If you are a new hobbyist or are used to having a gravel substrate, but looking to switch over to sand, you need to know that there are some differences in the way you maintain the substrate.
Just in case you are wondering, YES, you can put a sand substrate in a freshwater (tropical) tank. And, YES, you should wash the sand before adding it in your aquarium.
If you do not clean a new substrate, all the dust will go right into your water when you fill up your aquarium, which will then make it cloudy.
The more you clean your sand or gravel substrate before adding it into an aquarium, the less cloudy your water will be later on.
That said, most substrates come with a bio magnet clarifier that helps precipitate all the dust, so you can use the product if you accidentally forget to rinse your sand.
Please read on if you would like to know how to clean aquarium sand before putting it in a fish tank. I’ve also put down a few insights on how to maintain a sandy substrate in an established tank.
5 Quick Steps to Clean Sand Before Adding It in an Aquarium
One pro of using aquarium sand is the natural look of the substrate, especially when using play or pool filter sands which are quite affordable options too.
Another pro is that some aquarium sands have buffering qualities that make them great for certain tropical fish species such as African Cichlids. A sand substrate is also better when keeping bottom dwellers like cory catfish, bristlenose plecos, and kuhli loach that forage the substrate looking for leftover food or algae.
Even so, there are a couple of cons to using a sand substrate.
One of the first and arguably main disadvantage is that you need to spend a tone of time cleaning each bag of sand before putting them in your tank.
So, how do you clean aquarium sand?
Below are 5-quick-how-to steps.
Step #1 — Purchase The Sand
The availability and economics of using or getting a sand substrate are, for lack of a better word, easy. It will only cost you 18-dollar (give or take) on average to install the sand in a 100 to 125-gallon aquarium.
There’ll also be several sand substrates available in most pet stores such as Petco or general stores like Walmart, but the most common types (in my local area at least) are play-sand and pool filter sand.
The two are most probably the cheapest options too.
From my experience and talking to several fish keepers, pool filter sand is said to be easier to clean than play sand. But play-sand is the more affordable choice, albeit the price difference is almost negligible.
Generally, the pool filter sand will be a few dollars more costing about 7-dollars for a 40-pound bag, whereas play-sand rarely tops 7-dollars for the same amount.
Again, please note that these prices are from my locality and may vary widely depending on where you live or if you buy your aquarium sand online because of the shipping cost and what have you.
Step #2 — Clean Out Your Tank
The second thing you want to do, albeit optional depending on whether you have an old substrate, is to clean out your aquarium.
First, drain the tank then use a fish carrier to remove the old substrate. You can also use any other container that will scoop out a reasonable amount of substrate from the fish tank.
As for the old substrate, you can either move it to another tank or discard it, especially if it has been causing problems in your aquarium.
You will also want to clean your tank surfaces to ensure it is safe for your fish when you set it up again. Use a brush to give the tank a nice scrub and disinfect it if need be.
Step #3 — Get The Sand Cleaned Out
Once you’ve cleaned out your tank, its time to give your sand a deep wash.
Pour the sand in a clean bucket (at least five gallons) one bag at a time and prop the bucket up on one side so that it’s sitting at an angle.
Put some water in the bucket using a garden hose and with your hands, clean the sand by moving it around the bucket.
I like making a hole in the sand then adding some water in there to make sure the water gets to the depths of the sand. As such, there will be no dry, compact pockets of the sand are remain unwashed especially if you rush the process.
Something worth mentioning is you want to clean your sand outside or in a sink as you will have a lot of water flowing and you do not want it getting to spaces or areas that should otherwise be dry.
One you’ve washed the sand for 3 to 5 minutes, leave the garden hose inside the bucket letting the water run for 15 minutes with several deeps of the hand in there to move the sand around more.
Throughout that period, the dirty water will fill and overflow the bucket while the newer and cleaner water will replace the old.
After the set time, use your hands to move the sand around a little more and if you notice the water still getting dirty, repeat the whole process (up to this point) one more time.
Step #4 — Give Your Sand a Rinse
I cannot stress this enough, but there is no way you can clean aquarium sand too much, so exercise patience and keep repeating the process until you have clean water dumping out of your bucket continuously.
If you rush the process, you will end up with fine dirt fine, dirt particles that will cloud your aquarium water and could potentially crowd out your filter.
With that said, when you get to a point where you think your water is good and clear, let the hose back into the bucket for another 15 minutes for a final rinse of the sand.
Taking more time than you would need to rinse your sand will help your tank clear up faster once you put the sand in the tank, plus you won’t put any of your equipment at risk.
Remember to drain as much water as you can from the sand before the last step. However, it is Ok if you can’t drain out the sand completely, a little water from the clean sand won’t cause too much harm to your aquarium.
Step #5 — Place The Sand in The Tank
Once you’ve cleaned enough sand for your fish tank size, head in and dump it into your aquarium.
You can either use the same container you used to scoop the sand out of the tank or pour the sand out of the bucket into the tank directly.
Usually, a layer that’s an inch or two from the base of the aquarium is recommended, though you may want to use a little more if you plan on adding deep-rooted live aquarium plants in your tank.
To refill your fish tank with water, place a little bowl inside the aquarium, which you can put a hose into, such that it does not go directly into the sand and blow it out of place. It will also make the tank more clear when you fill it up.
After you fill your tank, you can go ahead and put back your decorations and equipment before cycling it.
In case your tank becomes cloudy when you add the water, remember to use the bio magnet clarifier that comes with the sand to help precipitate the remaining dust particles.
In conclusion, if you do not want to lose all the healthy bacteria in your substrate when you switch the sand, you can choose to leave some of the old sand with the established bacteria colony behind.
That will help the bacteria spread to the new substrate once you put it inside your aquarium.
Wishing you all the best with the project