5 top tips for using subtrates
1 Don’t go too deep. If you’re not intending to plant your tank then you don’t need deep layers of substrate — a few centimetres to cover the bottom is sufficient. Deeper layers will make maintenance more complicated and take up volume that could be used for more fish!
2 Wash before using. Unless your substrate specifically states that it is cleaned and ready for use, it will need thorough washing before you add it unless you want a ‘swamp’ themed tank! Most substrates are surprisingly dirty and it can take several washes in buckets of water to remove fine sediments carried with them. It’s a tedious job but worth doing.
3 Cheap alternatives such as garden centre gravel or play-pit sand can make economical choices for those on a budget, but do check to see if they will affect your water chemistry before using them. Most aquarium specific substrates are inert and won’t mess with PH/KH but these apparent bargains can cause problems. If you’re unsure, leave a handful in a jug of water overnight and compare the test results before and after. If there’s no change, you’ll be OK to use it.
4 If you are planning to keep bottom dwellers like Corydoras catfish, be aware that some gravel can have sharp edges which may damage their sensitive mouths. It’s usually better to use soft sand for these digging species to prevent injury.
5 Some planted substrates can release ammonia into the tank water when first added, so fish should not be added to newly set-up tanks, even with a mature filter in place. Read the instructions carefully before use and monitor with your test kit.