There are dozens of types of aquarium substrates available on the market and knowing which one to choose can be pretty confusing. Once you settle on a substrate, you may have to be prepared to shell out a pretty penny to get your aquarium substrate at an appropriate depth for your tank’s needs.
That’s where DIY aquarium substrate comes in! Some aquarium substrates can even be made from things you already have, like topsoil, saving you money. It also ensures you end up with a substrate you like that fulfills your needs.
Purpose of Substrate
Why even put substrate in your aquarium? Substrate is a great addition to aquariums for a number of reasons. The first being that substrate supports the growth of plants in your aquarium. Many aquatic plants need their roots in soil of some kind, and substrate allows your plants to root and thrive.
Aquarium substrate can be a great place for the colonization of beneficial bacteria as well. Most substrates have a high surface area, which increases the real estate beneficial bacteria need to successfully colonize and reproduce.
The simplest benefit of adding a substrate to your aquarium is the environmental enrichment it can bring to your aquarium livestock. Some fish enjoy burrowing in substrate while others enjoy scavenging in and around substrate for snacks. Small invertebrates, like dwarf shrimp, feel safer with substrate and plants, which improves their health and reproduction. Whether your fish likes to pick up mouthfuls of substrate to spit back out or just likes to feel the sand between their toes, so to speak, substrate will improve the quality of your tank.
The 5 DIY Aquarium Substrate Ideas
1. DIY Aquarium Soil #1 by Cuteness
2. DIY Aquarium Substrate with Kitty Litter by Planted Tank
3. Garden Soil by MadeByKM
Using garden soil is a great way to make free aquarium substrate. It is already rich in nutrients and doesn’t have to be replaced nearly as often. It’s also great for growing live plants in your aquarium. This quick video shows you how to source and prepare garden soil for use in your aquarium.
4. Aquascape DIY Soil Substrate by GreenEcoSpace
Here’s another great video showing how to use soil from your own backyard for DIY aquarium substrate. This video shows how to sieve the soil to remove any wood, rocks, or insects that may be in it and stresses returning them to nature. The soil is then made into larger chunks, then dried out for use in the aquarium. If you like this video, the channel is full of other eco-friendly aquascape videos.
5. Builder’s Sand by Forrest’s Fishroom – Cichlidman09
Sand is an affordable and versatile option for a DIY aquarium substrate, creating a natural-looking environment suitable for various fish species that prefer to burrow or sift through the substrate. Opt for aquarium-safe varieties like pool filter sand or play sand to prevent harmful chemicals or sharp particles. If you have sand left over from a building project or sandbox, you can use that, otherwise you may have to buy some. So, this one may not be entirely free, but it is relatively cheap.
Things to Avoid
The easiest way to go about an aquarium substrate is to purchase the aquarium-marketed versions from pet and fish stores. However, these often carry the price markup of specialty products and you may be able to save money and end up with a healthier aquarium by doing some DIY aquarium substrates. If you are unsure of the safety of a product, though, don’t use it! There are lots of safe options available to you that won’t risk the health of your aquarium.
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