In today’s video we’re going to be talking about what is the best substrate for your aquarium. Now, when it comes to substrate, people think it’s just about choosing the thing that looks the best and often what people think about is something that’s like fluoro, like a big fluoro, blue, gravel bottom on a tank and that’s what they think the substrate is.
Now in today’s video we’re going to be trying to go like more in depth on this, but keep it really simple and we’re going to be talking about all the things involved in a substrate for like plants for the benefits of the water in your aquarium.
For the benefits of the fish and a whole range of different things that are going to be really important and crucial in your decision for what substrate to use and what aquarium and costs and all that kind of stuff.
Best Kinds Of Substrate for Your Aquarium
When it comes to substrate, there are three main kinds of substrate that we have in the aquarium. The first one is really simple, and this is actually no substrate. So bare bottom tanks: I’ve got quite a few bare bottom tanks and there’s some benefits to that. There’s gravel and there’s sand and I guess there’s kind of four.
This is almost like a mixed kind of substrate and these are like specialized substrates. So, these are like eco, complete and Louisville stratum and stuff like that, which we’re also going to talk about in this video. So we’re going to start off this video by talking about bare bottom tanks, there’s a lot of pros to bare bottom tanks.
The first thing is: they’re really easy to clean, so in essence, they’re just really easy to take care of because you can always see how dirty your tank is by what’s on the bottom of it. So, after a couple of days, you know after you’ve done a water change, there’s going to be a build-up of detritus in the tank.
So all that, like poop and brown stuff down the bottom of your tank, it’s called malm. That’s going to build up and you’re going to be able to judge how dirty that aquarium is normally when we have things like gravel and sand, they don’t really give us a clear indication of how dirty that aquarium is so having a bare bottom tank.
It’s super easy to clean because you don’t have to go through any gravel and stuff like that. You just go down the bottom and scoop it all up. The second thing is, it’s just super easy to know how dirty the tank is another pro to having bare bottom tanks is they’re really good for breeding because the first thing is: if you have any fry in the tank, food doesn’t get trapped in the substrate they’re. Just going to see it on the floor, they’re not going to get stuck under substrate and stuff like that little tiny fish.
So it’s really good for that. It’s also good because you want to have your tank really clean when you’re breeding, so you want to be able to judge exactly how dirty that tank is and not have any substrate really involved getting in the way of the water quality and things like that.
Another thing, too, is some people like the way a beveled tank looks the aesthetics of it. Personally, I don’t even notice my bare bottom tanks anymore. I used to really notice it when I first started doing their bottom tanks. I thought they looked really weird and kind of scientific, and now I’ve really come to like the way. A bare bottom tank works and looks, but that’s an acquired taste and some other people are going to think. It looks hideous and let me know in the comments below what you guys think I don’t really know the general opinion on bare bottom tanks, whether they look good or bad.
So that’s another pro you don’t have to spend extra money on a substrate. You just literally, can use nothing and still have a really good result. So those are the pros of having a bare bottom tank. Okay. So now that we’ve talked about the pros of bare bottom tanks, now we can talk about the cons, because there are a few cons to having a bare bottom tank.
Now the first and the most important con is that you lose surface area. So when you add substrate to an aquarium, there are heaps of little particles like sand or gravel, and that is full of surface area and the reason surface area is important in an aquarium is because it allows areas for beneficial bacteria to grow now, beneficial bacteria are responsible for keeping the aquarium in balance, and you know doing the whole nitrate and ammonia cycle basically making your aquarium run like it would in nature, like balancing out all chemicals and turning it into a complete ecosystem.
Now, when you have gravel and sand and substrate, you get added surface area, because there’s just so much surface area on the gravel and sand, and this allows more beneficial bacteria to form in the aquarium and in turn kind of make it a little bit easier and less prone to ammonia, spikes, and things like that, so you really have to be on top of the water conditions in your bare bottom tanks.
Now the way you can combat this is to have bigger filters. This is kind of something that I’d like to implement more in my bare bottom tanks. Another thing you can do is have floating plants or lots of plants in pots and stuff like that to keep the aquarium easy to clean, but also add tons of surface area. For these beneficial bacteria – and that brings me to my second con – and this is you – can’t really grow rooted plants in a bare bottom tank – there’s no gravel for them to grow into so the only way you can do this is to add pots to your aquarium and some people like the way they look some people don’t.
I personally kind of like the way it looks, but you know it just adds something else to the aquarium that you have to, I don’t know, to worry about, so you can’t grow like amazon, swords, or crypts. Really easily or valve scenarios, so you’re kind of limited to plants, but the thing is, I mean if you’ve got a bare bottom tank, you’re, probably going to be breeding stuff or keeping really big fish that don’t like having plants in their aquarium anyways.
My third con is that they get dirty quickly, so you can see everything that’s dirty in that aquarium like I was talking about before, so they do get dirty quickly, and that also brings me to my fourth con, which is they require more maintenance. So you have to stay really on top of a bare bottom tank now, like I said, because there’s no gravel to hide poop and stuff like that. It gets dirty quickly and it means you also are gonna have to stay on top of your maintenance.
But that’s pretty much it for bare bottom substrates. I really do like keeping bare bottoms for breeding, but not really for aesthetics, and I don’t really keep big fish that you know they’re the centerpiece of the aquarium. I keep lots of little small things and for breeding. It’s really good, but as a display, it kind of looks a bit weird. I guess so.
That’s basically my opinion on bare bottom tanks and then the second type of substrate that we can have in our aquarium is gravel. So I’m a huge gravel enthusiast, I’ve loved gravel and I’ve had gravel in pretty much an aquarium since I’ve started. There’s a lot of things that are good about gravel and there’s.
Some things that are bad about gravel it’s a bit of a weird substrate because it comes in a bunch of different forms. Now you can buy that, like blue gravel, you know the standard beginner newbie gravel that I’m not a huge fan of. It doesn’t look natural, it looks weird, and also the paint comes off of that stuff normally, and it can just be really bad for the ecosystem in your aquarium, and I mean like where in nature is a fish gonna find blue gravel. Like I don’t know, that’s my opinion on that.
I like to lean towards lots of natural styles of gravel, so things that have been taken actually out of rivers and stuff like that, that look really good and natural. So, there’s lots of fine gravel that you can get so really fine stuff where it’s almost like sand, but not quite like that’s the kind of gravel I like to use. You can get kind of pebble gravel or you can also get really large stones, gravel.
There’re a few different things involved with each of these types of gravel. The first thing is the big gravel there’s lots of gaps and things like that, where things can get into the gravel – and you know, food gets in there and it can cause a lot of hidden waste that you can’t find.
The second thing about big gravel is, if you have a big fish and it ingests it, it’s gonna cause problems. Obviously, it can’t really pass through their system easily, and you can have problems that way. Another thing too, about having large gravel is it’s really not good for plants. Plants like to have some gaps, but not really large gaps, so I’m not a huge fan of big gravel. For that reason, I’m also not a big fan of that medium-sized scrabble, because it also traps stuff in it too.
It can cause problems if fish eat it the same as the big gravel does. The other thing, too, is it’s kind of not as good for growing rooted plants, so my favorite type of gravel is the gravel you see in this top aquarium and this bottom aquarium down here. These are both, in my opinion, the best gravels to use they’ve grown, huge amazon swords for me.
They’ve grown huge crips for me, huge carpets of this micro sword stuff that I’ve got in this bottom aquarium. I mean like it really does work well and I’m going to quickly list off a bunch of pros about gravity. When I’m talking about gravel, I’m just talking about small gravel, I don’t recommend using the other gravel you can, but these are the pros of using small gravel.
So aesthetically it looks the best. In my opinion, it looks really natural. It looks really good. The second pro is that it’s really really good for growing rooted plants like it’s the best thing besides using some of the specialized substrates which we’re going to talk about at the end of this video, this is probably the best for growing rooted plants. It does hide waste and it kind of keeps your aquarium really clean for a longer period of time than a bare bottom tank does, and it does allow some of that waste to get into the substrate and that’s really important for a few reasons.
So it’s really good for feeding those beneficial bacteria that are in the substrate. It’s also really good for growing plants because it acts as a natural fertilizer, and it’s really beneficial in that way, and those are pretty much the pros to having gravel in your aquarium. It’s really good for those reasons now, there are a few cons to gravel, and the first being that it’s hard to clean.
If you want to get in there and try and like get some of that debris out – which I don’t recommend, I always recommend leaving a gravel substrate and letting it like kind of absorb all those minerals and nutrients and all the mold and poop. That’s really good for your aquarium and keeping it balanced. You don’t want to go in there and you know mess with all the beneficial bacteria that are in there, but the other thing too is it costs more.
So you have to actually buy gravel to put in your aquarium. You don’t just like get it for free, like a bare bottom tank. So those are the cons, but there’s a lot of pros and gravels. An awesome substrate to use in like almost every single aquarium and then the third most common type of substrate is sand. So I have mixed feelings about the sand. Sand’s a good substrate, but it kind of doesn’t have as many benefits as gravel does for planted.
Aquariums and things like that, but it does serve a lot of really good purposes for some fish. So I’m going to talk about some of the pros of the sand first thing about sand is, I think it personally looks really good. Maybe the best out of all of the substrates that we talked about now. Obviously, that’s just really.
You know, that’s just my opinion. So that’s not really a pro. The main pro is that it’s really good for some species of fish, so lots and lots of catfish absolutely love sand. So personally, I’ve noticed plecos really like sand, so lots of your laura karada plecos, like not your bristlenose and things like that. But you know leopard frogs and zebras, and things like that really do like that, but especially Corydoras. Corydoras absolutely love sand. I use pretty much sand in every single corridor aquarium if I can.
It’s just super beneficial, they love going through it and you know finding little bits of food and things like that, so it’s really beneficial for Corydoras and certain types of fish. Another pro to sand is that it passes through the system of fish. Really easy if they eat it, so you can’t really get any issues with that and you don’t really have to worry about things like that.
Another pro is, it has huge amounts of surface area on it because there are so many tiny little granules. So it’s really good for keeping a large number of beneficial bacteria in your aquarium.
Now, of course, sand has quite a few cons and you know probably the most cons out of every single substrate on this list, and the first being that it gets really heavy so sand, because it’s just got so many little particles and not much air space. Can compact and it gets really heavy for plants, so plants have a hard time rooting in it and you know trying to spread their roots out, because they’ve got to really work through the sand and there are no gaps in it.
So that can be a real big con for a lot of planted aquarium lovers. The second thing is, it’s also hard to clean. If you want to clean it, so sand gets dirty. Super quick. You know because it doesn’t have any gaps in it. All the mould falls on the top like it’s a bare bottom tank and it gets dirty, quick and it’s also hard to clean because you suck up a bunch of sand with your gravel vac when you clean it.
So that’s another con to having sand it’s. First of all gets dirty quickly and it’s hard to clean and the last con is that it costs quite a bit too sand’s, not expensive. It’s about the same as gravel. Sometimes it’s more sometimes it’s less. You know you can get like pool, filter sand and things like that and it’ll be really cheap, but again it costs more than a bare bottom substrate, and that can be a con.
So sand’s really good for people who you know want to keep corridors and breed them with like java, moss and things like that, but not for people who want to grow like rooted plants and have a beautiful planted aquarium. It’s really hard in my sand aquarium behind me, I grow anubias, I grow java, fern and those are non-substrate plants. So bacopa does all right in it, but I’ve noticed you know other plants don’t really do as well, and the fourth and final type of substrate is your specialty substrate.
So I personally don’t use specialty substrate. I think it’s kind of almost like a snake oil and to me. I find that a lot of aquariums don’t actually need this, but some people use it and there’s a lot of reasons for it. Now, specialty substrates can be used to manipulate the water, hardness and kind of create an environment for specialty types of fish and shrimp, and things like that, so that they have the proper tds and the proper ph in that aquarium.
So they like to buffer the water, and they can work really well for that. The other thing, too, is they look good they’re made of like really good. Looking black particles – and you know things like that – and it looks really good and the other thing too is specialty. Substrates are really good for growing plants because they have fertilizers in them, so they act as like a huge root tab on the bottom of your aquarium and they can grow really good rooted plants really well.
So a lot of people like to use this for aquascaping and things like that. Personally, I don’t like to use it because they only last for about two years and then you have to kind of take it out, or you know rejuvenate it, and what I found is in the past when I’ve used specialty substrates, they kind of conglomerate down the bottom and form like a bit of a clay over time, so i don’t really like having that happen in my aquarium.
I like the aquarium to be sustainable and last for as long as possible and pretty much you can get infinite use of an aquarium with gravel or sand or bare bottom. You have a shorter life expectancy on an aquarium with specialty substrate specialty substrate also has like all the benefits of gravel, like I talked about at the start of the video, so surface area for beneficial bacteria. But for me the huge deterrent of having specialty substrate in an aquarium.
Is it just costs a lot so like you can pay huge amounts of money for a specialty substrate like fluval stratum, or you know things like that and they just cost a lot and you can pretty much get the same result with root tabs and things Like that, it depends honestly, though, on what you’re trying to do, because I try and keep all my aquariums really simple.
I don’t use any root tabs or fertilizers, and you know I can make beautiful displays like you, can see right behind me with absolutely no fertilizer at all. So that’s the way I like to keep fish a lot of people like to do really. You know complicated plants like carpets of hair grass, and you know things like that which I’ve done in the past and yes, specialty substrates make that easier.
So, okay, so I was just editing this video and I’ve completely forgotten to talk about dirted substrates. I don’t know how I did that, but I’m going to quickly talk about dirt substrates now in my room. So basically, another option for your aquarium is to put a layer of dirt down the bottom of the aquarium and then cover that up with a bit of gravel or sometimes sand, or even sometimes a specialty substrate leave that layer of dirt down the bottom.
For the plants to grow into and get their roots into and then use up all those minerals and nutrients in the dirt to grow now, a lot of people have success. Doing this. I personally tried this once and I didn’t really have that great results, because I found it to be a little bit complicated with the putting down layering of substrate and it wasn’t simple for me and basically, I had like the dirt come up and stuff like that.
So once you set it, you kind of got to leave it and if you disrupt it, then you’re going to get dirt coming up to the top and stuff like that. Just in my experience, but this does work really well for growing. A lot of plants and tons of people have had success. Doing this and I’m not the person to be talking to about this. I really don’t have a lot of experience doing this. I know for a fact: you have to use organic dirt because otherwise, you’re gonna have you know nasties in your aquarium that are gonna kill, fish and plants and stuff like that.
So you don’t want any of that. The other thing, too, is you also have an expiry date on your aquarium, because at some point the dirt’s gonna run out of nutrients and you’re gonna have to find a way to have that aquarium get some more nutrients and to sustain the amount of Plants that are in that aquarium so really good for people who want something. That’s cheap compared to you, know your specialty, substrates and also really good for people who want to have a planted aquarium with you know big rooted plants, but not great for people who, like it simple like me, and also not really good for breeding.
So that’s pretty much all the information I’m going to give you today.