If you have a newly purchased aquarium and want to become a fish owner, the kind of sand that you should use in the tank is an important aspect to think about.
There are all sorts of sand and substrates that people use in their aquariums—from gravel to soil.
Can Play Sand Be Used In Aquarium?
Yes, you can use play sand in an aquarium.
The reason some people want to use play sand in their fish tank is that it adds more color and effects to the aquarium.
Here’s what you need to know about using play sand and other kinds of substrates for your aquarium.
What Should You Keep in Mind When Using Play Sand?
Although play sand can be used for aquariums, you need to make sure that you know about its composition.
For instance, the play sand labeled “silica-free” can contain calcium carbonate, which is harmful to a freshwater tank.
It’s also important to avoid “dust-free” or “anti-dust” play sand, which can indicate that the sand has been treated with harmful chemicals and should not be added to an aquarium.
How Do You Get Play Sand Ready for Your Aquarium?
It’s important to remember that play sand needs to be thoroughly cleaned before you can use it.
Even if you aren’t using play sand that came from a children’s sandbox and is filled with unknown materials, a sealed bag of play sand needs to be cleaned too.
When preparing your play sand for the aquarium, keep in mind the following steps:
Measure How Much You’ll Need
Typically, an aquarium needs a substrate that is at least 3 inches deep.
Measure out how much sand you’ll need for that depth across the entire bottom of your tank and place it in a bucket. If you have plants with deeper roots, you’ll want to make a bottom layer that’s more than 3 inches.
It’s better to have a bigger bucket for this purpose because if the sand fills up more than one-third of the bucket, you’ll have difficulty washing it.
Manually Take Out Debris
Once you’ve separated the sand that you’re intending on using, sift through it and take out any debris that you see.
You might want to use a strainer for this purpose.
Next, add water to the bucket and keep stirring it with a wooden stick or spoon.
Make sure you get water all the way to the bottom of the bucket for a more thorough cleaning. The water you use can be tap water.
Wait for the Sand to Settle
Once you’ve added the water and the sand has settled back into the bucket after you stirred it, pour out the layer of dirty water that has debris that floated to the top.
You’ll notice that once you add water and repeat the stirring process again, more debris and dirt will rise to the surface.
You will have to keep adding more water, stirring, and pouring out the particles at least 10 times until the water starts looking clean.
One of the most important steps is using heat to ensure you kill off any harmful bacteria and pollutants that may still remain in the play sand.
To do this, you need to bake the sand in batches in a baking tray. Place the sand in the tray when it’s still wet and bake for around 20 minutes at 200 F.
Once all your sand has been baked, you should be free of the potentially harmful microorganisms that could infiltrate your tank and affect your fish’s health.
Add the Sand to the Aquarium
Before adding the sand into the tank, make sure you let it cool off completely. It’s better to add one scoop at a time rather than dumping it all into the tank at once. This helps you lay the sand out more easily.
When you’re satisfied with the depth of the sand, you can start pouring your aquarium water back in.
It’s preferable to pour the water in slowly from the sides of the aquarium to prevent the sand from being dislodged and floating around the tank.
One thing to keep in mind when adding water to the aquarium is that your tank might look cloudy for a few days.
This is nothing to worry about, especially if your sand had been particularly dusty.
It can take some time for the grains of sand to settle back down into the bottom of the aquarium and using a strong filter should help clean the water.
Wait until the sand has mostly settled down before you switch the filter on, so you don’t get any particles into the equipment.
What Are the Advantages of Using Play Sand in Aquarium?
There are quite a few advantages to using play sand. For starters, it is a much less expensive alternative to other kinds of sand and substrates.
It’s also more natural-looking, not only for aesthetic appeal but for your fish, because most marine life comes from habitations that had sand or mud. Thus, an aquarium with sand feels more familiar to them.
Another advantage is that sand is made of small grains that are closely packed together.
This means that unlike gravel or pebbles, play sand does not allow space for particles of food or other waste products from your fish to lodge into the gaps.
This prevents the sand from becoming too polluted, which means it’s easier to maintain as compared to other substrates.
Sand is also important to keep your aquarium plants fixed in one place.
With other substrates, the plants can lose their hold and float to the top of the tank. However, sand provides a stronger hold on the plants so they can easily take root.
If you have burrowing fish, play sand is a great option for them because it’s easier to burrow in it. Freshwater eels, as well as loaches, also like burrowing in the sand.
This also prevents the creation of anaerobic pockets, which we discuss below.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Using Play Sand in Aquarium?
Like with all sand and substrate options, there are a few setbacks that you have to be prepared for when dealing with play sand.
For instance, because the grains of sand are so closely packed together, water can’t flow through it as easily as it flows through substrates with larger particles.
This allows for the creation of anaerobic pockets, which can become the home for bacteria that isn’t good for your fish or plant life.
These bacteria give off chemicals that can cause illness unless you regularly clean your sand.
However, if you have burrowing fish, loaches, or freshwater eels, they can dig through the sand and break apart any potential pockets.
Another drawback is that because play sand is made of such small grains, it can get sucked into your tank’s filters and damage the machinery.
If the grains are particularly small, some fish owners claim they can also get into your fish’s gills as well, so be careful of how big the grains are before you allow your fish to enter back into the aquarium.
If you’re using play sand and have live plants, you might want to add some fertilizer to the sand to make it healthier for the plants and provide the resources to feed off.
You can mix fertilized aquarium substrate with the play sand or even use fertilizer tablets to take care of this problem.
What Are the Different Types of Aquarium Sand?
There are five main kinds of sand that people prefer for aquariums.
Many people opt for play sand because it is the least expensive sand and also provides a look that closely resembles your fish’s natural habitat.
You don’t even need to buy it from a pet store because it’s also available at hardware stores.
It comes in a number of colors and has varying sizes of grains—which could be a pro or con depending on your preferences.
Pool Filter Sand
Like play sand, pool filter sand wasn’t meant to be used in tanks but it still does the trick. One reason why people go for pool filter sand is that the grains are fairly large, which is relatively safer.
This kind of sand only comes in one color, unless you invest in silica pool sand, which is slightly more expensive but comes in various color varieties.
Blasting sand also gives your aquarium a natural look. The grains are uniform in size and are more refined.
This is also an inexpensive option compared to many other kinds of substrates.
Black Quartz Sand
Black quartz sand contains different minerals that give it its black color. The benefit of using this sand is that it doesn’t affect the aquarium water in terms of altering its hardness or parameters.
Another advantage is that its dark color helps your aquarium plants and fish stand out because most fish are bright, light colors. This adds to the aesthetic appeal of your aquarium.
Specialty sand is similar to play sand but is more expensive.
If you do invest in specialty sand from a reputable company, this kind of sand can be pH neutral, which is good for your tank water. It also has a more uniform look, which many aquarium owners prefer.
There are all sorts of factors to consider when finalizing which kind of sand you want to use for your aquarium.
Hopefully, the advantages, disadvantages, and steps for using play sand mentioned here will make it easier for you to decide whether it is the right choice of sand for you.
Remember, you can always experiment with different substrates and sand until you find one that is suitable for your fish, your plants, and for you in terms of maintenance and aesthetic appeal.
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