Best Aquarium Gravel for Freshwater Tanks

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington

What’s at the bottom of your aquarium? If you’re looking for substrate, check out our picks for the best aquarium gravel for freshwater tanks.

Freshwater aquariums are an easy place for new aquarium hobbyists to start but they also offer a wide world of opportunity for experienced hobbyists to expand and grow. Whether you want to start simple with a 10-gallon tank or upgrade to a 100-gallon tank, you will have to pick the best substrate to suit your new venture. If you want to keep it simple, consider aquarium gravel then read on to see our top picks for the best aquarium gravel for freshwater tanks.

Best Aquarium Gravel for Freshwater Tanks

Aquarium gravel comes in a wide variety of sizes and colors, so you can create virtually any look you want to in your home aquarium. Before you go out and start shopping for aquarium gravel, however, it is a good idea to know what’s out there. Check out our top 10 picks for the best gravels for your freshwater aquarium:

1. Editor’s Choice: GloFish Aquarium Gravel

If you want something truly unique and original for your aquarium, consider this fluorescent aquarium gravel. It comes in a variety of different colors including white frost, solid black, and fluorescent green or pink, all sold in convenient 5-pound bags. The age range for this gravel is adolescent.

2. Runner Up: Spectrastone Shallow Creek Premium Aquarium Gravel

For something a little more traditional, consider this premium aquarium gravel from Spectrastone. It is pH-neutral and safe for use in freshwater aquariums because it has a nontoxic coating. Simply rinse well and use right away.

3. Best Color: Pure Water Pebbles Turquoise Aquarium Gravel

To add a little color to your freshwater aquarium, try this turquoise aquarium gravel. It has a 100% acrylic coating to make sure it is colorfast without having a negative effect on your tank’s flora and fauna. Of course, this gravel is totally safe for your fish – it is made from non-toxic materials and won’t alter the chemistry within your aquarium.

4. Best Glow-in-the-Dark: Alan Stone Glow-in-the-Dark Aquarium Gravel

For something a little brighter (especially at night), try this glow-in-the-dark gravel from Alan Stone. Choose from a variety of different grain sizes and colors according to your preference or mix several of them together. You simply need to put the bags out in the sun to charge for a few hours before using them in your tank.

This economical pack measures around 280 grams in total, and is filled with pebbles of various sizes. This gives a more natural look and feel to the aquarium gravel, and requires zero hassle when setting up. Another great feature here is the EN71 approval. That means that the gravel is completely non-toxic, non-radioactive, and is totally harmless to the fish in your tank. All of that makes it one of the better choices on the list.

5. Best Natural-Looking: CaribSea Gemstone Creek Gravel

Create a natural-looking décor scheme in your home aquarium with this CaribSea gemstone creek gravel. It is pH-neutral, making it safe for all aquarium systems and it is made in the USA which improves safety. Plus, it comes in a slightly larger grain size than pea gravel to help reduce detritus accumulation.

6. Best for Freshwater: OUPENG Aquarium Gravel River Rock

A similar option to the previous product but slightly different in color tones, this aquarium gravel comes in a 2-pound bag of mixed-color stones. It is natural polished gravel which has an attractive and natural appearance, making it the perfect addition to any freshwater tank, planted or not. Luckily, these pebbles will not affect the pH values inside your tank thanks to the sturdy and safe materials it has been made out of. The pebbles have a non-toxic coating, all of which makes them completely safe for use.

7. Best Dust Free: Marina Decorative Gravel

Another great option in colored aquarium gravel, this Marina decorative gravel comes in blue, black, burgundy, neon yellow, orange and purple. Choose your favorite color or mix several together to create a truly unique look in your aquarium. This unique-looking gravel has been epoxy coated, and has no effect on the water chemistry inside the tank.

8. Best Small Sized: Maynooth Natural Granite Mini Pea Gravel

For a unique but still natural look, try this granite pea gravel. Each stone has a unique color and pattern to it which creates a stunning overall effect in your freshwater aquarium. These pebbles are made from 100% granitic gneiss rock, and contain no limestone whatsoever – a true natural option. They are also fully safe for the tank, as they have been screened and spray washed with nothing but water. Of course, there will be some natural stone dust present, so a simple rinse with water before use is recommended. The pebbles are roughly ¼ inch in diameter, guaranteeing a unified look in the tank. This mini pea gravel is made in Canada.

9. Best Black: Imagitarium Frosted Black Aquarium Gravel

Available in 5-pound and 20-pound bags, this aquarium gravel comes in a lovely frosted black color. It is a great option if you want something neutral for your tank, but you don’t like the look of white sand or pea gravel. This special black aquarium substrate from Imagitarium will definitely create a unique and attractive base for the tank. But that’s not all – the color actually helps to simulate a positive natural environment for the fish, since it is so much similar to the actual seafloor!

The substrate also has an important role to play in the tank. It promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. These in turn help breakdown waste in the tank, creating a small and functioning system. And besides – the tank will be clean most of the time! This is due to the fact that the amount of unhealthy debris in the water will be significantly reduced. Not only will the fish have a healthier environment, but you will also have less work to do around it.

10. Honorable Mention: TerraGreen Creations Washed Pea Gravel

Another more traditional option, this pea gravel comes in 1-pound bags so you can purchase only as much as you need. The stones are pre-washed and don’t have any toxic coatings, so they are completely safe for your aquarium. This gravel has been produced in the USA.

How to Choose the Right Aquarium Substrate

Aquarium substrate may not seem like a necessity, especially when compared to more essential elements like filters and lighting systems. What you need to realize, however, is that your aquarium substrate does more than just cover the bottom of your tank. It helps you create the desired visual effect in your tank and, depending what type of tank you cultivate, it could even provide essential nutrients for your tank inhabitants and live plants.

Here are some simple tips to help you choose the right aquarium substrate:

  • Think about your overall tank appearance. Ask yourself whether you want to cultivate a natural-looking tank or something more whimsical then choose your substrate accordingly.
  • Consider the particle size. If you plan to use live plants in your tank, you might need something finer that your plants can root in – filter-feeding fish also require a finer tank substrate. If that’s not an issue, something like aquarium gravel might work well.
  • Think about the ease of maintenance. Some types of aquarium substrate never need to be replaced for the life of your tank, but some do – think about this in choosing your substrate.
  • Consider how the substrate might affect your tank. Certain types of substrate like calcium sand have the potential to change the water chemistry in your tank – if you don’t want that to happen, go with something neutral like aquarium gravel.
  • Think about the color. If you’ve decided on a substrate like gravel or sand that comes in a variety of colors, think about your options – you can choose something neutral or go with something brighter to liven up your tank.

Aquarium gravel is one of the easiest substrates to work with, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Whether you’re going for a more natural look or something a little more colorful, you can find an aquarium gravel to suit your desires at an affordable price.

How much aquarium gravel do I need?

It is often a big challenge for beginner aquarium owners to know how much gravel is needed in their tank. Luckily, the measuring method is super simple! Experienced owners will follow the measuring rule of 1 pound gravel for 1 gallon water. Easy as that! This means that if your tank has the capacity of 5 gallons, you should use 5 pounds of gravel. That way you can keep everything in perfect check and retain a balanced environment in the aquarium.

How thick should gravel be in an aquarium?

Although it seems unimportant, gravel thickness is quite crucial for an aquarium. If you make it too thick, you risk limiting the level of oxygen in the tank. Too much gravel and too little water will not be a good combo for the fish. That’s why seasoned aquarium owners will tell you that around two inches of gravel will be just enough. Depending on the shape of your tank, you’d want to go for a thickness ranging between 1” to 2.5”. It is also recommended that the substrate and the gravel be placed in consecutive layers, as to settle better.

How often should I clean fish tank gravel?

Cleaning the gravel in the tank is one of the major steps of maintaining great hygiene for your aquarium. Debris, faeces, and uneaten food will all sink to the bottom – and that can be a ripe area for development of bacteria. But how often should you clean it? It depends on the size of the tank, amount of gravel, and the number of fish you have. Still, the general rule is to clean it once every two weeks. The gravel should be siphoned and sifted, in order to remove all the debris and the food remains, and about 15% of the water in the tank should be replaced.

How do you disinfect aquarium gravel?

Since debris and leftover food all accumulates at the bottom – i.e. the tank’s gravel – it is important to disinfect it at regular intervals. To do so, you can employ the old, tried and tested method – boiling. If you place the rocks in boiling hot water for roughly 10 to 25 minutes, you will kill all the harmful bacteria and pathogens that they might contain. However, you should remember that rocks preserve heat, and will stay very hot for a while after being boiled. Wait for them to cool down before placing them back in the aquarium.

Why do I need gravel for my fish tank?

Fish tanks don’t necessarily need gravel at the bottom. But they can certainly benefit from it. Not only will your aquarium look better with substrate or gravel at the bottom, but it will also act as a “home” for beneficial bacteria that accumulate in it. These bacteria act as a filter, processing debris and making the tank a safer aquarium for the fish. Of course, you will still need to clean everything regularly, only not as often – thanks to the gravel. When opting for a tank with no gravel, the owner is faced with debris accumulating at the bottom – and that means a lot of cleaning, and often!

Is colored gravel bad for fish?

In general, colored gravel is not bad for the fish in your aquarium. Of course, this goes for all the reputable brands. They offer gravel that has been colored, but made with safe materials and treated with polymer seal. This prevents the dyes and the chemicals in the gravel from “leeching”, i.e releasing the dye into the water. Only the bottom shelf, cheapest, and poorly made gravel can be a potential hazard for the fish – if the colors leech off into the water.

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Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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