Thinking of using a sand substrate for your goldfish tank?


I use sand in my goldfish tanks and LOVE it.

Sand is easy to clean…

… And aquascapers agree that it gives the illusion of a larger tank (as opposed to using gravel).

But not all sands are created equal.

Using the wrong brand of sand can actually create a nightmare of chronic cloudy water and clogged equipment!

After testing many kinds of sand, here are my favorites.

Best Goldfish Sand Substrate for Your Aquarium

Color White Black Variegated Neutrals Beige Gold Off-White
Name Sandtastik Flouriteย  Black Sand CaribSea Peace River CaribSea Crystal River CaribSea Sunset Gold CaribSea Torpedo Beach
Sizes 25 lbs 7.7 lbs, 15.4 lbs 5 lbs, 20 lbs 5 lbs, 20 lbs 5 lbs, 20 lbs 5 lbs, 20 lbs
Material Feldspar rock Volcanic (?) Clay Mixed river sand (?) Quartz Beach sand (?) Quartz
  • Clean white look
  • Soft on fish bellies & fins
  • Silicate Free
  • Striking black look
  • Nourishes live plants
  • Natural look
  • Large grain size
  • Won’t cloud water
  • Light natural look
  • Large grain size
  • Won’t cloud water
  • Natural look
  • Soft on fish bellies & fins
  • Light natural look
  • Large grain size
  • Won’t cloud water
  • May cloud water initially
  • May cloud water initially
  • May leach silicates
  • May leach silicates
  • May cloud water initially
  • May leach silicates
  • May leach silicates
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1. Sandtastik Sparkling White Play Sand

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No doubt about it:

White sand gives your tank a clean, fresh, bright look.

I used to shun play sand because it’s so fine, but if you wash it enough and use a sponge filter…

… (and ensure your equipment isn’t too close to the bottom)….

… No long-term issues.

I specifically wanted white sand for my 29 gallon tank, and after some hunting I found Sandtastik, which is made of Feldspar rock instead of quartz.

Other aquarists also find it’s perfect in fish tanks.

I really like the super-soft texture for my fish as I’ve got an older fancy goldfish that likes to sit at the bottom occasionally.

When I used courser sands, I noticed he would never bottom sit on them but perch on a rock on his belly.

This indicated to me that the course grain sands are not comfortable for him.

Tip: I discovered if you wash this sand properly first and fill the tank with water landing onto a plastic bag you will not experience ANY issues with cloudiness! ๐Ÿ™‚

2. Flourite Sand

The other awesome sand I’ve been super impressed with lately is Seachem Flourite black sand.

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I love this sand in one of my planted goldfish tanks where I wanted a dark substrate.

The reason?

It’s a sand made of nutrient-rich clay – perfect for the planted goldfish tank.

Plus it looks super striking.

(Really sets off the fish & plants.)

Yes, it can be a bit cloudy initially, but me and many other fishkeepers agree – it’s worth the initial hassle to get the long-term results of a flourishing aquarium.

You can actually eliminate the need for liquid fertilizer dosing!

I also noticed the nitrates in this tank have dropped to 0.

After discussing this with SeaChem, they agreed that this clay could be supporting good anaerobic bacteria that are removing nitrates from my water.

Nice bonus ๐Ÿ™‚

3. Caribsea Peace River Sand

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I passed this one up initially when comparing goldfish sand substrate options – thinking it was gravel by the picture.

But it’s definitely NOT.

Caribsea’s Peace River sand is a formidable rival to the other brands discussed above, and there’s truly nothing else like it on the market.

The size is in between fine sand and gravel, between 1-2mm each…

… Which has proven to be the most ideal size for allowing maximum goldfish foraging behavior.

You can even use this type of sand to cap soil for growing plants, as it is far heavier than regular sand and won’t allow the dirt to escape when moved around by hungry goldfish.

The best part?

Unlike regular gravel, the majority of the debris sits on top rather than getting stuck in between the cracks and making a (potentially toxic) mess.

It has a beautiful, natural look that makes your fish & plants look like they are in a river in the wild.

4. CaribSea Crystal River Sand

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I really like Caribsea Super Naturals “Crystal River.”

My goldfish go CRAZY over foraging in this stuff, and cleaning it is the easiest of all the brands I’ve tried.

It won’t mess with your pH and is easy to clean and all natural.

The color is a great neutral shade as well.

What I love most about this sand?

How easy it is to clean!

As long as your suction isn’t too strong on your siphon, the particles gently lift into the tube and fall back down – but the waste continues to get sucked up.

This allows me to push the tube all the way to the bottom of the tank and get just about every piece of crud!

Yay ๐Ÿ™‚

A cleaner tank = healthier, happier fish.

And unlike with gravel:

You get the benefits of something for the fish to forage in and enjoy without the hazards of choking and debris buildup.

It IS made of quartz.

And after struggling for about a year with a recurring brown diatom problem, I did end up switching this sand out because I got tired of purchasing Phosguard to remove the silicates and blamed my sand.

But even after removing all quartz-based rocks and sand from my tank and doing a 100% water change…

… The stupid brown algae returned. ๐Ÿ™

So obviously it’s the silicates in my tap water causing this problem and not the substrate.

You might be interested in this:

Crystal River is also the ideal grain size for making a functional freshwater deep sand bed filter.

5. CaribSea Sunset Gold Sand

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For a natural, soft look, Sunset Gold is a great option.

I found that there was some cloudiness initially in the tank I set it up in…

… But this was quickly fixed by running a sponge filter for the first 8 hours.

(I was also lazy and didn’t wash it that well.)

This sand gives the tank a warm, inviting look and I like the little darker flecks that make it look like the bottom of a real riverbed.

You can also sprinkle in some larger pebbles to give it a VERY realistic riverbed appearance.

This sand is very fine and soft and kind of relaxing to move around ๐Ÿ™‚

6. CaribSea Torpedo Beach

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Torpedo beach sand is a lot like Crystal River.

The difference is really in the grain size, which is slightly larger.

It is also made of quartz.

The larger crystals are very easy to clean.

Benefits of Sand for Goldfish

Sand has many benefits for goldfish.

  • Does not trap debris, requiring less maintenance
  • Provides natural sifting behavior stimulation for foraging goldfish
  • Prevents hydrogen sulfide pocket production common in gravel
  • Allows plants to root (unless your goldfish dig them up)
  • Enhances appearance of the aquarium
  • Will not cause choking in digging fish

The Cleanlier Option

If you’ve ever had gravel in your aquarium, you know firsthand how downright nasty that stuff can get.

It seems like you can clean for AGES and never get all the debris out!

Fishkeepers who switch to sand from plain gravel almost always heave a massive sigh of relief:

“It’s so much easier to keep clean!”

This is because the fine particle size prevents waste from settling down into cracks and pockets, where it would sit and pollutes the water until someone disturbs it.

And the best part?

The waste tends to gather in areas of the tank where the current circulates, making vacuuming up all that poop in one fell swoop as easy as falling off a log.

Natural Behavior Encouragement

Bare-bottom tanks are definitely the easiest to keep clean…

… But they deprive the fish of the delights they have in sifting through and picking at things at the bottom.

In captivity, goldfish will be happiest when they can do what they would do if they lived in their natural environment – a pond or slow-moving river.

This behavior comes so naturally to them and gets them moving around their habitat longer, meaning more exercise and stimulation.

Why not let them do what they love?

I think it’s always a good idea to think of different ways to enrich their behavior and mimic natural conditions, especially by providing foraging material for them to graze on throughout the day.

How to Wash Sand for Your Aquarium

Washing your sand can REALLY help to prevent issues with residual cloudiness.

This is how I do it:

  1. Get a 5 gallon bucket and a strong water source (a hose on the “jet” setting is ideal, but a bathtub or laundry sink works too. I prefer to do it outside since sand can be a bit messy.)
  2. Fill the bucket up about 1/4 way full with your sand.
  3. If using a hose, blast all around the sand on the strongest setting until 3/4 full of water. Or if using a sink, fill up the bucket 3/4 with water and stir with your hand to suspend the sand particles.
  4. Wait for the sand to settle for about 30-45 seconds.
  5. Dump out the water slowly (NOT the sand).
  6. Repeat this until the sand can settle with minimal cloudiness in under 60 seconds.

Set aside a chunk of your day for this project ;P

But it will be worth it to not be dealing with cloudy aquarium water for possibly weeks!

How Deep of Sand Should You Use in Your Tank?

This is a good question.

Honestly, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

If it’s just there for the aesthetics and foraging?

My recommendation in general is not to use more than 1/2″ of fine sand at the bottom.

This prevents hydrogen sulfide pockets from forming.

(Nasty toxic pockets that can harm or kill your goldfish.)

So you need to worry about stirring it up each week like some fishkeepers do – since it’s not a deep layer.


With goldfish, a shallower substrate depth can be a bit annoying because they really like to dig.

And you might have to sweep the sand every week or so to cover up any bare spots they might create.

The current from your filter can also cause bare spots.

While this isn’t a big deal to me since I usually have my hands in the tank doing cleaning or maintenance each week…

… It is a bit annoying.


You can make the sand much deeper in your tank if you want to keep live plants that make deep rooting systems.

The roots help to aerate the substrate and prevent these pockets from forming.

(Interestingly enough, some aquarists use deep sand beds as a method of filtration! Here’s anย article about that if you’re interested.)

Either way, I hope that helps clarify things for you.

Thoughts on Different Kinds of Sands

There are some other kinds of sand I steer clear of:

Some can have weird dyes or polymer coatings that can leach into your water over time.

I try to stay away from these.

The coatings are added to prevent the sand from influencing the pH (not a problem if you use Caribsea’s Crystal River).


White sand is a love-hate relationship for me.

It looks so clean and beautiful – at first.

The poop and any little speck of debris on the bottom stands out like a sore thumb. So it requires more vacuuming (and I’m lazy ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

And if you have any problem with brown algae… you can forget about white sand for long.

Wrapping it Up

I hope you enjoyed this article.

Did you learn something useful?

Have you ever used sand for your goldfish tank?

I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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