Generally speaking, Betta fish are quite easy to care for. However, there are a few things that you will need to make them happy and comfortable. One of those things is the substrate, the layer of material that covers the bottom of the tank.
Substrate options come in many forms; sand, gravel, little stones and others and it can make choosing the right one all the more difficult for freshwater aquariums.
Each type of substrate comes with different benefits, so when it comes to your Betta you need be sure to add the right type so your Betta has a perfect environment.
Today we are going to cover the essentials of what you need to know, and also our top 10 picks that we feel are most suitable for Bettas, and why.
Do Betta Fish Need Substrate?
Yes, Betta fish do need substrate as it provides various benefits to them and the tank, plus it replicates a natural looking environment for them. In the wild natural substrate for Bettas consists of silt, sand, some gravel, and rotting vegetation too (more on there natural habitat here).
The right substrate provide various benefits for your Betta fish and your tank such as;
- Adds a medium for beneficial bacteria to grow in your tank.
- Supports the growth of live plants. (Bettas love to rest on leaves, and hide behind plants).
- Provides a natural look and feel for your Betta.
- Makes your tank look better visually.
Best Substrate For Betta Fish Tank: Top 10
Here we have a selection of the top 10 best substrates that you can use for your Betta tank. They’re all quite different from each other, so it really does come down to your preference and what you want to achieve.
1. GloFish Aquarium Gravel
This is one of our personal favorite aquarium gravels to go with for any Betta fish tank. GloFish gravel consists of simple black gravel mixed with some multi-colored glow in the dark shapes. The black color is really nice because it helps accent and bring to life the rest of the colors in your fish and the tank.
At the same time, when put under lights, the glowing pieces really add a neat effect to any fish tank. Keep in mind that the glow in the dark fish included here really glow the best under blue light, but not under other light as much.
GloFish substrate is a good choice if you need simple decorative substrate and this will also support beneficial bacteria. It’s easy to clean as well, but it is not the best in terms of growing rooted live plants. This is in our opinion, the best gravel for Betta fish, or at least one of our personal favorites.
2. Carib Sea Peace River Gravel
Another good option to go with, Carib Sea Peace River Gravel, unlike the first option, is much more natural feeling and looking. It’s a nice option if you want to recreate the natural river conditions which Betta fish live in.
It is also a great option when it comes to growing rooted live plants, as it is designed to be able to support the same kind of plant life as a river bed would support. It may not the brightest or best looking substrate, but it does have some great qualities.
Carib Gravel comes in a special grain size which helps to greatly reduce detritus, plus it is pretty easy to clean as well. It’s also a good option because no paints or dyes have been used, or in other words, it is all natural and 100% non-toxic.
Moreover, this particular substrate is also pH neutral, so it will not mess with the water chemistry in your Betta tank. All in all, this is a great option to go with, with one of the only drawbacks being that it comes in a huge 20 pound bag.
3. Marina Decorative Gravel
If you are looking for a really bright and vibrant substrate to go with, Marina Decorative Gravel is the way to go. It’s a nice looking gravel substrate with a bright and vibrant blue coloration.
It has been dyed, but it is coated with epoxy, so it won’t leach any colors or chemicals into the water. It certainly helps accent any Betta tank thanks to its vibrant blue color. It might not look all that natural, but it certainly looks beautiful.
On a side note, the epoxy coating that we mentioned before also helps to ensure that the water chemistry of your Betta tank will not be affected in any way.
Marina Gravel is a pretty decent option when it comes to keeping live plants and ornaments in place. No, it won’t provide them with any nutrients, but it will hold them in place fairly well.
4. Carib Sea Tahitian Moon Sand
Tahitian Moon Sand is a really nice option to go with due to its deep black color. Some people do not prefer black, but we think that it helps to accent the vibrant colors of the Betta fish as well as the plants very well. It really helps make colors pop and a good overall pick for freshwater aquariums.
This is an all-natural substrate option, and no paints, dyes, or other such chemicals have been used here. This means that Carib Sea Tahitian Sand is non-toxic and it also will not mess with the water chemistry in your Betta fish tank.
On a side note, this particular substrate works quite well for planting rooted plants. No, it doesn’t contain too many nutrients, but it will hold them in place just fine.
5. Spectrastone Shallow Creek
Spectrastone substrate is a nice option to go with if you want to recreate the natural look of a real Betta environment. This stuff looks exactly like the little smooth stones that you would find in a river bed where Betta fish sometimes live.
Shallow Creek substrate comes in a mix of different brown and grey coloration, which may not look all that nice, but it does look natural.
While it is not the best option to go with for planting rooted plants, due to a lack of nutrients, it does work well for holding plants in place. This substrate has not been dyed or anything else like that.
At the same time, it features a special coating over every single pebble which helps to prevent any kind of leaching the changing of the water chemistry in the fish tank.
6. Carib Sea Naturals Sand
For the first time today, we are looking at some natural brown aquarium sand, whereas most of the other options so far have all been gravel for the most part. The sand used here looks very natural, and for all intents and purposes, it is totally natural.
It has not been dyed or treated with harsh chemicals, which means that it is not toxic, it won’t leach any substances into the water, and it won’t affect water chemistry either.
Looking natural might not be the most stunning thing ever, but the sand here does help to recreate a natural looking environment for your Betta fish to a certain degree. The small grain size helps reduce detritus.
Another benefit here is that this stuff is great for rooting and holding rooted plants as it is fairly dense, but not too dense. For those that care, this substrate is made in the USA.
7. Carib Sea Eco Substrate
If you are looking for a substrate that will accent the color of your Betta fish really well, Carib Sea Eco Substrate is a great option to go with for freshwater aquariums.
It features a rich dark brown and black color, so it makes everything else in the fish tank really stand out. At the same time, this stuff is actually more or less really good soil, so it is awesome for plant growth.
It has great consistency for healthy root development and good hold, plus it comes loaded with nutrients that will feed your rooted live plants for a long time to come.
The downside to this stuff is that it does cloud up the water a bit, it will affect the chemistry of the water slightly, and it is quite the pain in the butt to clean.
However, in terms of healthy plant growth, you will be hard pressed to find something better than this.
8. Activ Betta Sand
Another good option to go with for plant growth, Activ Betta Aquarium Sand comes loaded with essential nutrients to ensure healthy plant growth.
It comes with many nutrients, plus it has an ideal density and grain size for healthy plant root development. Also, it does not contain any phosphates or silica, which is always a big bonus.
At the same time, the natural brown color of this sand really helps to replicate the natural environment of the Betta fish quite well.
This stuff also works well as a natural odor neutralizer, yet another benefit.
It helps with water filtration as well thanks to the filtration abilities of the sand. With that being sand, Activ Betta sand does make the water a little milky, plus it is not the easiest to clean either.
9. Marina Betta Kit Gravel
This is another really nice looking option to go with. When it comes to Betta tanks, black gravel substrate is always quite nice because it helps the colors in the tank pop and come to life like nothing else.
The fact that Marina Betta Kit Decorative Gravel is fairly coarse and large helps make your cleanup jobs much easier.
Now, while it is a decent option for holding live plants in place, it does not contain nutrients to assist in plant growth. We do like this particular gravel substrate because it is totally non-toxic and completely safe to use in any Betta tank.
One downside here is that the bag you get is fairly small, so depending on the size of your tank, you may need to get multiple bags.
10. Panacea Pan Gems
This final option on our list is a very unique one to go with. In all honesty, the only really good part about Panacea Pan Gems for Aquarium is that it’s a nice looking substrate. They are blue and green glass beads that look simply stunning.
The light reflection they provide helps to shine some light into the tank. However, in terms of replicating a natural looking environment or supporting plant growth, it’s really not the best option. With that being said, at least this stuff does not affect the chemistry of the water in any way.
Sand VS Gravel: Which Is Better?
Now, there is an ongoing debate between those who like to use sand in the Betta tank and those that like to use gravel. Each of these options comes with benefits and drawbacks that need to be kept in mind, so let’s talk about both real quick.
Sand is an option that many people like to go with for Betta tank substrate. Now, the best part about sand, at least most kinds, is that it comes with a fair amount of nutrients contained in it.
This is of course beneficial for healthy and fast plant growth. At the same time, sand is nice because it tends to be fairly dense, and if you get the right option, not too dense, and therefore helps support plant growth.
Sand also tends to do a decent job at filtering some undesirable things out of the tank.
Now, the downside to sand is that it can get quite messy. It gets dirty easy and is fairly hard to clean, plus it can also end up making the water in the tank a bit milky and murky as it gets stirred up.
While sand is better for live plant growth, and it also provides a natural look, it’s not the best when it comes to cleanup time. Sand does look very natural though, which is nice if you are looking to accurately recreate the natural environment of the Betta fish.
The other most popular option for Betta substrate is gravel. Here you will see that the benefits and disadvantages of gravel are pretty much the opposite as those of sand.
Gravel is alright for live plant growth in the sense that fine gravel has a good density and displacement which allows roots to grow fairly well.
However, gravel does not contain any kind of nutrients which help feed live plant life for healthy growth. This is a big drawback. Gravel also supports a surface for beneficial bacteria, which is a big plus.
Also, while aquarium gravel might not be the best for recreating the natural environment of the Betta fish, it certainly does, or can look quite nice depending on the final option you go with.
Also, while gravel is not the best for filtering out the water, it is quite easy to clean up. At the end of the day, you need to weigh the pros and cons of sand and gravel against each other and decide which of these options seems like the best fit for you.
What Substrate Do Betta’s Have In The Wild?
In the wild, the substrate which a Betta sees most often is that of sand, silt, and rotting vegetation, plus some soil and dirt too. They often live in rice paddies and shallow streams, so this can vary depending on the area.
While you might want to recreate the natural look of the environment for a Betta fish, the problem with their natural substrate is that it tends to release a lot of natural substances, colors, and other things into the water that make filtration a bigger task.
Also, this silt substrate tends to make water cloudy and murky. In other words, it won’t look very nice and it makes cleaning your tank and the filter quite a monumental task (if you need help finding the right filter then this post will help).
How Much Substrate Does My Betta Tank Need?
Simply put, about 2 inches of substrate will do just fine. Betta fish do not really dig around in substrate and they personally don’t have much use for it, so they could really care less. The main consideration here has to do with your plants.
Real plants will need around 2 inches of substrate in order for their roots to grow well and to have a stable base. So, aim for around 2 inches. However, if you have fake plants, 1 inch of substrate will do just fine as they do not have real root systems that need support.
There are a few other substrate options that we can talk about, all of which are viable alternatives. However, sand and gravel are the best options to go with by far.
When it comes down to it, rocks are pretty much just the bigger version of aquarium gravel. In all honesty, we would not recommend using rocks. They do not have any nutrients and will not support healthy plant growth in any way, nor will they support beneficial bacteria to grow.
Also, big rocks can pose dangers to Betta fish, especially if they are sharp. We would not use rocks for our own Betta tank.
If you plan on using fake plants in your Betta tank, not using any substrate is an option. However, not using substrate means that you have no substrate which can filter water, there is nothing to support real plants, and it does not look nice or provide a natural look either.
The final option you could consider is aquarium soil. Now, this is probably the best option to go with for real plant growth, as it contains lots of nutrients and has the right density for rooted plants. However, this stuff tends to be expensive, it is messy, it makes the water cloudy, and it can affect the chemistry of the water as well.
At the end of the day, we would recommend sticking with good sand, gravel, or even aquarium soil as the substrate for your Betta tank. If you want healthy plant growth and to support beneficial bacteria, you will need good substrate, so we would definitely recommend going with one of the above options that we have reviewed today.
- Do Betta Fish Need Substrate?
- Best Substrate For Betta Fish Tank: Top 10
- Sand VS Gravel: Which Is Better?
- What Substrate Do Betta’s Have In The Wild?
- How Much Substrate Does My Betta Tank Need?
- Substrate Types