A Complete Review Of The Best Aquarium Substrates & Buyers Guide

Do you know that choosing the best aquarium substrate will not only enhance the visual quality of your tank but also keep your plants and aquatic animals safe?

Selecting an excellent quality substrate will encourage plant growth and protect your tank against germs.

In this review, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about substrates and help you find the best substrates in the market today. At the end of this guide, you’ll be able to confidently pick the right substrate for your aquarium. let’s get started with the best 10 aquarium substrate on the market.

Best 10 Aquarium Substrates In 2019

Image Product Features Price
Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate Type of substrate- Soil

Size- 20 pounds

Made by- Carib Sea

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GloFish Aquarium Gravel Type of substrate- Gravel

Size- 5 pounds

Made by- GloFish

Check Price on Amazon
Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum Type of substrate- Soil

Size- 4.4, 8.8, and 17.6 Pounds

Made by- Fluval

Check Price on Amazon
Fluker’s All Natural Premium Sand Substrate Mixture Type of substrate- Soil

Size- 6 pounds

Made by- Fluker

Check Price on Amazon
Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel Type of substrate- Gravel

Size- 15.4 pounds

Made by- Seachem

Check Price on Amazon
Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel Type of substrate- Gravel

Size- 5 pounds

Made by- Pure Water

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Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular Type of substrate- Granule

Size- 5 pounds

Made by- Spectrastone

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Carib Sea ACS05820 Super Natural Moonlight Sand for Aquarium Type of substrate- Sand

Size- 20 pounds

Made by- Carib Sea

Check Price on Amazon
Mr Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil Type of substrate- soil

Size- 1.85 pounds

Made by- Mr Aqua

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ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light Type of substrate- soil

Size- 20.9 pounds

Made by- ADA aqua

Check Price on Amazon

Many types and models of the substrate are open for sale on the market. They primarily consist of distinctive chemical compounds or characteristics.

With a handful of substrate choices to make, selecting the right substrates for your planted tank can be complicated. Llpo0-I’ve researched and hunted for the best brands in the marketplace and we’re thrilled to present to you an in-depth review of the best substrates for your planted tank in 2019.

Read on!

Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

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We began by checking the weight and learned that this product is compacted in a twenty pounds bag.

The Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted is the most-desirable substrate by owners of freshwater tanks. Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate delivers everything your plant needs to stay healthy. In other words, you won’t need to purchase an additional chemical or substrate.

The substrates come with a new formula to boost root development. To cut a long story short, Carib sea Eco is everything you need in only one package. I remember one of the company’s adverts where the manufacturer said the quality of this substrate equated with the soil of Costa Rica or Hawaii.

We checked the labelled, and we were thrilled by the numerous elements contained in the eco complete substrate alone.

They include iron, calcium, sulphur, potassium, and over 25 other essential elements. If you’re searching for a substrate that will nourish your aquatic plants, then you won’t go wrong with the Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate.

It also comes with live Heterotrophic bacteria that convert fish waste into nutrients and natural food for your aquatic plants.

The Eco complete substrate provides a natural biological balance within your tank, ensures that the wastes are quickly and naturally cycled and reproduced.

Regrettably, there’s a little problem with this next-to-perfect substrate. And that’s the PH level. Blending many nutrients, it can be challenging to attain a natural PH level which makes it slightly alkaline.

Always check the overall PH of your tank before placing the fish inside. That way, you will be able to confirm if the PH is in the accurate range for both your plant and its fish.


  • Contains every element in one substrate
  • Comes with several nutrients
  • Porous texture
  • Have live heterotrophic Bacteria.


  • Alkaline PH level

GloFish Aquarium Gravel

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Are you searching for a brilliantly -colored gravel that promises your tank a more stunning look? Consider the GloFish Aquarium Gravel.

Although we crave the best substrate for our fish tank, many hobbyists love aquarium that is brightly decorated.

And that’s why the Glofish aquarium gravel is the most beautiful choice if you want a brilliant and move diverse colors for your aquarium environment.

The substrate is extremely easy to use. All you need to do is add to the tank. If you wish, you can also add some decor, and that’s all; it is super easy to use. What’s more, this substrate packs different sizes, colors, and shapes of stones.

I’ll advise you to pair them with blue and white lightning. It looks appealing under that lightning condition. You will be left stunned with the overall outcome of your tank environment.

What’s more?

Not only is the substrate beneficial to your plants, but it also supports your fish health in a variety of ways.

The substrate comes with a very porous grain that supports high diffusion performance.

When we compare the substrates with others, I noticed that the dust amount is low. This means that you need to rinse it first before putting it inside your tank. Additionally, they are comfortable and straightforward to clean.


  • Feature varied and beautiful colors
  • Confirmed safe for your fish
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • A beautiful addition to your aquarium


  • May easily chips off

Fluval Plant And Shrimp Stratum

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Do you have an aquarium that has not just fish and plants but also shrimps? You might want to check out the Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum. This is inarguably one of the best substrates for the aquarium tank.

The product contains a blend of natural and mineral-rich volcanic soil. Yes, you heard that right! It’s not your regular soil but a volcanic soil. This soil type contains many components that make them unique from standard soil.

These special volcanic nutrients come with different benefits that promote healthy plant growth. The substrate also features nutrients that boost the overall development of the root system.  I also love its texture. It is porous, light and noncompaction, which makes it easy for growth and development of useful bacteria in the tank.

These bacterial also maintain your aquarium’s health at an optimal level. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum are designed to encourage PH levels from neutral to mildly acidic.

One of the unique reasons why this substrate is advertised as a suitable option for shrimps is the particle size. The particle size lets the bay shrimp hide inside the shrimp and wait until they are big enough to mix and mingle with other bigger fish and shrimps.

However, there’s a little downside on how the manufacturers advertised the shrimps.

While the substrate is gravel-like, the size of the particle is small. Even if it shied the baby shrimps, it wouldn’t take long before the shrimp outgrow the size of the substrate and unable to hide anymore. Apart from this, the Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum is an excellent product to use.


  • The Volcanic soil is highly rich in minerals
  • Porous and light
  • Facilitates root development and plant growth
  • Neutral to mild acidic


  • Expensive
  • Shrimps may outgrow the shelter, quickly

Fluker’s All Natural Premium Sand Substrate Mixture

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If you own a fish or hermit crab that loves to dig and hid inside the sand, kindly have a look at the Fluker’s All Natural Premium Sand Substrate Mixture. Most sand manufacturers keep their products purely calcium, which is only a small piece of different broken shell. As for Fluker, the case is different.

The substrate strictly contains a combination of coconut fibers, all-natural silica sand, calcium carbonate, sea salt, and probiotics.

These ingredients, together, form an excellent substrate for burrowing with each serving its purpose. The coconut fiber and natural silica help retain water.

Manufacturers added the sea salt to make it similar to the Oceanside habitat. Also, the probiotic keeps it clean by enhancing the development of beneficial bacteria that disintegrate organic waste.

The powerful blends of ingredients make this mixture one of the best substrates for planted aquarium. The coconut grit does an excellent job of maintaining the most. However, the downside is that sometimes calcium carbonate may get under ifs shell, which may be harmful to the pet.


  • Contains a perfect combination of ingredients for excellent performance
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Coconut fiber and natural silica retain water


  • Calcium carbonate may harm the pet.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

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Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel comes in a 15.4-pound package. It comes in black color (as the name implies) so its look is perfectly suited for planted aquariums; however, you can also use it in your choice of aquarium environments.

Search does not coat or treat the substrate with chemicals; therefore none of its substance or elements is harmful to the tank.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel also maintains your tank’s PH level without affecting the overall quality of water.

The primary product alone is sufficient to provide a good level of excellent nutrients for your aquatic plants. The best substrate for planted tanks also encourages the quality development of root. You can also mix it with other types of substrates that suits them.

Yet, it’s not compulsory to mix them with an extra substrate. It performs fully well without using gravel modifiers like laterites.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel is a uniquely fracted and stable porous clay gravel. With this product, food waste from your fish can easily dissolve within the substrate, helping your aquarium keep clean and healthy water.

The substrate is popular for its exceptionally long life. I’ve been using fluorite black for a long time, and I don’t have to worry about changing them anytime soon since they are doing an excellent job for my aquarium fish.

However, customers have a few complaints to make on this product. And if it’s anything: it’s the clay dust. Due to its formulation, it may release many clay dusts when used for the first time in your aquarium.

Also, the clay dust may make your water cloudy for some minutes. However, the substrate will sink and dissolve quickly and will leave your water clear again.


  • Doesn’t require extra ingredients
  • Long-lasting substrates
  • Porous clay gravel


  • Releases clay dust for first-time use.

Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel

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Are you looking for tank decor? Then you need to carefully choose a beautiful color that will complement your fish and other living creature in the aquarium.

Admittedly, this gravel product is not the best in the market, but beyond everything, it is comfortable for fish and plants that are housed in the tank.

It does not contain toxic elements, so the gospel truth is that it won’t have any awful effect on the water chemistry of your aquarium.

Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel comes in several uses where you can swiftly use it for saltwater tanks, ponds, and freshwater aquarium.

It contains tiny granules that are available in various colors like grey, tan, blue, turquoise, and red.

Beyond that, Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel also features diverse sizes and shapes.

The small size of this granule provides a pleasant environment for the useful bacteria to thrive which is beneficial to your tank’s overall condition.

Apart from that, you don’t have to worry about the discharged dyes entering the tank water. That’s because they are non-toxic and will never harm your fish’s health and overall wellness.

However, we noticed some fragments when we were rinsing the gravel. Some of the pieces chip off. Also, you may see some fine dust after cleaning.


  • Safe and doesn’t affect water chemistry
  • Natural and decorative gravel
  • Available in special shoes, size, and colors
  • Provides shelter for good bacteria


  • May later fade in color.
  • Not pre-rinsed

Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular

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Undoubtedly, many hobbyists prefer going for the small aquarium gravel. Before doing this, you need to understand what suits your tank inhabitants and what decor you’ll love to add to your aquarium.

I highly recommend the Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for smaller sized aquarium. The product consists of safe small sized granules that will never affect the PH level of the water.

Therefore, we consider the substrate as friendly for fish and plants that inhabited the tanks. The gravel features different colored tiny grains. However, unlike other rank gravel, the tank decor of this substrate is not smooth. It’s incredible to know that the Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular provides stunning support to your natural and artificial plants.

The space between each granule is adequately spaced, which allows a snooty flow of water. Their 5lb bag features several rocks that perfectly accommodate a 4-gallon tank.

Do you hate the prolonged rinsing and cleaning? Then this gravel product is your best bet. You don’t have to spend a long time rinsing the stone before adding them to your aquarium. Furthermore, maintenance and cleaning are quite simple to do.


  • Best for smaller tanks
  • Doesn’t affect water PH
  • Best for freshwater ranks


  • Needs thorough rinsing before using them
  • Less smooth

Carib Sea ACS05820 Super Natural Moonlight Sand For Aquarium

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Looking for an excellent substrate that will not only boost plant growth but also give your aquarium a beautiful look? The Natural Moonlight Sand from the popular Carib sea is your best bet. The white color of the gravel like substrate is quite impressive.

The substrate is 200% natural with no chemicals or artificial dyes added. With this, you can use them in your freshwater and saltwater aquarium.

The fantastic white gravel is part of the series of the substrate from the popular Carib sea.  Remember the beach sand found in some places in America? That’s what the white sand on this substrate mimics. You’ll love its effects on your tank. Furthermore, live plants usually thrive more in substrates with a porous feature by providing them with a strong grip.

Maintenance is a breeze; you don’t have to sweat the dust. In other words, you don’t have to clean before use.

If your water flow promises to be gentle, then go for the Carib Sea ACS05820 Super Natural Moonlight Sand for Aquarium.


  • A natural substrate to grow live plants.
  • Great sand with stable and shine quality
  • Easy to maintain; requires no cleaning


  • Substrate comes in a fine texture which is not comfortably suitable for tanks with massive water rush.

Mr Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil

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This substrate from Aqua packs a great number of nutrients that are highly beneficial to the aquatic plant. This substrate provides an essential source of nutrient to keep your plant alive and healthy.

Furthermore, the substrate enhances the development of the root region, allowing the plant to withstand wavy environmental condition.

The light and porous feature of the N-MAR-066 1 L creates a suitable environment for the development of the useful bacteria which are essential for the overall condition of the tank.

Another benefit of using this substrate is how it can maintain the water PH level of your tank. Unlike other aquarium substrates, the N-MAR-066 1 L can lower your water PH level.

What’s more, the package comes in size different from its counterpart. It comes in a small size of 1.85 pounds. This means that you’ll need 1 1/2 pack before you place a substrate layer in the 5.5-gallon tank. That’s not a problem though; you only need to plan more before you buy the package.

The substrate can churn out some dust when taken out of the bag. Also, when you first put the substrate into the water, you may notice the water becoming cloudy for some hours. But wait, it will sink and become clear again.


  • Excellent nutrient
  • Low level of PH
  • Enhance root development


  • Small-sized
  • Churns out dust at first.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light

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The natural color, high customer ratings, and numerous excellent features make the ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light s steal at its price.

The one color makes it a beautiful addition to your tank. Have you ever heard of the old Japanese black soil? It is a popular soil native to the Japanese people which promote a healthy aquatic environment. And that ‘s what this substrate contains.

It doesn’t stop here: the substrate packs high-end organic materials and the ideal nitrogen level to create a comfortable environment for your beautiful creatures.

If there’s any downside to this substrate, it’s the trivial complains from customers about how it turns their tanks cloudy for the first couple of days. That’s not a problem to worry about. It’s because of the high organic compound of the substrate. Your tank will clear off within a couple of days. The subsequent quality is worth the wait.

Your tropical fish will tend to thrive more on this plant because it slightly strictly keep the tank acidic.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light is a steal, especially for beginners who want to own a tank beautiful in their eyes and comfortable for their fish.


  • Natural colors to beautify your tank
  • Organic materials for the healthy support of the tank
  • Maintains a low PH level of your tank
  • Bags lots of positive review from happy customers


  • Expensive
  • May cloud the water for a few days, but it would clear off

In this section, we are going to cover everything you need to know about aquarium substrate before buying them. But first, what should you consider before choosing the best substrate.

How To Choose The Best Substrate

Just like selecting the best fish for your tank, selecting the right substrate is also important.


There are certain factors you need to take seriously before shopping for a substrate.

They include:

The size of the particles of the substrate

Substrates come in different particle size with some having fine grains that look like sand and some have particles as large as rocks. The size has a significant impact on the fishes’ health and the simplicity of cleaning.


Makes sure you do your research upfront on which particle size suits the requirement of the fish species that you plan to add to your tank.

Substrate Colour

As far as buying a substrate is concerned, Different line up of colors are available to choose ranging from neon colors to natural shades.

Most of the time, selecting the color of the substrate will depend on your discretion. But;

It’s also important to know that color of the substrates plays a vital role in the color of the fish.

For example, a dark color substrate will brighten up the color of a light colored fish while a bright color substrate will not.

Effect on The Fish

Substrates have an impact on fish and the plant as well: therefore you need to do some background research before buying a substrate.

How the Substrate Reacts with Water

Some substrates are known to reduce the level of the PH of water while. One can increase it. Certain fish thrive more in higher PH while it’s not the same for others.

Therefore you need to choose your substrate based on the specific need of your aquarium fish.

Why You Need A Substrate In Your Aquarium

Substrates perform several functions in the aquarium. If you own a planted aquarium, you’ll need a substrate to support the growth of the plants inside. Aquatic plant roots cannot hold onto the surface of the glass, so you’ll need a substrate in the bottom.

Substrates are also responsible for keeping the food wastes and faces at the tank base, preventing them from flowing carelessly around the tank and keeping the water polluted the substrate layers holds the water after the waste sinks inside the tank base.

The substrate is responsible for the natural and aesthetic environment of the aquarium fish. Like in nature, the bottom of rivers, oceans, and lakes are not naked. They contain sands, pebbles, muds, and other materials of nature. These nature materials at the bottom of your tank will make your fish feel the familiarity and comfort of living in a natural environment.

Apart from the aesthetic feature, some animals need the substrates to survive and live a healthy normal life. Some snails and fish usually go deep inside the substrate to hide or look for foods inside it.

The substrate provides more than one nutrient with many of them necessary for the development of the plant and the aquarium water environment in general. Different substrate comes with their characteristics.

Adding a certain kind of substrate can add a specific type of nutrient to the water, to either positively or negatively affect the PH level of the water. This can, in turn, affect your fish and plant’s overall condition.

Types of Substrate for Aquarium Plants

You can pave the button of your tank in several ways, and more than one kind of substrate is available for use. Below are a few of the most popular types of substrates for aquarium plants.

Aquarium Gravel

Gravel has always retained the first person as the most popular types of substrate, mostly because of their simplicity. It perfectly suits any kind of tank, fish and even the aquarium creature present in it.

Aquarium gravel doesn’t look much the same as your regular gravel on the street. Aquarium gravel is designed to have a softer edge. That way, your fish will stay save, and the gravel won’t move around quickly.

Aquarium gravel is available in different colors and sizes, allowing you the flexibility to mix and match the gravel to keep your tank looking appealing.

Aquarium Sand

Sand is also another commonly used substrate in many tanks, most particularly beginners tanks. Sand is the best option if your fish love to dig and bury themselves in substrates.

However, due to the small nature of sand particles, they may easily damage your filters, especially if your fish usually stir the sand.

Coral Sand

Although we call it coral sand, it would be more ideal to call it coral gravel. It looks more of gravel than sand. The substrate constitutes of calcium carbonate and may time more time to dissolve in water.

Coral sand does more work than just being a regular tank decoration.

The dissolving process counterbalances the buildup of acids and any decaying organic matters. Coral sands boost the level of PH in the tank, increasing its alkalinity. This makes coral sand one of the best substrate for your tank, especially for fish that thrive more on waters with high PH level.

Marble Chippings

Marble chippings have many similarities with coral sand. They contain calcium carbonate, but can be heavy and possess less porosity, unlike the coral sand.

Marble chippings can be purchased as a substitute to work sand, and that’s mainly because of its lease price tag. Remember, Marble chippings are not as effective when it comes to increasing PH level like the coral sand would do.


I bet you haven’t seen marbles in list tanks before. Marbles are typically spherical and flat. They can be seen in different colors, allowing you to customize your tank based on your preference.

However, we don’t usually recommend marbles because they have big gaps in between each marble. These gaps often trap large-sized foods which reduce the growth of beneficial bacteria in your tank.

On the good side, marble is your perfect substrate if you want to breed tanks. That’s because the eggs will stay between the big marble which prevents other fish in the tank from making them their next meal.

Soil-like Substrate

Seeing the color of these substrates, you’ll think they are soil, especially with their grey, black and dark color. Checking the textures, you’ll feel that they are also fine as sand with each particle having little tiny balls.

Irrespective of the color, shape and size of the particles, the substrates are tightly packed together.

It also benefits the tank in different ways.

The soil-like substrate is best for planted aquariums.

This substrate provides the nutrient that aid in the smooth growth of plants while the tightly packed texture helps the plant root to maintain a stable hold in the substrate solidly.

However, remember that these substrates can be found in different varieties. So always do proper research before you select the best substrate for your planted tank.

How to Set up Substrate for Planted Aquarium

Let’s talk about how to apply a substrate to an aquarium.

All the substrate we reviewed is a complete aquarium substrate, which means that you don’t need to add additional material to get it set up.

Firstly, pour your desired quantity of substrate (as explained above) in the tank and spread them based on your preference. Next is to add water to the tank.

Secondly, if your substrate is great fertilizer or contains several chemical compounds and nutrients, I’ll recommend waiting for up to one week before you add your fish.

Within this period, nitrite and ammonia level will increase, creating a comfortable environment for the growth of useful bacteria in the aquarium. For safety, always check the level of nitrite and ammonia before you place your fish in the tank.

Lastly, place your plants inside the substrate. Add devices and make decorations. Then put your lovely fish in the tank.

FAQs Section

What Substrate is the Best for Planted Aquarium?

Among the different type of substrates listed above, the soil-like substrate is undoubtedly the best among them (which are the substrates we listed above)

Although they don’t come in different colors like other substrates, these types are the most beneficial and practical choice for your tank.

How Many Substrates Should you Use for Your Planted Aquarium?

Fact is, while there’s no maximum amount of substrate you can use on your tank, there’s a minimum amount. The level of a substrate in your tank shouldn’t be less than 1 inch.

To achieve a 1-inch bed, here’s a rule of thumb to follow: use 1lb of substrate for one gallon of your tank size.

How Often Should I Change my Substrate?

This totally depends on the type of substrate you buy. If your substrate increases your water’s PH level, then make sure you change it within a few months or few years. You can change your clay substrate  every 3-4 years. They usually lasts longer.


There are lots of substrate types on the market, offering different benefits and promises. Choosing the appropriate substrate can be confusing. That’s why we’ve come up with a comprehensive guide on the best substrate for your aquarium tank. That way, you can easily choose the one that meets your tank requirements.

One of our recommended models is The Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted substrate.

This is the complete substrate for your freshwater tank. Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate provides everything your plant needs to stay healthy. In other words, you won’t have to purchase an additional chemical or substrate.

The substrates come with a new formula to boost the development of roots. In short, Carib sea Eco is everything you need in only one package.

Now that you’ve been able to choose the one that you feel comfortable with, what else are you waiting for? Go get an excellent substrate for your wonderful aquarium creatures.