How to Add Sand to an Established Aquarium [3 Easy Methods]

Sand is one of the most vital elements in your fish tank. The addition of sand, alteration, or type changing requires some closer attention. Slight mistakes might cause you to suffer. 

For instance, while shifting the previous sand or changing it with a new substance, any poisonous gas that might release which was embedded into the sand. Or in another scenario, you also need to know about the compatibility of sand as there are different variations.

You can add sand to your already established tank in three different ways. Do it by pouring the sand directly into your aquarium, using a cup to pour the sand while lowering the cup to the bottom of the tank, or using a PVC pipe to pour the sand most effectively.

While adding sand to an established tank, you need some precautionary measures as well. Let’s get them all at once. 

Measure To Add Sand To An Established Aquarium

adding sand to an existing fish tank

There are different reasons available for the necessity of adding sand to an existing fish tank. First of all, you lose sand from your aquarium over time due to regular maintenance of the tank, e.g. clearing the sand bed. Your circulation pump may push the sand around and move the sand. Or to some other extent, sand dissolves itself over time eventually. 

You might feel the necessity of empty space on your fish tank floor that needs to be covered with sand, you might want to replace the sand of your tank bed, or you just want to make the sand bed thicker for any plantation. In either of these scenarios, you need to add sand to your already established aquarium.

3 Ways To Add Sand to an Established Aquarium

There are more or less 3 available ways for you to add sand to your aquarium. Now you need to decide among them which one suits you most.

1. Pour the Sand into your Tank

You can simply cut off your sand pack and pour it into your aquarium. This is the easiest way to add sand. But doing this will make your tank cloudy. Atomic sand particles will mix with water and it will take a while to get back to its clean state. The water getting back to its previous state or the particles grouting to the sand bed might take more or less a whole night.

2. Pour the Sand into your Tank with a Cup

This technique only requires you to have a cup. Then open up your sandbag and scoop. Then get the cup to the bottom of your fish tank and gently pour the sand onto the sand bed. It will cause fewer sand particles to get mixed with water. Thus your tank won’t get as cloudy as the previous one.

3. Pour the Sand into your Tank with a PVC Pipe

Though this process requires two things, it is the most recommendable one. Here you need a PVC pipe and a funnel-type fitting on top of the pipe. Now ensure that the pipe is long enough to reach the bottom of the tank while the other end is out of water.

Now place the pipe into your tank. And slowly pour sand into the funnel fitting on top of the PVC pipe. Now move the bottom end of the PVC pipe to circulate the sand at your desired place in the tank.

This is the most preferable way as it makes your tank less cloudy. Moreover, you can easily deal with the PVC pipe around every corner of your aquarium and pour sand as required.

Precautions to Take Before Adding Sand

Rinsing Aquarium Sand

There are some issues that you need to know before adding sand to your already established fish tank. Remaining unaware of them can cause you an unpleasant scenario. You can’t help but be careful about them.

1. The Hidden Toxic Gass

Over time, there might be decomposition under your sand bed, or due to any other reason (bacterial or so), there might be hidden toxic gas embedded into your sand. And while you are about to add sand to the aquarium, by no means you are supposed to tickle your old sand randomly.

The embedded gas might be released out of nowhere and be hazardous for you. So if you feel the necessity of dealing with the past sand, go for the whole sand bed cleaning process or transfer the fish with water to another tank. Get done with your sand and then restore your tank. When you are not dealing with your old sand, you don’t need to bother with this.

2. Rinse the Sand

While you are up to adding some sand to your fish tank, go for rinsing the sand with fresh water. That will definitely lessen the aftermath effect of the sand pouring by washing the dirt off the sand.

Rinsing sand will significantly reduce the cloud density that appears in your tank after pouring sand. It will make your job a lot easier and less clumsy. It’s easier to pour wet sand into your tank than a dry one. However, it’s not recommended to add dry sand into an already established reef tank.

Keep your eyes open to the different variations of sand. There are some types like live sand which are not meant to be rinsed with fresh water.

Live sand is the type of sand that holds live beneficial bacteria among them. So, rinsing them with fresh water will cause you a loss of those beneficial bacteria for your tank. Rather use salt water to rinse them. Thus the live sand will remain ‘Live’.

3. Don’t Pour Sand on any Living thing or Waste

Your fish tank is full of both living and dead. Obviously, you don’t want to pour sand onto any living thing like any plant or any other creature. Because. Living things will be dead under the sand stack.

On the other hand, you might not want to pour the sand upon any dead snails or any other waste. That will cause an unhealthy decomposition under the sand bed. That might result in an uncomfortable scenario for the habitants of your aquarium, the environment might lose its balance and whatnot.

It’s wise to clear the sand bed if you are trying to add sand all over it to make the bed thicker. Otherwise, just stay awake from any waste in the very area where you are pouring your sand. 

4. Know the Compatibility

There are a few options available in the market for you. While choosing sand for your fish tank, you must not blunder your preference. Don’t get lured by attractive branding.

Focus on your fish tank type. Differentiate precisely the type of sand. Add sand according to your fish tank environment and water parameters. For instance, use the white coral sand only if you wish to keep the pH level of your tank higher than pH 8.0.

Most of the aquarium sand is silica-based. This can give rise to brown algae. That’s why the aquarium sand has a coating to prevent this. You need sand that is mostly dedicated to the freshwater tank for your aquarium.

Overall, get this sand for your aquarium which is the most popular around the globe. You may go for colored sand like black sand to increase the decorations of your tank. 

Don’t pour dry sand into your fish tank. Use live sand in an already-established aquarium. Using dry sand will result in the death of the existing beneficial bacteria in your sand bed. On the other hand, live sand itself also carries beneficial bacteria. 

Some Other Notable Issues With The Sand Bed Of Your Fish Tank

Apart from right at the moment of adding sand to your tank, you might encounter some other issues regarding your sand bed or so. For that, let us help you. 

Different Types of Substrate

There are different types of substrate available in the market like gravel, sand, peat, laterite, aqua soil, dirt, onyx, clay, etc. Now, you don’t want to mix different types of substrates according to their grain size unless you expect a compressed substance that appears like a concrete layer. For gravel, the standard grain size is like the size of a pea.

Now choose your substrate according to your necessity. The most liked substrates for aquariums are gravel and sand. Adding sand to the gravel substrate is also an option. But you can’t choose sand with gravel when you are using under-gravel filters. Use this filter for better performance for gravel.

The Color of the Substrate

The color of the substrate also matters in terms of the decoration of your tank. Especially when it comes to fishes that can camouflage themselves. If you go for a light color substrate, the fishes will tend to hold paler color to camouflage.

On the other hand, a dark substrate induces the fish to grow variable natural coloration on them. The fish will appear more appealing.

The background of your tank also plays a role in enhancing the beauty of your tank. Hence, you can’t neglect the color of the substrate that you are using.

Black Sand into Your Tank

You might think of adding black sand to your fish tank. That’s a great deal. That will bring more attractions to your tank.

If you are wondering about how to add black sand to your fish tank, no need to worry. Just simply follow option 2 (pour sand into your aquarium with a cup) mentioned earlier.

While doing this, you need to scoop sand into your cup and lower it down to reach the bottom of your tank. You must not hurry now. If you put the cup down all of a sudden, there will be a huge cloud in the water as the sand will just mix with the water.

What you need to do is to lower the cup very gently so that each time you lower it, some of the tank water gets into it. Thus the sand in the cup won’t mix with the tank water rather will get sediment to the bottom of the cup.

When your cup is almost filled up with tank water, not slowly take the cup down to the sand bed and pour the sand gently.

Adding Sand to Axolotl Tank

If you wish to add sand to your Axolotl tank, you need to be precise. You can’t just randomly use any sand. The Axolotls are very sensitive to their environment.

However, refrain from adding sand to a tank that holds Axolotls under 15 cm or 6 inches. Obviously, ensure rinsing the sand before pouring it.

The best type of substrate for your Axolotl tank is natural fine sand. You may also go for washed playsand or clean fine natural sand. Don’t choose any calcium carbonate sand as they are not only prone to disturb the pH level for Axolotl but also are not for Axolotl but rather for reptiles. 

You must stir your sand bed once in a while and clean it using this siphon once a week. Otherwise, your sand might have air pockets and end up developing toxic gas in them. 

Axolotl might eat a gravel piece and die of impaction. So be aware of that. Preferable sand types are pure aquarium sand without any dye, playsand, aquarium filter sand, silica sand, etc. And keep your Axolotls away from any sharp sand, quartz sand, marine sand, sand with aragonite, sparkly sand, etc. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should I Wash Sand Before Adding It To My Already Established Fish Tank?

You must wash your sand before adding it to your aquarium to get rid of the debris from spreading. Otherwise, the dirt on the sand tends to make your tank water cloudy which can sustain up to 24 to 48 hrs. But you must not wash live sand with freshwater. If you do, you will lose all the beneficial bacteria planted in the live sand. 

What Should I Rinse With My Live Sand?

Rinsing sand with freshwater before adding it to your aquarium is required but that doesn’t apply to live sand. Since live sand is filled with beneficial bacteria, rinsing it with freshwater like other sand will also wash away the bacteria. Use saltwater to rinse live sand so that the bacteria remain intact.

Can I Mix Live Sand With Regular Sand?

You can definitely mix live sand with regular sand. The main purpose is to save some money since regular sand is cheaper than live sand. By adding live sand with regular sand, the earlier will convert the non-living part of the latter one into live sand within a short time. The process takes place as the bacteria and organisms in the live sand multiply and turns the non-living sand into a live one.


Your tank bed is important to maintain for the overall maintenance of your aquarium. And between the most popular substrate for your fish tank (gravel and sand), though gravel is easier to clean, and has comparatively more remarks.

However, you must know how to add sand to an established aquarium and a new tank as well. The more you are aware of the tiniest details, the better it gets.

Choose your preferred type and color of sand according to the requirements of the tank. Remember, sand is not merely for decoration or plants. It also works as a buffer for pH levels while holding beneficial bacteria for your tank and carries great value for your aquarium environment.

Howard Parker

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