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Can You Use Reef Sand in a Freshwater Tank?

Reef Sand

The idea makes sense. You have a freshwater tank, and it would look great with some reef sand or beach sand in there, a nice companion aesthetic for the clear, clean water. It would also be nice to throw some shells in there and maybe some other saltwater decor.

The reality is, reef sand has no business, whatsoever, in a freshwater tank. As a substrate, it may look great, however, the chemistry of the reef sand is incompatible with freshwater and the lives that swim, crawl, or ooze their way through it. The sand has a high level of salinity and will change the chemical composition of the water. 

Not only that, but it likely contains pollutants and microorganisms that are not conducive to a flourishing, freshwater habitat. When you think about all the man made disasters over the years, there’s no telling what all is in the sand. 

Millions of pounds of human waste, plastics, oil, diesel, and more are released into the oceans, seas, gulfs, and more each year. Quite a bit of it finds its way into the sand. In terms of microorganisms, there are things in reef sand, such as parasites, microbes, bacteria, and more that are harmful as well. 

Can You Use Gravel in a Freshwater Tank?

You can definitely use gravel in your freshwater tank, however, if you want to use gravel from the yard or gravel that isn’t purchased, you run the risk of adding too much calcium into your fresh water tank, which will mess with the pH levels. The best way to find out if your gravel choice is loaded with calcium is to test it. 

Wash the gravel thoroughly so you remove all the tiny grit and possible contaminants before you test it. You don’t need any kind of measuring device to test for the presence of calcium, either, just some vinegar. Just drip some vinegar on the rocks and watch to see if it fizzes. 

If you do see small bubbles and a reaction from the vinegar, that means that calcium is present, and you shouldn’t use the gravel. You want to predominately stick with quartz, slate, onyx, granite, and sandstone. The following rocks are the ones you want to avoid:

Outside of that, you should be good. It’s best to grab the gravel that you need from the store, however, and fill the bottom 2” to 3” with fresh gravel. 

How to Clean and Use Beach Sand in Your Aquarium?

Cleaning up beach sand has to be thorough because you don’t want to miss anything. There are a few things that you will need to get started as well. 

  • Sifter
  • Baking pan
  • Twice as much beach sand as you will need
  • Coffee filter

Throughout the process, you’re going to eliminate any larger aggregates, shells, and other debris from the sand. Then, you are going to kill off any microorganisms, parasites, bacteria, and other negative organisms. Lastly, you’re going to get rid of the salt volume in the sand. 

Take out a large, rectangular baking pan that is deep and has plenty of width and length. Using your sifter, shovel sand one large scoop at a time, running the sand through the sifter and holding back all the larger materials that you don’t want in the aquarium. Then rinse the sand thoroughly.  

Once your pan is full and all of your sand is sifted and rinsed, bake the sand in the oven for 45 minutes at 300°F. Simmer the sand in water long enough to dissolve the salts, then pour it through a coffee filter to separate the sand from the saltwater. 

Can I Use Aragonite Sand in Freshwater?

Using aragonite sand in a freshwater is really only advisable for something like African Cichlids. Other than that, it’s a very highly recommended substrate for saltwater tanks with fish and invertebrates from the oceans and seas but not so much for freshwater. 

However, using it for African Cichlids requires a lot of measuring as some of it may dissolve in the water, raising pH levels and tweaking the water hardness and alkalinity. Apparently, Cichlids really enjoy digging in the stuff, even though it’s not quite as small and coarse as regular sand or beach sand. 

In terms of freshwater, your best sands are going to be purchased aquarium sand for freshwater, Fluorite black sand, river sands, white aquatic sands, African Sahara sands, and moonlight sands. Unless you just want to get through the headache of cleaning and filtering other sands, those are the best choices for freshwater aquariums. 

Several of the best sands for freshwater do require rinsing but not much more than that. They’re generally ready to go right out of the bag, even if a short rinsing is required. 

Can I Use River Sand in My Freshwater Aquarium?

River sand is one of the sands typically listed in the top five or top ten lists of best sand for your freshwater aquarium. A lot of bagged sands that you purchase at the store are advertised as river sand, but how you can tell whether it’s really river sand is as easy as figuring out whether Saharan sand is from Africa.

Of course, if you just wander down the river beach and start scooping up piles of river sand, you’re going to have to run it through the same level of cleaning and sanitizing that is in the above-listed, beach sand cleaning and sanitizing process. 

It’s not that river sand is bad per se, it’s just that you don’t know what’s in it if you scoop it directly from the river. In a river environment, the impact from microorganisms is negligible because there is simply so much water and space. The odds of it affecting local water life are slim and none. 

In your aquarium, however, that’s a different story entirely. To save yourself the effort of sifting, baking, and filtering, you can just run up to your local pet shop and save yourself the time by buying a giant bag of river sand. Now you’re all set. 

Freshwater Reef Sand:

CaribSea Arag-Alive 20 lb Fiji Pink Sand
  • Functional and beautiful aragonite substrate for all types of marine aquariums
  • Contains millions of beneficial marine bacteria to enhance biological filtration
  • Many styles to help recreate any marine environment
CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black
  • Complete substrate for freshwater planted aquariums
  • Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish aquarium plants
  • Substrate encourages healthy plant root growth

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