Aquarium Gravel: Our Top 5 Picks

fish on a fish tank with aquarium gravel

If you’re new to aquariums, you’ve probably got some questions about all the supplies you need, why you need them, and what the best options are. We’re here to help answer those questions.

Today, we’re taking a look at the topic of aquarium gravel: the whys, the types, and the best options available.

Why Use Aquarium Gravel?

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For those of us who are starting out in the putting together of aquariums, there’s a ton of information to go through. For every decision you can make, there seems to be at least a dozen different choices championed by different experts.

And one of the choices you have to make before you fill up your tank and enjoy the fish, is the foundation of interior of the tank: the gravel.

What we have discovered is that using aquarium gravel is one of the best choices for both aesthetic and practical reasons. While there are reasons that you may not want to use gravel, also known as substrate, there are typically more reasons for why you should.

  • Beneficial Bacteria

One of the most important functions that gravel serves is to act as a home for your aquarium’s beneficial bacteria. It is important to have these bacteria in your fish tank because they help in removing leftover food, your fish’s waste byproducts, and any plant debris in the tank.

While it’s true that bacteria can grow on other surfaces in the tank, the best way to ensure that they have a large enough home to grow in is to have gravel.

  • ​Fish Eggs

​A second reason to go with gravel is because it can give a safe place for your fish to lay their eggs. If you larger gravel, it will allow your fish to lay their eggs in a place where hungry adults will be unable to reach them.

  • ​Chemistry of the Tank

​If you choose the right kind of gravel it will help the water in your tank. Certain kinds of gravel have an effect on the chemistry of the tank water. A great example of this being coral substrate helps to increase the hardness of water.

  • ​Stress Relief

​Another great reason to use gravel in your aquarium is to provide a less stressful home for your fish. Fish can easily be stressed out, and the right gravel, which doesn’t glare, can help to foster a relaxing environment for your fish. You want to make your tank comfortable because fish that are stressed are much more prone to disease.

  • ​Live Plants

​If you are planning on using live plants in your aquarium, then the only thing more important than adequate light is making sure you have the right kind of gravel for the plants to live in. When you pick the right gravel, it will not only ensure the plants are able to take root but make sure their nutrient needs are met. The end result is you have plants with a long and healthy life.

  • ​Aesthetics

​Using gravel in your aquarium is that it can upgrade the aesthetic value of your tank. If you want to make your aquarium the center piece of your living room or business, the right gravel can truly compliment both fish and flora.

  • ​Waste Management

​One of the biggest ways the gravel contributes is that it helps to hide the daily wastes in your tank until the bacteria have a chance to eat it up.

  • ​Visibility and Contrast

​The right gravel can also help highlight what you want people to see in the tank. A great example is if you decide to have a stock of silverfish. If you have a bare bottom tank and a large stock of silverfish, there isn’t much contrast. However, throw a darker shade of gravel on the bottom of your tank and suddenly your silverfish stand out and shine.

Situations When You Shouldn’t Use Gravel

beach pebbles on a fish tank

Occasionally, there are reasons and situations where you wouldn’t want to use gravel for the bottom of your tank. The biggest reasons would be if you are making a grow out tank that is going to be used to both hatch eggs, and then raises the young fish, or if you are going to make a hospital tank.

You don’t want gravel in either of these situations is because both the grow out and hospital tanks must be kept immaculate, have frequent water changes, and have immediate vacuuming up of uneaten food and wastes. Gravel would interfere with these processes.

One of the biggest reasons you don’t want gravel in a hospital or quarantine tank, however, is that gravel may harbor parasites or harmful bacteria which could spread and infect new fish placed in them.

Types of Substrate to Choose From

As there are many tanks with many different needs, there are various types of substrate to choose from. When putting together your tank it is important to choose a substrate which will not only fit the theme of your tank but also be helpful and healthful to your tanks inhabitants.

  • ​Gravel

​This is one of the most popular types of substrate, and is great for freshwater tanks. It comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Depending on the type chosen, it can affect water levels and requires occasional vacuuming.

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  • ​Aquasoil

​This is a great choice for those looking to use plants in a freshwater environment. This soil is designed to mimic the bottom of rivers and lakes.

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  • ​Crushed Coral

​This is used to increase and stabilize the pH levels in saltwater tanks, brackish tanks and African cichlids.

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  • Laterite

​This is a clay material gather from tropical and subtropical areas and is great for use in tanks that have live plants.

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  • ​Sand

​Sand is arguably one of the cleanest substrates you can choose from. Because sand is so compact it’s almost impossible for waste to get beneath the surface.

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  • ​Aragonite Sand

​This sand is made of carbonate material that overtime with increased pH levels in saltwater tanks, specifically reef tanks. It is common for it to be mixed with live sad and crushed corals.

  • ​Flourite

​This is a clay-based substrate also used in planted tanks because it has a high iron content.

  • ​Vermiculate

​This is a mineral substrate that is composed of magnesium, aluminum and iron. It will help increase nutrients in the water while maintaining a neutral pH.

The Best Aquarium Gravel Options

Keep in mind the substrate is the foundation you will build on for your aquarium. Your décor, plants and fish will be built around it. Make sure you pick something that not only looks good but will keep your fish happy for years to come.

  • ​This product is easy to use
  • This product adds a great Value
  • This product is Manufactured in United States

The high rating for this aquarium gravel indicates that it really does its job well. Users say it’s easy to use, a great value for the price, and comes pre-washed, which makes it all the easier to use.

This particular gravel from CaribSea won’t affect the pH or alkalinity in your aquarium, comes in a variety of colors and sizes to best suit your aquarium environment.

This particular gravel is perfect for freshwater fish, cory cats, and rays.

  • ​Complete substrate for freshwater planted aquariums
  • ​Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish aquarium plants
  • ​Substrate encourages healthy plant root growth

A natural substrate for your freshwater or saltwater aquarium, the Eco Complete black subtrate is a great gravel that stays cleaner than other types.

There’s no dye, paint, or coatings for this gravel, so it not only looks natural, but is natural.

Since there’s nothing synthetic, either, this substrate is long-lasting, and works to encourage healthy plant root growth. It also happens to contain both major and minor trace minerals, as well as essential live bacteria, so everything will thrive with this substrate.

The black color also helps to enhance the vibrant colors of your plants, fish, and any decorations in your aquarium.

Key Benefits of this aquarium gravel:

  • ​Ready to use
  • ​Volcanic basalt rich in essential elements and minerals
  • ​Bi-modal grading separates into a fine bottom later to help encourage healthy root growth
  • ​Dual-biotic formula for enhancing heterotrophic bacteria to convert fish waste into plant food for a healthy cycle in your aquarium
  • ​Performance Driven At Affordable Prices
  • ​Made In The Use With Quality Materials
  • ​Field tested to ensure nothing but the best for your pet

This substrate supplement is a stable, porous clay gravel that works for natural planted aquariums. It’s most effective used as the sole substrate but can be mixed with other gravels as well.

The Seachem Flourite Original is uncoated, untreated, and won’t alter the pH of your aquarium – and that means it can be used in any aquarium environment. It should also last the lifetime of the aquarium, so you won’t have to replace it any time soon.

Some of the key benefits of this gravel include:

  • ​Fracted stable, porous clay – perfect for natural plants
  • ​May be mixed with others, though most effective alone
  • ​Long-lasting
  • ​Natural and non-pH altering
  • ​Performance Driven At Affordable Prices
  • ​Made In The Use With Quality Materials
  • ​Field tested to ensure nothing but the best for your pet

Seachem Flourite Black Gravel is a specialized clay gravel which works great for aquariums going for a natural plant feel. This gravel is best for use with planted aquaria but works in any aquarium setting.

If you are planning on using this for plants, then it is best to not mix it with other gravels. However, for non-plant use, it’s okay to mix this gravel with other types.

One of the great things about this gravel is that it’s not necessary to add any kind of gravel modifiers, such as laterite, when using this gravel. This gravel does not come with any kind of chemical treatment or coating, which means you can use this it without the fear of the pH level being altered in your water.

The gravel acts to help provide the essential nutrients for ensuring your underwater plants have healthy root structure, which means long term success for your aquarium.

  • ​This product is easy to use
  • ​This product adds a great Value
  • ​This product is Manufactured in United States

Another great option is the Seachem Flourite Gravel Red variety. This is a specialized clay gravel that also works great with underwater plants in your aquarium. While this gravel is specialized to work with underwater plants, it can effectively be used in any type of aquarium.

Seachem Flourite is a type of gravel that when used for its intended purpose – planting aquatic life – is best used alone. However, if you are intending the aquarium for other non-plant use, then it mixes fine with other types of gravel.

This gravel comes pre-washed but should be given a thorough washing before being placed in your aquarium. Residual dust can be minimized, also, by making sure to fill the tank slowly so that the gravel does not get disturbed.

A great selling point of this gravel is that it’s completely free of chemical coating and treatment. It also does not need a gravel modifier like laterite.

To make it easier to rinse your gravel, this bag features a mesh bottom to let you rinse the gravel while it remains in the bag. While there may some slight cloudiness once the tank is filled, this will clear up rapidly, normally within a 12-hour period.

Finding the Right Aquarium Gravel

There are more types of gravel, more colors, and more materials used as gravel than you could possibly count. So, to find the right types, you’ll want to do some research. Find out which colors will best suit your fish, whether for health or aesthetic reasons. Discover which types will work well for fish who will lay eggs, or who need places to hide.

Just be sure to read the reviews before purchasing. Make sure the substrate you’re purchasing is safe for use in the kind of aquarium you have, and that the real-life consumers approve of the gravel for their own tanks.


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