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Have sand substrate -- hate sand substrate. Any tips?


Mike_M
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One of my tanks I've had going for a couple of years has a sand substrate and I have just never much liked it. It always looks dirty even if I just cleaned it, and when I try to vacuum it either sucks it up or doesn't suck up enough to get it clean. Sand is so popular, there must be some tips on how to make this sand thing work for me. Could I mix it with another substrate? Would that work? Something darker maybe? Hide my shameful laziness not wanting to constantly clean this thing lol? Any thoughts appreciated.

Edited by Mike_M
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If you want to keep the sand, then mixing it with another substrate(s) can help. Dirt and fish poop shows the most on a fine, light-colored uniform sand, so adding a dark, or (much better) multi-colored natural-looking sand or gravel will make the dirt less conspicuous. If your sand is white, it might take a lot of a darker additive to tone it down though. I once mixed one part of white gravel to seven parts of black and dark gray and the result was still very bright. 

You can also cover your sand with a layer of coarser darker sand or small gravel or pebbles, but in this case some of the annoying hard-to-vacuum sand will still show up at the surface. 

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I use pool filter sand in almost all of my tanks, and like it, but I also don't get hung up on it staying clean.  Now that I have that out of the way, if you want something darker have you considered Black Diamond sandblasting sand?  It takes a lot of cleaning, but once you get past that it's a good substrate.  I have it in my red neocaridina tank.

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When you see super beautiful aquascape photos with perfect looking sand its because they siphon off the top layer of sand and replace it. Dark sand stays looking cleaner in my experience and I'm personally not a huge fan of mixing substrates that are different colors.

I have swapped substrate by siphoning out all the sand and replacing it. You have some risk of losing a pretty large amount of beneficial bacteria so be mindful of that if you try to swap substrate.

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I have a few tanks with white sand. I am not a huge fan for some of the same reasons as not enjoying white clothing, but as for how to keep it looking clean...very lightly stocked tanks with a lot of shrimp do fairly well. My guppies stir it often and I think corydoras would do a brilliant job of cleaning it up. Unfortunately red cherry shrimp do not show good color on white sand. 

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I have white sand in one of my tanks, and I ended up buying the tank's eventual replacement because of it. My school of rainbowfish generate an enormous amount of poop and of course it sticks out on the bright white sand. Glad I'm not the only one bothered by bright, sandy substrates. I will admit that they look amazing for about 20 minutes until the fish poop all over it!

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I use natural silica playsand from the home improvement store. It's light colored but not white. I mix it with small aquarium gravel in light brown tones. That blend seems to work great for my plants, and the fish haven't had any trouble with it. Also, I don't know how coarse your sand is, but the playsand doesn't get sucked up when I vac my tanks. It gets moved around, but not sucked up. Photo below shows what it looks like.

This tank has been established for just over 6 years now. The shell in the left side of the shot is from an old, full-grown assassin snail. Gives you an idea of scale on the sand and gravel. This blend of substrate grew Cryptocoryne wendtii "green" like weeds. The roots were all through the substrate, so the sand definitely didn't cause any issues there. I just thinned the plants out a week or two ago.

20201222_181236.jpg

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I've converted all my tanks to sand and honestly love it. I have light pool filter sand in my larger 100g and play sand with some gravel mixed in for my 36g. Granted, in the 100g I don't have bigger fish (angels and Bolivian Rams are my biggest) so I don't see bigger detritus much on the bottom (or my filter rocks). I don't have the issue with the pool filter sand being sucked up that people talk about - I wave the siphon firmly back and forth about 2 inches above the sand and it dislodges the detritus without disrupting the sand. In my 36g, I've ended up with play sand - darker, more varied, plus I added scattered tan/brown small gravel which looks super natural and hides detritus well. Now in my betta tank with TopFin black sand it sucks up like crazy! Even with a tiny DIY siphon made with a dropper and airline tubing. But, it hides detritus super well and always looks pristine. 

IMG_8561.jpeg

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I use black sand and have maybe two dozen corries that constantly keep it clean by sifting through it and kicking up detritus into the water column.

I’ve also positioned my tank returns to keep a good flow pattern aimed at keeping suspended particles up in the water so they make into my filter.

Haven’t vacuumed the substrate in maybe a year and it’s more or less spotless. When I do use a gravel vac, it’s only to get stuff out of places it tends to get trapped, like between large stones or along driftwood, but this is infrequent.

Super easy. Super clean looking  

On the other hand, I have a multi tank with only multis and white sand and course sponge filters. In the areas the multis don’t dig, the sand looks dirty and unattractive and I have to vac it.

So my inclination is that flow pattern plus fish that sift the sand is a place to start. 

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