Sand in freshwater tanks
I just want opinions on sand. I really like how it looks, but I've heard bad things about it - gets caught in the filter, gets sucked up with water changes, scratches the glass when it floats, moves all over the place - not where you want it.
I'm also a little worried about the water changes because my filter is a bit obnoxious/almost impossible to get started. The primer thingy seems to not work. It usually takes me 45 minutes to get it going. I'd hate to have to turn it off with every water change. Ugh.
But I've also heard some people love sand and would never go back. I'm looking for all the pros and cons so I know if I want to switch. My reason for switching would mainly be aesthetic because I really don't find gravel to be very inconvenient. I just like how sand looks.
I was also wondering if sand substrate would be an option in a goldfish tank? I figured it wouldn't work (or at least wouldn't be idea) since they like to root through/suck up the gravel so much. I think they'd end up eating a lot of sand if they had the opportunity.
Fish are actually really good at not eating sand. Even fish that root through the substrate for food have an uncanny ability to spit the sand out or filter it out through their gills while only swallowing actual food items. Beats me how they do it, but they do. Remember, wild carp don't have nice gravel substrate, they have mud or sand to sift through.
Sand is definitely do-able in a freshwater tank. Unless you're specifically trying to raise the hardness or pH, avoid aragonite or crushed coral sand as it will have this effect. This includes both sands designed for saltwater tanks and cichlid sand. Instead, you can either buy the colored sands (which can be quite expensive) or the cheapest option, plain old play sand from a home improvement store. You can buy a 50 lb bag of play sand for around $4-5. You just have to rinse it really, really thoroughly before you put it in your tank or your water will be like whole milk.
The positives: it looks really nice. It's actually better for fish that live on the bottom and/or feed off the bottom as it tends to be gentler on things like barbels. Burrowing fish pretty much need sand. Also, waste materials tend to "float" on top of the sand, which makes for easy clean-up. Finally, did I mention it's cheap?
The cons: it can get sucked up by your filter, but really you won't be disturbing it so much that this should be a problem. As long as your filter intake is up high enough above the floor of the tank, you should be able to do tank maintenance without stirring up the sand so much that it gets stuck in the filter. When you do vacuum, you'll want to hover the end of the vac just above the sand surface, which will pick up any waste without sucking up tons of sand. The biggest con, however, is the negative effects of anaerobic pockets.
So, you know how you've got all of those lovely bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite and then nitrate? Well, all of those are aerobic bacteria. That is, they need oxygen in order to metabolize those toxins. Anaerobic bacteria can live in an oxygen-free environment. When you have a sand substrate that doesn't get stirred up on a regular basis, these "dead spots" can form down in your sand and become breeding grounds for anaerobic bacteria. The problem is that one of their metabolic byproducts is hydrogen sulfide, a gas which is quite toxic to your fish. It can seep into your water or, if the "dead spot" is disturbed, can explode out and wipe out your tank in no time flat. It has a distinct rotten eggs smell, to boot. In order to combat this problem, you just need to keep your sand stirred. Do this either by using something like a plastic fork or wooden chopstick to stir the sand yourself during regular tank maintenance, or get some sort of critter that will keep it stirred for you. Malaysian trumpet snails are a type of burrowing snail that really has no negative side effects and lives down in your sand, keeping it stirred. Luckily, these things breed like rabbits so they can often be found as contributors to "snail infestations" at pet stores. Employees usually don't know the difference between these harmless sand-stirrers and the more pesky plant-eating pond snails, so they'll gladly hand you some MTS for free. A few of them will turn into a thriving population in short order.
Anyway, that's my two cents on sand. So long as you're willing to do what it takes to keep it stirred (do it yourself or find some MTS), it's not really harder to maintain than gravel and has definite aesthetic as well as practical benefits.
Well said, Jim. My sentiments exactly. You've saved me a lot of time explaining.lol
I agree with the above, I got sand in my 20G and I love it!!!!
Most of the problems that happen with sand come from inadequate rinsing. This leaves a lot of fines in the sand which are easily disturbed and don't settle out quickly. If rinsed properly you will be left with pretty much nothing but the large heavy particles which are much better behaved. I can pour water directly onto my sand bed and I don't get a dust storm, at worst it will move around a bit.
Filter, should be turned off during maintenance if you're worried. I'm not, but I still shut mine off because my filter can't pull water up once the water level drops below about six inches from the top of the tank.
Glass, will only scratch if you get a piece of sand against if and put a lot of pressure behind it. If you use a magnetic scrapper just be careful not to get it too close to the sand bed and seperate it. Sand won't scratch the glass from just being in the tank.
Dust storms, only happen if you don't rinse the sand properly.
im on my 2nd sand bottom tank now and frankly wont use gravel again, ever.
Its easy to clean, hard to rinse but thats where patience comes in.
Use a hair pik to stir the sand, it gets all the way down to the bottom and leaves a nice combed look when its cleaned.
I pretty much agree with what's been said, although I will add that I did have filter trouble... I have sand in my middle tank, and my plec just loves to kick up a storm in it, whish i didn't think was a problem as it settled fast and he was clearly having fun. However my internal filter got sand in the impeller and i didn't notice, so it wore it away till it was noisy and lopsided. Simple to fix, i popped a new impeller in it and now make sure i rinse it out every water change. just something to keep an eye on...
That's a good point. When I had larger goldfish, I do remember being amazed at their ability to suck up the substrate I have and spit it all out. They could get so much in their mouth at a time! It was fun to watch. My new goldfish are still really small and can only poke at the substrate a bit.
I did consider the conditions in which they live in the wild, but then I also considered the fact that my fat, round, finny, gold and white fish are a far cry from the wild carp from which they descended. Haha.
Also, thank you so much for your thorough explanation.
I'm getting a 55 gallon tank soon and moving my goldfish into it from their 30 gallon. I think, after reading all these responses, I'll go for sand.
I'm hoping to do some nice aquascaping while it's cycling. I'm assuming it won't effect the process too much if I don't make any major changes or anything, and even if it does, I have plenty of time before my goldfish will need to be out of the 30 gallon.
I'm going to try my best to keep the goldfish tank planted and I've read that plants do great in the sand, which makes sense. I think it also looks great.
It'll be a huge improvement from the boring, nearly empty 30 gallon that I have now. :)
Ah, good to know. I can seee my goldfish making clouds. Maybe I'll test it for a few days in a smaller aquarium so I won't have to clean it out of the 55 gallon if they keep clouding it up.
Ok. This is really good to know. I mean, i planned on rinsing really well regardless... but still.
I'd really like to not see any sand storms at all.
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