There are a few things to consider when deciding on the right kind of sand for your tank.
How much sand should I buy? That will really depend on the footprint of your tank and how deep you want to go. In my 20-gallon office tank I went with a shallow sand bed and used 10 lbs. But thankfully some greater minds than myself have created this handy Sand Depth Calculator! So Click Here, Enter Your Dimensions And Depth, And Get The Right Amount!
Is sand necessary? Absolutely not. There are many saltwater aquarium hobbyists who choose to have a “bare bottom” tank. That means just a plain glass bottom. This makes it easier to keep detritus suspended so it can be filtered out. But at the same time, there are certain types of livestock that live in a sandy substrate, so you wouldn’t be able to keep them.
Can I use any type of sand? No, that is not recommended. The kind of sand you pick up from Lowe’s or Home Depot likely contains all sort of minerals, heavy metals, and other things that could leach out into your aquarium over time.
What grain size should I get? This one depends on a few things.
- Flow: if you plan on having a super high flow tank, you will probably want to stay away from super fine grain such as CaribSea’s Bahama Oolite sand which is sugar fine.
- Livestock: there are sand burrowing creatures such as Nassarius Snails and Sand Sifting Starfish, and also sand-sifting creatures such as many types of Goby fish, all of which rely on a sandy substrate for their survival.
Should I rinse sand? For some sands the answer is yes, but with all of the sand on this this, the answer is a no. If you were to rinse the sand, it would appear much less cloudy, but you would destroy all of the beneficial bacteria which is half the point of live sand in the first place!
Personally, I have used both the CaribSea Fiji Pink, the CaribSea Special Grade, and the CaribSea Hawaiian Black sand, and I recommend all of them. I no longer use the Fiji Pink because i like to crank up the flow in my tank, and the grain size of 0.5-1.5 mm tends to blow around my water column a bit.
5. Nature's Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite ~$13
I have never personally bought this sand, so I can’t vouch for it. It does get decent reviews online, and Nature’s Ocean is a well-known brand.
Nature’s Ocean Live Aragonite is pulled from the ocean, and it claims to be able to instantly cycle your tank. Please don’t rely on that claim, as I have never, ever found that to be true. Sure, it may come with millions of live bacteria, which will aid in the cycle, but please follow conventional cycling procedures!
The grain size on this Nature’s Ocean Sand is 0.5-1.7mm, although the pictures make it appear to be on the finer side.
If you are planning on a high flow saltwater aquarium, this sand is probably too fine and will likely blow around a bit, so I’d probably go with a larger grain size, such as the CaribSea Special Grade.
4. CaribSea Arag-Alive Bimini Pink ~$24
CaribSea has been my go-to brand for many years. Probably because they were my first brand, and they have worked well for me over the years!
The Bimini Pink is by far the most colorful of the CaribSea lineup. It has a good mix of grain size from 0.2mm-2.2mm. The larger grain sizes will help keep the smaller sizes from blowing around your tank.
CaribSea is also more realistic when it comes to cycling your tank. Yes, this sand does come wet, and is packed with various strains of nitrifying bacteria to aid in your cycle. But CaribSea does not recommend adding fish right away, which I appreciate.
The Bimini Pink sand comes with larger shells, so you won’t get that super smooth look like some of the other sands. This sand will work great as a hiding place for wrasses, and a home for Cerith/Nassarius Snails, and sand-sifting gobies.
3. CaribSea Arag-Alive Hawaiian Black ~$39
I’ve actually used this once in my Fluval M60 tank, and liked it a lot. It has a grain size mix from 0.25mm-3.5mm, but overall seems to be a more coarse sand. My snails, conches, and sand-sifting gobies were all happy with it.
I don’t really have any concerns about this. It’s a bit more expensive than the other CaribSea sands, and at the end of the day it comes down to aesthetics. If you were hoping for a sugar fine type sand, then this is not for you. But if you dig the black lava look and don’t mind a more coarse sand, then maybe give it a shot.
2. CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink ~ $24-$39
The Fiji Pink might be the most popular of the Arag-Alive line. It ranges in size from 0.5mm-1.5 mm, and is just a bit more coarse than Oolite sugar fine sands. I’ve used this sand many times, and has a small, consistent grain, but is large enough to not blow around unless under really high flow.
When you walk a sandy tropical beach, this is the normal sand under your feet! Now of course there are white sand beaches, but most tropical beaches are a mix of colors just like this.
1. CaribSea Arag-Alive Special Grade ~ $24-$39
Special Grade is my current favorite, and it is the sand I use in all of my tanks. It has a slightly larger grain size than the Fiji Pink, which makes it just heavy enough to not get caught in the flow. It is a consistent color, and I’ve found my livestock are quite content living in the substrate.
The grain size is between 1mm-2mm. I like to add this to my tank right after my aquascape. I turn on the pumps, add the little packet of clarifier, and the dust storm usually settles to perfectly clear in 24-48 hours.
Really, I think you will be totally happy with any of the Arag-Alive line, just make sure you get the right grain size to fit your needs.