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Sands as substrates

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#1 anchar

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  • Joined: 28-January 04
  • Location: Bullcreek

Posted 31 August 2006 - 06:39 PM

Aquarium Sands
by hlokk

Here is some more information about converting your aquarium to sand. The following is my experiences and tips after following the information in the articles linked.

Note: As I only have knowledge of African rift lake cichlids and fish, specific notes will refer to those fish. Some sands are not suitable to a soft water environment due to their buffering effect.

When it comes to aquarium substrates, there are two choices: gravel or sand. Gravel can be easier to clean (especially if it is not very large pebbles) and it conceals dirt/fish waste. Sand can be slightly harder to clean and will show some dirt/fish waste. So why choose sand? Some fish in the wild rely on sand, so choosing a natural sand can mean observing the fishes natural behaviour. These fish include the shelldwellers and featherfins of Lake Tanganyika as well as some of the haps of Lake Malawi (Placidochromis spp., F. rostratus, Nimbochromis spp., etc). Other species, like Malawi mbuna and Tropheus spp., will likely dig around as well (someone who knows about other species let me know and I'll add them)

Keep in mind when choosing aquarium substrates that the sand will look
different when it is dry and when it is wet, as well as look different under sunlight and aquarium lights.

Aquarium shop sands- $2.50-$7/kg
Amount of washing required: Low - very low(?)
Availability: Some fish shops (or online ones like deepblueaquaria.com or aquaria.com.au). Usually available in 10-20kg bags

I have not had any experiences with these, but I would expect them to be free from large amounts of dust or harmful chemicals (you should probably still wash them first though). If you have really expensive fish then these would be your most sensible choice.

The sands are available in a range of types : aragonite, various caribsea ones (aragamax sugar sized, marine sand, tahitian moon sand) and active ones. The aragamax is supposed to have rounded grains (suitable for sandsifters) and the tahitian moon sand is the only source of black sand I know of. However, the downside is these sands are very expensive.

Beach sand- N/A
Amount of washing required: Low
Availability: Public beach (illegal and a $500 fine), otherwise ?

I had a small sample of this that I washed and placed in the aquarium. Grain size can vary, but is usually relatively coarse with interesting colour variation (due to some parts being silica and other parts being shells). Colour tends to be a brownish, beige colour that does not shine brightly in the aquarium. Sand is also likely to contain less dust and hence would only need to be washed lightly to remove chemicals and/or salt.

*NOTE: It is illegal to remove beach sand from a public beach. If you are going to use beach sand, please obtain in from a private source and not a public beach. It may be possible that there is a legal supplier of beach sand somewhere in Perth.

Washed white sand- 20c/kg or less
Amount of washing required: Low-medium
Availability: Soil retailers and Bunnings (bags). Some soil retailers will have ~30kg bags available (e.g. soilworld in Malaga), otherwise you can bring a bucket or hire a trailer if you are using a heap (usually free trailer hire for 2 hours or less).

The sand is the type often used in sandpits and has a uniform colour, being a bright white. Under aquarium lights this can be very bright! Consistency is very fine, almost like sugar. May be suitable if you want a sparkling white fine substrate.

River sand - 20c/kg or less
Amount of washing required: High
Availability: Soil retailers (See washed white sand)

This sand has varied grain size ranging from small pebble sizes to very fine sand (almost silt like). This sand must be washed a lot due to the amount of silt-sand. It may be possible to wash this sand a small-medium amount and leave a fair amount of fine sand in the aquarium, but care must be taken to avoid clouding the water. I would not recommend to do this unless the fish can be put in the tank after the water has cleared which could be several hours or even days. Care must also be taken with any moving parts such as pump impellors if fine sand can be stirred up. With suitable washing this sand may be useful in a tank where the variation in grain sizes could create a very natural looking substrate.

Pool filter sand- 50c/kg or less
Amount of washing required: Low
Availability: Pool shops or Cook Industrial Minerals (Note: some pool shops have switched to coarse zeolite instead of sand). 25kg bags from pool shop or bulk from CIM.

This sand is mostly silica and has a very uniform grain size of about 1mm. The colour when wet is a grey colour, however, will appear an offwhite colour under aquarium lights. The uniform and relatively coarse grain size means that it is less likely for the sand bed to get compacted over time (though stirring every few months should still be done). The grain size however is still small enough for most fish to sift and move. I am not sure what the grain structure of the sand looks like and hence may be comparitively sharp. Therefore caution is advised when using this sand with fish that sift large amounts of sand through their gills.

*NOTE: The packaging states that silica has been known to be carcinogenic. However, this is only due to inhalation of very fine dust (usually only in high/continuous exposure areas). As long as you keep the sand wet when you are handling it (after pouring it out of the bag of course) and wash it to get the dust out there should be no harm to you or your fish. Note other sands like beach sand also contain large amounts of silica sand but are safe.

If you can obtain a sample of the sand you intend to use, wash it and fill about a third of a glass jar with the sand. Make sure there is no excess water. Then place the jar into the aquarium and note the look (especially the colour under aquarium lights). Using a small amount like this will accurately gauge how the sand will look. Such a small amount will not disturb the aquarium and is quick to prepare (i.e. dont need to dechlorinate or heat a small sample).

Washing the sand
All sand should be washed even if it is for aquarium purposes (live sand being an exception, but this is for marine fish and does not apply to cichlids).

To wash the sand, place an amount of sand into a bucket. I use a 20L bucket that looks like it is designed to hold paint (does not bow when filled with water or sand). How much sand you add is up to you. Nearly filling the bucket will be easier to pour the excess water, but a smaller amount of sand at a time will mean a more thorough clean.

Stir the sand up in the bucket using a hose with your thumb over it or a jet nozzle. Pour the cloudy sand off and repeat until the water is clear. If using a larger amount of sand check if the jet reaches the bottom. Make sure to churn the sand every now and then especially if the amount of sand is large. I recommend cleaning small amounts of sand at a time as you do not need to churn it as much. Place the cleaned sand into another clean bucket or container.

See http://www.cichlid-f...eaning_sand.php

Adding the sand to the aquarium
If you have fish in your aquarium already, make sure the sand is at the same temperature. If the sand is fairly deep, it is likely that the sand at the bottom will be fairly cold, so you will have to churn the sand and monitor the temperature.

If you are setting up a new aquarium, first place some 'eggcrate' in the bottom. 'Eggcrate' is the common name for the grating you often see covering flourescent lights. Any fish safe grating should work however (I have used plastic drainage covers from Bunnings). This step is optional but will prevent rocks pressing against the glass. Adding this after the sand may result in trapped grains pressing against the glass which could result in aquarium failure. Place a layer of sand evenly in the aquarium at the same level as the 'eggcrate' then add some base level rocks. Placing the rocks in now prevents fish from digging under the rocks bases possibly causing rocks to topple. After the 'base rocks' are in, add the rest of the sand (4-10cm depending on tank size). Then fill the tank with water. Wait for any sand to settle before turning on filters. Then wait for water to be completely clear before adding fish. A small sponge over the filter intake will prevent sand from destroying any pump impellors or other equiptment.

If fish are allready in your tank you can either move them or leave them in the tank but remove the gravel and rocks. Removing the gravel can create very cloudy water so I would suggest removing the fish if possible. Make sure to save some of the gravel if you dont have a sump or filter with a large amount of media (e.g. cannister filter). This is to ensure the nitrifying bacteria still remain in the tank. Place the gravel in some kind of porous bag near some water flow (pantyhose should work well). I didnt bother to keep some gravel as I am using a cannister filter with a fair amount of media.

Cleaning the sand
To clean the sand either carefully siphon off the top water layer using some tubing or use a gravel cleaner. The gravel cleaners are great as they do not suck up coarse sand. Every few months or so, thoroughly stir up the sand to remove any pockets that may trap gases (which may be poisonous to fish if not stirred up). Coarse sand is less likely to trap gases, but should still be stirred every now and then.

And lastly, a picture of the pool filter sand I decided to use in my aquarium.

If you want to figure out how much sand to use:

Sand Depth: D = (625*mass)/(L*W)

Mass of sand to use: mass = 0.0016*L*W*D

Volume of sand V = mass/1.6 (in liters)

mass in kg
lengths (L,W,D) are in cm
I'm assuming the density of sand is 1600kg/m^3

If you remember your tank dimensions, use 97 instead of 625 (use 38 if you want the result in inches).
E.g. a 25kg bag with a 48x18x18" tank, depth=97*25/(48*18 ) = 2.8cm

So for a 48x18 tank you would want 3 bags of sand to get a 8cm deep sandbed.

I have written this information because it specifically refers to sands commonly available in Australia. For more information, see


What I have written is specifically my observations and experiences.

Article submitted by hlokk.

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