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Getting to the Bottom of Aquarium Substrates

Choosing the proper aquarium substrates can be one of the most important decisions before starting an aquarium. There are many things to consider before settling on a substrate, like how easy it will be to change and clean once the aquarium is up and running. How will the substrate play a role in housing beneficial bacteria to aid in the breakdown of waste within the tank? What will you be housing in the aquarium? And of course, how will the substrate impact the overall look you desire? Let's look at some different types of substrates and how they impact and aquarium. Below are the three most common aquarium substrates. 

Standard Aquarium Gravel

Aquarium Gravel is a classic and comes in a wide variety of color and sizes which allow for a custom look of your own. Gravel is fairly easy to maintain and will not affect water chemistry. I would recommend this for first-time aquarium keepers. 


Sand provides a nice, natural look for an aquarium. Certain species of fish prefer the sand bottom and benefit from its use such as Panda Corydoras. Depending on what type of sand product you use it can have an effect on water chemistry, so make sure to test the water frequently. The maintenance of sand is a bit different from gravel but not too drastic of a change. Skimming just the top of the sand with an aquarium vacuum should be done routinely. And to prevent the sand from becoming compacted and trapping dangerous gasses it should be agitated and mixed with each water change. 

Live Plant Substrates

There are many plant specialty substrates out there such as Seachem Onyx Sand - Planted Aquarium Substrate . Depending on the look and what type of plants and fish you will keep will help to decide which one is better for you. A planted tank substrate should be a minimum of 2-3 inches to allow proper root growth. These substrates are maintained much like the standard gravel and provide great nutrients for plant growth. Be aware that some of these products can affect water chemistry.  These are three of the most commonly used substrates on the market. While they all have their purpose it is important to pick the one that will suit your aquarium needs. It is also possible to do a tank without any substrate if the cycling of the tank is done properly. Either way, you can still achieve a beautiful aquascape with proper planning.[button-green url="" target="_blank" position="center"]Aquatic Substrates[/button-green]  

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