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.


Substrate Name

More Information

Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel for Aquarium

Govine Polished Gravel Decorative Gravel

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia LIGHT (9 Liter) Normal Type

GloFish Aquarium Gravel

CNZ Aquarium Natural River Gravel

Aquarium Gravel

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 a 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 a 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, it is 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 have 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 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.

Freshwater Aquarium Gravel Reviews

Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel for Aquarium, 20-Pound

A natural colored gravel that consists of fine pebbles.

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.


  • This substrate is PH neutral.
  • The fine pebble size reduces detritus build up.
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    This gravel is a great choice for fish species that like to burrow.


  • The fine pebble size will make vacuuming more difficult.
  • This gravel will not work well with an under gravel filter system.

Gravel, Govine Polished Gravel Decorative Gravel Mixed, 5 Pounds

A large decorative gravel that can imitate a river bed.

Govine’s Polished gravel are lightly polished stones that come in natural colors. This material can be used as a stand-alone substrate or combined with other bedding to create a variety of terrain. You will want to rinse this gravel thoroughly before using it.

The material size is ideal for aquascaping with plastic plants.

If you are looking for a substrate that is simple in design, this gravel may prove to be a good choice. The variety of material sizes in these mixed bags can provide your tank with a look that stands out from other tanks that use smaller gravel or sand.

The larger size of the pebbles will increase detritus build up.

This gravel will offer a lot of interaction between the water and the bottom of the tank, which should allow good bacteria to thrive.


  • This material is easy to work with.
  • The larger gravel provides a distinguished look.
  • check-circle
    Provides a lot of surface area for good bacteria to colonize.


  • The material size will increase the build-up of wastes.
  • The larger gravel size does not provide a good system for live plant roots.

Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag

Small pebble-sized gravel that is ideal for smaller tanks.

Shallow Creek Regular gravel is a small sized gravel that is safe to use in freshwater aquariums. The material has a non-toxic coating that will not affect the PH of your tank.

The gravel’s small size would be an excellent choice for smaller tanks.

The gravel has a variety of natural colors, and the pebbles come in a multitude of shapes. If you plan to have artificial or real plants in your aquarium, this gravel may prove ideal for helping to anchor them down with.

The variety of shapes that the gravel comes in is not as smooth as some aquarium gravels are.

While this gravel is smaller than average size, it should still allow a decent level of circulation throughout the substrate, helping to prevent “dead spots.”


  • This product is designed so that it will not affect water PH levels.
  • Pebble size is a great match for smaller tanks and fish.
  • check-circle
    The smaller size can aid in anchoring plants.


  • The texture is not as smooth as some gravel.
  • This product may require more rinsing than other products before use.

GloFish Aquarium Gravel, 5-Pound

A gravel with an intense neon look under blue light.

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.


  • This gravel gives off a glow under proper lighting.
  • The black color of this gravel makes other decor and fish stand out


  • You need to use the GloFish system to allow this gravel to work as designed.
  • The gravel is mostly black, with fewer neon pebbles than expected.
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    The colors may fade over time.

CNZ Aquarium Natural River Gravel

A medium sized gravel with natural color and shapes.

Natural River gravel averages between 3-5mm in size, making this a medium selection among the products reviewed. The pebbles are made from natural river stone and may be what you are looking for if you desire a deeper substrate in your tank.

This gravel will work well with under gravel filters.

The size and shapes of the gravel will encourage proper circulation in the bedding and should provide an excellent home for the good bacteria that you will need to keep your aquarium healthy and safe for your fish. If you are looking for a gravel that is easier to clean than substrate that is too large or small, this product may be one to consider.

Some pebbles may have sharper edges that can prove rough on bottom feeders or fish that like to burrow.

While most of the material has a rounded surface, some pebbles have sharper edges that could damage soft underbellies or barbels on fish like Corys.


  • This product is a natural river gravel.
  • This gravel can aid in the growth of beneficial bacteria.


  • The edges on some pebbles may be rough.
  • Best results require two pounds of gravel per gallon of water.


Many things will factor into each owner's decision about which gravel they will want to use, but our recommendation would be the Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag. 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.

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