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Most people will not be thinking about things like substrate when setting up their aquarium.
More exciting stuff like which fish to get, what lights to get, and what plants to grow to get the most attention. And that’s unsurprising.
Getting an aquarium brings a lot of joy and excitement – it sure did for us. It was all the kids talked about for months before we got it set up in our living room!
But substrate is just as important. The substrate in an aquarium is the material that sits at the bottom of your aquarium.
It can be sand, gravel, pebbles, stones, or fine coralline algae. They add beauty to your tank and create a better habitat for your fish, among other functional purposes.
If you have a saltwater, reef, marine, or brackish water aquarium, sand will be the substrate you use.
But how much?
Read on to find out how much sand you need for your aquarium.
Aquarium Sand Depth: Shallow or Deep?
Ideally, saltwater aquariums should have a sand bed that is 1.5- 2 inches deep. But it isn’t that straightforward. The type of sand varies from fine to coarse, and approximately 1 to 2 pounds per gallon is required.
How much sand you will put in your aquarium will depend on the depth you want. The depth of the substrate is categorized as shallow and deep.
Keep in mind that you will need to clean and maintain your sand bed, usually with a siphon. So, the depth of the aquarium sand will influence how easy or tricky a task it will be. A shallow sand bed will be easier to maintain and access than a deeper one.
If you like a natural-looking, brilliant sand bed, a shallow sand bed measuring 1.5″ to 2″ deep with fine grade sand is perfect. Two of the most popular fine grade sands are Play sand and Aragamax.
The fine particle size allows bacteria to grow on the particle’s surface, making it ideal for filtration. In addition, shallow beds are easier to keep clean and do not accumulate debris.
Due to the fineness and lightness of the sand, this presents a disadvantage. It gets blown around easily in reef aquariums with high water movements, leaving bare spots on the bottom.
Caribbean Sea Special-Grade Sand is ideally suited for this type of sand bed and is one of the most economical substrates.
Its benefits are that it does not blow around so quickly because it is heavier. This means there are fewer chances of having bare spots on the bottom of your aquarium.
The surface area of coarser sand is less likely to support bacteria growth, and your chances of getting residues trapped in the sand are higher. Coarse sand is also easy to stir up, making cleaning easier.
Due to the increased biological filtration, deep sand beds with fine grain sand are great. This will help break down waste and remove nitrates by promoting aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.
Deep sand beds are typically 6″ to 8″ in depth. Aerobic bacteria will thrive in the first 2 inches to 3 inches, helping to break down waste and produce nitrates. The lower you go in the sand, the less oxygenated the water and the more anaerobic bacteria flourish. Denitrification is very efficient with this type of bacteria so that nitrate becomes nitrogen gas.
The disadvantage of a deep sand bed is that you need much more sand, which takes up a significant amount of space in your aquarium. Furthermore, if the sand bed is not stirred and kept clean, unseen pockets of hydrogen sulfide can form.
Keeping your sand bed pristine by using animals such as gobies, snails, conchs, sea cucumbers, and hermit crabs will help you maintain a healthy environment.
I do not recommend using deep sand or coarse sand bed. A coarse grain sand bed deeper than 2 inches or 3 inches is dangerous since it will quickly accumulate detritus and increase nitrate levels.
You are much more likely to get poisonous pockets of gas, and it is nearly impossible to clean, even if you have a large team of cleaners.
Several factors determine how deep your substrate should be, including:
- Size, depth, and volume of your aquarium
- What kind of fish do you plan to keep?
- Whether you use live or artificial plants
- How would you like to design your aquascape?
- Your filtration system
Calculating How Much Sand You Need for Your Aquarium
Use an online sand bed calculator to correctly measure how much sand and substrate you need for your aquarium. All you need to do is input the necessary details: the size of your tank and the substrate’s depth, and follow the instructions given on the calculator to work out the amount of sand you need.
How to Add the Sand to Your Aquarium
Once you have calculated how much sand you need for your fish tank, it is time to add it to your aquarium. For a beginner, this can be a tricky job. Here are the steps:
- Rinse the sand thoroughly in a bucket to remove debris before adding it to your fish tank.
- Turn off filters and pumps.
- Put a handful of the sand in a bowl and gently place it at the bottom of the tank.
- Do this repeatedly till you have the depth you require.
- Next, spread the sand evenly in the tank using a scoop or something with a flat bottom and thin edges.
- At this point, the water may be cloudy or murky due to the sand.
- The final step is to do a significant water change. You will need to replace about 50% of the water to remove the cloudiness. Even after changing the water, you may still get a cloudy tank for a short while since the sand needs to settle and be undisturbed. Don’t worry! It will soon clear itself up!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need to Put Sand in My Tank?
No, you don’t need to put sand in your tank. Many fish owners run their tanks without any substrate at all. However, you lose that aesthetic natural look and get an utterly bare tank bottom. Plus, you lose out on the many benefits of having a sand bed in your fish tank.
How Much Sand Do I Need for a 10 Gallon Aquarium?
The general rule is that you need 1.5 pounds per gallon, so for a 10-gallon aquarium, you will need about 15 pounds.