A guide to cleaning all types of soil in your aquarium

Natural aquarium soils (quartz, gravel, etc.) look as natural as possible and quite inexpensive in cost when buying. But they need regular cleaning, especially if you keep bottom fish, such as catfish or loach fish, which spend most of their life in close contact with the substrate.

The type of aquarium substrate directly affects how much time will be required to maintain it in the future. Our guide will help you to choose the best that can be “at the bottom”!

A couple of weeks after the launch of the aquarium, you will probably pay attention to its lower part and think: “something is wrong here …”.

Different types of substrates require a different approach to them, especially in maintenance. If you decide to fill the bottom of your aquarium with white sand, which will be under a flurry of intense light, you will probably have to clean it almost every day. If you have chosen a nutrient substrate for living plants, you may never have to clean it.

Let’s figure out how to handle the most common types of aquarium soils.

Nutrient substrates

Nutrient substrates

 

This type of soil is never chosen for no reason. If your aquarium is decorated with high-quality and expensive soil, such as, for example, ADA POWER SAND, you either know exactly what you are doing or have made a big mistake.

Nutrient substrates are intended for the storage and slow release of beneficial substances absorbed by the roots of aquatic plants. Initially, such soils are sold as “charged with food” for aquarium plants, most often ammonia. The moment you start messing around in such soil, disturbing it, you release these nutrients into the water column, which in turn will lead to an outbreak of algae.

How to clean:

  • The initial launch of the aquarium.

We do nothing with this soil (flushing, heat treatment, etc.)! Unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer, that is extremely rare.

  • Subsequent maintenance of the aquarium.

Some aquascapers(the art of beautifully arranging aquarium) offer to clean part of the substrate every few weeks or months, others do not touch such a soil at all. My advice is to periodically use an aquarium siphon, but not more than a couple of centimeters deepen it into the ground. This will allow you to collect waste from the surface of the soil without disturbing the substrate itself.

Pros:

  • This soil is indispensable for aquariums with living plants, as it ideally stimulates their growth.

Cons:

  • It is not recommended for aquariums where the content of burrowing fish species is assumed.
  • Not recommended for aquariums with a high fish density, as this implies increased pollution of the aquarium.
  • A limited selection of colors and grain sizes.
  • Often tends to have a slightly acidic (and rarely alkaline) effect on the chemical composition of water.

 

Natural soil

Natural soil

Some modern aquarists are somewhat condescending to this “outdated” (in their opinion) type of aquarium soil. But natural soils are still rightfully in a leading position because this is the easiest to maintain type of soil.

Gravel is the most famous natural soil, which became popular among aquarists at the time when bottom filters were actively used. The location of bottom filtration is optimal under medium sized rounded gravel. Over time, this type of filtration has somewhat gone out of fashion, but many owners of aquariums do not give up, and still practice it!

How to clean:

  • The initial launch of the aquarium.

Rinse the soil thoroughly in clean running water to remove small parts and dust. It is most convenient to use a basin or bucket for processing in which you pour out the soil and mix it continuously under running water. Make sure that the water from the bucket drains clean, see-through, only after that the soil can be laid in the aquarium.

  • Subsequent maintenance of the aquarium.

Use a specialized soil cleaner – siphon. The siphon allows you to combine the simultaneous cleaning of the soil in the aquarium with a partial drain of water to replace it. The siphon flask must be immersed as much as 2/3 in the gravel, while the water in the flask seems to “boil”. The soil in the siphon flask will begin to turn over, releasing organic waste that must be removed directly. As soon as we take out the siphon from the ground (without removing it from the water, just lifting the siphon 5-10 cm on the surface), all the gravel will fall back to the bottom, and the mud will leak into the bucket along with water. Cleaning the soil must be done at least every two weeks, although weekly cleaning is much better for the aquarium. But you can independently control the degree of soil contamination, and siphon it as necessary.

Pros:

  • Natural soil is the easiest to maintain.
  • Inert in fresh water, rarely causes a slight alkaline increase.
  • Looks good with any decor.
  • Generally inexpensive.
  • Thanks to its motley heterogeneous color, it perfectly hides small particles of fish waste.

Cons:

  • The new clean soil is absolutely “empty”, therefore, does not carry any nutritional value for living plants.
  • The acute shape of the edges (if the soil is not rounded) can cause damage to whiskers and scales in catfish and other burrowing species of fish.
  • Rare or insufficient cleaning will result in nitrate outbreaks, and as a result, in fish diseases.

 

Fine sandy soil

Sandy soil

 

Sandy soil is optimal when designing biotope aquariums, as it is most similar to substrates in lakes and rivers around the world. Such soil is relatively easy to purchase, it can be bought in almost any aquarium store in various color variations at an affordable price.

Despite the fact that some detractors claim that using such soil in an aquarium increases the risk of potential problems with the intestines or gills in fish, it remains one of the most popular modern substrates.

How to clean:

  • The initial launch of the aquarium.

Rinse in water slowly – this is the main secret! We wash the soil with a fine fraction in a bucket under cold running water in small portions (the soil layer in the bucket is no more than 5-8 cm at a time). Please note that this step may take a lot of time, but flushing should be as thorough as possible. It is not recommended to use a sieve, as the result will be a large dropout, and you will lose a lot of soil!

  • Subsequent maintenance of the aquarium.

With sandy soil, it is difficult to use the siphon in the standard way, that is, deepen the flask into the soil 2/3 of the layer height and clean as usual. The siphon will simply suck out the soil from the aquarium. When the fine soil becomes especially dirty and visually very unpresentable, you can partially remove the top layer of soil from the aquarium using a siphon, draining it into a bucket, where it can be washed thoroughly in the future in such a way as if you were going to lay the soil in the aquarium for the first time. But be careful, in this case, limit yourself to a maximum of 25% of the total amount of sand at a time so as not to interfere with biofiltration.

Personally, I like to carefully scoop up silver sand with my fingers every week, allowing all the dirt to rise and fall back to the surface. Then, using a siphon hose, I remove a layer of sand from the surface, removing all the waste deposits with it. This method will inevitably lead to a partial loss of soil, but since it is quite cheap, it is easy to replace as needed.

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • It looks as natural as possible.
  • Great for all types of fish that dig or dig into the ground, since the fine fraction does not damage their integument.
  • Almost always inert, does not affect the chemical composition of water.
  • The fine fraction of soil is optimal for the root system of most plants.

Cons:

  • It is not recommended to use if you need a large layer of soil, for example, for planting plants with a powerful root system, since with a high layer of fine soil its “souring” is inevitable.
  • It may start to look dirty and unpresentable very quickly.
  • Easily slips out of the aquarium at any opportunity (using a siphon, suction filter, air pump, etc.).
  • Excited fish will be able to raise a real sandstorm in the aquarium.
  • Strong filtration flows can move fine soil, leaving craters and sand drifts.

 

Painted aquarium soil

Painted aquarium soil

Aquarists are usually divided into two camps – some love this kind of soil, others hate it. But, of course, bright-colored soil may seem attractive to a beginner who is just learning the basics of aquarium farming. Not all artificially painted aquarium soils are the same, they differ in size, quality, and color fastness, so even flushing before the first use can be both successful and a real disappointment.

We recommend that you conduct preliminary testing to determine the effect of such soil on water parameters. Take a small handful and put it in a container of water (cup, jug, etc.), after a couple of days, test at least for ammonia. Some colored gravels are reported to leach ammonia compounds, which is unacceptable for an aquarium. If you come across such a soil, we recommend throwing it away, in extreme cases, you can try to soak it until the ammonia level is 0.

How to clean:

  • The initial launch of the aquarium.

Gently wash the soil in a colander, strainer, or bucket under the light pressure of tap water. In most cases, part of the color of the soil will erode right before your eyes. This will undoubtedly cause the aquarist to panic, but in no case do not stop rinsing. You must flush the soil until the water becomes clear! Please note that the primers of some manufacturers are coated with resin, which will inhibit color from leaching.

  • Subsequent maintenance of the aquarium.

Siphoning colored soil is necessary weekly in order to keep colored gravel clean. The lighter the color of the soil, the faster the algae on it become noticeable. You will be dissatisfied with the fact that in just one or two days the white soil becomes undesirable. Be especially careful with black gravel, as it may contain many impurities that are not visible to the naked eye.

Pros:

  • Cute if you like the brightness and you are not against the “artificial design” in the aquarium.
  • Like ordinary natural soil, it is easy to maintain (siphon cleaning is similar).

Cons:

  • Some fish may experience stress caused by vibrant colors.
  • Painted soils can release toxic substances.
  • Pay attention to the manufacturer, choose proven brands.
  • Colors may fade over time.
  • As fouling with algae it takes on an untidy appearance.

Coral sand

Coral sand

Coral sand has a severe restriction in use – it is suitable only for marine installations and aquariums where increased water hardness is allowed (usually aquariums with African cichlids). Coral sand is nothing but fragments of coral deposited at the foot of reefs, where they are sanded for a long period of time with water.

Since coral sand is permeated with calcium carbonate, it will make soft water hard and then alkaline. Never use this soil in aquariums where soft water is required!

How to clean:

  • The initial launch of the aquarium.

Place about 5-7 cm of coral soil in a bucket and rinse with cold running water with vigorous stirring. When the water begins to flow from the bucket transparent, the soil is ready for use.

  • Subsequent maintenance of the aquarium.

Use the siphon to clean the soil weekly or every two weeks. Cleaning coral sand is similar to cleaning fine sandy soil (see earlier). In the intervals between the “siphon” of the soil, waste on the surface can be removed using a net or vacuum siphon on batteries (the organic waste in this siphon is collected in a special bag by the principle of a vacuum cleaner, the water from the aquarium does not drain).

Pros:

  • Acts as a buffer in aquariums with hard water.
  • Ideal for saltwater aquariums.
  • Visually very beautiful.

Cons:

  • Intense light will cause algae growth.
  • Not applicable in freshwater aquariums with acidic and soft water.
  • Some types of coral soil can be very dusty, requiring long initial cleaning.
  • Small particles of coral soil can cause gill problems in some fish species.

 

Top 5 Aquarium Ground Tips

1. Never leave the roots of plants in the soil when they are extracted, as they will decompose and release nitrates. Instead of pulling out plants, try digging them up.

2. When flushing the soil before putting it into the aquarium for the first time, use cold water instead of hot water. Some substrates can create the illusion of muddy flowing water if hot water is used when in reality they are already clean. Microbubbles can cause this.

3. Use the net to remove uneaten food or other debris, preventing it from settling and rotting on the ground.

4. Tip for owners of saltwater aquariums. Before laying the soil in the aquarium, pour it onto a clean, flat surface and walk over it with a powerful magnet. This is rare, but occasional metal fragments in soils are sometimes found.

5. Snails! Difficult to control populations of small “weed” snails, such as coils, can become a real headache for the aquarium-maker, and take on the scale of an epidemic. But a few sand Melania’s (snails that burrow into the ground) will help you prevent stagnation in the ground.

1 thought on “A guide to cleaning all types of soil in your aquarium”

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