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The 8 Best Substrates For Axolotl Tanks

Axolotls may be referred to as "Mexican walking fish," however they are actually salamanders that never matured. Once their environment has been established, these amphibians are simple to care for. Preparing an axolotl tank necessitates that you pay more attention to the substrate than you may while preparing a fish aquarium.

Two distinct axolotl traits make it difficult to select an appropriate substrate for their home. One characteristic is their sensitive skin, especially on their feet. A substrate that is rough or slick can cause your axolotl discomfort and possibly injury. Axolotls similarly consume food by sucking it into their lips. They frequently feed from the tank's bottom and might easily consume substrate along with their food, resulting in serious health implications.

Here are BestForPets (bestforpets.org)'s evaluations of the best substrates for axolotl tanks to assist you to make the wisest selection.


CaribSea Natural Super Crystal River

This Crystal River freshwater sand from CaribSea is our recommendation for the finest substrate for axolotl aquariums overall. Sand is generally regarded as the safest substrate option for axolotls. It is soft on their feet, looks good in the tank, and, if consumed, is less likely to create a severe obstruction than gravel.

However, aquarium sand is not all made equal. This Crystal River sand is essential for axolotl tanks due to its exceptionally tiny grain size. If salamanders do ingest sand, it must be thin enough to pass safely, which this one is. In addition, it has no artificial colors that may seep into your axolotl’s water and harm it.

The addition of fine-grain sand to an aquarium might result in hazy water, so be careful to adhere to all instructions when adding this substrate. The natural bacteria and water-filtering properties of Crystal River sand help maintain your aquarium clean and balanced.


  • Ultra-fine-grained sand
  • Maintains trash on the substrate surface for simple cleanup
  • Large bags are available.


  • This may result in hazy water


Quikrete Play Sand

This play sand from Quikrete is the most cost-effective substrate for axolotl aquariums, in our opinion. If you want to save money while ensuring that your axolotl has a safe substrate, play sand is an economical alternative, especially if you get it from a local hardware shop.

Make careful you get play sand and not construction sand, which is coarser, sharper, and potentially hazardous. The sand used for children’s play is cleansed and treated to make the grains smaller, rounder, and more gentle on the skin. If you use play sand, you will need to put in a bit more effort to ensure that it is acceptable for your aquarium.

Consider filtering or sifting the play sand as a precautionary measure and wash it completely to remove any particles. Additionally, this sand will not contain any beneficial microorganisms as aquarium sand does.


  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to buy
  • Large bags are available.


  • Before usage, must be rinsed and sifted.
  • No beneficial bacteria


Natural Slate Rock

To prevent your axolotl from accidently consuming substrate, you can go in an altogether other way and cover the bottom of the tank with this natural slate rock. This substrate choice is neither the easiest nor the cheapest, but it produces a nice-looking floor covering for your aquarium.

The greatest disadvantage of this type of substrate is that it might be more difficult to clean owing to debris dropping into the spaces between the rocks.

To address this issue, you may choose to use aquarium-safe silicone to adhere the parts together. This substrate requires a little more time to prepare and install, but the peace of mind gained may be worth the extra effort.


  • No chance of accidental consumption
  • Sturdy and long-lasting


  • Installation is cumbersome
  • Less easy to keep clean


Stoney River Aquatic White Sand

This gorgeous white aquarium sand is more costly, but it is an appropriate substrate for your axolotl tank. The sand from Stoney River has somewhat bigger grains than our preferred option, but it is still safe to use. Axolotls do not require a large aquarium, therefore utilizing this more expensive sand choice will not be as costly as putting up a large tank.

This sand is non-toxic and meant to have no effect on the pH levels of the water in your aquarium. Similar to other fine-grain sand options, this one may obscure your water. It is simple to clean and ideal for aquarium décor using real plants.


  • Does not alter water pH
  • Fine-grain


  • Expensive
  • May result in hazy water


Palmetto Pool Filter Sand

Palmetto Pool Filter sand is another inexpensive alternative to aquarium sand that may be used as the substrate for an axolotl tank. This sand, like aquarium sand, is natural and devoid of potentially hazardous colors and additives. Due to the risk of clogging the pool filters, pool sand is manufactured to be non-clumping.

What is beneficial for a pool filter is also beneficial for an axolotl’s body. Any consumed sand should pass without incident. Pool filter sand, unlike aquarium sand, will not contain helpful microorganisms. The sand is packaged in a large bag, making it a more economical alternative.


  • Cost-effective
  • Non-clumping


  • No beneficial microorganisms exist in aquarium sand.


Unglazed Ceramic Tile

If you wish to eliminate the risk of ingesting sand, you might also use a substrate of unglazed ceramic tiles. The slate rock substrate is typically more expensive than these tiles, which are readily available at hardware stores. Just be certain to use only unglazed tiles, as the glaze may be poisonous to the axolotl.

For optimal results, you must adhere the tiles to the tank’s floor. It might be difficult to clean ceramic tiles if the gaps between them enable debris to accumulate. Also, remember that you cannot keep live plants in a tank with a ceramic tile substrate.


  • Absence of ingestion risk
  • Durable


  • Installation is cumbersome

Buyer's Guide

As you construct the new tank for your axolotl, there are several factors to consider before selecting the optimal substrate.

Do You Require a Substrate?

To totally eliminate the possibility of your axolotl harming themselves or ingesting a harmful amount of substrate, you should remove it from the tank.

There are a number of reasons why bare tank floors are not the ideal option, one of which is that they don’t look very attractive! Axolotls may find bare tank flooring to be too stressful and slick to walk on. These salamanders are also sensitive to light, and reflections on the tank’s floor glass might cause them stress.

Rather than leaving your axolotl on bare floorboards, it is often preferable to use a safe substrate, such as one of those we examined.

Which Substrates Must Never Be Employed?

We’ve previously discussed safe substrate alternatives, but what about those that are absolute no-gos? Small gravel or stones are the primary substratum to avoid with axolotls. These will very certainly be ingested by a hungry axolotl and produce a deadly obstruction.

As long as the rocks are bigger than the axolotl’s head, it is permissible to use them as substrate. However, huge boulders can be difficult to maintain and difficult for salamanders to traverse. In addition, it is difficult to be assured that your axolotl will not attempt to ingest one. Avoid any type of rock other than flat slate for your safety.

You should also avoid colored sand, construction sand, reptile mats, and any product that might alter the pH or other properties of the water.

How Large Is Your Tank?

Axolotls should live independently, thus they do not require a huge tank. Typically, a 20-gallon tank is adequate. Clearly, the amount of substrate you require will depend on the size of your aquarium. Some of the substrates we examined are more costly and may be less suited for big aquariums.

Typically, you will require around 1 pound per gallon of tank per inch of substrate depth. Therefore, 20 pounds of sand for a 20-gallon tank with a 1-inch substrate depth. Consider the size of your aquarium while selecting a substrate and determining a budget for your habitat layout.

How Will You Maintain Your Tank’s Cleanliness?

Axolotls are untidy creatures, thus it is vital to maintain their tank clean, as with other aquatic species. This is a possibility for your axolotl as well, as most fish aquariums employ a filter to keep the water clear.

However, filters generate at least a little current in whatever tank they are used to clean. Axolotls are stressed by anything quicker than a moderate current, therefore your filter may not function as well.

The living bacteria in aquarium sand help clean the water, thus using it as a substrate might be advantageous. Because you’ll need to manually clean your aquarium with a siphon on a regular basis, sand is the finest substrate for keeping waste on the surface for simple removal.

Fine-grained sand does not mix well with a strong filter and will cloud the water in your aquarium, but a sluggish stream should not bother it too much.

Tile or slate rock substrates provide a firm, easy-to-clean surface as well as gaping fissures that can collect aquarium trash. If you pick these substrates, ensure that they are securely fastened to the tank’s floor.

Depending on how dirty your axolotl is, you will need to make partial water changes more regularly if you do not utilize a filter. Never replace all of your axolotl’s water at once, since the rapid change in water composition can cause stress.

Weekly water changes should be sufficient for a filtered aquarium, however daily or every other day water changes may be required for an unfiltered aquarium. A reasonable rule of thumb is to replace 20% of the tank water on a regular basis.


CaribSea Crystal River, BestForPets (bestforpets.org)’s finest overall substrate for axolotl tanks, blends a pleasant look with fine, non-clumping sand grains for safety and beauty. Our most cost-effective alternative, Quikrete Play Sand, requires some time to prepare for your aquarium.

Axolotls are intriguing, social pets that require a well-prepared home but are easy to care for and feed. These assessments of the best substrates for axolotl tanks are an excellent starting point as you design a home for your new salamander companion.

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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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