Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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Bluewind 05-20-2013 11:56 AM

Need help choosing substrate
As the title says, I need help choosing a substrate. The reason I just didn't go off someone else's post is because I have specific factors that need to be considered because of my water and the fish I will be getting. I would really apreciate the names of good brands along with your posts to help me find them better to research. If you don't know a brand, could yall at leat spell out what yall are talking about instead of using shorthand? I might not know what it means :-/

The Facts
1. pH is 6.2 from tap and 6.8 after 48 hours of sitting.
2. Water is very soft
3. 20 gallon long that will be filled 1 inch deep, so quality over quanity since I wont need an obscene amount.
4. Silica free (with my low pH, I experenced a terrible brown algae/diatome breakout that covered my tank. The problem was confined to the one with pool filter sand and did not improve over 6 months until I removed it. Believe me, I tried everything else first)
5. Good for Betas and Kuhli Loaches (preferably fine smooth gravel or sand that wont compact or ruin my filter). I also might get afew Otos later on, but if it works for Kuhlis, it should work for Otos too.
6. My plants will be stem and floating. With no root feeders, enriched substrate isn't really necessary. Plant wise, at most it will be something for the plants to hold onto.
7. Appearance is irrelivant. Function over looks. I only want the substrate that is best for my fish and plants
8. Avaliable in the US

jaysee 05-20-2013 01:04 PM

There is no such thing as silica free sand. Sand IS silica.

Look at caribsea supernaturals sunset gold.

Sent from App

Geomancer 05-20-2013 01:25 PM

Well, sand is silica. It's just what it is and there is no way of avoiding that. Even gravel will have it (sand is just pulverized rocks).

However, it is 'crystalline silica' and is stable, which means it will not react with water. You can read about it in the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), section X.

The water you describe is similar to my own, and others here on the forums. My tanks pH is ~6.4 in all 4 of my tanks.

Perhaps there is something wrong with the sand you purchased, but I can say that myself and many others here (with soft, acidic water too) have not had this issue with sand. All new tanks generally experience a dolomite outbreak, but it goes away on its own over time (if not eaten by some fish).

For gravels you will probably not find anything in pet stores, your only hope there will be a local store. Commercial substrates are either silica sand or gravel. The alternatives are usually for marine tanks and/or african lake cichlids and are calcareous, which means they dissolve in water and add mineral hardness (GH & KH). You don't want that, this is stuff like crushed coral, dolomite, and aragonite.

For your filter, are you using a HOB? If so, any sand is a concern if it is 'disturbed' so don't run the filter when you first set up. The issue is the impeller is located on the bottom of the HOB, so when the sand settles in the HOB reservoir, it can get caught in there. With canister filters this is less of an issue, because the impeller is located at the top and thus doesn't have to worry about settling sand. A sponge filter however may serve you better on a 20 gallon tank. Less current, equal functionality, never have to replace a cartridge.

You are correct that your substrate choice will have no affect on your plants.

You say you don't care about appearance, just functionality with the fish. Well, appearance actually DOES affect the fish. You want to avoid anything bright (like white) and what I'll call clown puke (hot pink, blue, neon green, etc etc). Just get something natural (tan/dark brown) or get black. It is better for the fish and will make them feel less stressed.

Okay, so if you want something specific I will say just head to Petco and buy their store brand black sand. Information is scarce on it, but I believe it is either all plastic, or regular sand that's epoxy coated (just like fish store gravels are epoxy coated). An alternative is to go to a landscape supply company and see what they have for gravels, you may be lucky and they'll have some fine gravels you can use. Third, go online like to and buy their gravel. It's expensive though, especially with shipping.

I personally use the Quickrete Playsand from Home Depot/Lowe's, but you've expressed you don't want to use that.

Bluewind 05-20-2013 02:00 PM

The silica based sand I used was Sea Gule pfs. Like I said, the situation didn't exist until I added it and got no better until I removed it, so it had to be the sand. And I was told about some silica free substrate via PetSmart Corporate Hotline, so I assumed that all substrates were not silica as I was told by them that they do have silica free (see where I'm going with this?).

I don't have a Petco anywhere close. We have to go to either PetSmart, a small lfs, or maybe one of those hardware stores or something.

What I meant by not caring about what it looks like, I meant to say that I don't care if it looks like poop with corn on top as long as it works. And I know about avoiding white an florecent colors, but thank you for adding it to your post as I'm sure there will be someone who comes across this thred that might not have. :)

I've heard of a lot of people suggesting that particular playsand, but after the disasterous results I had with my pool filter sand (which was also recomended to me on here), I'm a little gun shy about using non-aquarium sands. Plus all the hours of rinsing would be tough on me considering I only have full use of my right side. The degree of use I have on my left varies from day to day.

Oh! And I honestly have no clue what HOB means. I have the walmart brand one and a Tetra whisper 10-30i. And even still, I could catch a 20 gallon kit on sale for cheeper than just the tank and hood, so I'm clueless atm. I'm hoping that I find a setup that includes a stand too.

jaysee 05-20-2013 02:15 PM


Originally Posted by Bluewind (Post 2102737)
The silica based sand I used was Sea Gule pfs. Like I said, the situation didn't exist until I added it and got no better until I removed it, so it had to be the sand. And I was told about some silica free substrate via PetSmart Corporate Hotline, so I assumed that all substrates were not silica as I was told by them that they do have silica free (see where I'm going with this?).

Yes, I understand how confusing it is. But the fact remains that "silica free" sand is still made of silica. Silica IS sand, and sand IS silica. It's not an additive or anything - it's the chemical composition.

Here's a place that advertises SILICA FREE SAND! Silica Free Sand, Non Silica Sand, Healthy Sand, Safe Sand

Just what you are looking for, right? Wrong.

From their Q&A

2. Is your silica-free sand really silica-free?
All sand has some type of silica in it -- by nature, silica is part of the physical composition of grains of sand. So, speaking technically, there's no such thing as sand that does not have silica in it.

Now, you can go with aragonite, which is a calcium based sand, but it is not inert.

Bluewind 05-20-2013 03:03 PM

Why do they call it silica free if it isn't silica free!?! Thank God they don't make the peanut alergy labels o_O

No. It has to be innert. God I didn't realize this was gonna be so hard! :(

Also, when I say soft, I mean very very soft. Our well is filtered with sand which is an amazing natural filter. If I remember right, I think our hardness was maybe like 20ppm from the tap?

redchigh 05-20-2013 03:33 PM

I'd reccomend 'Estes ultra reef sand". Its inert, epoxy coated, and about $1 a pound. Its probably available in different brand names, since its pretty much identical to a construction material called 'colorquartz' and 'spectraquartz', and smooth enough for bottom dwellers.

Might still want a minimum of two inches so the stem plants will be held down.

JDM 05-20-2013 04:10 PM

I won't belabour the points about silica and sand but you will need more than 1" to hold stems decently.

There are so many people using various types of sand (me too) without the issue that you had that I'd be surprised if were actually the sand... but I'm not asking you to justify or discuss it further as you obviously spent 6 months trying to fix the trouble.


AbbeysDad 05-20-2013 04:56 PM

I'm surprised you had a problem with pool filter sand as I'm using it and it's great...I'll confess that it took a fair amount of rinsing, but it has a grain size large enough to stay put. That's important because many of the very fine sands can be trouble.

I like sand over gravel because no matter what you do, uneaten food and waste gets down into gravel and requires routine gravel siphoning to prevent a nitrate factory. With sand, it just sits on top where it's more easily removed.

Edit: In the above I meant sand instead of gravel, NOT sand (over) on top of gravel.

jentralala 05-20-2013 07:51 PM

Personally I have my Kuhli Loaches on 'Flourite Black Sand' which is an enriched sand substrate. It is more on the expensive side ($20 for a 15lb bag), and honestly although I love it and adore it, it is very fine and takes several months and a canister filter to get it to settle and not cloud the water column at the slightest touch.

For an inert black sand, I know a user here who keeps Kuhli Loaches on Tahitian Moon Sand, which is completely inert. (I know it says 'Reef and Marine' but it's totally inert and fine for FW)

'Carib Sea' is probably the most popular brand of 'aquarium' sand, here's a link to some. I'm pretty sure I bought mine from Petsmart. I'd go with the smaller grain sized ones, such as Sunset Gold. Instant Aquarium

You can also look at buying sand online - If you buy through Drs. Fosters and Smith (and I think Petsmart/Petco) online, any order over $49 is shipped free.
And through Amazon anything over $25 is generally shipped free, too. :)

Good luck! You'll have to post pics when you decide what you want! :D

EDIT: I also have a low ph, and have had luck with 'Quikcrete Playsand' (although I have not had loaches on it, yet, but I truly think it would be fine, it's a very soft sand), but I only bought it because it was cheap. I'm not a huge fan of how it looks (I don't really like light colored sand), but I have it in my Quarantine tank so if I have to heavily medicate the tank/one of the fish brings in a nasty, I can just toss the sand instead of worrying (but then again I'm paranoid sometimes). Sorry for the ramble!

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