Beginner's Guide

Guide to Different Types of Aquarium Substrates

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Substrates are those essential components that must be in an aquarium. Generally, a substrate is simply a fancy way of referring to something which is beneath something else. Aquarium substrates have different functions and you should choose it according to the type of tank you have, which means a freshwater, planted, and fish-only and reef, etc. When you choose a substrate, you must be careful as there are different types of aquarium substrates which you need to take into account.

The substrate is used for the wellbeing of the fish tank because it affects the quality of water or you will not have a functioning fish tank. The substrate helps to provide the fish with an orientation. Glass bottoms can irritate the fish especially when the light is being reflected from the fixture on top of the tank. At first, you should have an idea of what is functional and best for the fish. The aquarium substrate is generally the first step when setting up your empty freshwater fish tank. You need to give first importance to your tank and that should run smoothly. After that, you must have some kind of substrate knowledge.

If you have an aquarium and you want the tank to look like it’s out of nature, you need to add water plants which help to give your aquarium to look like its nature’s aquarium and other hardscapes for the detailing like driftwood, rocks, or any other decorations to your tank. You need to give priority to the tank appearance and blends in with any layout and decorations that you have planned. Aquarium substrates also act as a natural filter as it collects the organic waste that falls down which is also a source of food for the aquarium plants and imitates the natural fish habitat.

Why is Substrate Important in an Aquarium?

The following are some of the importance of having a substrate in your aquarium:

Good looking: The main reason people use a substrate is that it enriches to look of your fish tank.

Enhances your fish: You can use the substrate to pop up their color. Fish with a bright color is easier to see in the dark substrate and vice versa.

It’s natural: Do fish in the wild have bare bottom habitat? No. So, by using any kind of substrate you are creating a natural environment for your fish.

Plants need substrate: Plants take in nutrition from their root through aquarium substrates i.e. aquarium soil.

It houses nitrifying bacteria: Beneficial bacteria take part in the Nitrogen Cycle. These bacteria are present in your filters and some can cover the substrate of your aquarium.

Aquarium Substrates Types

Aquarium substrates are of the following types which can include gravel, sand, dirt, crushed marble or artificial substrate and so on. An artificial substrate can be imitation gravel having a natural look and colors in it or it can be made of small chunks of blue, pink, black or any other colors though some aquarists look down upon this as poor taste. You should always avoid the sharp shaped gravel in order to prevent your fish from being an injury. If in case you use natural gravel then you can add fertilizers too. This improves the growth of the plants and also you can add other kinds of substrates which can affect the pH and hardness values of the water. You can get aquarium substrate ideas from the following subtopics.

Aquarium Gravel

Aquarium SubstratesGravel is the one which has been the most popular aquarium substrates since the long period of time which is an ideal, medium for most tanks. The gravel which you buy at your aquatic center will be a specially chosen for your aquarium. You need to make sure that you choose the substrate that has a smooth edge and that shouldn’t hurt your fish. As well as, it also needs to be inert, so that it will not dissolve in the water easily. According to your choice, you can get gravel in different sizes and colors and these all the factors combined and then makes aquarium grave the ideal medium for the beginner.

Aquarium Sand

Aquarium SubstratesSand for the aquarium is available in various colors. Aquarium Sand help in creating a pleasing-looking tank. And also it is one of the most common substrates which is used in many aquariums. Sand is also an ideal medium for fish that loves dig or bury themselves into the substrate. This is also a disadvantage when you house a bigger fish with aquarium plants, as they will disturb plants and ornamentation. And due to its small particle size, it can also cause damage to filters.

Coral Sand

Aquarium SubstratesCoral sand can also be said as coral gravel which is made out of calcium carbonate. The coral sand slowly dissolves into the water. This process helps in counterbalancing acid built up or decaying organic matter in the tank. Coral sand is an ideal substrate for those fish that prefer higher pH levels since coral sand push the pH up to 7.6.


Aquarium Soil

Aquarium Substrates

Aquarium Soil is an aquarium substrate for live plants. A substrate soil from a local fish store is especially being formulated in order to prevent it from mixing with water creating dirty and muddy tank water. It also provides the nutrients which are necessary for your plants to grow. Generally, in planted tanks aquarium soil is used. And in case if you don’t have aquarium soil and you are planning on growing live plants in your tank. Then you can use a different substrate adding root tabs underneath the substrates as a food source for your plant.

Marble Chippings

Marble chippings are calcium carbonate which is based upon a fish tank substrate similar to coral sand. As a substrate, it also shares some of the similarities with coral sand but actually. It is heavier and not as porous as coral sand. Marble chip has its advantage over coral sand. It is less expensive than coral sand and it is also available in different shades.


Marbles is another choice of using as a substrate. These substrates are normally flat rather than spherical and come in a variety of colors. This helps your aquarium look attractive and the designing of your aquarium to the next level. Although they are colorful, they are not the best substrate for your aquarium. It is because the gaps between the individual marbles are quite large. This allows largish items of food to be trapped and also making the build of beneficial bacteria difficult. Marbles are also often used in breeding tanks because the eggs can easily fall into the gaps and be safe from being eaten by the parents or any other big fish.

Do you need Aquarium substrates?

I will be straight up, you don’t need a substrate in your tank compulsorily. An aquarium without any substrate is known as a bare bottom tank. It has its own advantages and disadvantages. It limits the type of fish you can keep. For example, any fish like a stingray that hides in the substrate or the fish that scavenges through the substrate for the food is inappropriate for a bare bottom tank.


If you made it this far, then you must have an idea to choose a substrate that is suitable for your tank. Regardless of what substrate you choose, do not forget about the routine maintenance. Routine maintenance is necessary to continue the effectiveness and efficiency of the aquarium. You need to vacuum the substrate every week to eliminate aquarium waste.