Freshwater Aquarium Gravel

When setting up a freshwater aquarium, one of the essential components you will need are substrates. Substrates are just something that’s referred to as a layer of something on top of another thing.  Aquarium substrates come in many different types.   One type of substrate is freshwater aquarium gravel.  This type of substrate is made specifically to use for freshwater aquarium.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Aquarium Gravel?

Having gravel as a substrate in a freshwater aquarium has many benefits. Gravel helps plants and decorations stay anchored to the ground, hide aquarium equipment, give a place for beneficial bacteria to do their jobs, and other benefits.

Below are some benefits of having gravel in the aquarium.

Natural Environment

In the fish natural habitat, the substrate is made of gravel or sand. By having gravel in the aquarium, this will help create an environment that is natural to them.  The more natural their environment is, the less stress the fish will have.  As you know, stress can lead to illness and even death.  For this reason, it’s important to create their environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.

Breeding Ground

Most species of freshwater fish lay their eggs in the gravel. This is to prevent bigger fish from eating the eggs until it hatch.

When the fish is about to lay her eggs, she will use her pectoral fin to make a hole in the gravel. Once it’s about an inch deep, she will lay her eggs and cover them up with gravel.

Another reason to have gravel in the aquarium is when the fish fry hatches. After they hatch, most fry will hide in the gravel for a while. This is their natural instinct right after birth to prevent from being eaten by bigger fish.

Live Plants

Having gravel can help live plants thrive in the aquarium. In their natural habitat, live plants dig their roots into substrate such as gravel and sand. This is to anchor themselves to the ground so they won’t float all over the place.

In addition, gravel not only hold the live plants in place, it also provides nutrients for the plants to asborb through it’s root.

Artificial Plants

If you are planning to have artificial plants in the aquarium, gravel is a must.  Artificial plants are made of plastic. Plastic materials are lighter than water so it will tend to float.  Having gravel will help the artificial plants stay in one location and not float all over the place.

What Type Of Gravel Should You Use?

When using this type of aquarium substrate, you’ll want to use gravel that has been treated and made for freshwater aquarium usage. This gravel is the same gravel you can find outdoors like in ponds, lakes, and rivers. However, these gravel has been chemically treated to remove any toxins and other materials that could alter the water chemistry.

Gravel that has been treated is usually sealed with polymers and treated with chemicals to prevent them from chipping. It’s easy to tell treated gravel from untreated gravel. Gravel that has been treated will be smoother in texture and coated with a shiny finish.

The smooth texture is not just for display, it helps prevent fish from getting injured. Gravel that is found naturally will not be smooth and may have sharp edges around it. Fish like Corydoras and plecostomus have soft undersides and they could get injured by it while scavenging for foods.

How Much Aquarium Gravel Do You Need?

Most aquarium owner follow a general guideline which states an average of two-inches of gravel on the bottom of the freshwater aquarium tank.

Two inches is the recommendation for a fish-only tank. By this, I mean there are no plants, decoration or any other objects in the aquarium.

On the other hand, if the aquarium have live or artificial plants, an additional 1 inch of nutrient substrate is needed to be placed below the gravel. So there will be a total of three inches of substrate in the aquarium.

If you would like to know exactly how much gravel is needed for your freshwater aquarium, this calculator will help you determine the amount.

How To Prepare Aquarium Gravel For Use

After you have purchase the gravel, you’ll want to rinse them before putting them into the aquarium. The gravel in the package will have grit, dusk, and other types of debris that could harm the fish.

Cleaning them is as simple as putting the gravel on a sieve and running clean water through it. You can put the sieve on a bucket or something sturdy. Run clean water for a couple minutes and shake the sieve in the process. Keep running the water until you see only clear water coming out from the bottom of the sieve.

After all the gravel are cleaned and free of debris, the final step to preparing it is to remove pest and containments that might be in the gravel.  A product called Seachem Prime Fresh and Saltwater Conditioner – Chemical Remover and Detoxifier which can be found at Amazon.  Simply drop all the gravels into a bucket and fill it with water and pour in the chemical solution according to the instructions on the label.  Leave it for an hour or so and you clean, treated gravel ready to be put in the aquarium.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel?

Cleaning the gravel from the aquarium should be done periodically.  This is especially true if you have a lot of fish. The more fish you have, the more frequent cleaning is needed.  There are a lot of steps taken to ensure that the aquarium environment isn’t thrown off balance. Everything in the aquarium tank works together to form an ecosystem. If one part of the ecosystem isn’t working, it will throw the entire ecosystem off balance. This will lead to a lot of damages to the aquarium, especially the fish and other marine creatures.

There are two types of cleaning you will need to do.  One is general gravel cleaning and the other is the complete gravel cleaning.

General Gravel Cleaning

For general cleaning, the process will involve using a gravel vacuum. This vacuum will remove fish waste, leftover food, and other debris from the substrate. The vacuum which I recommend is the Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, which can be purchased from Amazon.  Or if you’re lazy or don’t want to do manual pumping, the Automatic Gravel Cleaner will do the trick.  It comes as a complete set with the vacuum hosing, housing and instructions to get the job done quickly.

For preventative measure, general cleaning is usually done every month to help keep the gravel in the aquarium clean.

Complete Gravel Cleaning

Every couple months, you will need to give your aquarium a complete gravel cleaning.  This process of cleaning the freshwater aquarium gravel requires a bit of work.

When cleaning the gravel, it’s important to know that you’ll still need some dirty water from the aquarium tank. Fish and other marine creatures can’t handle the sudden changes in the water environment. By introducing gravel that has been cleaned thoroughly with clean water in the aquarium will be too much for the fish to handle. This could lead to shock and even death for the fish.

Instead, use a mixture of half a tank of the old aquarium and half clean water. To save yourself some time, you can actually just drain half the water in the aquarium out. The fish can also be left in the aquarium as well. If you’re planning to go this route, make sure the air pump is still on and providing oxygen to the fish.

As for the gravel, remove all of them out of the tank and set some aside. By setting some aside, this will help the bacteria regrow their colonies again when it’s put back into the aquarium. If you were to clean all the gravel, the bacteria will require a longer time to recolonize the tank. By using some of the old gravel, you’re helping the bacteria recolonize the tank faster.

The rest of the gravel, you can simply rinse them with clean water in a bucket. Do not use any soap or chemicals to clean the gravel.  By doing so could kill the fish when the gravel is put back in the aquarium. Cleaning the gravel will remove algae, contaminants, and leftover food particles that may get stuck between the gravel.

Once it’s all clean, simply drop the cleaned gravel and the old gravel that you’ve set aside back into the aquarium. Then fill the tank with warm tap water. I recommend that you fill the tank with about 2 gallons of tap water at a time, every 30 minutes. This will all the water to match the room temperature and allows the fish to adjust the temperature of the water. Once you’ve filled the entire tank, add dechlorinating drops to neutralize the chlorine in the water.

Final Thoughts

As you can see from this article, gravel are important and have many benefits to have in a freshwater aquarium.  Not only does it beautify the appearance of the aquarium, it helps keep the aquarium healthy as well. The fish, plants, and other aquatic creatures will benefits from this.

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