Last Updated: May 26, 2022 by Dave Gibbins
Setting up an aquarium is engaging and fun. Picking out the fish and tank are only two of the decisions that you need to make.
One of the more important considerations will be the substrate that is used. Gravel is a popular option that is also highly functional. What follows is an overview of aquarium gravel and some popular gravel types so that you know what to look for in the best gravel for freshwater aquariums.
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1. Activ-Flora Planted Aquarium Substrate
Click here for best price 2. CaribSea Peace River Substrate
Click here for best price 3. Pure Water Pebbles Natural
Click here for best price 4. GloFish Aquarium Gravel
Click here for best price 5. Exotic Jade Bean Pebbles
Click here for best price
Freshwater Aquarium Gravel Reviews
1. Carib Sea Peace River Gravel for Aquarium
Carib Sea Peace River gravel is a natural colored substrate that should work well if you are looking to create a natural-looking aquarium. There are no paints or dyes used to create the color of the gravel and it is PH neutral. The small size of the individual pebbles will reduce detritus build-up. The gravel is fine (typically between 1.0 and 2.0 mm), which should prove to be a good choice if you keep bottom-feeders.
This may be an even better choice of gravel for owners who keep fish that like to burrow into the substrate. The small size of the individual pebbles will make it a poor choice for under-gravel filter systems. The small size of this bedding may tend to cause more difficulty when cleaning with a vacuum, although the size could prove beneficial as a top layer over the soil in planted tanks.
- pH neutral
- Fine pebble size reduces detritus build-up
- Great choice for fish species that like to burrow
- Fine pebble size will make vacuuming more difficult
- Will not work well with an under the gravel filter system
2. Pure Water Pebbles Natural Aquarium Gravel
Pure Water Pebbles gravel will enhance your finned warriors’ underwater home. It’s of great quality and all-natural that it can provide enough space for beneficial bacteria and proper anchoring for your aquatic plants. It helps in the filtering process thereby increasing the area available for nitrifying bacteria. Its acrylic coating is 100% non-toxic and gives a beautiful sheen without affecting the water chemistry.
- Easy to work with
- Provides a distinguished look
- Provides a lot of surface area for good bacteria to colonize
- Not true to color
3. Activ-Flora Planted Aquarium Substrate
Vibrant and healthy plants are what you get from Activ-Flora gravel. It is nutrient-enriched that contains a wide variety of minerals to help your aquatic plants thrive and grow more quickly. Rich in all the essential minerals, especially iron, there’s no need to add laterite.
It doesn’t contain any artificial dyes or additives. This substrate is self-sustaining due to the micronutrients that are slowly released over time. Activ-Flora removes harmful nitrogenous waste without altering the water’s pH levels.
- Will not affect water PH levels
- Slow-released micronutrients
- Can get the water cloudy
4. GloFish Aquarium Gravel, 5-Pound
GloFish Black aquarium gravel is designed to be a stand-alone substrate or used as an accent with other bedding. There are different colored fluorescent pebbles mixed throughout this gravel that will glow under a blue lighting system.
This gravel will help your tank become the centerpiece of the room. This substrate works best when combined with other equipment and decor (and fish) that are part of the GloFish system. The other components of this brand are also fluorescent and will provide a stunning visual that looks like nothing that nature can offer.
You need special lighting to make this gravel work properly. When used for long periods of time, the colors may fade or become less intense as they become covered. The black and neon-colored gravel could be less impressive to the fish than they are to you.
- Gives off a glow under proper lighting
- Black color makes other decor and fish stand out
- Need to use the GloFish system to allow this gravel to work as designed
- Mostly black, with fewer neon pebbles than expected
- Colors may fade over time
5. Exotic Pebbles Jade Bean Pebbles
This Jade Bean Exotic Pebbles beautifies your aquarium with 100% naturally sourced substrate. It’s the perfect decorative element for your finned friends. Gathered from around the world, each pebble is differently shaped to give a naturalistic look without having to spend a lot of effort. They’ll look great in your Betta bowls!
- 100% natural
- Different shades of jade
Aquarium Gravel – Useful Info
Do You Need Substrate In A Tank?
You may read about how keepers set up their tanks with no substrate. In the case of Breeder or Grow Out tanks, the idea is to make fry easier to spot as you clean and do maintenance.
Substrates can harbor parasites that can spread from one inhabitant to another, so some enthusiasts will keep their Quarantine tanks bare-bottomed. But a substrate has many benefits (and can be a must) for a tank, as discussed in this article about planted tank substrate, for example:
What Are The Benefits Of Using Aquarium Gravel?
For you and those who will see your tank, one of the obvious benefits will be improving the look of the aquarium. Gravel can help to highlight other decorations, hide equipment, anchor objects or plants, as well as show off your fish. Gravel will also help hide debris that collects daily in your tank far better than if the bottom was bare.
Aquarium gravel can also help to create an environment that is more natural to the fish themselves. This substrate can provide a safe haven for eggs to be laid that may otherwise be eaten by adult fish. Food such as infusoria that small fry can eat can use gravel as a home. Natural-looking gravel can also aid in creating a habitat that is more comfortable for your fish, lessening stress levels which will improve their health.
Perhaps the greatest benefit is that aquarium gravel will become home to good bacteria in your freshwater tank. As the bacteria colonize the bedding, they will break down fish waste as well as food and plant debris. This can be critical in maintaining a healthy aquarium for your fish.
While this bacteria will also colonize other decor and filters, gravel will allow them to exist in numbers large enough to assist with ammonia and nitrate levels.
What Type Of Gravel Should You Use?
When considering this type of substrate, you will want to use gravel that is designed specifically for aquarium use.
Unlike regular gravel you find out on the street, aquarium gravel is chemically inert. This will prevent the bedding from altering the water chemistry. This is accomplished by using material that is lime-free or sealed with polymers.
Another difference is that gravel designed specifically for use in your tank will be smoother in texture than other gravels. This smooth texture not only simulates the bedding you would expect to find in a body of water, but it is also safer for fish that interact with it (for example Corydoras, who have soft undersides and barbels).
Some gravel is designed specifically for freshwater tanks and has features designed to cater to certain types of fish or to more closely simulate the natural habitats that they would be found in.
How Much Aquarium Gravel Do You Need?
A general rule of thumb that most aquarium keepers follow is that you want to have an average depth of two inches of gravel on the bottom of your freshwater tank. Many owners will increase the depth towards the back of the aquarium to three or more inches.
The incline created allows for more options when aquascaping, and actually provides more surface area for beneficial bacteria to use. This calculator can aid in determining the amount you need to purchase.
How Do You Use Aquarium Gravel?
After you purchase your substrate you will want to rinse it before putting it into your aquarium. The package will contain dust, grit, and other types of debris or residues that could prove to be poisonous for your fish.
Cleaning the gravel beforehand prevents these materials from getting into the water column. The process involves using a sieve that is placed over a bucket. Placing the gravel in the sieve, you simply run water over it while shaking the sieve until the water that runs out into the bucket is clear.
You will repeat this process until you have cleaned all of the gravel using a gravel cleaner that is to be used for the tank bedding. Do not rinse gravel over your sink, as some gravel will fall or rinse out of the sieve.
General cleaning needs to be done periodically by vacuuming the gravel. The process involves using a gravel vacuum that will remove debris off of the substrate by siphoning water through a hose into a bucket. This video does a very good job of showing you how to clean aquarium gravel.
Many things will factor into each owner’s decision about which gravel they will want to use, but our recommendation would be the Activ-Flora Planted Aquarium Substrate. The less-than-smooth texture of some pebbles is negated by the natural look and size that fits the broadest range of tanks. Being able to provide good circulation, filtration, and bacterial growth makes this gravel stand out.