Using Silica Sand as Substrate


Fish Herder
Jan 26, 2021
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Nanaimo, BC
I am always on the look out for alternative sands and gravel to use in my aquariums. The most recent experiment is with Silica Sand. In particular Target's Silica Sand 20/40 mesh, the source is somewhere in Northern Alberta. Traditionally this product was used for sand blasting but it now used with artificial grass to keep the plastic blades pointing upwards.

The sand is very uniform and quite rounded, I usually pre-wash my sand or gravel, I spent about 45 minutes pre washing these 100 lbs, two bags of the sand, for use in a 60 gallon tank I am setting up. Two bags would be ok for a 48 x 18" base, depending how deep you want the sand. The most impressive aspect of this sand was how clean it was, after a couple of rinses the water was running clean, whereas natural or play sand available here takes repeated rinses, with significant losses due to the silt being removed. The sand is essentially from the same source as pool filter sand but not as heavily processed.

So far the major issue I have with the sand is it is a bit light colored for my tastes but no where near as bad as pool sand. In regards to cost this is one of the least expensive substrates to purchase at under $40.00 cdn for 100 lbs. I expect others have used it but haven't seen much mention of it.

20x image showing shape and size the of the grains. Most are clear quartz but there are enough opaque particles to create a light tan color. The span marked is approximately 1 mm
Closeup of Sand.png

Sand in tank without water (has a better color, excuse the mess it is my basement, 1st bag of substrate)

Water is very clear for an initial filling of the tank. The light is set for approximately 5500 to 6000 k. Under these conditions the sand is definitely lighter, but in my opinion still acceptable given the properties of the sand.
Second phase of my experiment with the Silica Sand has been completed. I transferred some plants and rocks over, along with 1 tray of bacterial substrate from their original tank. This tank is only meant as a temporary tank while I tear down my main display tank to remove its substrate and replace it with something else. Hopefully this helps with the cyanobacteria in my main tank which I suspect is partially due to my previous experiment with substrate where I used a mix of sizes, mostly sand with some gravel.

I have added my three tetras, I know I should have more but these are left over from a batch a few years ago, I will not be continuing with Black Neons, so I don't want to fill in the numbers. I will then move my smaller Angels over, then the larger ones. I find if I start with the smaller fish it gives them a chance to learn the tank and reduces problems.

Because this is a temp tank I decided to use some discards from my rock collection, typically I find form more important than color for the hardscape, but had some fun with it. I will mention I am not very artistic.

  1. Volcanic, extrusive, rock my father purchased in the 60s which has been passing between us for years. Nice form. Don't know its real origins
  2. Small piece of andesite with large secondary crystals. Collected from local beach.
  3. Banded Chert. Collected from the Port Alberni area.
  4. Fragment from large agate collected in Arizona
  5. Massive piece of red jasper collected from the Port Alberni area
  6. Granite/Diorite - Found locally but don't know entirely what it is. Not common for the area.
  7. Big piece of poorly developed jasper, found in the Port Alberni area.
All the rocks are known to be inert except piece 7. I am monitoring the KH, and GH and will remove it if I see any changes.

Showing different rocks.png

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