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The best aquarium sand

Which aquarium sand is best?

Aquarium sand is a great substrate option for your aquarium, especially if you have a planted tank. Using sand in your aquascape has a lot of benefits when compared to other substrates or aquarium gravel.

As the water naturally moves around the tank, aquarium sand filters and cleans the water, and if you have aquatic plants, they will be able to establish stronger root networks. Fish love rooting around in the sand, too.

There are many types of aquarium sand on the market and each has its own ingredients and benefits. Whether you go for a simple or complex sand mixture depends on what you need for your tank and its inhabitants. Our top pick, the CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand, is a great choice for novice and veteran aquarists alike that imitates natural sand in your aquascape.

What to know before you buy aquarium sand

Sand vs. gravel 

Aquarium sand has many benefits for fish and plants compared to gravel. The most notable difference is that having a gravel substrate in your aquarium leads to poorer water quality, and you need to do a full clean of your aquarium just about every month.

Fish are curious creatures and like to play around in the substrate of any aquarium. Gravel will hurt their fins or cut them whereas sand actually helps their scales and fins stay healthy.

When it comes to plants, having a planted tank with gravel substrate can be difficult. The plants won’t establish strong roots since they won’t actually be planted; rather, the gravel would just hold them down. If you plan on using any sort of fertilizer for your aquatic plants, you must use aquarium sand as your substrate.

Saltwater vs. freshwater aquarium 

Some aquarium sands are suitable for use in both saltwater and freshwater tanks. The main thing to look out for is if the aquarium sand comes with added bacteria or algae, as this bacteria specifically needs either saltwater or freshwater to live and function properly.

For example, the CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand comes with marine bacteria and ships wet with seawater to keep the bacteria alive until you use it. You can only use this sand in saltwater.

If you have a saltwater tank with marine plants or coral, opt for a sand specifically designed for use in a saltwater tank. Using sand with added-in bacteria helps boost plant growth and keep your tank’s water clean.

If you have a freshwater tank, there is considerably less to worry about. You can use any good sand as your substrate and your fish and plants will love it. For freshwater tanks, try a black flourite sand to help stimulate plant growth.

What to look for in a quality aquarium sand


Aquarium sand with added bacteria will jumpstart your ecosphere. If you are starting a new tank, sand with bacteria already added saves you a lot of time because the water is ready for fish and plants right off the bat.

Aquascape aesthetic

Consider the overall aesthetic of your tank before deciding on which aquarium sand to buy. There is black sand, pink sand, white sand and many more options when it comes to color.

Easy to use

Some aquarium sands are easier to get set up than others. If you want a stress-free aquarium set-up experience, opt for a sand that won’t cloud the water when you first introduce it to the tank.

How much you can expect to spend on aquarium sand

Aquarium sand can range from around $10-$100 depending on the quantity and type.

Aquarium sand FAQ

Is it normal for sand to cloud the water at first?

A. This is totally normal, but some sands cloud the water at first more than others. While this isn’t harmful to fish and plants, it’s better to wait until the clouding subsides before you introduce fish.

Do you have to clean aquarium sand once it's in the tank?

A. You could vacuum the sand with an aquarium vacuum if it starts to look grimey, but you do not need to remove the sand once it’s in the tank. It is recommended to replace the sand about once a year.

What’s the best aquarium sand to buy?

Top aquarium sand

CaribSea Super Naturals

What you need to know: This sand is great for both novice and veteran aquarists. 

What you’ll love: This sand excels in its simplicity. It is pH neutral and does not use any dyes or chemicals.

What you should consider: You may have to stir the sand to remove built-up gas bubbles.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Top aquarium sand for the money

CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand 

What you need to know: This reef sand works great in saltwater tanks.

What you’ll love: This sand will work wonders for your marine tank due to its added-in marine bacteria.

What you should consider: This sand cannot be used with freshwater tanks. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Worth checking out

Fluval Stratum

What you need to know: While not technically a sand, this substrate comes straight from the foothills of Japan’s volcanic Mount Aso and works great for planted freshwater tanks.

What you’ll love: This substrate is loaded with beneficial minerals for your aquarium.

What you should consider: Expect some clouding when you first add water to your tank. It should subside within 24 hours.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

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Addison Hoggard writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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