5 Best Substrates for Betta Fish Tank (Sand, Gravel & More)
Most fish tank owners fail to recognize the importance of substrates on the health and well-being of their fish.
Focusing on Bettas, these are tropical fish that prefer to live in warm, shallow waters and in such an environment, silt and gravel are the most common bottom layers, with a few plants shooting out of them.
With this in mind, it is important to try and recreate such an environment for them inside your tank so that they can live stress-free, just like the way they do in their natural habitat.
This article gives an in-depth review of the best substrates for bettas, with a view of helping you find the most suitable one that you can use to line the bed of your aquarium.
5 Best Substrates for Bettas – Reviews
1. GloFish Aquarium Gravel
Affordable aquarium gravel with a glowing effect and supports plant growth
2. CaribSea Aquatics Super Natural Aquarium Sand
pH neutral aquarium sand with no artificial dyes or paints and is available in multiple colors
3. Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate
Mineralogically and biologically complete aquarium substrate that supports heavy plant growth for betta fish
4. Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel
Small grain sized gravel substrate that recreates a natural river ecosystem for bettas while also supporting plant growth for the fish
5. Marina Decorative Gravel
Affordable colored gravel substrate with an epoxy coating that covers the gravel to prevent it from affecting the water’s chemical composition
1. GloFish 29085 – Our Pick for the Best Substrates for Bettas
Editor's Rating: (4.3 / 5)
GloFish’s aquarium gravel is the most affordable product in this list but this does not mean it is substandard. In fact, the item is the top-rated substrate for bettas in this listing, which means that there is something about it that stands out.
Well, that something is a glowing effect that resembles the light emitted by glofish in an aquarium. For this to work though, you need to use white and blue LED lighting, which the gravel absorbs, then emits to create the glow.
The good thing is that GloFish gravel is available in multiple colors that include a combo of pink, green and blue fluorescent, black with fluorescent highlights, black with white fluorescent, green fluorescent, pink fluorescent, solid black, and white frost.
These give you enough color options to choose from for lining your tank bed. Additionally, all of them support plant growth, enabling you to recreate the natural betta habitat inside your aquarium.
On the downside, this product is available in a small 5-pound bag, which means that you have to buy a couple of bags if you have a big tank.
2. CaribSea Aquatics 8479008404 – Best Sand Substrate for Bettas
Editor's Rating: (4.2 / 5)
CaribSea Aquatics’ natural aquarium sand is quite an expensive product, although it comes in a 20-pound bag, which is quite a lot and justifies the high price. The sand is also available in a 5-pound bag for aquarists with small tanks and in a 50-pound bag for those who have big tanks.
In terms of color, this sand is available in amazon, crystal river, sunset gold, torpedo beach, peace river, and Tahitian moon. A range of color options is always an advantage because it lets you pick the one that you like most as well as the one that matches your home décor.
Regardless of the color, the product contains no artificial dyes or paints and is pH neutral. This means that it will not affect the chemical composition of your aquarium water. However, it is proven to reduce nitrates much faster as compared to gravel, which helps in water purification.
On the downside, sand is not very good for plant growth because their roots cannot get a good footing in it. For this reason, it should be mixed with other plant supporting substrates to enable you to plant your tank for your bettas.
3. Carib Sea 770 – Ideal Substrate for Superior Plant Growth in Betta Tanks
Editor's Rating: (4.1 / 5)
Carib Sea’s product is the best substrate for planted betta tanks because as the name suggests, it is an eco-complete solution.
This basically means that the soil is mineralogically and biologically complete to support heavy plant growth in the tank bed in order to create a good environment for bettas.
In terms of minerals, this product contains volcanic basalt that has over 30 different elements for supporting luxuriant plant growth. The black color of the volcanic basalt also supports vibrant coloration of the fish and this enhances their healthy growth.
Biologically, the substrate contains live microorganisms that help in converting the fish waste into plant food, which helps in biological filtration. It also contains Floraspore, which enhances plant root growth for heavy vegetative growth to perfect the betta fish environment.
Even though the minerals positively affect plant growth, they may raise pH level of the water and thus, a neutralizer may be required. On the bright side, the naturalness of the substrate makes it a water conditioner, especially because of its humic compound content.
4. Carib Sea ACS00832 – Best Natural Looking Gravel Substrate
Editor's Rating: (4.3 / 5)
Carib Sea’s ACS00832 is a highly rated gravel substrate because it contains very small grain sizes that re-create the natural river ecosystems for bettas, support plant growth and reduce waste build up. This makes it the best gravel for betta tanks.
The small size though means that it is not ideal to use a gravel vacuum to clean the tank bed of any debris. If you do this, all the substrate might be sucked outside and this will destroy your betta’s natural-like environment.
Chemically, no dyes or paints are used in the making of this substrate, which means it is very safe for your fish. The product is also pH neutral, meaning that it won’t affect your aquarium’s water balance, making it much safer to use.
However, the ACS00832 is very expensive, but it comes in a 20-pound bag that is good for at most a 20-gallon betta tank.
5. Marina 12382 – Best colored gravel substrate
Editor's Rating: (4 / 5)
As the name suggests, Marine’s substrate is a decorative gravel that is available in a number of colors such as blue, black, burgundy, neon yellow, orange, and purple.
These options are great for adding color to your fish tank while also helping in highlighting the betta fish as they move around the waters.
The color is achieved by an epoxy coating, which is dyed to either one of the colors named above, then used to cover the gravel grains. This makes sure that the gravel’s chemical composition does not affect your water chemistry since all of it is covered inside.
To recreate a natural betta environment, Marina’s gravel substrate supports plant growth by helping hold the plant roots firmly in place.
In terms of size, the gravel is packaged in a small 1-pound bag, which means that you have to buy a couple of them for any tank that it more than 1 gallon in size. However, it is very affordable and this makes it manageable to buy a number of them to fit your tank.
How to Buy the Best Substrates for Betta
Different substrates have different strengths and weaknesses that make them ideal for different types of uses. Therefore, before buying any product for your tank bed, it is important to consider the following:
1. Type of Substrate
There are two main types of substrates that are used to line the beds of betta fish tanks. These are:
Sand: Sand is usually available in multiple colors, with the light-colored variety being good for creating a nice sparkle in your tank.
The advantage of using sand is that it forms a tight mesh within its grains, which makes it easy to clean because all the debris sits at the top instead of mixing inside.
However, this tight mesh means that the substrate compacts tightly, making it difficult for plant roots to penetrate through.
It is also impossible to use an under-gravel filter under this substrate because the compactness does not allow beneficial bacteria to grow in the sand particles.
This filter requires a substrate with such bacteria so as to break down ammonia and nitrites as the water is pulled by the pump through the substrate.
Gravel: Aquarium gravel is also available in a wide variety of colors. The advantage of this substrate is that it doesn’t compact very tightly, which enables plant roots to grow through.
The pockets that are left between the gravel also make it possible for beneficial bacteria to grow, which means you can use an under-gravel filter in such a setup to purify the water.
However, food can penetrate inside these cavities and decay, creating a foul smell that does not end.
Buying Guide: Sand is the best option if you intend to use a canister filter and grow stem plants for your aquarium. Gravel requires vacuum cleaning every once in a while but is the best option for growing all types of plants in your betta fish tank.
2. Other Substrate Options
Apart from sand and gravel, there are other substrates that you can consider. For instance, soil-like substrates are very good for supporting heavy plant growth. However, you will have to trim your plants regularly because the nutrients in the soil make the plants grow very fast.
Marbles form a very visually appealing tank bed but they will leave you with a lot of maintenance work in the form of vacuuming so as to get rid of the trapped debris. They are also not very good for anchoring plants.
3. Tank Size
The tank size factor is important to consider so as to determine the amount of substrate that is required. Manufacturers sell their products in differently sized substrate bags, with some being as small as 1 pound and others going up to 50 pounds.
If you have a big tank, it would be better to buy substrate in a big quantity because this is usually cheaper.
However, if you have a small tank, you should buy the quantity that is just enough for your tank so as to avoid having a lot of leftovers.
4. How Much Substrate Do I Need? What Thickness?
As explained above, this usually depends on the size of your tank. As a general rule of thumb, one pound of the substrate should be used on one pound of water.
Just to be on the safe side, if you intend to grow live plants, ensure that you have a minimum of 2 inches of the plant-supporting substrate so that the plants can have enough room to spread their roots.
For silk plants, a single inch will be enough, although you can still use two inches so as to make your tank bed more profound.
Whether you use sand, gravel or soil substrates, there is none that can be said to be the best one from the three, so long as it recreates a natural like habitat for your bettas.
To make things more interesting, it is recommended to mix some of the best substrates for bettas listed above so as to come up with a more natural looking, layered tank bed. For instance, you can combine soil, sand, and gravel and this will also give you the benefits of all three in one tank.