Best Aquarium Sand For Freshwater Aquariums 2020 – Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

1. Carib Sea ACS05820 2. Reptile Sciences 3. Nature’s Ocean

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If you have the right tank and a proper filtration system, then most people consider their work done with regards to setting up a fish tank. However, to mimic the aquatic environment as closely as possible, it is important to pay attention to things that might seem very trivial. One such equipment is the type of substrate you use in your tank – that is, the stuff that lines the base of your aquarium.

There are a lot of types of substrate for you to choose from – sand, gravel, marbles, rocks, crushed coral, etc. Since this is not easy to change, you want to make sure you get everything right the first time around – both the color and the type.

Sand is one of the most popular types of substrates, especially if you keep fish that like to burrow. It also makes their routine activities like sifting for food and creating pits easier. Sand is soft on the fish’s body. Additionally, they act as good anchor points for roots of aquatic plants and helps them thrive.

Sand is a cleaner, more natural option. It’s much more tightly packed than gravel or rocks, so there’s barely any space for waste or bacteria to build up. So, if you’re now convinced that sand is the substrate for your tank, then the next step is to order some.

To select the best aquarium sand for your fish, there are a few factors you need to take into consideration first. This guide will brief you on all the factors that matter. After that, we have provided an edit of the best aquarium sand in the market currently.

How To Choose The Best Sand For Aquarium

1. Where You Plan On Using It

The application of your product is the first thing to consider. Some types of sand are suitable only for saltwater aquariums, and some only for freshwater fish tanks. This detail will usually be mentioned on the product page to make sure that you select only what is right for the tank you keep.

Some types do work for a variety of tanks, and this is what you can get if you keep multiple fish tanks. The most common types of aquarium sand include live sand, builder sand, black quartz sand, pool filter sand, sea sand, play sand, estes marine sand and coral sand. Below, each one is described briefly with their pros and cons.

Builder sand or river sand is a simple and cheap option collected from shallow points in a river. It improves oxygen circulation, by allowing oxygen through the bed, to maintain the ecosystem inside your fish tank. It can sometimes be sharp and give out color and is thus not the ideal choice if you keep bottom dwellers.

Coral sand has a high amount of calcium in it as it is mostly made of limestone pieces from marine micro-organisms. It increases the hardness of water and thus, can only be placed in brackish or saltwater aquariums. It’s not good for plants, creates a mess and brings on algae bloom. Moreover, it decreases the effect of electric water and impacts the durability of your equipment inside.

Live sand is actually a kind of coral sand which is directly taken from the ocean, including the organisms that were living in it during that point. This is why it’s called “live” sand and is transported like corals and fish to keep the microflora alive. In an aquarium, it will adjust faster but will increase its pH to at least 8.0. This makes it unsuitable for freshwater aquariums.

Black quartz sand, black in color, is a good choice all around, especially if you want your fish and plants to shine as it provides a contrast to the brightness inside. It’s made of hematite, magnetite or ilmenite in varying proportions. It does not change the hardness of water or affect any other parameter.

Pool filter sand is, like the name says, primarily used to catch unwanted debris in swimming pool water. It’s not a very good choice for your aquarium, as it has large non-uniform grains. It comes in only one color, but it’s cheap and does not get sucked into a filter. It can, however, be used in a tank with stem plants.

Play sand is the finer, lightweight version of pool filter sand. It’s quite misunderstood, and not really made for use in fish tanks. It doesn’t let water flow through it easily, and can get sucked into filters. Care must be taken if you plan on using it. Silica free play sand cannot be used in freshwater aquariums.

Sea sand, also called marine sand or beach sand, is the ultimate choice for aquariums with shrimp, or if you want your fish to breed. The only catch is that this kind of sand is hard to get, as it can only be collected from about thirty to sixty feet in the ocean. The kind on the shores of beaches is polluted, and cannot be used as it would cause a spike in pH.

Ultra reef sand or estes marine sand is the best aquarium sand, hands down. It is suitable for use in both saltwater as well as freshwater tanks. It’s just the right size for oxygen to get through without making pockets for toxic bacterial growth. It’s heavy enough to settle quickly in your tank without looking like a storm went through it.

Estes marine sand is available in several colors that are neither too light nor too dark. It won’t give you an algae problem, or change your water’s hardness or pH. It’s clean enough as it comes and can be used directly out of the packet without rinsing. The only downside is its somewhat high price.

2. How Safe It Is

If you think the substrate you pick depends only on how much it beautifies your aquarium, you’re wrong. Yes, aquarium sand does add natural beauty in a kind of a revolutionary way and makes it much more eye-catching. But what’s significantly more important is whether it’s safe enough to use in a tank with fish and live plants.

One way to determine this is by checking the pH level of the sand. pH, a measure of how basic or acidic your water is, is determined on a scale of 0 to 14. A pH value of 7.0 means that it’s neutral, a value higher than that (7.1 to 14) means it is basic, and a value lower than 7.0 means the water is acidic. This value depends on the type of substrate, minerals, chemical concentration and more.

Different types of fish require different pH levels for survival and growth. What is suited for one might not necessarily work for another. So testing pH levels is an essential task even before you introduce fish or plants to your tank. If you choose to add live sand to your aquarium, it can increase the pH as well – and this doesn’t go down well with a lot of freshwater fish.

Ideally, choose sand with a neutral pH level. This way, you don’t have to worry about it changing water parameters. These are called inert substrates and do not provide any nutrition to your plants either. If you’re planning to keep shrimps or other sensitive and expensive species, choosing the best aquarium sand that does not affect the pH of water is crucial.

Another important parameter of water to take into account is hardness. It has two components, KH (Carbonate Hardness) and GH (General Hardness). Some tropical fish only thrive in hard water (high GH), while others require soft water (low GH). However, as long as the GH is not very low or very high most tropical fish will learn to adapt to it.

To ensure that the hardness of water remains right, the type of substrate you use is important. This is so that your fish can undergo breeding successfully and not fall sick and die. Water with higher KH helps keep pH stable. Coral sand is one type of sand that increases hardness of water. Inert sand does not contain minerals or calcium, and thus does not increase pH or GH of the tank.

3. The Quality Of Sand

This goes hand in hand with the previous factor. A safer option is one that is of high quality. It should be made with safe materials, and ideally, prove to be beneficial. Be it a freshwater tank or a saltwater one, durability and efficiency are foremost. One way to ensure this is to buy from brands who have made their name making the best sand for aquarium.

To ensure effectiveness, sand from top brands is usually field-tested many times before it reaches the market. As further research, you can read reviews from people who are already using it and understand the pros and cons of each. The country that the product was made in also says a lot about its quality.

The products reviewed below are some of the top brands, and you can be sure to get value for money when you buy from them. Additionally, you can also use them to compare with another product, to be aware of what you get or miss out on. After that, you can use the price of the products to decide what you take home ultimately.

Top 9 Best Sand For Aquarium 2020

1. Carib Sea ACS05820 Super Natural Moonlight Sand for Aquarium, 5-Pound

Carib Sea best aquarium sandBrand: Carib Sea | Model number: ACS05820 | Made in: The United States | Color: Natural white | Weight: 5 lbs |

Key features:

  • Neutral pH
  • Natural white color
  • No paints or dyes

Reasons to buy:

  • Suitable for both saltwater as well as freshwater aquariums
  • Makes your fish tank prettier
  • Does not change the pH level

Reasons to avoid:

  • Needs to be rinsed before using
  • Not for tanks with a strong flow

The best aquarium sand, especially for a freshwater fish or plant tank, is the Super Natural Moonlight Sand from Carib Sea. It can also be used for saltwater fish tank since its pH is neutral. Meaning, that it’s neither alkaline nor acidic. So, it won’t change an important parameter of water in your tank.

Another thing is that it won’t affect the hardness of water, like some carbonate sands might. Manufactured in the USA, it promises efficiency and quality. It will drastically reduce the amount of debris in your tank, and will not collect fish waste or other food. Maintenance has never been easier.

It comes in a natural white color with just the right amount of sparkle and makes for a fine contrast, especially at night or if you have dark colored fish. The grains are uniformly fine, and easily settle at the bottom in a discus tank. They are also tightly packed, so there’s no chance of formation of toxic pockets.

If you have an aquarium with a strong water flow this sand might not be the best choice considering how lightweight it is. In such cases, it won’t settle and will keep trying to rise to the surface, giving your aquarium a hazy appearance, which is not what you want.

This type of abrasive sand is not the best option if you use a hang on the back type of filter. The constant filtration with sand particles can reduce the durability of your filter’s impeller.

The 5 pound bag is just right to fill a 5 gallon tank. If you have a bigger tank, you can buy more accordingly. It needs to be rinsed before use. It does not contain any dyes or paints and is safe to use. You can also buy it with beneficial bacteria included in the package.

If you own a freshwater aquarium with gentle water flow, then this sand is the go-to choice if you want an eye catching aquarium. It will look like an emulation of the natural world, both to you and your fish. It provides a healthy, crystal clear environment for your fish to thrive.

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2. Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand for Aquarium, 10-Pound, Natural White

Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand for Aquarium, 10-Pound, Natural WhiteBrand: Reptile Sciences | Model: Terrarium Sand | Made in: The United States | Color: Natural white | Weight: 10 lbs |

Key features:

  • Natural white color
  • Fully digestible calcium carbonate
  • Free of phosphate and silica
  • Contains magnesium, potassium, strontium

Reasons to buy:

  • Available in many colors
  • Natural odor control
  • Digestible

Reasons to avoid:

  • Cannot be used for hatchlings or juveniles

A somewhat controversial choice for terrariums is this sand by reptile sciences. It is fine calcium carbonate sand – perfect for use in terrariums containing lizards, tortoises, iguanas, bearded dragons and snakes.

It can be digested by the reptiles without causing any harm. However, some owners strictly avoid it as they fear it can neutralize the acid in the pet’s stomach.

It’s not suited for fish aquariums. The sand, however, is aesthetically pleasing when used in a terrarium. It looks natural and keeps odors at bay till you have a chance to clean up. It comes in a number of colors other than natural white, including blue, black, yellow, brown and more.

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3. Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand For Aquarium, 10-Pound, Natural White

Nature's Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand For Aquarium, 10-Pound, Natural WhiteBrand: Nature’s Ocean | Model number: 20731 | Made in: The United States | Color: Natural white | Weight: 10 lbs | Grain size: 0.1 to 0.5 mm |

Key features:

  • Instantly takes care of nitrogenous waste
  • Natural white color
  • Improved buffering capacity

Reasons to buy:

  • Best for saltwater aquariums

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not for freshwater aquariums
  • Not for high flow rates

The best aquarium sand, if you own a saltwater tank, is Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand. If you want the real deal in your fish tank, you want only patented, top-quality sand from the ocean, and this is exactly what you get. It’s one hundred percent natural and collected from deep under the ocean along with live marine bacteria.

After collection, it’s processed to help preserve all the microflora in their natural live state. Thus, you can set up your tank right away. Just put in the sand, add salt water and introduce your fishes to it all in one day. It eliminates nitrogenous wastes like nitrate and ammonia in a quick cycling process to maintain the natural balance of water.

The live aragonite also helps maintain the required pH level and keep nitrate levels in check. Chemolithotrophic, autotrophic and heterotrophic bacteria are abundant (10 million) to make sure your fish enjoy perfectly balanced water. This 10 pound bag is ideal for a 10 gallon tank.

The sand is very fine, and if you have a strong filter providing a high flow rate, it might rise up in the tank a lot and make its way to the filter. However, if you have a reef tank or a saltwater tank with a gentle flow, this sand is ideal.

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4. Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand, 20 LBS

Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand, 20 LBSBrand: Imagitarium | Model number: Black | Made in: The United States | Color: Black | Weight: 20 lbs |

Key features:

  • Neutral pH
  • Natural white color
  • No paints or dyes

Reasons to buy:

  • Suitable for both freshwater as well as saltwater tanks
  • Supports the growth of beneficial microflora
  • Decreases unhealthy waste accumulation

Reasons to avoid:

  • Changes pH after a period of use

If you’re looking for the best black aquarium sand, you’ve stumbled onto the right product: the Imagitarium Black Aquarium Sand. It’s perfect for use in all types of tank, saltwater or freshwater. The 20-pound bag can be used for a 20 gallon tank to create a deep enough layer of the substrate.

This sand reduces the amount of detritus in the water. It helps naturally increase the amount of healthy bacteria that can break down waste and keep your tank clean. To use, carefully rinse it first. You might lose a little of your sand because of how fine it is. Afterwards, add it to your tank. It settles down completely in a few hours.

A small problem a minority of people have noticed is that after a few months of use, the sand changed the pH and hardness of water significantly. It might also cause a bacterial bloom. These two situations need to be monitored carefully. If you’re lucky, like the majority of buyers, you will enjoy a beautiful, healthy aquarium.

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5. Up Aqua Aquarium Shrimp Sand

Up Aqua Aquarium Shrimp SandBrand: U.P. Aqua | Model number: Aquarium Shrimp Sand | Made in: Taiwan | Color: Dark grey | Weight: 2 kg (4.4 lbs) |

Key features:

  • Contains trace minerals
  • Uniform small grains
  • pH buffer

Reasons to buy:

  • Specifically designed for shrimp tanks
  • Beautifies your tank

Reasons to avoid:

  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for planted tanks

The best aquarium sand for shrimp tanks is here: the U P Aqua Aquarium Shrimp Sand. It comes in a charcoal grey color, providing a good contrast against your light-colored shrimps, frogs or snails.

The grains are small yet uniform, each about 1 mm in size. Each grain is specifically designed for shrimps, as they are coated with montmorillonite minerals. This mineral absorbs impurities like heavy metals and toxins from the water, helping the shrimp’s body function.

The sand is extremely lightweight, and so your shrimp can play with them or even dig through them. The downside of it being so light is that you can’t plant anything in them, not even ferns as they don’t provide any grip.

It is a very safe option and does not leech ammonia. It also acts as a pH buffer, keeping It around 6.0. This benefit, like seen with other sands, might wear off with time. The bag contains enough to fill a 5 gallon tank, with the rule being about 1 to 2 pounds of sand per gallon of water.

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6. Stoney River White Aquatic Sand Freshwater and Marine Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag

Stoney River White Aquatic Sand Freshwater and Marine Aquariums, 5-Pound BagBrand: Stoney River | Made in: The United States | Color: Natural white | Weight: 5 lbs |

Key features:

  • Neutral pH
  • Non-toxic coating
  • Natural white color

Reasons to buy:

  • Suitable for both freshwater as well as saltwater tanks
  • Does not change the pH level
  • Non-toxic coating safe for fish

Reasons to avoid:

  • Dull white color
  • Coarse grain size

If you want to create a tranquil environment inside your closed tank for your finned friends, Stoney River White Aquatic Sand will serve the purpose rather well. It is made of silica and coated with non-toxic materials to ensure it is inert, safe and does not alter parameters of water. Its dull white color doesn’t offer much contrast but looks pretty nevertheless.

It can be used both in saltwater as well as freshwater aquariums. Although no grain size is mentioned, it is quite coarse. It is soft enough for African cichlids to play around in without scratching their delicate bodies. It is compact enough to prevent waste from collecting under the substrate. It needs to be rinsed well before use.

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7. CaribSea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Special Grade Reef Sand, Bahamas Oolite

CaribSea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Special Grade Reef Sand, Bahamas OoliteBrand: Carib Sea | Model number: 00793 | Made in: The United States | Weight: 20 lbs | Average density: 96 lbs per cubic foot |Grain size: 0.25 to 1 mm |

Key features:

  • Includes beneficial marine bacteria
  • Aragonite substrate

Reasons to buy:

  • Very fine sand

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not for beginners
  • Does not contain 20 pounds of sand

If you’re looking to bring home the ocean, consider buying the CaribSea Arag-Alive Bahamas Oolite aquarium sand. It helps create a biological balance as it includes millions of live bacteria that cycle through really fast to keep the water crystal clear. It also prevents algae from forming.

Although the weight of the product says 20 pounds, this is kind of misleading as it is not 20 pounds of sand. Instead, it is the total weight from sand and a big moisture bag that contains water. It’s very fine sand, and if you don’t know what you’re working with, you might end up with a cloudy tank.

The color is perfect, and the product works as advertised if you’re an expert who knows how to use it. It’s very affordable, and your finned friends will love playing and digging through it.

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8. Worldwide Imports AWW80075 Aqua Terra Sand, 5-Pound, Natural Tan

Worldwide Imports AWW80075 Aqua Terra Sand, 5-Pound, Natural TanBrand: Aqua Terra | Model number: AWW80075 | Made in: The United States | Color: Natural tan | Weight: 5 lbs | Grain size: 0.75 to 1.5 mm |

Key features:

  • Acrylic coated sand
  • Not toxic

Reasons to buy:

  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Keeps tank clean

Reasons to avoid:

  • Difficult to wash

If your fish or other pets in the tank like to sift or burrow through the substrate, then the best aquarium sand like one from Aqua Terra will be perfect for them. If your fish don’t play through sand, then you should avoid buying this as stagnant sand can form toxic anaerobic dead zones.

This particular sand is very inert and safe to use in all kinds of tanks. It won’t alter water parameters. It settles fast enough and doesn’t give the aquarium a cloudy look. It makes filtration easier and is heavy enough not to flow away with the water. It might turn out to be a little difficult to clean, though.

If you use about 1 pound of sand per gallon of water, then one bag will fill a 5 gallon aquarium easily. Thus this product is perfect for nano aquariums.

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9. Flourite Black Sand, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs

Flourite Black Sand, 7 kg 15.4 lbsBrand: Seachem | Made in: The United States | Color: Black | Weight: 15.4 lbs (7 kg) |

Key features:

  • Inert
  • Black color

Reasons to buy:

  • Lasts for years
  • Makes the plants stand out
  • Suitable for rooted plans

Reasons to avoid:

  • Make water slightly cloudy
  • Might leave a thin film on plants
  • Needs to be washed thoroughly before use

Seachem Flourite Black Sand is the best sand for aquarium, especially if you keep rooted plants. This is because it’s porous, which helps them grow by making absorption of nutrients and water easier. It is also made of a few important plant nutrients itself. Additionally, its bright black color makes the fish and plants really stand out.

Not just plants, this sand works great for fish too. They can dig through it with ease. Especially if you keep bottom dwellers like Cory cats, snails or otos, they will definitely love it. When the filters are on, it might rise a little bit and make the aquarium slightly cloudy, but then settles soon enough. It keeps waste from accumulating.

It needs to be rinsed thoroughly before using, but is very easy to maintain later. It lasts for years, perhaps even as long as the tank lasts you. This means the product is a good investment. Unless you need to change color, you will not need to take it out.

The 15.4 pounds bag can easily fill a 15 gallon tank. Algae will find it difficult to grow when you use this sand.

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Final Thoughts

Getting the best aquarium sand can help you build a tank that not just stands out, but also supports your pets and functions well. If you go into the buying process uninformed, you might end up overwhelmed trying to differentiate between the many types in the market.

Ultimately, decide on the one that suits your fish’s needs, and not one that works for you. Making the wrong choice might end up causing harm to your pets, and then you’ll have to clear out the substrate from your tank and start all over again.

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