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Can You Use Sand From the Beach in a Saltwater Aquarium?

Can You Use Sand From the Beach in a Saltwater Aquarium?

Here you’ll find concise, informational, and stand-alone answers regarding beach sand in your saltwater aquarium. Namely, the first thing I answer is — Is it safe to bucket and use sand from a local beach in your reef tank?

You can safely use some types of beach sand once you rinse it off and ensure it’s free of pests, pollutants, etc. Not every kind of sand suits your aquarium: some of them are too granular, other types frequently contain hitchhikers and parasites that can be a farewell for your aquarium. 

If you want to understand all the risks and benefits of beach sand, you should read on to get a comprehensive answer. 

Should You Use Sand From the Beach in a Saltwater Aquarium?

Collecting sand from the ocean could be an excellent choice for you, and as long as you collect it from a clean source with larger grain sizes and wash it thoroughly, you should be fine. Many people collect sand every year, but for the most part, the expense of purchasing commercially available sand outweighs the work and potential hazards.

Sand is a subtype of your tank’s substrate — the most important factor in determining the tank’s visual appeal and ensuring the health of the animals living inside.

The substrate is the substance that makes up the tank’s bottom layer – think of it as the seafloor. It has a significant impact on the chemistry of the water as well as filtration.

How Much Can You Save Using Beach Sand?

Reef Tank SizeSandbed Dimensions (L x M)Sand Needed (In lbs)Live Sand Price (Average)
15 Gallon 24″ x 12″ 30 lbs$36
25 Gallon24″ x 12″ 40 lbs$48
30 Gallon (Breeder) 36″ x 18″ 45 lbs$55
55 Gallon 48″ x 13″ 60 lbs$73
65 Gallon36″ x 18″75 lbs$91
75 Gallon 48″ x 18″90 lbs$110
125 Gallon 72″ x 18″ 120 lbs$140
150 Gallon 72″ x 20″135 lbs$162
180 Gallon 72″ x 24″180 lbs$216
225 Gallon  72″ x 27.5″ 220 lbs$264

*Calculations are based on Carib Sea Live Sand for Aquarium, 40-Pound

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what’s involved in sanding your aquarium. Is it worth the effort to collect your sand if you save $200 at the fish store? 

Are you willing to accept the possibility of future algae problems or unexplained issues? If that’s the case, get the shovel. I wanted the most sterile start possible for my reef aquarium so that I wouldn’t have to deal with problems right away. 

Oh, and have fun bringing a large amount of sand home from the beach! When my son requested a sandbox, we drove to a nearby sand quarry in my car with some Rubbermaid totes. I proceeded to pick one up after dumping sand into the numerous totes! My O-ring was on the verge of blowing out! Sand is weighty, and this was dry sand! 

It needed numerous trips to gather enough sand after emptying half of each container. If you’re going to the beach with an empty pail, keep this in mind — you’ll have to bring it back, and it’s heavy!

Common Problems Related to Beach Sand 

Harmful Bacteria & Organisms

Beach sand is rich in microorganisms that can affect your tank’s ecosystem and your fish. If beach sand is utilized as a substrate, bacteria, parasites, and infection strains can be introduced to the tank animals. Microbes in beach sand can spread lethal viruses and waterborne infections to your tank animals, as well as contaminate the water, making it dangerous and unhealthy for your fish.

Potential Pollution

Chemicals, heavy metals, and other organic and inorganic components found in beach sand make it unfit for freshwater tanks. According to the study, these substances can have a significant negative impact on human health, let alone aquatic animals! 

Including beach sand in your substrate isn’t worth the risk. The contaminants may have a strong reaction with the tank water, resulting in toxicity. This will lead to ailments such as skin rot, bloating, and various other issues, all of which can lead to death.

Other Contaminants

Beach sand is well known for harboring garbage and toxins. Human waste, medical waste, and industrial waste are all dumped into the ocean, impacting beach sand. 

The waste particles degrade and are too small to detect without a microscope. They can pollute the water of a freshwater tank, making your tank animals exposed to sickness and other life-threatening conditions.

Too Much Sodium and Acidity

Aquariums require a specific pH level to support marine life — while this varies depending on the type of fish, the pH values are nowhere near those found in beach sand. Water changes are pretty stressful for tank animals. The substrate you choose can impact the levels of acidity, salt, nitrates, and other critical components present in the water, making beach sand an obvious no-no.

Things To Consider When Using Beach Sand For Your Aquarium

Beach Sand & Law 

Many cities have ordinances prohibiting you from taking sand from their beaches. Some prominent tourist locations have been known to bring in beautiful sand to improve the appearance of their coasts. I’m sure they’d be furious if they discovered you stealing part of it. 

Each city, state, province, and country has its own set of rules for collecting sand, which you should research for the location you want to gather from. 

You may discover that there are no laws, some have set fines, and others even have criminal offenses, so do your research. Taking one bucket is one thing; loading your pickup’s bed is quite another!

Type Of Sand

In the aquarium hobby, there are two basic varieties of sand. Silica-based and aragonite-based. Because silicates are rocket fuel for algae, Aragonite-based aquariums are the recommended choice for saltwater aquariums. 

As your aquarium ages, the silicates in the water will feed multiple algae blooms; if you have a silicate-based substrate, you can bet you’ll be dealing with more significant and longer algae blooms. 

Silica-based sand makes up the majority of the sand found on the world’s beaches. Silica sand is made up of crushed rock fragments. Ground-up bits of dead coral and aquatic life skeletons make up the majority of aragonite sand.

Grain Size

If you’ve ever seen an aquarium transform into a sandstorm, it’s because the sand grain size utilized in the aquarium was too large. Because preserving corals necessitates vigorous, erratic flow, refined grains and powerful flow can make a huge mess. 

CaribSea’s Fiji Pink is one of the most widely used commercial aquarium substrates, with grain sizes ranging from 0.5mm to 1.5mm. Even this can be blown around if your powerheads and wavemakers are not adequately positioned – This is what I use, and it’s lovely, but it takes some fiddling to get the flow just right!

The majority of beach sand has tiny grains. Because of the constant tumbling action in the surf, it’s usually less than 1mm. In a saltwater tank, it can be challenging to keep this size of grain from blowing around. 

Make sure to inspect the grain size on the beach and under the water, so you don’t end up pulling out all the sand from your tank in 6 months because it’s turning into a Mummy scenario every day!

Pick up location

What are your plans for getting the sand? What is the total amount you need to collect? Are you gathering dry sand from the beach or wet sand from the water’s edge? Is the tide coming in or going out? How far must you transport your buckets? Sand from the beach can be quite heavy. 

When collecting sand, park as close as possible and bring a wagon or something to assist you in carrying those buckets. Wet sand can weigh up to 15 pounds more per cubic foot than dry sand.

Once you have your beach sand back in your car, make sure you call for help. Lifting a 5-gallon bucket full of wet sand in and out can cause back and shoulder pain. Did you know that the same bucket can weigh 70 to 100 lbs depending on the type of sand? Well, now you do – take care lifting beach sand. 

Die-Off

Living creatures and bacteria abound in the sand you collect, particularly from the ocean. These will start to perish once they are taken from their natural home. 

Unless you’re lucky enough to be collecting in Florida/Hawaii or somewhere similar, the water you’re collecting from won’t be at the same temperature as our tanks, which is 78°F-80°F. Because the creatures and bacteria are used to live in a cooler environment, they may not thrive in your aquarium. 

You’ll have a nitrogen cycle on your hands once these organisms start to die.

Rinsing Off the Dirt 

To ensure that only the cleanest beach sand enters your aquarium, clean it properly, and I mean thoroughly! Forget about accumulating good-for-you sand since you’ll need to wash it all out to avoid future difficulties. 

I once read an excellent recommendation to get a child’s pool, fill it with sand, and start washing it; however, you should ideally wash it with RO/DI water rather than using a hose attached to a faucet.

Washing it with tap water may just bond the contaminants and heavy metals in the water to the sand, causing future issues. 

Fill the pool halfway with sand and water, swirl vigorously, then drain the silty water and repeat. It’s preferable if you can do this as much as possible. It will take a long time since the tiny grains quickly obscure the water. 

This is one of those occasions when putting in extra work today will pay off in the long run. Make sure the sand is free of glass and debris and that it is as clean as possible. DO NOT USE SOAP OR BLEACH OF ANY KIND. Just a lot of RO/DI water – 5-gallon containers of bottled water would suffice.

Afterword 

If your state/country does allow collecting beach sand, you can save a little bit. Roughly, you can save up to 20% compared to buying live sand from your local store or ordering online. However, for bigger aquariums, the overall savings grow hand in hand with larger packages’ prices. 

On the flip, an extra $200 bucks may not be worth your effort to observe and treat beach sand carefully. You have to collect the right type of sand at the right place; it must be free of parasites & pollutants too.