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The Best Sand Substrates for Aquariums

square aquarium tank placed next to a pile of beige aquarium sand

In order to create a healthy aquarium and replicate the natural environment of your aquatic pets, you need to invest in a high-quality sand substrate. One of the most important things sand substrate does for your tank is foster the growth of beneficial bacteria through biological filtration. These bacterias work to maintain a clean tank by eliminating fish waste, leftover food, and plant debris. Substrate also adds to the aesthetic appeal of your tank by creating a solid surface that highlights the natural beauty of your aquatic fish and plants. Here are some fantastic sand substrates that we recommend for your aquarium.

What to Look for When Buying Sand for Your Aquarium

Here’s what to consider:

  • Grain: There are a wide variety of sand substrates on the market, so it is important to choose one that fits the needs of your tank. If you have a planted aquarium, you should choose a substrate with a coarse grain, as this will provide a hearty surface for your plants to take root in. 
  • Pet: Hermit crab tanks require moist, nutrient-rich sand that creates a safe space for the crabs to hunt and molt in. In order to cultivate a thriving shrimp colony within your tank, you need to invest in a substrate that contains trace minerals and low levels of plant nutrients.

Best Black Sand: Seachem Flourite Black Sand

white plastic bag with black sand and green plants on the lower half of the cover

This black aquarium sand is derived from specially-fracted stable porous clay gravel that is naturally designed to work well for aquatic plants. The sand is not chemically coated or treated, so you’ll never have to worry about it affecting the pH levels of your aquarium. While this sand is most effective when used on its own, it may be mixed with other sands or gravels. This black sand is a great choice for those looking to replicate the natural environment of their aquatic plants.

Best Black Sand

Flourite Black Sand, 15.4 Pound (Pack of 1)

This black sand is not chemically coated or treated in order to prevent any changes to the pH level of your tank.

Best Natural Sand: Carib Sea Ocean Direct Natural Live Sand

clear plastic bag with aquatic fish and coral on the cover, filled with white sand

If you’re looking for the most natural sand substrate to add to your aquarium, this high-quality sand is sourced straight from the ocean itself. This natural aragonite sand ensures better bio-filtration throughout the life of your aquarium, reducing nitrates and the presence of algae. Each grain of sand is encapsulated in a thin layer of real ocean water and then packaged in a breathable bag, meaning the sand will actually be damp when you receive it. The sand uses sea-breathe technology to preserve every sand particle within its own original bacteria in order to provide a thriving, natural environment for your aquarium.

Best Natural Sand

Carib Sea ACS00940 Ocean Direct Natural Live Sand for Aquarium, 40-Pound

This sand is encapsulated in a thin layer of ocean water in order to preserve its natural bacteria.

Best for Hermit Crabs: Fluker’s All-Natural Premium Sand Substrate

clear plastic bag full of sand with a red cover featuring palm trees and a hermit crab

Hermit crabs are natural diggers: not only do they dig while hunting for food but also when they begin to molt. Hermit crabs thrive in deep, moist sand that naturally protects them during the molting process and prevents dehydration. Because of this, it is important for them to be in an environment that mimics their natural habitat. This sand is specifically designed to foster a healthy environment for your hermit crabs: it is crafted with a blend of all-natural sand, coconut fibers, calcium, sea salt, and probiotics that help to maintain a clean environment for your crab. The coconut fibers swell to keep the sand hydrated, and the calcium and sea salt work together to replicate the sand found in a hermit crab’s natural environment. This sand will help you make sure that your hermit crab stays happy and healthy.

Best for Hermit Crabs

Fluker's All Natural Premium Sand Substrate Mixture for Hermit Crabs

This sand is crafted with a blend of coconut fibers, calcium, and sea salt in order to replicate your hermit crab's natural environment.

Best for Shrimp: U.P. Aqua Shrimp Sand

clear plastic bag filled with black sand

While they are not typically considered popular aquatic pets, adding shrimp to your aquarium is a great way to diversify your tank. This sand is specially formulated for shrimp-keepers: it comes in small, uniform grain sizes that contain trace minerals vital to enhancing the longevity of your shrimp. The sand contains lower levels of plant nutrients and higher levels of vitamins that are beneficial to cultivating healthy shrimp colonies. This sand is a great choice for shrimp keepers and aquatic enthusiasts alike.

Best for Shrimp

U.P. Aqua Shrimp Sand

This sand contains trace minerals vital to cultivating healthy shrimp colonies.

Ellie Miller Ellie Miller
Ellie Miller is a full-time copy editor and occasional writer for LifeSavvy’s reviews articles. With years of experience in substantive and copy editing, proofreading, and publishing, she has edited thousands of online articles, as well as memoirs, scientific essays, book chapters, and workplace training documents. She hopes you’ll find some new favorite products here on LifeSavvy like she has. Read Full Bio »

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