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Can You Use Silica Sand For An Aquarium?

Choosing the perfect look and feel for your tank in terms of substrate, plants, and of course, the fish themselves is an exciting part of setting up a home aquarium.

But with so many options available in terms of fish tank accessories, how do you begin to choose? Well, just like fashion, aquarium aesthetics have started to change over time.

In particular, we’ve seen a move away from striking, colorful setups in favor of stunning natural environments.

Many aquarists agree that the secret to keeping happy fish is to create an environment similar to what you would find in the wild.

This includes using a familiar substrate, like sand (in some cases), and the plants that you would commonly find in rivers and seas. Before setting up your tank, you need to know what is safe and practical and poses no risk to your fish.

Silica sand has become an increasingly popular substrate in recent times.

It is uniform in color and looks natural, fish seem to love it, and it’s easy to maintain. In this post, we’ll look at whether you can use silica sand for aquariums, how it impacts your water’s pH level, and if it is good for aquarium plants. Read on to find out more.

Can You Use Silica Sand For An Aquarium?

Silica sand is a great choice of substrate for aquariums and holds numerous benefits for your fish and plants. It can be used in both freshwater and saltwater tanks and creates a beautiful aesthetic similar to what one would see in nature.

Silica sand is also inexpensive and easy to clean. Fish love to play in it and often use it to aid digestion. All that being said, it does need to be properly rinsed and prepared before you add it to your tank.

Silica sand, also known as blasting sand, is has a uniform grain size and is most easily described as looking like normal beach sand – light beige or white in color. In a fish tank, it looks very much like a fish’s natural environment, making it a superb choice for a centerpiece aquarium.

In terms of maintenance, it needs to be regularly raked through to prevent a build-up of waste or air pockets, just as one would need to clean aquarium gravel.

Not only is sand make a great choice looks-wise, but it’s also beneficial for fish. It’s fun to play with and toss about but can also be consumed to help with digestion.

For burrowing fish, sand is easy on the skin and less likely to cause injury than gravel or rocks.

If you are deciding to go ahead with silica sand in your tank, make sure to purchase aquarium-grade silica and follow the correct cleaning protocols before adding it to your aquarium.

Does Silica Sand Raise PH?

Silica sand is inert, meaning that it has a neutral pH level unlikely to impact your aquarium’s water chemistry in any profound way.

This is, of course, provided that there are no trace minerals embedded in the sand, which is why it is so important to clean your sand properly before putting it in your tank.

If you’re noticing sudden pH fluctuations in your silica sand tank, you may need to clean your sand or filters to set it back in balance.

Setting up your aquarium and getting your pH levels just right is a vital part of fishkeeping. Fish can be extremely sensitive to fluctuations in water chemistry, and minor mistakes can have disastrous consequences.

Before putting fish in your tank, you should establish the environment and test the water’s pH levels to ensure they’re appropriate for your chosen fish species.

While silica sand purchased from accredited suppliers is inert, you still need to maintain it. In cases where silica sand has raised tank pH levels, it’s because the sand itself was impure.

This results from a build-up of waste, trace minerals left over in the sand, or dust particles from improperly cleaned sand. Unbalanced pH levels are more likely to arise from what settles and breeds in the sand and not from the sand itself.

Is Silica Sand Good For Aquarium Plants?

Silica sand is not considered ideal for aquarium plants, particularly rooted ones. This is largely because sand tends to compact quite firmly, damaging roots and preventing oxygen from reaching a plant’s leaves and stems.

It also does not contain adequate nutrition for plants. For this reason, while sand is beautiful in open tank areas, it’s best to combine it with a fortified substrate if you plan on keeping rooted plants.

When it comes to the debate of real plants versus plastic plants, I’m firmly on the side of natural. Plants provide oxygen and shelter for your fish and serve as a breeding ground for beneficial microorganisms.

Unlike plastic decorative plants, however, real plants need light, air, and proper care to grow. Without an appropriate substrate in which to thrive, they will suffer and cause more problems than they solve.

Unfortunately, rooted plants don’t fare well in silica sand. The texture of sand makes it difficult for them to circulate oxygen from their roots, as it presses down on roots too firmly.

Additionally, sand needs regular cleaning, which would entail uprooting your plants on a regular basis. A better option, in this regard, is a combined substrate where sand is used for open areas and another substance, like Vermiculate, is used for planting.


There’s no question about the aesthetic value of silica sand for aquariums. It creates a gorgeous natural environment while being affordable and easy to maintain. Better yet, it’s a neutral solution for your water chemistry that can be highly beneficial for fish populations with many different species living together. While not perfect for rooted plants, there are ways and means around this that won’t require you to sacrifice your tank’s natural look and feel.