What Can I Use Instead of Gravel in My Fish Tank?

Gravel substrate is one of the most necessary things to put in a freshwater aquarium. When the aquarium environment looks like the fishes’ natural habitat, they can easily adapt to it.

You might consider aquascaping your aquarium, which could be beneficial for you and the fishes. Aside from gravel, you have other alternatives to keep the aquarium looking natural and beautiful.

What can I use instead of gravel in my fish tank? As a substitute for gravel substrate, you can use sand substrate, pool filter sand, or black diamond blasting sand.

In this article, you will learn some truths about gravel alternatives. The importance of using these alternatives will be discussed, too.

Great Alternatives for Gravel Substrate

Gravel is a great choice for freshwater aquariums because it prevents the build-up of amoebas that could kill the fish. However, gravel substrate is too heavy for you to pull off the aquarium when cleaning.

To make your life easier, here are some great alternatives that you can use.

Sand Substrate

The sand substrate has many things in common with gravel substrate because both don’t allow water to flow through.

If you consider using the sand substrate, fishes can easily get comfortable with it, as it looks like riverbeds, which is the natural habitat for most fishes. Additionally, it will save you more time because it doesn’t need to be frequently changed.

Certain fishes have strong preferences regarding sand or gravel. One of the best examples is cichlids, which need sand substrate because sand helps them digest their food.

Meanwhile, goldfish might have a problem in a dwelling with sand substrate because they might suffer from an intestinal blockage once they intake the sand.

Pool Filter Sand

Pool filter sand might be one of the easiest to maintain options in aquariums and pools, thus making it popular. When you use pool filter sand, it will be straightforward for the plants to grow because of its finer quality compared to gravel substrate.

However, the disadvantage of using pool filter sand is that it tends to clump together. Ensure that the pool filter sand doesn’t have any special additives to produce too many chemicals in the water.

Most of the time, pool filter sand is not heavily planted because some plants might have networks of roots.

These plants need to be maintained or regularly replanted. Unfortunately, pool filter sand has no useful minerals that the plants could use to grow healthily.

Black Diamond Blasting Sand

Another popular option is black diamond blasting sand because it looks exquisite under aquatic plants. When it comes to safety, this sand doesn’t contain any harmful substances that could potentially kill the fish.

Black diamond blasting sand is as hard and sharp as other sands. Therefore, it’s safe for fish tank use. As for the advantage, this type of sand is economical because it usually costs $10.00 for 50 pounds.

Even for bottom-dwellers and sensitive-belly fishes, the sand is safe. According to many fish aquarium owners, they have never encountered the fish getting into trouble while swimming around the blasting sand.

Minerals and Shells

Many fish owners use creative alternatives to gravel, such as minerals and shells. Examples are shell grit, crushed coral sand, shells, limestone, and aragonite substrate.

Minerals and shell substrates are used because they can help increase the water’s hardness and pH level.

They also produce a massive amount of calcium carbonate, where saltwater fishes are more comfortable living. Calcium carbonate is also well-suited to soft water to house freshwater fishes.

Other Substrates That You Can Add to an Aquarium

Apart from sand and other substrate-related things that you can put in the aquarium, you can add the following to make your aquarium attractive and safe for fishes:

Natural Barriers

The aquarium should have a primitive connection to the fishes. Natural barriers like stones and coral reefs are two of the best additions to an aquarium because they are physically attractive in humans’ eyes while also serving as a great refuge for the fishes.

Natural barriers are meant to make the fish feel comfortable so that they can freely play, eat, hide, or sleep. Fishes are like humans, who seek connections to the place where they’re dwelling.


This is perhaps one of the factors determining whether fishes can live longer than their usual lifespan. Plants can improve water quality and help good bacteria gather in the water to enhance water nutrients.

The fishes will feed on these nutrients, which will give them a prolonged life.

Simultaneously, water plants can produce oxygen, which is beneficial in stabilizing pH and improving the fishes’ health. Fishes would then release carbon dioxide, which becomes a nutrient for plants.

Plants can be used in many ways, such as improving the water’s chemical filtration and algae reduction.

Chemical filtration and algae reduction are two of the most difficult processes to maintain in an aquarium, and having plenty of plants can help every aquarium owner minimize their jobs.

Peat (Decomposed Plants)

Peat is usually found in blackwater river systems because they are well-fitted for bottom line fishes. At the same time, peat can have a lot of beneficial functions for fishes. It softens the water through an ion exchanger.

During this process, peat can contain beneficial plants and fishes while preventing algae and other harmful microorganisms.

Importance of Using Substrate in the Aquarium

Substrates are critical, as they increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the aquarium. At the same time, they contain substances that could positively affect the water’s chemical content and boost the fishes’ health.

Here are some of the important features of substrates in the aquarium:

They Create a Natural Environment for the Fishes

Substrates are essential in every aquarium because they make the fishes comfortable and cozy, as though they are natural.

When fishes feel that they are well-protected in a certain environment, they can regain their energy and maximize their lifespan.

They Prevent the Growth of Amoebas and Other Negative Bacteria

Substrates play a huge part in the biological filtration system because they are where beneficial bacteria gather. These particles are often employed in the surface area of the water.

At the same time, this is where plants are rooted to reduce algae’s negative effects in the aquarium. When plants are planted in the substrate, it can become a source of other minerals, such as iron.

When negative bacteria get into the water, the fish will eventually die. You’ll also have a hard time cleaning the aquarium. Of course, no fish aquarium owner wants these things to happen to their pets.

They Allow Fishes to Breed

Substrates are important for egg-scattering species because fish can settle their eggs in the substrate to ensure that they are well-protected. They allow their eggs to fall into the substrate’s gaps, where other fishes cannot eat them.

However, some aquarium owners clear up the tank and use no substrate at all to ensure that all eggs are safe and so that they can monitor fish excrement.

They Become a Home for Plants

It’s a good idea to have live plants in the aquarium to maintain the natural cycle of air under the water. This will also keep the plants and fishes alive for a very long time.

Laterite and vermiculite are two of the best-known substrates for aquariums because they can easily release nutrients. To effectively install live plants, they should have substantial and sturdy root systems in the substrate.

They Are Appealing to the Eyes

As a fish aquarium owner, you probably keep an aquarium in part to add more beauty to your home. You may not see those microscopic particles, yet you can appreciate the featured design in the aquarium.

When you have a gravel substrate, it could hide waste materials, such as the fishes’ waste, until you visibly see them when you clean the tank.

Additionally, substrate shows off what you desire to see: the beauty of the water and the fish. If you install colorful substrate, the fishes will stand out and behave better.


Many fish owners prefer to keep their aquariums attractive and natural-looking. Others use alternative substrates that might have a greater benefit for both fishes and the aquarium.

To keep everything in place, it’s best to check with a local fish expert or someone from the internet to minimize your load in taking care of your fish. In general, gravel and other types of substrates are beneficial to fishes and the aquarium environment.