How Much Sand Do I Need for a Freshwater Aquarium?

As a fish lover, you may want to keep an aquarium in your office or home. There are several benefits of keeping an aquarium that makes it a great hobby. One of the benefits is that it has aesthetic value and it beautifies your home.

One of the ways to make your aquarium look beautiful is to add, in addition to the fish, a good looking substrate like sand.  And you may want to ask, how much sand do I need for a freshwater aquarium?

This article will provide the answer to this question and also explain other important factors to consider too.

The simple answer to this question is that, you need about 1 – 2 inches of sand for shallow substrate and about 4 – 6 inches for a deep substrate. The depth of the substrate depends on several factors and this article will also explain them.

Sand is found in the natural home of the fish in the wild. Either in the Marine such as the ocean or the freshwater such as the streams. The bed of every water body contains sand. So it makes perfect sense to add sand to your aquarium to give it a natural look.

Sand is not just found in the natural habitat of fish, it is also the home to important organisms that has benefits to the fish such as some microorganisms. These organisms contribute to the healthy growth of the aquarium. For example, bacteria live on the substrate and they are good for converting dangerous chemicals into less harmful substances. Fish excrete nitrogenous wastes that are dangerous for their health. These bacteria convert this dangerous nitrogenous wastes (ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites) into less harmful substances.

How to Determine the Depth of the Sand

You can have two types of depth when it comes to adding sand to your aquarium. It can either be shallow (about 2-4 inches) or deep (about 4-6inches). You should know that the depth of the substrate determines how easy it will be to clean the tank. Shallow substrate doesn’t take time to clean but a deeper substrate will take more time to clean.

Shallow Beds

This is the best option If you do not have plans to have a lot of plants and other decorations in your aquarium. Shallow beds give room to take more water and as such accommodates more fish. Shallow substrate looks just like the natural sand in water bodies.

Deeper Beds

Deeper beds are better if you want to have a lot of plants and decorations in your aquarium. They are in a better place to hold more plants firmly. The disadvantage of this type of substrate is also in size. Because of the size, it can easily build up a lot of toxic substances such as methane and carbon dioxide. By stirring the sand bed, you can easily overcome this challenge.

Benefits of Using Sand as a substrate

Using sand in your aquarium makes your aquarium look beautiful. The beauty of an aquarium is when it looks just like the natural habitat. Adding sand to your aquarium gives it this appeal. It also makes people who see it admire your work. It looks like you are maintaining a whole ecosystem rather than just fish.

Some fish also rely on the substrate for their survival. For example, there are fish called gastroliths. Meaning that they need to consume sand from time to time to help them with digestion. Some fish on the other hand don’t feed on the substrate but like to burrow. Adding sand will provide this natural home for them where they can burrow into the sand. In such cases, sand will be the best substrate as pebbles and stones can cause injury to such fish.

Calculating the amount of sand you need

It is quite easy to know the amount of sand you will need to fill your aquarium. Some online calculators can do this in a few minutes. You will be asked to enter the size of your aquarium like the length, breadth, and height. I’m also going to show you how to calculate it.

Let’s assume you want to make a shallow bed with sand in a 55-gallon tank. The first step is to find out the dimensions of the tank. In this case, it will be 12.25 inches by 48.25 inches. Putting this dimension in the calculator will give you the result. For a 1-inch sand bed, you need about 24 pounds of sand. That means to make a shallow bed of 2 inches, you will need 24 pounds of sand times 2 which is 48 pounds.

Preparing Your Sand the substrate

You don’t just get sand from anywhere and put it in your aquarium. You have to prepare it first. And I’m going to explain how to do just that.

The first step is to calculate how much sand you are going to need. I already explained the process above. You are going to need about 24 pounds of sand for every 1 inch in a 55-gallon tank. Measure out the amount of sand that you will be needing.

The next step is to clean the sand before introducing it into the tank. This is the most important process and failure to do it properly will affect you. If you do not clean the sand before introducing it to the tank, it will make the water dirty. This can persist for a lot of days or even weeks.

It is fairly easy to clean the sand. Fill up a bucket with water and add the sand inside it. Stir it for a while and pour out the dirty water. Repeat this process until you have clean and clear water.

Empty the aquarium before you add the sand and fill it with water. The first time you add the water, the water may become cloudy but don’t worry. It will soon settle down in a few days and you will have clear water in your aquarium.


This post has been able to answer the question of how much sand do I need for a freshwater aquarium. There is much that adding sand can do to your tank. It provides a substrate that benefits your fish, removes toxic substances and adds beauty to your aquarium.

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