The betta fish: one of the easiest pets to care for, experienced or not.
They’re beautiful, interesting, and unique, which make them great for hobbyists of all ages, but they are more complicated than you might think, based on those little tanks at the pet store.
Betta are easy to care for, but they do have some specific needs for a healthy, thriving life.
One of those needs is having great betta fish gravel in their homes. Gravel or sand, crushed coral, or other forms of substrate can add a lot to an aquarium, in a lot of ways.
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Why Substrate is Important in Aquariums
A lot of times, folks think that substrate is just a pretty thing to put in the aquarium for aesthetic value.
And while the gravel, sand, or other choices in substrate do add some beauty to the aquarium, there are definite reasons to add it that can help your fish, shrimp, corals, and other critters living down below.
There are a few specific reasons to consider the best aquarium substrate for betta fish tanks. Let’s take a quick look.
But both of these assumptions are incorrect. In fact, they can be deadly for your fish.
Betta fish, like all other living creatures, create waste. That means they need filtration to keep their aquariums clean.
The best gravel for betta fish can help with this problem through a natural biological filtration.
The gravel provides a large variety of attachable surfaces for beneficial bacteria to make their home. This bacteria helps to kill off the bad stuff – the stuff that can ultimately kill your fish – which means you’ll have a much healthier, happier aquarium.
Bettas – along with all other fish – also produce nitrites and ammonia through their waste, which can be toxic to fish. Biological filtration can also help reduce these deadly forces within your fish tank.
Less Frequent Cleaning
The biological filtration of gravel substrate can also help to reduce the number of times you need to change the aquarium water with a siphon.
Bare bottom tanks naturally require more frequent cleaning – all that gunk collects on the bottom of the tank, with nowhere to go – and that means more work for you.
This also provides your fish with a healthier environment, too, because your fish can be stressed out by frequent cleanings and water changes.
More Natural Habitat
This means they naturally live with rocks, gravel, and even sandy bottoms to their homes. Adding in substrate to their aquariums can help give them a more natural feeling environment, which can improve their mental health.
Improve Water Chemistry
The best aquarium substrate for betta fish can also help to improve the water chemistry in the fish tank. The right substrate will help soften or harden water, depending on how you use it.
Live Plants Love Substrate
If you’re going to enjoy a planted betta aquarium, substrate is pretty much a must. Substrate is useful for your plants that need to root into the bottom. After all, most plants need some kind of soil or surface within which they can take root.
Lowering Stress for Your Betta
It might seem strange, but betta fish actually tend to have a high-stress life. These little guys are called Siamese Fighting Fish for a reason. If they see another fish, they’re likely to feel defensive and start a fight with it. When this happens, they can get injured.
Substrate can help prevent some unnecessary stress issues for your betta. How? Well, substrate can help prevent a betta from seeing its own reflection and thinking there’s another fish in its territory.
That means the reflection won’t provoke the betta into slamming into the glass walls, trying to jump into the non-existent tank next door, et cetera.
Do Bettas Need Substrate, Gravel, or Rocks? What’s It Like In The Wild?
Alright, so there’s lots of questions about this I hear all the time.
Do betta fish need rocks at the bottom of their tanks? Do betta fish need gravel, sand, or coral, or some other substrate? What color gravel is best for betta fish? What gives the most natural environmental feel for those beautiful feathery finned fish?
Technically, bettas do not need gravel. But they will do better with gravel or a similar substrate in their aquariums. They also do not technically need planted aquariums to survive.
But if you want your betta to do more than merely “make it” each day, you should definitely consider using gravel or some other substrate, along with planting a few betta fish friendly live plants in the water.
In the wild, they do naturally have plants and rocks all around them. They’re a native species to Southeast Asia, where they live in rice paddies, marshes, floodplains, and other low-flow water areas.
As far as color goes, it doesn’t really matter. Betta don’t seem to do better with one color over another. I will say, though, that you should never use painted rocks. The paint can chip or peel off and that will contaminate the water.
Do Bettas Need Plants?
In short, the answer is not absolutely in all cases. Bettas don’t require plants to survive like some fish do. However, they are much healthier and happier if there are some plants in their homes.
A lot of the reason for this is that bettas have a unique respiratory system known as a labyrinth organ. This organ allows them to breathe oxygen both in the water and in the air. This organ is what allows them to swim and live in shallow water and rise to the surface to feed on plankton and other surface food like insect larvae.
But this breathing system is one of the reasons plants can help your betta thrive. Plants aerate the water, which makes oxygen more available for your fish to breathe in. Plants also kill off some of the nasties in the water that can cause harm to your fish – ammonia, for instance.
Plus, plants will increase the “feel” of a natural environment for your fish, which will help to reduce stress levels.
Choosing Substrates for Betta Fish Tank
Substrate comes in a wide range of colors, styles, and materials, but the different options can affect the health and happiness of your aquarium dwellers significantly, so look carefully into the right ones before purchasing on Amazon or in a pet store.
The Type of Substrate
When it comes to betta ranks, you’re going to find that primarily betta fish rocks and gravel or sand are your best bets. A lot of folks choose more aesthetically pleasing choices like marbles or glass beads, but these don’t provide the same benefits as the more natural materials of rock and sand.
For the best aquarium environment for your fish – and your plants – you’ll want to go with something as close to natural as possible. This means rocks and sand, yes, but this also means avoiding anything dyed colors.
Go with natural river rocks, small natural gravel, or live sand mixed with dry sand under a layer of gravel if you have live aquatic plants that need somewhere to root in.
Ease of Cleaning
If you have a tight schedule, travel a lot, or otherwise feel that you won’t be able to clean the betta tank a lot, you’ll want to go with gravel instead of sand. Gravel is easier to keep clean, provides more surfaces for the good bacteria to latch onto, and doesn’t need to be cleaned as often as sand does.
Sand is a great option, too, though, for anyone who’s got a little more time in their schedule and doesn’t mind doing a regular raking through to clear out debris like fish waste and extra food.
What Else You Should Know About Betta Tanks
Before we dive into our reviews of the best substrate for betta fish tanks, we’d like to point out a few other things you should know about betta keeping.
The Size Truly Matters
When we think of betta tanks, we often think of little tanks or even fishbowls that add a nice, decorative touch to a home or office.
But the reality is, these tanks can be dangerous for your bettas.
They need enough space to swim, grow, and live in happily. Betta tanks should always be at least a 1 or 2 gallon tank minimum per fish. While bigger may be better, too big can make it hard on bettas to surface properly and they may not live to be healthy, long-living pets.
The moral of the story here is: not too big, and not too small!
Bettas Are Solitary Animals
It’s also important to note that bettas should not be kept in the same tank together, nor should you have two betta tanks within view of each other. Bettas are naturally aggressive fish.
Seeing another betta can provoke a fight which may ultimately wind up being a duel to the death, even if death occurs later.
Females Should be Kept Separate from Males
Except during breeding processes, female bettas and male bettas should be kept separate from each other. Male bettas can be aggressive towards females, too.
Some Females May Be Kept With Other Females
But female bettas may do all right other females if the tank is large enough to hold all of them. Again, this means at least 5-gallons per fish. So, if you have five females, you need at least 25-gallons of water in there to happily house them.
Reviews of the Best Substrate for Betta Tanks
When you’re looking for the best substrate for betta tanks, you’re looking for a few specific qualities to ensure a healthy, happy environment for your colorful little fish. As we did our reviews, we used these factors to make sure everything we recommend to you is fitting for a betta tank, as well as aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, and easy to maintain.
We looked for betta substrate that:
- Is modestly priced – i.e. affordable enough that most folks can justify using it
- Comes from a trusted company that knows their stuff
- Is easy to clean and maintain over time
- Works well as the best substrate for planted betta tanks and non-planted betta tanks, depending on your needs
- Isn’t dyed or artificially treated – i.e. won’t chip or fade through use in your aquarium
- Won’t affect pH
The Aquarium Gravel River Rock from CFKJ is for most the best choice possible when it comes to a natural, beautifully aesthetic betta substrate.
The natural coloring, size, and shape all lend itself to creating a more natural, welcoming environment for your betta.
- Substrate type: Gravel/rock
- Color: Natural browns, reds, tans
- Grain: heavy
- Package size: 18-pounds
What We LoveD
First off, we love how natural and beautiful the gravel is. The varying shades of light to dark stones increase the beauty factor in your aquarium hugely, while looking natural and healthy – a place betta fish should live, instead of some artificially colored fishbowl sand.
We love that this substrate pairs perfectly with high-quality sand for a natural, layered substrate effect for a healthy, happy planted tank, as well. The gravel provides tons of surface space for the good bacteria to grow on, while added that protective top layer over the sand for the ultimate place for rooted plants to grow.
We also love that these stones are way too large for betta to even attempt to try eating. Each stone is between 1 and 2-inches long, typically, which means it eliminates any possibility of unnatural consumption for the fishes.
The stones have been polished and sterilized to prevent bad bacteria, microbes, and other wild aspects from entering your betta’s home, as well, which is important. Plus, it won’t affect the pH in your water conditions.
Finally, we love the reasonable price on these stones. Basically anyone can afford them, which means we can definitely recommend them to anyone as the best substrate for betta fish.
What We DIdn’t Love
There’s really nothing that we don’t love about this polished, natural gravel. It’s a great size for a natural riverbed feel, is attractive, and does its job in other respects.
Our Verdict on the CFKJ Large River Rock Gravel
For anyone looking into larger substrate for their betta tank, the CFKJ Aquarium River Rock Gravel is your go-to choice.
It has a natural look and feel – but has been cleaned and sterilized, making it safe for use in your aquarium – beautiful colors, and plenty of surface space for that healthy bacteria to grow. It meets all our requirements for great substrate, plus looks gorgeous. Win-win.
Carib Sea Supernaturals Peace River Sand is your best bet on natural, attractive large grain sand in your betta tank. This stuff has been specifically cultivated for freshwater aquariums that use live plants.
Plus the sand is carefully selected and designed to match the natural exotic environments of the bodies of water in Asia where bettas live natively.
- Substrate type: dry sand
- Color: browns, reds, tans, beiges
- Grain: heavy sand grains
- Package size: 5-pounds
What We Loved
This sand does not change the pH in your aquarium, which is a huge requirement for a good substrate. In fact, this helps to balance out things by providing great surface area for healthy bacteria to grow.
The sand is perfect as an underlayer in betta tanks – please use with gravel as a top layer for best results – with live aquatic plants in them. The plants can easily root into the sand, which will help them thrive.
We also love the natural, glowing colors of the warm browns, reds, tans, and beiges grains. The mix creates an incredibly natural and beautiful environment for your fish. Pair with a natural large rock – like the top choice listed above – and you’ve got the perfect environment for your betta to thrive in.
We also love the fact that the grain size is too large to get sucked up into filters like a lot of finer sands do.
What We Didn’t Love
The only real complaint we’ve had with this product is that it may take a while to clean. But all sand takes a while, so that’s not terribly surprising. Very little of it floats, which is a huge bonus, but it will definitely take some time to prepare it for the aquarium when you first install it.
Our Verdict on Carib Sea Supernaturals Peace River Sand
For the ultimate, as near as possible to a natural environment for your betta, this beautiful sand from Carib Sea is your best choice, especially when paired with a rock substrate layer on top.
This sand is perfect for helping live plants root in, while the color gives a warm glow to the whole tank that helps your fish feel at home.
The Fiji Pink Arag-Alive option from Carib Sea comes from an incredibly well-trusted brand in fishkeeping circles. And this particular live sand is the best live sand you can find for your betta tank thanks to a number of factors.
It’s also gorgeous and gives a warm, glowing feeling to your tank, almost like a soft sunrise, all day long.
- Substrate type: live sand
- Color: light pink
- Grain: intermediate sand grain
- Package size: 20-pounds
What We Loved
The beneficial bacteria that comes with this live sand is a great starting point for anyone starting a betta tank.
The live bacteria starts creating a naturally beneficial environment for your fish the second you install it. And since it comes live, it speeds the process of readying your tank for the nitrogen cycle. It’s specially designed to work quickly, which we love.
The stunning, warming pink color is inviting and beachy, which adds a nice look to your aquarium as well. The sand is coarse enough that it won’t get sucked up into filters, but it’s fine enough to give that exotic look you’re going for.
We also love that this substrate never needs to be replaced. It keeps your tank healthy for as long as you have it installed.
What We Didn’t Love
The one thing we’re not so in love with is that some folks say the sand has come as a light beige rather than a pink color. But it’s still natural and beautiful, so even with this minor disappointment, it’s still a winner.
Our Verdict on the Carib Sea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand
Overall, you’ll love this live sand that kickstarts your aquarium’s healthy bacteria. It’s got a beautiful color – even when it comes in the “wrong” shade of beige instead of pink – and gives a warm, inviting glow to your betta tank.
The Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for freshwater tanks substrate is a fantastic option for anyone looking for grains larger than sand but smaller than rocks.
It comes in natural, warm brown tones in varying sizes, which gives your betta tank exception flooring texture.
- Substrate type: Small gravel
- Color: shades of beige and brown
- Grain: medium
- Package size: 5-pounds
What We Loved
We love the size of this stuff, first and foremost. The grains are large enough that they won’t get sucked up into filters but come small enough that they can provide a sort of blend between gravel and sand so that you don’t need two layers of substrate for a natural feeling environment for your betta fish.
We love the smooth coating on the gravel bits. It’s completely non-toxic and won’t affect the pH in your tank. So, the stones stay smooth and clean without affecting the environment.
Plus, the unique texture and varying size of the tiny stones provides a great surface for healthy bacteria to grow on. With this, you really can choose a single layer of substrate if you like.
What We Didn’t Love
There are three reasonably minor issues with this gravel.
The first is that it will thoroughly need cleaning before you install it. There’s loads of dust, so just keep washing! But once it is clean, you’re good to go.
The second is that some of the pieces can have sharp edges. Generally, this isn’t much of an issue, but if you also have some bottom-dwellers in your betta tank, it could be problematic for them.
Finally, a 5-pound bag just isn’t much in a single offering. You’ll need about one bag per 5-gallons of aquarium, which can add up a bit.
Our Verdict On Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Tanks
All-in-all, this gravel is beautiful, low-maintenance, and offers your betta a great, natural feeling environment.
It’s smaller than river rocks, but large enough that it won’t get sucked up into filters or get eaten by your fish.
It needs loads of cleaning before installation and can be a little sharp for bottom-dwellers, but overall, it’s a truly great option for a somewhere between aquarium sand and gravel sort of option for your betta substrate.