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The 9 Best Sand For Freshwater Aquariums

Did you know the first aquarium construction instructions were released in 1854? It's a fact. Phillip Henry Gosse, an English "natural scientist," was so enthralled with creating aquatic habitats for his fish and plants that he also developed the first public aquarium, which he displayed at the London Zoo.

Since the publication of his book, The Aquarium: An Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea, it has been feasible for home aquarium aficionados to construct their own aquariums with little time, effort, and price.

Once you've chosen your tank and chosen your fish and plants, there's still one vital component missing: sand!

Aquarium sand, one of two regularly utilized substrates for constructing aquatic habitats, produces a safe and livable environment for both fish and plants.

To assist you in selecting the finest sand for your aquarium, BestForPets (bestforpets.org) has compiled these assessments of the best sand for freshwater aquariums.


Bio-Active Live Aragonite Aquarium Sand from Nature’s Ocean

The ideal sand for a saltwater aquarium is always the sand that most closely resembles a fish’s natural habitat, which is the ocean. We adore Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Aquarium Sand for this reason. It is obtained from the ocean in a sustainable manner and is rich with live marine bacteria that will swiftly condition and stabilize your aquarium.

The Nature’s Ocean Aragonite aquarium sand maintains optimum levels of nitrate, nitrite, and pH by the elimination of nitrogenous waste by its natural microorganisms. Choosing it for your aquarium can lessen the shock new fish will face when added to the tank and reduce long-term care needs.

In addition to its exceptional functionality, this sand from Nature’s Ocean contributes to a beautiful, minimalist presentation. It is naturally off-white and will not muddy the water in your aquarium.

This sand from Nature’s Ocean is, in a nutshell, the only sand we’d use in our saltwater aquariums.


  • The price for big volumes of sand is reasonable
  • The natural white hue looks stunning in any tank.
  • containing healthy, living marine microorganisms
  • Maintains appropriate pH, nitrate, and nitrite levels
  • Fish may be introduced the same day your aquarium is set up.


  • Occasionally has an “oceanic” odor
  • Fine-grained sand may jam pumps with a smaller diameter.


Aqua Terra Aquarium & Terrarium Sand

While the majority of aquarium sands are designed for use in either freshwater or saltwater tanks, there are a few viable choices that may be utilized for a number of reasons. Principal among these is the Aqua Terra Aquarium & Terrarium Sand, a natural substrate covered with colorfast acrylic that prevents it from affecting the water chemistry negatively.

This sand from Aqua Terra is available in seven bright and appealing colors and is so affordably priced that it may very well be the finest aquarium sand for the money. If you’re on a limited budget but don’t want to lose aesthetics in your freshwater or saltwater aquarium, this is a great option – as long as you don’t mind taking the time to clean it properly before use.

The only reason this sand from Aqua Terra did not take the top rank is because of its inconsistent quality from bag to bag. While some bags may be ideal and require practically no washing to generate clear water, other bags may take five to ten rinses to produce clear water.


  • Excellent selection of hues to choose from
  • Compatible with freshwater and saltwater aquariums
  • Outstanding value for the cost
  • No effect on water chemistry


  • Variable quality from bag to bag
  • May require extensive washing before use.


CaribSea Super Naturals Freshwater Sand from Crystal River

Completely natural and uncoated, the CaribSea Super Naturals Crystal River Freshwater Sand is comparable to our top option in its capacity to produce an ideal habitat for your freshwater fish pals.

This sand from CaribSea, harvested straight from riverbeds, contains living freshwater bacteria that will filter and preserve the water quality in your aquarium.

In addition, Super Naturals sand is fortified with a clarifier and water conditioner, making it one of the most convenient and low-maintenance substrates we’ve ever evaluated. Simply add it to a tank filled with tap water, wait for half a day, and your tank will be completely ready for your fish.

The extremely fine grain size of this sand might cause problems for some water pumps, but not if you follow the clarifier’s instructions. Even though it is substantially more expensive, the CaribSea Super Naturals is our top pick for freshwater aquariums.


  • Specifically made for freshwater tanks
  • Containing naturally occurring, beneficial freshwater bacteria
  • Extremely user-friendly; simply add tap water
  • Maintains a naturally accommodating habitat for your fish.


  • On the pricey side
  • Extra-fine sand grains might cause problems for some water pumps.


Carib Sea Natural Superior Peace River Sand

Carib Sea Super Natural Peace River Sand, one of the few areas of sand in our study with medium to big grain size, provides a unique appearance that is ideal for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Made in the United States using responsibly obtained water sources, this eco-friendly choice is limited only by its steep price.

This Peace River Sand, like other Carib Sea sands, has been specifically treated so as not to alter the pH values of your aquarium. It has a longer lifespan than any other sand we evaluated due to the greater grain size, which makes it simpler to remove for cleaning.

This is a wonderful, low-maintenance sand for freshwater or saltwater aquariums, but its higher cost per pound makes it more suitable for smaller aquariums.


  • Compatible with both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
  • Will not alter the pH or chemical balance of water
  • Biologically and sustainably harvested
  • Simple to clean and durable


  • Quite costly


Stoney River Aquatic White Sand

When creating an aquarium, utilitarian considerations might sometimes trump aesthetic considerations. But if you are adamant about having shining white sands in your nicely organized aquarium, Stoney River’s White Aquatic Sand is a wonderful alternative.

This safe and non-toxic sand is completely covered in a bright white surface and is suitable for both marine and freshwater aquariums.

While it will not influence your tank’s pH or chemical balance, we discovered that it required a significant amount of cleaning before our tank water ran clear. This, paired with the sand’s tendency to block water pumps, is a major knock against Stoney River sand, but not a deal-breaker.


  • Brilliantly white hue
  • Safe for use in both freshwater and marine tanks
  • Non-toxic and perfectly safe for fish


  • Rather costly
  • As a result of its tiny grain size, tends to choke water pumps.


Onyx Seachem Sand

The ideal complement to the previous sand on our list, Seachem’s Onyx Sand is the darkest and you can get it for your aquarium without the use of artificial chemicals or dyes. Completely natural and suited for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums, this choice has a characteristic hue and requires extensive preparation before addition.

Despite the manufacturer’s claim that this sand has been pre-washed, we found it to be quite dusty the following shipping. Be prepared to rinse it a dozen times or more to reach total clarity in your tank; if you skip this step, you may anticipate your water to be slightly hazy.

If you are prepared to do this additional work, however, you will be rewarded with a brilliantly dark seabed that matches the colors of several exotic fish.


  • No synthetic colors or dyes
  • Outstanding black hue
  • Compatible with both freshwater and marine aquariums


  • Before usage, extensive rinsing is required.
  • Typically clogs water pumps.

What to Look for When Buying Sand for Freshwater Aquariums

Choosing the proper aquarium sand depends more on what is absent than on what is present.

The best aquarium sands are ones that are as natural as possible, with no additional dyes or colors that might obscure the water or hurt the fish. Any sand you select should have a neutral or close-to-neutral pH value; otherwise, it might produce a poisonous and perhaps lethal environment for your fish.

Some of our favorite aquarium sands are the so-called “active” version, which still contains all of the organisms found in a real oceanic habitat. Helpful sands are often more expensive than normal sand, but they set up your aquarium for long-term success by introducing beneficial microorganisms that keep the tank clean.

How Much Aquarium Sand Is Necessary?

Depending on your design ideas and the types of fish and plants that will inhabit your aquarium, the typical depth will range from 1.5 to 2 inches for a shallow bed to 6 to 8 inches for a deep bed ideal for burrowing species.

As a general guideline, you may expect to need around 1.5 pounds of sand per gallon of aquarium volume.


The Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Aquarium Sand is the best sand for freshwater aquariums for anybody interested in constructing a saltwater aquarium. It is an all-inclusive method for establishing an aquatic environment for saltwater fish. Unlike many sands in our assessments, it also requires no further setup or preparation before to introducing fish to the tank, which is why we suggest it as the finest aquarium sand for saltwater tanks.

The Aqua Terra Aquarium & Terrarium Sand, BestForPets (bestforpets.org)’s recommendation for the best value aquarium sand, is a cost-effective option for anybody creating a freshwater aquarium. The Aqua Terra sand requires a little more preparation and cleaning before use, but this is a minor inconvenience given its low price.

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Dr. Deborah Fletcher

Deborah R. Fletcher, DVM, is a skilled veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience dealing with companion and exotic animals. She has experience caring for a variety of animals, including household cats and dogs, reptiles, birds of prey, and even primates. Dr. Fletcher is a valuable part of the BestForPets team, where she contributes to their aim of providing pets and their owners with the finest possible treatment and services.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Deborah Fletcher


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