to work better for freshwater tanks. Gravel allows water to flow through it more efficiently, allowing your aerators and pumps to work without disturbing anything.

This natural flow and the airspace between the gravel and rocks help prevent bacteria growth and make it easier to clean. This keeps your fish from developing sickness and disease.

Gravel also doesn’t tend to find its way into your pump or filter. The small rocks can be found in a wide variety of colors, so if that matters to you, consider gravel.

On the other hand, sand doesn’t allow water to flow through it as easily, but this can be beneficial in saltwater tanks. In saltwater environments, your fish will typically forage in the sand where freshwater fish do not.

Sand also has a natural look to it that gravel does not. Sand packs closely together so you do not have to change it as frequently or worry about vacuuming it as often. Any old food and plant debris will remain on top of the sand rather than burrowing down into it.

 If your choice is between the two, aquarium sand will apply to more tanks than gravel will. This is why so many people are thinking about switching their tanks over to a sand substrate.

Different Types Of Sand For Aquariums

Some people think that all sand is created equal. They believe play sand is the same as pool sand, and that pool sand is the same as specialty sand.

While we understand the foundation for these beliefs, we want to tell you it isn’t true.

To help you understand why it isn’t the case, three of the most common alternatives to aquarium sand are listed below, along with why they can and can’t be used.

  1. playground sand.

  2. This is one of the most common types of sand people believe they can use in their tanks.

    Playground sand is, as you guessed it, most commonly used in playgrounds and around playsets. Playground sand is usually non-toxic, to help protect your children, and it is more coarse than many other types of sand.

    If you do intend to use playground sand in your tank, you want to make sure you are avoiding any brands that contain a high amount of clay content. Clay will clog your pump and filter and create a foggy cloud that will not go away.

    If the sand has a high amount of clay, keeping your tank clean can be a literal nightmare to deal with. However, there are quite a few companies that offer playground sand that doesn’t include clay and is usually priced cheaper than aquarium sand.

    If you have a larger tank or want to line your pond with sand, playground sand may be cheaper for you to use. However, for smaller tanks, it’s always easier to buy aquarium-specific sand.

  3. pool sand.

  4. Pool sand is another commonly used sand in aquariums. For most people, pool sand is an option as long as you don’t mind the lighter color of the sand, itself.

    Pool sand, in most cases, is going to be a superior choice to playground and playset sand only because it has low to no clay content.

    The makeup of the sand is more uniform in shape because it is specifically designed to be used in a pool pump. This uniformity helps you create a soft, flatbottom in your tank.

    Another reason people consider pool sand is that it is usually already free from the contaminants that could harm your fish and plants.

    The only downsides that we’ve found for using pool sand in your tank are the bright white color that can become intensified under white lights and the cost. Most pool sands require you to buy large amounts at a single time, which doesn’t work if you have a small tank.

  5. specialty sand.

  6. As the aquarium industry has grown, new and innovative technologies and products have begun making their way into the market.

    Specialty aquarium sands are one of these types of products.

    Specialty sands are specially formulated to work in your aquarium by maintaining a neutral pH level, include the right types of bacteria out of the gate, and contain the right size and shape of sand particles to make maintenance easy.

    With all of these tank-specific features, though, comes one major downside: price.

     If you’re not afraid of the price tag and want to use specialty sand, we don’t recommend against them. However, if the price is a factor in your buying decision, you may have a hard time noticing the difference between standard aquarium sand and specialty sand.

What Is The Best Aquarium Sand?

After sifting through countless different aquarium sand brands, we have found the best aquarium sand in 2019 is the Carib Sea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand. It works great for both freshwater and saltwater tanks and doesn’t upset your tank’s pH balance.

Affiliate links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. Last update on 2019-10-18.

Top Editor's Choice on Aquarium Sand

SaleBestseller No. 1
Sunken Gardens: A Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Freshwater Aquariums
Karen A. Randall - Publisher: Timber Press - Paperback: 252 pages
$24.95 −$6.96 $17.99
SaleBestseller No. 2
Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand, 20 LBS
Imagitarium - Misc.
$19.99 −$2.00 $17.99
SaleBestseller No. 3
Carib Sea ACS05840 Super Naturals Crystal River Sand for Aquarium, 5-Pound
TopDawg Pet Supply - Misc.
$12.56 −$0.14 $12.42
SaleBestseller No. 4
Flourite Black Sand, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs
Seachem Laboratories, Inc. - Misc.
$29.76 −$0.21 $29.55
Bestseller No. 5
Bestseller No. 6
Bestseller No. 7
CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black
CaribSea, Inc - Misc.
from $22.06
Bestseller No. 8
Bestseller No. 9
Bestseller No. 10
Aquarium Sand
Sub Washer - Black Kat - MP3 Music - Released on 12/26/2016
$1.29

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