best betta substrate

The Best Betta Substrate Available (Pros & Cons)

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Choosing the best substrate for your betta tank isn’t as simple as it might seem at first. There are a number of different substrates, and all of them can affect your fish and your tank in different ways.

Quick Summary: Best Betta Substrate

Pisces 22 lb Gunsmoke Aquarium Gravel Substrate for Aquariums, terrariums and vivariums, 4-6mmPisces Gunsmoke Aquarium Gravel
  • Pure Natural Gravel
  • Triple Washed
  • Unique to New Zealand
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Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel - Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbsSeachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel
  • Works Fine With An Under Gravel Filter
  • Not Chemically Coated Or Treated
  • Specially Fracted Stable Porous Clay Gravel For The Natural Planted Aquarium
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Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound BagSpectrastone Aquarium Gravel
  • Non-Toxic Coating
  • Safe For Use In Freshwater Aquariums
  • Will Not Affect PH
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So, in this guide, we’ll look at the different kinds of substrates that are generally used in fish tanks. We’ll also recommend six of the best betta-friendly substrates that are available on the market today.

Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll be able to buy a substrate for your betta tank with confidence!

Let’s start by looking at some of our favorite brands of substrate!

The 7 Best Betta Substrates

These seven substrates are all suitable for use in a betta tank setup. To find out more about each product and read other buyers’ reviews, simply click on the handy in-text links that we’ve included for you.

Once you’ve found the perfect substrate for your betta tank, you can go ahead and place your order.

Pisces Gunsmoke Aquarium Gravel

  • Triple washed
  • Pure natural gravel
  • Unique to New Zealand
  • 6-8mm grain size

The Pisces Gunsmoke river gravel comes exclusively from the Central Otago region of New Zealand. This is very attractive gravel that’s primarily grey with streaks and flecks of white and silver. Glacial flows have formed these tiny pebbles into a lovely oval shape.

This muted color is ideal for those wanting to give their betta aquarium a natural look. The grains are consistently small, being just 6-8mm in diameter.

This means the gravel pieces are small enough to prevent debris from getting lost in the substrate while also being large enough to stay anchored to the bottom of the fish tank.

This gravel from Pisces is also reasonably smooth and should be fine for all but the most delicate of bettas. The packs also present excellent value for money.

What we like:

  • Attractive, unique-looking gravel from a trusted brand.
  • Muted colors – ideal for the natural aquascape.
  • Ideal grain size for easy maintenance.
  • Great value.

Room for improvement:

  • Slightly rough edges on some grains for very delicate bettas.

Carib Sea Super Naturals

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Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand, 20-Pound, Sunset Gold
  • Create a supernatural experience by re-creating the natural world in your home
  • soft sand great for soft belly fish and turtles
  • ph neutral ; safe for all aquariums

  • Create a supernatural experience by re-creating the natural world in your home
  • soft sand – great for soft-belly fish and turtles
  • ph neutral; safe for all aquariums

Carib Sea Super Naturals is a brand of dark sand that’s derived from natural sources. The sand is pH neutral, so it won’t affect your tank’s water chemistry, and the substrate contains no artificial colors that could make your fish sick.

The dark color of the substrate is excellent for highlighting the brilliant colors of brightly colored betta fish.

Also, the sand works well as an anchor for live and artificial plants. The substrate comes in a variety of shades so that you can choose one to contrast with your betta’s colors.

What we like:

  • No artificial colors or dyes are used
  • Substrate won’t affect the tank’s pH levels
  • Helps to highlight your betta’s colors

Room for improvement:

  • Fine grains tend to compact easily
  • The substrate can produce an oily residue that will require extra cleaning

Spectrastone Aquarium Gravel

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Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag
  • Will not affect PH
  • Safe for use in freshwater aquariums
  • Non-Toxic coating

  • Won’t affect the pH
  • Safe for use in freshwater aquariums
  • Non-toxic coating

Spectrastone aquarium gravel provides a beautiful natural-looking backdrop for your betta tank. The substrate is small enough to prevent debris accumulation but still provides excellent water circulation.

The non-uniform gravel size provides an excellent texture for your betta tank’s flooring. Also, each grain is coated to prevent it from leaching minerals into the water that could change the pH level.

On the downside, the gravel is extremely dusty, and you will need to rinse it through before you can add it to your tank.

What we like:

  • The gravel is coated to make it pH neutral
  • Gravel gives a lovely, natural look to your tank
  • Provides an excellent surface for bacteria colonies

Room for improvement:

  • Very dusty, so it needs a lot of washing before using
  • Some pieces of gravel are sharp, which can present risks for your betta

Carib Sea Eco-Complete

CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black
  • Complete substrate for freshwater planted aquariums
  • Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish aquarium plants
  • Substrate encourages healthy plant root growth
  • Complete substrate for freshwater-planted aquariums
  • Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish aquarium plants
  • Substrate encourages healthy plant root growth

Carib Sea Eco-Complete is a nutrient-rich aquarium soil substrate that’s ideal for a betta tank with live plants.

The dark soil is packed with living microorganisms that promote root growth, as well as help to establish the tank bacterial filtration system.

The texture of the substrate is perfect for plants to root without the soil becoming compacted.

The soil is naturally-sourced and contains no artificial colors or additives. You don’t need to rinse the soil prior to adding it to your tank.

On the downside, although the substrate is nutrient-rich, it will make the water slightly alkaline, which isn’t ideal for your pH levels.

What we like:

  • Contains plant-friendly nutrients
  • Porous texture for good root growth
  • Contains live healthy bacteria

Room for improvement:

  • Can affect the tank’s pH levels

Panacea Products Marbles

Panacea Products APN70002 100 Count Pan Marbles for Aquarium, Blue
  • Decorative & smooth glass stones add color and refract light
  • Translucent soft colored stones with a reflexive pearl-like finish
  • Mix & match colors & styles to give your aquarium a professional look
  • Decorative & smooth glass stones add color and refract light
  • Translucent soft colored stones with a reflexive pearl-like finish
  • Mix & match colors & styles to give your aquarium a professional look

Panacea Products Marbles can make an eye-catching and slightly unusual addition to your tank. The marbles come in a wide selection of colors, enabling you to choose the most suitable shade to contrast with your betta.

The marbles are made from highly polished glass that is safe for use in freshwater tanks, and won’t affect the water chemistry.

The marbles don’t have a porous surface, so they won’t promote bacterial growth. However, the marble’s smooth surface won’t harm your fish.

Although you would need many marbles to cover a tank floor, you can easily combine them with other substrates to create a varied texture and look for your tank bottom.

What we like:

  • The marble’s texture is very smooth and won’t damage your betta’s tail or fins
  • The marbles are pH neutral so they won’t change the water chemistry of your tank

Room for improvement:

  • Needs to be vacuumed more often than other substrates
  • Less natural look
  • If you use marbles as the only substrate in your tank, fish waste could become trapped, which could cause pollution in your tank

Marina Decorative Gravel

Marina Decorative Gravel, 1-Pound, Blue
  • Blue colored gravel, great for adding color to your aquarium
  • Gravel helps hold plants and ornaments in place
  • Epoxy coated; No effect on water chemistry
  • Blue-colored gravel – great for adding color to your aquarium
  • Gravel helps hold plants and ornaments in place
  • Epoxy coated; no effect on water chemistry

Marina Decorative Gravel is a surf stone material that is sealed to prevent pH variations. The material is uneven in shape and size, creating an appealing, varied texture for your tank. This product is also available in other colors such as red, black, yellow, and purple.

Compared with other decorative substrates, the colors of Marina gravel are much more subdued.

The non-uniform grains of gravel allow water to flow into the covering, which works really well with an under-gravel filtration system.

You can use Marina gravel alone or mix it with other substrates to highlight your betta fish’s colors.

The gravel is treated with a layer of epoxy to smooth away any sharp edges, making this substrate super-safe for your betta buddy.

What we like:

  • Gravel is pre-rinsed before it’s packed, saving you time and hassle
  • The gravel ensures good water circulation on the tank floor
  • The epoxy coating ensures that your tank pH level remains unaffected

Room for improvement:

  • Some users reported that the color of the gravel faded over time
  • Not for fish keepers looking for a natural look!

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

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Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel - Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbs
  • GRAVEL: Seachem Flourite Black is a specially fracted stable porous clay gravel for the natural planted aquarium. Its appearance is best suited to planted aquaria, but may be used in any freshwater aquarium environment.
  • AQUARIUM BED: Gravel modifiers such as laterite are not necessary when using Seachem Flourite Black as this product is most effective when used alone as an integral substrate bed, but it may be mixed with other gravels.
  • SET-UP: When adding water to the aquarium, fill slowly to avoid disturbing Flourite Black substrate bed. Place a bowl in the aquarium and add water directly to the bowl, allowing water to overflow softly on to the gravel bed. Initial cloudiness is normal, but to remove this simply use mechanical filtration
  • GRAVEL: Seachem Flourite Black is a specially fracted stable porous clay gravel for the naturally planted aquarium. Its appearance is best suited to planted aquaria, but may be used in any freshwater aquarium environment.
  • AQUARIUM BED: Gravel modifiers such as laterite aren’t necessary when using Seachem Flourite Black as this product is most effective when used alone as an integral substrate bed, but it may be mixed with other gravels.
  • SET-UP: When adding water to the aquarium, fill slowly to avoid disturbing Flourite Black substrate bed. Place a bowl in the aquarium and add water directly to the bowl, allowing water to overflow softly onto the gravel bed. Initial cloudiness is normal, but to remove this, simply use mechanical filtration.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel is made from stable, porous gravel and is ideal for a freshwater tank setup that includes living plants.

The substrate is black in color, creating the perfect backdrop to bring out the colors of metallics and brightly colored bettas. The gravel contains no chemical treatments or coating, so it doesn’t alter the pH of the water.

Also, the gravel won’t decompose over time, so you will never need to worry about replacing it, and this substrate is perfect for use with an under-gravel filtration system.

What we like:

  • Makes bright betta colors pop.
  • Suitable for use in a live-planted tank.
  • Doesn’t contain chemicals, so it won’t affect water pH levels.

Room for improvement:

  • Not so good for darker-colored bettas.
  • Needs lots of rinsing before use to remove dust.

What Is a Fish Tank Substrate?

A substrate is simply the term that’s used to describe whatever you choose to cover the bottom of your fish tank.

What’s the Purpose of a Fish Tank Substrate?

A substrate isn’t purely decorative, but has a number of other important functions:

Bacteria

Bacteria are an essential element of the nitrogen cycle within your aquarium environment. As part of the filtration process, certain types of bacteria help to break down ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and nitrogen.

All these substances are toxic to the fish and the other species that are living in your tank.

In addition to your filter, substrates provide another area in which beneficial bacteria can thrive, helping to keep the water clean and healthy for your betta fish.

Aesthetics

Most hobbyists choose to use a substrate to make their tanks look good. An empty glass tank floor can reflect light and create reflections that could stress your betta.

Substrates can help to make your betta’s glowing colors really pop, too, especially if you choose a dark substrate or one that contrasts with your fish’s colors.

Live plants

Live plants are an important addition to your betta tank setup. Aquatic plants help to oxygenate the water and remove impurities from it. Also, your betta fish needs places where he can hide, and live plants are great for providing that.

Substrate helps to anchor your plants in place, and certain types of aquarium soil also provide the plants with valuable nutrition.

pH balance

If you struggle to maintain the ideal pH level in your tank, certain substrates can help. Some forms of sand, gravel, or clay make the water harder or softer, as well as absorbing detrimental substances and leaching beneficial ones into the tank.

A Betta’s Natural Environment

In their natural environment, betta fish live in warm, shallow water, such as slow-moving streams, rice paddies, and drainage ditches.

The usual substrate in these environments is mud, silt, and soil, together with large amounts of vegetation. That’s not going to make a healthy environment for your betta over time and would also turn the water cloudy.

What Are the Different Types of Aquarium Substrates?

There are many forms of aquarium substrate, not all of which are suitable for use in a betta tank.

Gravel

By far the most commonly used aquarium substrate is gravel. Gravel is available from any fish or pet store and comes in a wide variety of different colors.

Gravel tends to stay put on the floor of the tank. The gravel substrate isn’t easily disturbed, helping to keep the water clean and clear. Also, gravel is easy to clean.

Simply suck out any feces, uneaten food, and plant debris from the gravel once a week, using a special aquarium vacuum device.

The texture of gravel makes it ideal for plants to take root and grow. However, in a tank where the community includes fish that are plant nippers, you may find that your plants become dislodged.

Also, gravel tends to contain sharp fragments that could damage your betta’s fins and tail. If you have a betta with particularly long fins, it’s essential to choose gravel with smooth edges.

A final little drawback with gravel is that if you feed your betta with live food, you may find that creatures such as bloodworms can burrow down into the gravel and disappear!

Aquarium sand

Although more suitable for bottom-dwelling fish, aquarium sand can also be used as a substrate for a betta tank.

One big plus point for using aquarium sand is that it’s very compact, meaning that any debris sits on top of the sand. Bottom-feeders such as plecos and corydoras catfish may eat the waste, or you could simply vacuum it away.

Also, there are no sharp edges on the sand, so you don’t need to be concerned that your betta could injure himself.

One potential issue with using sand as a substrate is that “bad” bacteria can form air pockets within the sand. That can cause hydrogen sulfide to be released into your tank, which is very unhealthy for your fish.

You can prevent that from happening by gently swirling the sand from time to time to break up the air pockets.

Also, swirling the sand clouds the water in your tank, and that happens every time the sand is disturbed.

Some kinds of sand are too light to anchor your plants, whereas others become too compact for the plants to dig their roots down into. Therefore, sands aren’t generally recommended for heavily planted aquascapes.

Coral sand

Although it’s called “sand,” coral sand is more like gravel. Although coral sand is good for some species of fish, it’s not recommended for bettas.

This is because coral sand is made from calcium carbonate, which gradually dissolves in water, making the pH more alkaline, which isn’t good for bettas that prefer a more acidic environment.

Play sand/building sand

Play sand and building sand shouldn’t be used in fish tanks. That kind of sand can contain bacteria that cause a bloom of brown algae or lime, which could raise your water’s pH, both of which could harm your fish.

Marbles

Inert glass marbles can make a very attractive substrate for a betta tank. Aquarium marbles are usually flat, rather than round.

Flat marbles look great, but they do have large gaps between them that make it very easy for food and other waste to slip down between them.

That said, if they are regularly cleaned, a marble substrate can make a safe haven for betta fry who can hide among the tiny crevices between the marbles.

If you have a small tank and are up for doing regular tank vacuuming, then marbles could be an interesting alternative for you.

Marble chippings

Marble chippings (not to be confused with glass marbles) are sometimes used as a substrate, but that’s not a good idea for bettas.

Just like coral sand, marble chips naturally contain calcium carbonate that will affect the water chemistry in your betta tank.

Natural river stones and stone aggregate

Although you might think that taking stones and gravel from a river would make a great natural substrate, that is definitely not the case.

You have no idea what parasites, bacteria, or chemicals may be lurking within the material, and introducing that to your tank could harm or even kill your fish.

No substrate

You could decide not to add any substrate at all to your tank, just leaving the bottom bare. That approach has advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

  • If you breed bettas, having no substrate in the tank makes it easier to see the fry.
  • No substrate makes it much quicker and easier to clean your tank, and you don’t have to worry about sucking up gravel or sand.
  • If there’s no substrate in the tank, there’s no danger that your betta could injure himself on a sharp piece of gravel.
  • No substrate means that there will be an extra inch or so of swimming space for your fish.

Disadvantages

  • A glass bottom in the tank can produce glare and reflections that could cause your betta to become stressed and flare up.
  • Betta fish love a planted tank, and if there’s no substrate, you won’t have anything in which to anchor your plants.
  • Without substrate, beneficial bacteria will find it difficult to grow, which could place more strain on your filtration system, potentially leading to poorer water quality.
  • A tank without substrate simply doesn’t look as appealing as one with gravel or sand covering the bottom.

What’s the Best Substrate for Maintenance and Cleaning?

Whatever your choice of substrate, you will need to clean it routinely. But what’s the best substrate from a maintenance perspective?

  • Marbles allow for waste and debris to fall through the cracks, ending up deep inside the substrate layer. That said, vacuuming marbles is pretty straightforward and easy, and they won’t be sucked into the vacuum.
  • Gravel is generally the best option for a betta tank. Waste is unable to penetrate the substrate too easily or deeply, making gravel quite straightforward to maintain. However, smaller pieces of gravel may be sucked into the vacuum during cleaning, which can be frustrating.
  • Sand is one of the best substrates to choose if you’re looking for an easy maintenance option. Any waste or debris simply lays on the surface of the substrate, making the job of vacuuming super-easy and quick. That said, you must position your aquarium vacuum an inch or so above the sand to avoid sucking up the substrate. Also, if you disturb the sand too much, it will make your tank water cloudy until the sand particles eventually settle again.

How to Calculate the Necessary Amount of Aquarium Substrate

To calculate the amount of aquarium substrate you’ll need, work out the surface area of your tank.

A typical 10-gallon tank is 20 inches long x 10 inches wide, which gives us a surface area of 200 square inches.

Now we need to multiply that number by the depth of our substrate to give us our final volume. If we take an example depth of 3 inches, then we’d have to multiply 200 sq. inches x 3 inches.

20 x 10 x 3 inches gives us a total substrate volume of 600 cubic inches or 2.6 gallons.

Since 1 gallon of gravel will generally weigh around 15lb, we then need to multiply 15 x the number of gallons of gravel to give us the final weight of gravel we’ll need.

15lb x 2.6 gives us a total of 39lb. So in this case, buying a 40lb bag would be sufficient!

How Often Do I Need to Change the Substrate in a Betta Tank?

If you look after your substrate, it can last as long as your betta tank does. Substrates need to be cleaned regularly via tank vacuuming to prevent the build-up of debris and algae that could be otherwise accumulated.

If you’ve somehow neglected your gravel or suffered a huge algae bloom, it may be difficult to get it clean again.

In this case, you could remove it into a bucket and wash it under a high-pressure hose with aquarium-safe cleaning products, or replace it with a new substrate.

Do Betta Fish Need Rocks in Their Tanks?

Larger rocks can be placed on top of your aquarium substrate to provide decoration and hiding places for your betta.

Remember, though, that bettas come from natural habitats that are more likely to be full of plants than rocks, and live plants also provide places for your betta to hide.

Rocks and caves are therefore an optional addition to a betta aquarium rather than a necessity.

For Most Betta Tanks, Gravel Comes Out On Top

When it comes to choosing the best substrate for your betta tank, gravel comes out on top. Gravel is easy to clean and maintain, provides a home for beneficial bacteria, gives live plants a secure medium in which to take root, and comes in many different colors to complement or contrast with your betta’s colors.

Our Top Pick

The Pisces Gunsmoke aquarium gravel is our top pick for the best betta substrate in 2022. The consistently small grain size along with its unique natural speckled appearance make it an excellent choice for beginner betta keepers and advanced hobbyists alike.

Pisces is a trusted brand in the aquarium world and these packs also offer very good value for money.

To read more glowing reviews for this gravel, check out the product page on Amazon here.

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