With so many different kinds of aquarium substrate on offer, it can be difficult to come to a decision about which is the best one for you. There’s no real ‘right answer’, but we can sure help you narrow it down…

Fish tank aesthetics

The look of your tank can be greatly affected by your choice of substrate, and for most aquarium owners the aesthetics of their tank are of high importance. To decide which is best then, most people think about what kind of tank they are keeping and go from there:

If you are keeping a Marine Tank, full of bright and colourful corals and fish then a gloomy looking river substrate is going to ruin your look. Instead, take a look at brighter sands and gravels that enhance the vibrant look of your aquascape.

Likewise, in a freshwater or tropical tank a bright substrate is likely going to appear out of place with the dark wood greens and browns that give your tank its’ natural look. Look at darker colours that will enhance the calm aesthetics of natural river or pond.

Of course, if you are looking for an abstract look, you can make a real feature of your aquarium with some of the more vibrant colours and shapes on offer. You can buy gravel and sand that bright Yellow, Red or even Purple to provide a surreal aquascape for your home. Go a little further and you can add wacky aquarium ornaments to complete the look.

Functional substrates

Aquarium substrates perform a function too that can’t be ignored, and if you want your aqua-ecosystem to thrive you need to pick a substrate that suits your tank’s biological make-up. Gravel especially acts as a great extra filter for your aquarium by allowing cultures of micro-bacteria to develop in the tiny gaps that breakdown naturally occurring detritus.

Porous pebbles and gravel do this the best. Sand can help filter too, but usually not quite as effectively, as the gaps between the sand particles are smaller which means less space for bacterial cultures and less water passing through it.

Live sand and substrate

Live substrates can be even better! They come ready packed with organisms kept alive in fresh seawater that contribute to your marine tank’s ecosystem, helping to balance the pH at a higher levels – conditions that your coral and your marine fish need to thrive and improving the look of your tank.

Hopefully this narrows things down for you a little. But while there is no really correct answer, there is a wrong one:

Don’t add Marine substrates to a Tropical or Freshwater aquarium – It’s pH level is simply too high for your fresh water ecosystem to handle and can really damage the life in your tank.

Don’t worry, the mistake doesn’t happen very often as substrates based on coral or live sands selected for marine environments are always clearly marked.

Other than that, it really comes down to your own personal preference! Take a good look at colour first to make sure it’s a shade that compliments your tank’s intended look, and then look at particle size and type to decide how much you want your new substrate to help your existing filter system.

Your tank is to be enjoyed by both you and your fish, so a little thought goes a long way and by sticking to these tips you can create a tank that’s a truly great looking and functioning ecosystem.