Petkeen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn More

10 Best Substrates for Goldfish in 2021: Reviews & Top Picks

Nicole Cosgrove

Goldfish_hineck_Pixabay

Some people prefer to keep their goldfish tanks bare bottom for ease of cleaning, but substrate can bring a lot of interest to your tank, as well as providing an anchor for many plants. Finding the right substrate for your goldfish tank doesn’t have to be painful, but it is something you want to choose carefully to ensure you don’t have to pull substrate out to replace it with something better. There are tons of substrate options in all different colors, textures, and sizes, so you have plenty of products to choose from. These reviews bring together the 10 best substrates for goldfish tanks to make finding the best substrate for your goldfish tank easy and painless.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Winner
FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand
  • Cost effective
  • Available in 50- and 150-pound options
  • Won’t alter parameters
  • Second place
    AquaTerra Aquarium Sand AquaTerra Aquarium Sand
  • Won’t alter parameters
  • Goldfish are unlikely to accidentally ingest it
  • Many plants root well in sand
  • Third place
    WAYBER Decorative Crystal Pebbles WAYBER Decorative Crystal Pebbles
  • Size and color mixture
  • Won’t alter parameters
  • May be heavy enough to hold plants in place
  • Pisces Midnight Pearl Aquarium Gravel Pisces Midnight Pearl Aquarium Gravel
  • Naturally occurring colors and sizes
  • Won’t alter water parameters
  • Small enough to not get stuck in goldfish’s mouth
  • GloFish Fluorescent Aquarium Gravel GloFish Fluorescent Aquarium Gravel
  • Multiple color options
  • Attractive colors
  • Won’t alter parameters
  • The 10 Best Substrates for Goldfish – Reviews 2021

    1. FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand

    FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand

    Texture: Fine
    Sizes: 50 pounds, 150 pounds
    Color Options: White
    Cost Score: $

    One of the best substrate options for goldfish tanks isn’t made for aquariums at all! FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand is extremely cost effective and safe for aquariums. Quartz sand won’t alter your water parameters, so no worries about it changing your pH or water hardness. Since this sand is made for pool filters, it’s made to not clump, which means you don’t have to worry about thick clumps of sand in the bottom of your tank. Sand is a great substrate for goldfish because they’re unlikely to accidentally ingest enough of it to harm them and it won’t get stuck in their mouths. Many plants grow well in sand, although you may need root tabs to help them along.

    Sand should be stirred from time to time to prevent buildup of gas pockets, although burrowing fish and snails and plants with large root systems can fix this issue as well. It is lightweight enough that your goldfish will uproot plants without a second thought, so you may need to invest in plant weights.

    Pros
    • Cost effective
    • Available in 50- and 150-pound options
    • Won’t alter parameters
    • Goldfish are unlikely to accidentally ingest it
    • Many plants root well in sand

    Cons

    • One color option
    • Easy for goldfish to uproot plants


     2. AquaTerra Aquarium Sand

    Aqua Terra Aquarium & Terrarium Sand

    Texture: Fine
    Sizes: 5 pounds
    Color Options: White, black
    Cost Score: $$

    For another sand option, AquaTerra Aquarium Sand is a good pick that’s available in two colors. It’s a cost-effective option, although you will have to buy multiple bags for tanks over 5 gallons. This sand has a safe acrylic coating that keeps it colorfast and doesn’t allow colors to leach into your tank water. It also provides a large surface area for the colonization of beneficial bacteria, improving your water quality. This sand shouldn’t create large clumps in your tank and is small enough that your goldfish are unlikely to accidentally ingest it.

    Your plants may need root tabs and plant weights in this substrate, and you will need to stir it or introduce plants or animals that will keep the substrate turned. This sand is only available in 5-pound bags, meaning you will need multiple bags for large tanks.

    Pros
    • Cost effective
    • Available in two colors
    • Won’t alter parameters
    • Goldfish are unlikely to accidentally ingest it
    • Many plants root well in sand

    Cons

    • Only available in 5-pound bags
    • Easy for goldfish to uproot plants


    3. WAYBER Decorative Crystal Pebbles

    WAYBER Decorative Crystal Pebbles

    Texture: Smooth gravel
    Sizes: 1-pound
    Color Options: Mixed
    Cost Score: $$$$

    The WAYBER Decorative Crystal Pebbles are a gorgeous substrate option for your goldfish tank. These pebbles are the size of small to large gravel and are a mixture of translucent cool colors, like blue, green, and purple, with clear pieces mixed in. These pebbles are not made specifically for aquariums, but they are safe for aquarium use and will not alter your water parameters. One benefit to gravel is that it is typically heavy enough to help hold plants in place, although it may not be strong enough with goldfish that are insistent on uprooting plants.

    It’s important to note that there have been some anecdotal reports of goldfish getting gravel stuck in their mouths. If your goldfish are still small or if they are very large, this is unlikely to be an issue. If your goldfish are the size that gravel could get stuck in their mouths, then keep a close eye on them as they adjust to the new substrate. This gravel is only available in 1-pound bags and is a premium price for the package size.

    Pros
    • Attractive colors
    • Size and color mixture
    • Won’t alter parameters
    • May be heavy enough to hold plants in place

    Cons

    • Premium price
    • Only available in 1-pound bags
    • Gravel may become stuck in goldfish’s mouth


    4. Pisces Midnight Pearl Aquarium Gravel

    Pisces Midnight Pearl Aquarium Gravel

    Texture: Smooth gravel
    Sizes: 4 pounds, 11 pounds, 22 pounds
    Color Options: Mixed
    Cost Score: $$$

    The Pisces Midnight Pearl Aquarium Gravel is a naturally beautiful gravel option for your aquarium. This gravel is sourced from New Zealand and is naturally occurring colors and sizes. It is smaller than most aquarium gravel, but it is heavy enough to avoid being sucked up during gravel vacuuming. The combination of multiple natural colors, including grey, tan, white, and black, is attractive and has a pearlescent shimmer underwater. This gravel won’t alter your water parameters and won’t leach colors into the tank.

    Rinse this gravel thoroughly prior to use to ensure you don’t introduce dust into the tank. These rocks are naturally smoothed, they are not coated or polished, so you may get rough pieces in the bag, which is to be expected.

    Pros
    • Naturally occurring colors and sizes
    • Small enough to not get stuck in goldfish’s mouth
    • Won’t alter water parameters
    • Available in three bag sizes
    • May be heavy enough to hold plants in place

    Cons

    • Only one color option available
    • Requires thorough rinsing to prevent dust and particles in water


    5. GloFish Fluorescent Aquarium Gravel

    GloFish Fluorescent Aquarium Gravel

    Texture: Smooth gravel
    Sizes: 5 pounds
    Color Options: Green, pink, white, black, mixed
    Cost Score: $$

    If you’re looking for something a little bit funky, then the GloFish Fluorescent Aquarium Gravel may be what you’re looking for. This gravel is made to glow under GloFish blue LED lights, but it will still have a striking glow if you don’t have GloFish brand lights. Even under normal white lighting, the bright colors of this gravel will make it stand out. This gravel is smooth and made to not leach colors into the water. It’s a combination of small to large gravel pieces and is available in multiple color options, including a combo color pack. This gravel shouldn’t alter your water parameters.

    This gravel may become stuck in goldfish’s mouths, especially the smaller pieces, so keep an eye out for this. It’s only available in 5-pound bags, so you will need multiple bags for larger tanks.

    Pros
    • Multiple color options
    • Attractive colors
    • Won’t alter parameters
    • May be heavy enough to hold plants in place

    Cons

    • Only available in 5-pound bags
    • Gravel may become stuck in goldfish’s mouth
    • Made specifically for GloFish lights


    6. Seachem Fluorite Black Sand

    Seachem Fluorite Black Sand

    Texture: Fine
    Sizes: 4 pounds
    Color Options: Black
    Cost Score: $$$

    The Seachem Fluorite Black Sand is a natural product that is made from highly porous clay, which allows this sand to be a great way to colonize beneficial bacteria. It will not alter water parameters but can help grow healthy plants and is designed for planted aquariums. This sand is more of a charcoal black than dark black, but it is difficult to tell the difference once it’s settled into a tank. It’s not coated with acrylic or other chemical coatings because the color is naturally occurring, so it will not leach color into your water.

    This sand requires thorough rinsing multiple times before use. Otherwise, it will quickly cloud your tank and may take a few days to full settle. If not rinsed well, you may have to use filter floss to filter out dust and floating particles and you may even need to skim the water with a net to remove floating particles on the surface. This sand is made to help hold plants into place, but until roots are established, goldfish may uproot plants.

    Pros
    • Naturally occurring color
    • Made for planted tanks
    • Will not alter parameters
    • Goldfish are unlikely to accidentally ingest it

    Cons

    • Creates dust and floating particles if not rinsed thoroughly
    • Only available in 15.4-pound bags
    • Easy for goldfish to uproot plants until roots established


    7. Exotic Pebbles & Aggregates White Bean Pebbles

    Exotic Pebbles White Bean Pebbles

    Texture: Smooth gravel
    Sizes: 5 pounds, 20 pounds
    Color Options: White
    Cost Score: $

    The Exotic Pebbles & Aggregates White Bean Pebbles are a cost-effective option for gravel. These white pebbles are small and smooth and are available in two bag sizes. These pebbles are naturally white, so they will not leach color into the tank. They are eco-friendly and are sourced from multiple quarries across the world. While each pebble is a unique size and shape, they are all approximately 1/5-inch each. These pebbles will not alter your water parameters.

    Since this is gravel, it’s possible for it to become stuck in your goldfish’s mouth, so monitor this. They require thorough rinsing to prevent white dust from getting into the tank. Even with adequate rinsing, you may see particulate float up when you disturb the gravel for cleaning or planting.

    Pros
    • Available in two bag sizes
    • Naturally occurring color and eco-friendly product
    • May be heavy enough to hold plants in place
    • Will not alter parameters

    Cons

    • Gravel may become stuck in goldfish’s mouth
    • Creates dust and floating particles even with thorough rinsing
    • Only available in white


    8. Stoney River White Aquatic Sand

    Stoney River White Aquatic Sand

    Texture: Coarse
    Sizes: 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 15 pounds, 20 pounds
    Color Options: White
    Cost Score: $$$$

    The Stoney River White Aquatic Sand is a good pick if you prefer a coarse sand for your aquarium. It’s available in multiple pack sizes but is only available in white. This sand has a non-toxic coating on it to prevent color or chemical leaching into the water. It will not alter water parameters. This sand is unique in that it’s wet sand, which means it arrives wet and pre-seeded with beneficial bacteria, which can help to cycle a tank faster and can help fix a crashed cycle. Many types of wet sand are made for saltwater tanks, but this sand is labeled for freshwater and saltwater use.

    Be aware that this sand may cause your water to be cloudy until the beneficial bacteria has settled in the tank. Rinsing this sand will remove the benefit of purchasing wet sand. This product is a premium price because it is wet sand. Also, since this sand is a coarse texture, it’s possible for it to tear long fins, like those on most fancies.

    Pros
    • Available in multiple pack sizes
    • Non-toxic coating prevents color and chemical leaching
    • Won’t alter water parameters
    • Wet sand is pre-seeded with beneficial bacteria

    Cons

    • Premium price
    • Will cloud water until bacteria settles
    • Coarse texture can tear fins
    • Easy for goldfish to uproot plants


    9. Landen Namale Sand

    Landen Namale Sand

    Texture: Coarse
    Sizes: 4 pounds, 11 pounds
    Color Options: Natural
    Cost Score: $$$$

    The Landen Namale Sand is made to provide a natural look to your tank, especially if you are attempting to create an underwater “forest” look. The naturally occurring colors include white, black, and tan, and the sand is a slightly coarse grain. There are two bag sizes available but no color options other than natural. This sand will not alter water parameters and is unlikely to be ingested by your goldfish.

    This product is a premium price and doesn’t provide many options. It should be thoroughly rinsed prior to use to prevent water clouding. It’s a natural product, so water clouding may occur, even with adequate rinsing. This sand is lightweight, making it prone to being pulled into the gravel vac during tank cleanings.

    Pros
    • Naturally occurring colors
    • Two bag sizes available
    • Won’t alter water parameters
    • Unlikely to be ingested by your goldfish

    Cons

    • Premium price
    • Only available in one color mix
    • Requires thorough rinsing to avoid clouding water
    • Coarse texture can tear fins
    • Easy for goldfish to uproot plants


    10. Landen Aqua Soil Substrate

    Landen Aqua Soil Substrate

    Texture: Coarse
    Sizes: 10 pounds
    Color Options: Black
    Cost Score: $$$$

    For a planted tank, the Landen Aqua Soil Substrate can make a good selection. It’s made from porous clay, so it helps colonize beneficial bacteria. It’s a naturally occurring color, so it won’t leach colors into your tank. This substrate is made specifically to allow for plants to adequately form roots through it. It does not require rinsing before use, although it’s recommended.

    This substrate can alter your water parameters, softening your water and lowering your pH to acidic levels. This substrate is better for blackwater tanks and other tanks with acid-loving fish but can be used in goldfish tanks. You will have to monitor water parameters routinely, though, and you will likely have to add products to keep your pH and water hardness up.

    Pros
    • Naturally occurring color
    • Helps colonize beneficial bacteria
    • Made specifically to allow plants to grow healthy roots

    Cons

    • Will alter water parameters
    • Will likely require products to keep pH neutral to alkaline
    • Only available in one bag size and color
    • Premium price
    • Recommended to rinse before use


    Buyer’s Guide

    Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Goldfish Tank

    Color

    There are plenty of color options for substrate in goldfish tanks, so you can take your pick! Some people prefer a more natural look, while others prefer something bright and fun. You can pick artificially colored substrate if you’re looking for something bright. Just make sure anything you use is aquarium safe and isn’t going to leach polishing or cleaning chemicals into your tank.

    Texture

    Texture is based on your preference and the inhabitants of your tank. If you like a smooth, unnoticeable texture, then sand is a great option. For something more dramatic, gravel or river rocks can be good picks. You can even combine different textures to create interest in your tank. Just remember that anything heavy you put on top of a lighter substrate will eventually sink, so gravel and rocks on top of sand won’t work for long. Also, take your fish into account. If you have fancies or long-finned goldfish like comets, then you may want to avoid anything with sharp or jagged edges and stick to softer substrates that won’t tear fins.

    Related Read: 5 Best Electric Aquarium Vacuum Gravel Cleaners in 2021 – Reviews & Top Picks

    Plants

    Different plants have different needs, so having an idea of the type of plants you want in your tank will help you pick a substrate. Plants like Java Fern and Anubias will draw nutrients from the water column, so substrate won’t have an effect on their growth and health. However, plants like Vallisneria and Crypts require nutrient-rich substrate to grow in. This can be accomplished with the substrate itself, but root tabs are always an option if your substrate is void of nutrients, which is the case with most sand, gravel, and rocks.

    Parameters

    Most substrates for freshwater tanks aren’t going to have a major impact on your water parameters. However, it’s important to understand that some of them do. Aragonite and crushed coral are intended for saltwater tanks and can significantly alter your water parameters. Substrates made to be nutrient-rich for planting are often going to alter your water parameters as well.

    eggfish goldfish_Csaba Nagy_Pixabay
    Image Credit: Csaba Nagy, Pixabay

    Substrate Options for Goldfish Tanks

    • Sand: This is a great option for a smooth substrate look. It’s available in natural and unnatural colors and is great for plants that prefer a soft substrate or that have large root systems that like to sprawl.
    • Gravel/Pebbles: The quintessential aquarium substrate, gravel and pebbles are a chunkier substrate that is between sand and rocks. It isn’t nutrient-rich, but it does allow plants that like to have a more solid substrate to root into to root well and be healthy. Some plants won’t be able to push their roots through gravel, so choose your plants and substrate wisely.
    • Rocks: Rocks, like river rocks, can make an attractive addition to aquariums, depending on the look you’re going for. Some rocks will alter water parameters, so make sure you know what type of rocks you’re adding to your tank. Any rocks pulled from nature should be thoroughly cleaned before adding to your tank. Rocks are a good pick for plants that like to grow on hard surfaces, like Java Fern.
    • Clay: Clay substrate tends to allow for excellent beneficial bacteria growth and plant nutrition. Some clay substrates will have no effect on your water parameters, but many of them will lower your pH and are better suited for planted blackwater and other acidic tanks.

    divider-fishbowl

    Conclusion

    FairmountSantrol AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand and AquaTerra Aquarium Sand are both great options for sand substrate, while the WAYBER Decorative Crystal Pebbles are a beautiful tank addition at a premium price. If you’re unsure of the texture or weight of substrate you’re interested in, purchase multiple types so you can feel them in your hands and return what you don’t need. Plan to purchase around 1 pound of substrate for every gallon of water your tank holds, regardless of the type of substrate. These reviews are a guide and a starting point to help you choose your substrate.


    Featured Image Credit: hineck, Pixabay

    Nicole Cosgrove

    Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.