Pink gravel for fish tanks

Pink gravel for fish tanks DEFAULT

By Jacques Bouchard

For a beginning aquarist, choosing the right gravel (substrate) for your tank can seem as simple as choosing your favorite color and running with it. And while the “curb appeal” of an aquarium — its gravel and decorations — are definitely a major part of the hobby’s appeal, there’s a lot your gravel can do for your aquarium’s beauty, as well as the health and behavior of your fish.

What you choose for your substrate is, both literally and figuratively, the foundation of your aquarium, and a little planning can go a long way to a beautiful, successful system. Before committing to an aquarium substrate, take a moment to ask yourself these four questions:

1. Why Use Aquarium Gravel At All?

In some cases, the wise choice could be to not have any aquarium substrate at all. This is most common when an aquarist has many tanks and keeps a small one empty as a “hospital” tank for sick fish. It’s also common when a fish owner is keeping large fish in a tank that may be too small for them. In these cases, a no-gravel approach aids in waste removal, allowing the owner to keep things extremely clean when doing water changes.

Generally speaking, however, adding gravel to your aquarium is a wise choice. In particular, gravel becomes the home of beneficial bacteria that will break down ammonia from fish urine and waste into nitrites, and then transform nitrites into nitrates, which are less toxic for the fish. They also become anchors for the roots of live plants, which can do wonders to add beauty, balance your water chemistry, and add oxygen to the water.

Depending on what you use, your aquarium substrate can have an impact on the overall water chemistry of the tank. For example, adding crushed coral or aragonite will harden water, add a PH buffer, and often add minerals to the water that are beneficial to some types of fish.

With that in mind, if you’re selecting a colored gravel, you’ll want to make sure that it’s been created with a “polymer seal”. The dyes in the aquarium are not always healthy for the fish if they bleed into the water, and these seals can help to protect them. They can be very intense too – I’ve ruined strainers permanently with the dyes off bags of black gravel.

2. What Will Be Living In Your Aquarium?

Choosing the right gravel or substrate for your aquarium should be based on what’s living there, including:

If your fish will be living in it: Many species of fish, such as stingrays (There is a freshwater variant!) or Kuhli loaches will try to hide in your substrate, and they’ll need fine-grained materials to survive there without being harmed. Scavenging fish such as goldfish can also have larger pieces of gravel become lodged in their mouths as they forage for food. All fish will come in contact with gravel from time to time, so the best gravel should be round-edged to avoid scratching. If your aquarium inhabitants are big waste producers like large catfish or turtles, large-grain gravel or even glass marbles are the easiest to vacuum, and could be the best choice for you.

If you have live plants: Plants have roots and delicate stems, and unless you’re using dirt as your substrate (which is best left to the experts), they’ll be hungry for nutrients. Large gravel can damage stems as you plant them, and the roots hold better to smaller-grade gravel. Sand offers a lot of hold for roots, but deeper areas of sand can develop anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that grows without oxygen), which is thought to deter root growth.

Generally, fine gravel is a cost-effective choice that works well with plants. A better but much more expensive choice is to purchase “activated gravel” — a porous, nutrient-rich gravel that provides out-of-the-bag readiness for planted tanks. Along with this, some dedicated aquarists will create layers in their tank that promote healthy plant growth, such as adding a layer of peat moss to provide needed minerals for plant growth.

If you keep snails: Common aquarium snails (sometimes referred to as “pest snails”) can be a benefit to your aquarium’s gravel bed. Two of the three common types of snails found in aquariums — Physa and Trumpet snails – are known to burrow into the gravel, with trumpet snails being particularly enthusiastic burrowers.

Unfortunately, Trumpet snails are also extremely prolific and nearly impossible to eliminate from an aquarium once a population is established. Additionally, they can begin to look bedraggled as they reach a point where there’s hundreds roaming your aquarium, and they’ve bred beyond their food supply. The other burrower, Physa snails, are easier to control but don’t churn up the substrate as well. Ramshorn snails are easier to control and even come in brown, gold, blue, and pink varieties, but will only clean the surface of the gravel.

If you want to deter snails from growing in your aquarium, large-grain gravel is hardest for the burrowers to hide in, and the best way to go.

4 Aquarium Gravel Questions That Will Make Or Break Your Tank - Pest Snails

3. What Will It Look Like?

Bubbling treasure chest ornaments and neon-pink gravel adds a fun look to your aquarium, but it also moves the focus away from the fish and on to the decorations. If you prefer this approach, there’s many ways to create that environment in a healthy aquarium. Be sure to do your research on each item you choose — many of the very common aquarium substrates and decorations (like plastic plants) can be very harmful to your fish. It’s also a good idea to plan for your gravel vacuuming as you place your ornaments, as you will want to be able to access your gravel without damaging your setup.

It’s very popular, particularly in Europe, to create a “planted” aquarium — an aquatic garden with minimal fish. If your focus is on the plants, many aquascapers prefer brightly-colored gravel as the best complement to the natural green foliage. In the long run, however, planted aquariums usually include a “ground cover” plant, such as baby tears or grasses, which cover the visible part of the substrate in plants. In this case, your top priority would be to create a layer of substrate that will help these plants grow.

If you’d like to highlight the beauty of brightly-colored fish, a darker-toned gravel is usually the best choice, as it can best highlight their natural colors. Additionally, darker colors tend to have a calming effect on fish, and the lower stress levels help to bring our their most vibrant colors.

Personally, I buy fish for their behavior and personality, and rarely own brightly-colored fish. My approach has always been to pick a neutral-toned substrate and build the aquarium to look like as natural a setting as possible, highlighting plants, layout, and the fish themselves equally. The picture below is of my 72-gallon bowfront setup.

4 Questions About Aquarium Gravel That Will Make Or Break Your Tank

4. Where Are You Putting Your Gravel (And How Much Is There)?

How thick your aquarium gravel layer should be has been hotly debated in forums and communities over recent years.

The “old” way of thinking is to use a deep layer of gravel to house bacteria and create space for deep plant roots. Recently, however, this practice has been contested by aquarists who point out that deep gravel and sand beds trap debris and may promote anaerobic bacteria growth that can lead to harmful hydrogen sulfide gas pockets, as well as deter root growth (anaerobic bacteria is also an important piece to the cycle of breaking down ammonia). It’s also true that using a gravel vacuum on deep layers of gravel will send old waste and debris into the aquarium, causing harmful spikes in levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

In my experience, plants have thrived in gravel layers of many different thicknesses – or even in no substrate at all. I’ve seen aquarium roots plow through more than ten inches of gravel and bunch up at the bottom of an aquarium, and have had small aquarium fish live for seven years or more in the same aquariums. The trick seems to be to vacuum only the surface layer of the gravel, rarely going for a “deep dive” of more than three inches into the substrate.

I use a layer of gravel about five inches deep, but never clean all the way to the ground when vacuuming. On the rare occasion when I change the gravel, I remove the fish entirely and house them in a different aquarium overnight afterwards, doing a heavy water change and adding new filter media before moving the fish back in.

Whatever you choose, be creative with your gravel setup! Have fun with the process! Who says it has to be a single layer along the bottom of your aquarium? Develop a unique look to your aquarium by varying the depth of your gravel in various areas and creating unique areas and setups.

For example, I love to create catfish caves with gravel on top, and plant roots growing through the gravel into the cave. I do this by building a cave with a rock wall along the edges, using aquarium silicone to seal the rocks together (see photo below). I add a layer of large-grain gravel, which clogs up any small holes, then fill the rest of of the space with fine-grain gravel. The effect is quite unique!

4 Aquarium Gravel Questions That Will Make Or Break Your Tank

Guest Author Bio:
This guest post was contributed by Jacques Bouchard, an aquarist of 20 years and Senior Digital Marketing Strategist at DragonSearch. Follow him on Twitter at @DSFido to find more of his articles on aquariums, or to ask any questions you may have about your own tank setup.

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When you’re ready to get your new aquarium ready, one of the things most talked about is the substrate.

Aquarium gravel is a lovely way to not only add aesthetics, but it’s a much-needed medium to help planted tanks thrive, certain species of fish stay healthy, and more.

So, finding the best aquarium gravel is vital for the health and looks of your tank.

Best Aquarium Gravel Quick-Find Table




CFKJ River Rock

  • Large, smoothly polished river rocks for aesthetics and function
  • Great for freshwater aquariums
  • Good for indoor or outdoor use
  • Large, smoothly polished river rocks for aesthetics and function
  • Great for freshwater aquariums
  • Good for indoor or outdoor use

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

  • Perfect substrate for planted aquariums
  • Sharp aesthetics from the deep black color
  • Never softens or decomposes
  • Perfect substrate for planted aquariums
  • Sharp aesthetics from the deep black color
  • Never softens or decomposes

Carib Sea Crushed Coral

  • Natural and beautiful
  • Fantastic buffering capacity
  • Large grain substrate
  • Natural and beautiful
  • Fantastic buffering capacity
  • Large grain substrate


  • Perfect for adding bright, happy colors to any aquarium
  • Great for planted tanks
  • Easy to keep clean
  • Perfect for adding bright, happy colors to any aquarium
  • Great for planted tanks
  • Easy to keep clean

Why Use Gravel in Your Fish Tank?

When people look at aquariums, they may or may not notice the sand or gravel substrate in there. If they do, most likely, folks tend to just think of it as an aesthetic aspect of the aquarium rather than a functional part of a healthy aquarium setup.

But there are several reasons substrate is beneficial and not just pretty.

best aquarium gravel with shrimps

Biological Filtration

First and foremost, substrate provides your aquarium with a natural functional form of biological filtration.

The gravel provides your aquarium with a place for the good bacteria to grow.

These good colonies of bacteria then helps to eliminate the waste products of fish like leftover food, biological waste, and plant debris. Gravel provides a sufficient area for the bacteria grow.

Live Plants

If you’re keeping live plants at all, you’ll want to keep some substrate in your aquarium.

The right substrate allows the plants to root properly, which means they’ll grow well and have a healthy life.

Healthy Fish

The right substrate – nothing too bold or bright – helps provide your fish with a healthy habitat. The substrate gives a natural feel to the aquarium for fish and helps reduce their stress.

It also provides a safe place for them to lay eggs, since the eggs can drop down into the crevices between gravel pieces where they’re protected from predators.

Aesthetic Appeal

Finally, there is something simply appealing about substrate.

The right fish tank gravel colors pop in the aquarium while giving the fish tank a healthy bottom and contrast compared to the “open water” feel of the rest of the tank.

It helps to hide debris and helps show off what you do want to see – like a silver-colored fish against a dark substrate versus clear water without a bottom.

When Do You Not Want Substrate?

While most aquariums setups do well with substrate, a few instances are better off without.

Grow tanks are the primary situations when substrate isn’t that useful. Grow tanks must be kept incredibly clean and require regular water changes and immediate removal of waste and uneaten food. Substrate makes all of this difficult.

Hospital and quarantine tanks are the other situations where you don’t want substrate, for much the seam reasons.

Is Gravel Better than Sand?

Gravel is better for many aquarium situations, though not always the absolute best choice for everything.

Generally speaking, a clean gravel or substrate is usually the best option for freshwater aquarium gravel.

Gravel is usually large enough that water can flow through the crevices between pieces, which means that less bacteria – the bad bacteria, that is – can build up between cleanings.

Sometimes sand is the better option, though. Specifically, sand makes the most sense in certain kinds of saltwater aquariums.

For one, it looks more natural than colored gravel pieces. Secondly, closely packed substrate sand doesn’t need cleaning as often as gravel does.

And food particles rest on top of sand instead of sinking down between pieces like it does with gravel.

There are some species-specific arguments for both, as well, so be sure to study such things related to your fish and plants. For example, goldfish will become ill if they eat sand and cichlids do better with eating a little sand.

best aquarium gravel substrate with fish

Types of Aquarium Gravel

There are a variety of types of gravel to consider as well, which will suit certain plants and fish better.

Unsuitable Gravels and Sands

Before we look at the good options, I’d like to point out some popular options that shouldn’t be used. They’re unsafe and unhealthy because they’re untreated for suitable use in your aquarium, will throw off the pH, et cetera, but also can carry diseases and organisms that can kill your fish.

What are these?

Basically, anything you find outside yourself.

Sand you scoop up at the beach, rocks and seashells you find while beachcombing or fishing at the river, et cetera.

Please only use gravel and sand that has been thoroughly treated and sterilized.

Now, onto the good types.

Aquarium Gravel and River Rocks

Ordinary aquarium gravel is probably the most used substrate around. It comes in the form of river rocks, small pebbles, painted rocks – use with caution – et cetera.

This type of substrate is good for fish only aquariums and the top layer of planted aquariums.

Treated Aquarium Sand

As mentioned, certain fish and plants do better with sand instead of gravel.

We’re reviewing gravel in this article, but there are some great options for aquarium sand as well.

Crushed Coral

A great option for stabilizing and enhancing pH is crushed coral. It’s typically mixed with aragonite or similar calcium rich materials.

They’re suitable for marine, reef, brackish water, and cichlids tanks.

Laterite Clay

This porous weathered clay is a great option for use as the lower layer in planted aquariums as it provides nutrients to plants without releasing minerals into the water.

How to Choose What Type of Gravel

There are a few considerations to keep in mind as you choose your gravel.

What Type of Tank Do You Keep?

The first – and most – important thing to consider in your aquarium substrate is the type of tank you keep.

Fish only, reef tank, marine aquarium, planted, breeder, et cetera all have different needs.

The species of fish also have different needs, as mentioned above with cichlids and goldfish as examples.

Some quick thoughts on this include:

  • Fish that enjoy burrowing do well with sand substrate
  • Planted aquariums need clay substrate to thrive
  • Goldfish should not have sand
  • Some cichlids prefer sand
  • Marbles or large pebbles do well for breeder tanks
  • Some cichlids do better with harder alkaline water which can be obtained with the help of crushed coral

What Color Gravel is Best for Fish Tanks?

Many experts believe that the color and type of substrate used should be as close to the natural environment of the fish and plants you keep as possible.

Most fish, however, are adaptable and will do fine with pink, red, blue, or yellow gravel, assuming they are well-cared for.

The color is primarily going to be about your preferences over anything else. Just be sure to avoid badly dyed sand or gravel that can chip and make your fish ill.

fish tank with gravel and lots of fish

How Much Substrate Do You Need?

The general rule with substrate is that it should be between 1.5 and 2-inches deep at the bottom of your tank.

This can change due to the type of plants you keep, though, if the plants have a robust root system. Verify these depths before going any thicker than the suggested maximum of two-inches, however, as too deep a bottom can cause anaerobic zones that are problematic for fish.

Reviews of the Best Aquarium Gravel

Thinking through the best fish tank gravel ideas, you’ll easily find great options based on the criteria above.

But to make the process a little easier, we’ve dug around through many reviews and found the best of the best aquarium gravel with the highest ratings with solid reasons behind their ratings.

Aquarium Gravel River Rock

The CFKJ Large River Rocks make a great additional to any aquarium where you need some larger decorative stones. The rocks are usually about 1 to 2-inches in length.

The stones are natural aquarium gravel river rocks that have been polished and sterilized properly for a smooth, beautiful look and high-quality, non-pH affecting substrate for your aquarium.

These beautiful stones come in a variety of light to dark stones that add an incredible aesthetic to your freshwater tanks while providing a top-layer of gravel for the fish and plants that do well with large stones.

These are particularly good for goldfish tanks – they can’t really eat these stones! – and koi ponds.

The stones are all natural, smoothly polished, fade-resistant stones at a reasonable price.

Our Verdict on the CFJK Large River Rock Gravel

If you need large river rocks, you’ll love these.

They’re beautifully and smooth, easy to position, great for fish that tend to get sick from eating small aquarium gravel and add a gorgeous warmth to freshwater aquariums that smaller gravel just can’t add.

Overall, this is one of the most gorgeous substrates you’ll find for your freshwater aquarium.

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Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

If you’re looking for that fine aquarium gravel substrate level to help your planted aquarium flourish, you’ve found it in Seachem’s Flourite Black Clay Gravel.

I’ve been familiar with this substrate for years and basically only ever seen good things from it.

While it’s designed for planted aquariums, you can use this beneficial substrate in any freshwater fish tank. The gravel adds a nutrient-rich layer that helps plants root in well.

And while typically this sort of substrate is used with other gravels, it can be used alone, if in the right fish tank.

Seachem Flourite isn’t chemically coated or treated, so it never affects the pH of the water, and as long as you clean it properly, you’ll never have to replace it.

Our Verdict on the Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

The only issue I’ve ever seen with this aquarium gravel is the amount of cleaning it requires before installation in the aquarium.

You’ll need to rinse it several times, most likely, but once it’s clean, you’re good for life.

The substrate settles nicely into the aquarium for a stunning, dark bottom layer that allows plants to happily root in and grow well. It works great with other layers of gravel or by itself, which is also a bonus.

All-in-all, this is the best gravel for planted aquariums.

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Carib Sea ACS00110 Crushed Coral for Aquarium

For those looking for high buffering capacity, Carib Sea is your go-to-choice.

It’s a high-quality crushed coral blended with aragonite that provides over 25 times the buffering capacity of other tropical fish tank gravel.

The coral is Geo-Mraine Florida coral that’s not actually crushed but screened to size to provide naturally formed particles of coral mixed with the aragonite for the perfect substrate.

The blend of aragonite and small coral bits is perfect for high water flow through the bed for under gravel filtration or reverse flow beds.

The grain size is variable between 20 millimeters and 550 millimeters for a more natural texture and look.

The blend is crushed oyster shells with the coral bits and not suitable for burrowing and sand-sifting creatures. It’s great for cichlid tanks and designed with them in mind.

Our Verdict on the Carib Sea Crushed Coral

There are two potential issues with this, though they’re common to pretty much all substrate options.

1. There’s loads of dust, so it takes a fair bit of cleaning to get the substrate aquarium ready.

2. The substrate is a dry mix, to it takes several weeks of cycling for the beneficial bacteria to fully colonize.

Apart from those standard issues with substrate, this is a great option for cichlid tanks in particular. It’s attractive and very natural looking and offers 25 times the buffering capacity of other substrates. We think this is probably your best bet for cichlids tanks.

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Glofish Aquarium Gravel

I’m not personally a fan of colored gravel, as sometimes the paint can chip, but the GloFish gravel is a unique exception. The pea gravel aquarium size makes it perfect for top layers in planted aquariums.

The bright colors add a vibrant pop of color to the bottom of your tank, while providing a layer of substrate that helps the tank filter out the rubbish left by fish. The variety of colors offered includes:

  • Fluorescent pink, green, blue aquarium gravel
  • Black with colored highlights
  • Black and fluorescent white
  • Fluorescent green
  • Fluorescent pink
  • Solid black aquarium gravel
  • Solid white aquarium gravel

It’s important to note that these are painted rocks using safe fluorescent paints that match the GloFish concept.

The colors glow in the bottom of your tank, adding a truly unique and fun aesthetic that you won’t find with other colored gravel or substrate.

The gravel doesn’t affect pH, but the rocks are fairly small and should not be used for aquariums with gravel eating fish because of the paint.

Our Verdict on the GloFish Aquarium Gravel Fluorescent

As I mentioned, I’m not really a fan of painted gravel, but the GloFish Fluorescent gravel is such a fun option that aquarists love that I had to investigate.

This gravel is safe for most fish, doesn’t cause water changes in the pH balance, et cetera, and is generally easy to keep clean after the initial rinsing before installing it in your tank.

Be careful which bag you select on the Amazon site. I’ve seen several complaints that people got bags mostly black, when they were expecting bright, fluorescent colors. This could be a shipping or ordering error, so verify your choice before hitting that purchase button.

Beyond this minor issue, it was also noted that it’s difficult to get clean the begin with. This is fairly standard for most gravels, however, so just have some patience.

All-in-all, it’s a great option for adding some solid fun to your aquarium.

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The Best Way to Clean Aquarium Gravel

When you buy your new aquarium gravel, you’ll need to do a thorough cleaning job of it before installing.

However, throughout the time you keep your aquarium, you’ll also need to keep it clean for the health of your fish and aquarium plants. Here’s a quick how-to on that.

  1. Fill a bucket halfway with dirty aquarium water. Fill the rest of the bucket with clean tap water.
  2. Put your fish in this blended temporary environment.
  3. Unplug all your aquarium equipment and siphon out the water from the tank with a gravel vacuum.
  4. Remove two cups of gravel from the tank and set aside to maintain the bacteria colony.
  5. Remove the rest of the gravel into two buckets.
  6. Blast the first bucket with clean water, vigorously stirring the gravel. Repeat the process until the water runs off clear.
  7. Repeat the process with the second bucket of gravel.
  8. Clean the rest of the tank and equipment before replacing the gravel, equipment, two set aside cups of gravel, et cetera, and returning the fish to their home.
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