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6 Best Aquarium Sands For 2024 – Reviews & Top Picks

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

large planted tank with sand amazon sword plant angelfish cichlids

Most fish owners liner the bottom of their tanks with a substrate, which can be rocks, gravel, sand, and other things too. Well, today we are here to find out everything there is to know about sand as substrate for your fish tank, like what is the best aquarium sand to use? Let’s find out.

There are many benefits of using sand as substrate which you should know about. We’re also going to talk about the different kinds of sand that you can use aside from aquarium sand such as play sand and pool sand. This is our top pick.

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Comparison Table (Updated in 2024)

Rating Image Product Details
Best Overall
Ocean Direct Caribbean Live Sand Ocean Direct Caribbean Live Sand
  • Aids in rapid tank cycling
  • Proven to reduce nitrates
  • No rinsing needed
  • Best Sand For Marine Tanks
    Second place
    Nature's Ocean Marine White Sand Nature's Ocean Marine White Sand
  • Best pick for marine tanks
  • Very fine texture
  • Reduces nitrates
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Nature’s Ocean Live Aragonite Sand Nature’s Ocean Live Aragonite Sand
  • Aids in rapid tank cycling
  • Increases carbonate hardness in your tank
  • Helps maintain tank pH
  • Colored Play Sand Colored Play Sand
  • Inexpensive
  • Available in a variety of colors
  • Resistant to fading
  • Flourite Black Sand Flourite Black Sand
  • Great for planted aquariums
  • Non-toxic and inert
  • Never needs replacement
  • The 6 Best Aquarium Sands

    1. Ocean Direct Caribbean Live Sand

    Carib Sea Ocean Direct Natural Live Sand for Aquarium

    The reason why we like this particular aquarium sand is because it utilizes patented sea breathe technology. This helps to preserve natural sand with its original bacteria (you can buy Ocean Direct at Amazon here).

    Each grain of sand is encased with a small film of real ocean water that still houses its natural bacteria.

    This allows for the growth of natural beneficial bacteria and also helps to provide gas exchange without producing toxins.

    • Preserves natural sand with beneficial marine bacteria
    • Supports the growth of new beneficial bacteria
    • Supports healthy gas exchange in your tank
    • Doesn’t produce dangerous metabolic by-products
    • Aids in rapid tank cycling
    • Proven to reduce nitrates
    • No rinsing needed
    • Ideal for marine tanks only

    2. Nature’s Ocean Marine White Sand-Best Sand For Marine Tanks

    Nature's Ocean Marine White Sand for Aquarium

    This sand is ideal for marine/reef tanks, it’s pure white and a very fine sand (like sugar) that aside from looking great it also helps to reduce nitrates and also maintains pH in your tank.

    • Best pick for marine tanks
    • Very fine texture
    • Reduces nitrates
    • Helps maintain tank pH
    • Increases carbonate hardness in your tank
    • Heat sterilized
    • Provides marine trace elements
    • Ideal for marine tanks only

    3. Nature’s Ocean Live Aragonite Sand

    Nature's Ocean Bio Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand

    This stuff is excellent for salt water fish tanks. All you need to do with this sand is add the sand then add the fish. It is as easy as that.

    This sand comes with several different benefits including an enhanced buffering capacity, maintaining proper pH levels, instant cycling, the removal of harmful nitrates, and the removal of ammonia and nitrite.

    We personally would class this as the best sand for saltwater tanks.

    • Aids in rapid tank cycling
    • Increases carbonate hardness in your tank
    • Helps maintain tank pH
    • Reduces nitrates, ammonia, and nitrites
    • Contains beneficial marine bacteria
    • Ideal for marine tanks only

    4. Colored Play Sand

    Amerian sand products colored sand

    Another great option to go with, this is a cheaper type of sand which is technically meant for playgrounds and kids play areas.

    This stuff has a really nice color, and it actually comes in a variety of different colors, plus it is also resistant to fading when placed in the water.

    The best part is that this sand is non-toxic so you know that it won’t hurt your fish.

    • Inexpensive
    • Available in a variety of colors
    • Resistant to fading
    • Non-toxic
    • Colorful options aren’t ideal for all tank setups

    5. Flourite Black Sand

    Flourite Black Sand

    This is a really great substrate option to go with for planted aquariums. While it can be used for aquariums with fish, it is in fact ideal for plant only aquariums more than anything else.

    This stuff is great because it is non-toxic, it is not chemically coated, and it will not change the pH level of the water.

    Flourite Black Sand never needs replacement and it helps to provide a good base for plants to root in, not to mention that it helps provide vital nutrients for your plants too.

    This is stable porous clay sand that also allows for natural filtration.

    • Great for planted aquariums
    • Non-toxic and inert
    • Never needs replacement
    • Allows for natural filtration
    • Pricey for large tanks

    6. Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

    Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

    This final choice of aquarium sand may be the last on our list, but it is certainly not the least valuable.

    This aquarium sand has a beautiful natural color, it contains no toxins, chemicals, or dyes, it is completely non-toxic, and it does not affect the pH level of your water.

    Moreover, the grain size of this sand helps to reduce the buildup of detritus too.

    • Natural color without dyes
    • Non-toxic and inert
    • Grain size is ideal for preventing detritus
    • Primarily designed for use in freshwater tanks

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    Types Of Sand You Can Use In An Aquarium

    There are a few different types of sand that you can actually use in your aquarium, and each of them has its benefits and downsides too.

    Here are the most commonly used aquarium sand types (substrate sands).

    Pool Filter Sand

    Pool sand is a good neutral option to go with. It works well right out of the bag as long as you don’t mind the white color.

    It has a nice uniform size and you don’t need to worry about contamination either.

    Play Sand

    This type of sand will work just fine too. Always find a type of play sand that is non-toxic in order to ensure that you won’t poison your fish. Also make sure that you never substitute play sand with construction sand.

    Also make sure that the play sand you choose does not have a high clay content because that will make your water murky and will make the tank hard to clean.

    Marine Sand/Specialty Aquarium Sand

    Marine sand is specially made for being used as substrate in aquariums. This is probably your best option to go with (this is what we use).

    Specialty marine sands will be non-toxic, they will be free of contaminants, the grains will all be the same size, and it won’t affect the pH level of your water.

    Specialty sands usually won’t cause any algae to build up, they won’t cause poisonous gas pockets. Marine sands also tend to be quite heavy, and thus they usually won’t get sucked up into the filter.

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    Benefits Of Using Sand As A Substrate

    Image By: Maverick Ace, Shutterstock

    There are a few different benefits that come along with using sand as a substrate for your fish tank. Here are some of the main benefits that sand brings to the table.

    Sand Is Natural

    Perhaps the biggest advantage of using sand as a substrate is that it is much more natural for the fish.

    Most places where fish live in nature will have a sandy substrate, or even mud and silt, which obviously don’t work in aquariums.

    Therefore the best natural choice is sand, something that allows for a natural steady flow of water.

    Fish like to search through the substrate for food, and they also like to dig little holes, both things which can be done when the substrate is sand, as opposed to something like gravel or small rocks.

    Sand Is Clean

    Another reason to use sand as your substrate as opposed to something like gravel is because it is much cleaner.

    Gravel allows for large spaces in between individual pieces, which allows for bacteria and waste to build up in those areas, things which then rot or cultivate and cause dirty water.

    These spaces can be home to bacteria, waste, and other substances which are not good for your fish.

    Sand on the other hand does not have much space in between grains, therefore debris will stay on top, and can be easily cleaned away.

    Can I use Playground Sand Or Pool Sand In My Aquarium?

    We already touched on this question before and the answer is yes, you can use both of those in your fish tank.

    The obvious benefit here is that both pool sand and playground sand are much cheaper than specialty marine sands. Just keep in mind that pool sand will inevitably be white, but it does not allow for gas or bacteria build up, and it is neutral too.

    The same goes for playground sand, but just make sure that it has a very low (or not) amount of clay, and that it is labeled as non-toxic.

    Keep in mind, that while both of these options work just fine, they are still not quite as good as specialty fish tank sands.

    Do Silica-Based Sands Cause Algae?

    Yes, silica bases sands can definitely cause algae buildups in the water, which is because algae feeds off of and thrives in waters where there is an abundance of silica.

    Really cheap sands such as low grade playground sand or even low quality aquarium sand are known to have high silica concentrations, something which you definitely want to avoid.

    Algae does not look nice, it is a pain to clean, and too much of it can be very dangerous for your fish.

    More on removing algae from your tank here, there are also some aquarium fish that eat algae too and help keep the tank clean.


    What Sand Can I Use In Freshwater Aquariums?

    When it comes down to it, you do really want to use special aquarium sand found in aquarium/pet stores or from good online sources.

    You do not want to use sand from the bottom of a river, a beach, a playground or anything else like that.

    The reason for this is that you don’t know what else you are picking up with sand gotten from some random place, things like organisms, bugs, bacteria, and other things you don’t want in your tank.

    Aquarium sand bought at an aquarium store is really the only option, and definitely the safest option to go with here.

    discuss fish in aquarium
    Image Credit: Piqsels

    What Is The Best Sand For Freshwater Aquariums?

    We do feel that this question has more to do with the brand name than anything else, and yes, today in our opinion we have covered some of the best sand for aquariums, and brand names, so we would recommend choosing one of those.

    As long as the sand is natural, does not contain chemicals or pesticides, and it won’t change the pH level of the water, it should be more than fine.

    The best sand is the stuff that looks nice, works well with your plants and fish, doesn’t make a huge mess, and doesn’t affect water chemistry, or at least minimally so.

    Do You Have Tips For Aquascaping with Sand?

    In terms of a sand aquascape, there are some tips you can follow to help make your life a little easier.

    One tip is to try and create some contrast when using sand to make an aquascape. If you expect to have dark plants, us light colored sand, and vice versa. It will definitely make things look much nicer.

    Next, if you plan on using sand for substrate in your aquarium, and you want to aquascape, make sure that the plants you want to get have the ability to use sand as substrate.

    Not all aquarium plants can grow on sand. Some require gravel. The other tip here is to ensue that you have a good 3 inch layer of sand, especially for plants that require deep substrate to form a strong root system.

    How Do You Maintain Aquarium Sand?

    Image Credit: Andrey Nikitin, Shutterstock

    Aquarium sand does take a bit of work to maintain, as you have to keep it clean, which is easier said than done.

    The easiest way to maintain aquarium sand is to vacuum it about once per week, to ensure that you remove as much waste and debris as humanly possible.

    Other than that, there is really not too much you can do to maintain aquarium sand except for not overfeeding your fish and having a good filtration unit.

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    If you want a great substrate for your aquarium, then we would definitely recommend going with the above options (Carib Sea is my top pick).

    As long as you follow our tips you should have no problem at all with finding a great type of sand to use for your aquarium. We have also covered a separate sand post specific to Hermit Crabs here.

    Featured Image Credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock

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