Aquarium Gravel: The Ultimate Guide

Aquarium gravel is an essential part of a healthy and aesthetically pleasing aquatic environment. Not only can it be used as a decorative touch, but it also serves to create a hospitable aquatic substrate for fish. Different types of gravel are available and should be strategically chosen to achieve the desired level of maintenance, vitality, and beauty. 

Understanding the benefits of aquarium gravel and how to choose the right type for your setup can help bring your dream tank to life. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating an amazing aquarium with aquascaping that’s sure to turn heads.

What Is Aquarium Gravel?

Aquarium gravel is small rocks and pebbles safe for use in an aquatic enclosure. If used correctly, it can be an essential component of a fish tank. It is usually composed of small stones, ceramics, or shells and is used to give fish a place to hide, to keep the water clear, and to provide the roots of aquatic plants something to grip onto. The type of gravel used varies; It could be smoother or more coarse. It just depends on your aquatic needs and we will go further into that in the next section.

What are the best types of aquarium gravel

Best Types of Gravel

There are many different types of aquarium gravel, from natural river stones to brightly colored crushed coral. Depending on the type of fish and plants you plan to keep, there’s sure to be a gravel variety that’s perfect for your tank. From eco-complete substrates to oxygenating gravel, it pays to research different types of aquarium gravel to find the one that suits your needs.

Textured Gravel 

Plain gravel is composed of smooth, round pebbles of various shades, giving an aquarium a natural look. While plain gravel lacks the added color and texture of other substrates, it is a low-cost option and can be used with live plants.

Natural gravel is sourced from riverbeds, quarries, and other sources, providing varied textures and natural colors. This gravel contains beneficial minerals, is easy to clean, and creates a stunning aesthetic that complements a wide array of fish species.

Colored gravel is a popular choice as it offers a visual pop of bright shades and can be used in combination for additional aesthetic appeal. Depending on the type of gravel, some are toxic and require regular maintenance, so make sure to do your research prior to making a purchase.

Elemental Stones

Commonly used for reef tanks due to its porous structure, crushed coral provides essential surface area for beneficial bacteria. It also helps buffer pH levels, provides fish with plenty of hiding places, and is non-toxic.

Quartz is popular for freshwater aquariums and is available in a number of different colors. Its non-toxic nature and helpful bacteria-establishing qualities make it a great substrate choice.

Oxygenating gravel is specifically designed to allow oxygen to penetrate into the substrate. It is considered a great choice for aquariums, as it facilitates beneficial bacteria growth, provides safe hiding places, and contains many tiny pores to give the fish plenty of oxygen.

Non-abrasive and available in a variety of colors, marble pebbles are a popular option for smaller freshwater tanks. They provide a variety of light, creating an eye-catching effect.

Slate is a stunning choice for aquarium gravel, as it creates a natural and beautiful look. It is easy to clean and provides a suitable hiding place for fish and other aquatic life.

Gravel Alternatives

Aquarium sand is popular for turtles and aquatic plants, as it is non-abrasive and helps maintain a steady pH level with fewer fluctuations. Sand also provides an environment for beneficial bacteria and plants to thrive.

Benefits Of Using Aquarium Gravel

Aquarium gravel is one of the essential components to consider when creating a healthy and safe environment for your aquatic creatures. Therefore, its importance cannot be underestimated. Gravel provides several benefits to both the look and the health of your aquarium. 

Functional & Aesthetic

Firstly, gravel provides a better visual aesthetic than if there were no substrate in the aquarium. Aquarium gravel comes in a range of colors and sizes, so you can easily select a substrate that is both visually appealing and beneficial to the health of your aquatic animals. Additionally, aquarium gravel serves to anchor your plants and ornaments in the aquarium, ensuring that they remain securely in place.

Natural Filtration

Gravel also acts as a natural filter in the aquarium and helps reduce the growth of dangerous bacteria. This is of particular importance in smaller tanks with overcrowding of fish. The bacteria consumed by the fish are trapped in the fish gravel and typically die out before they can reproduce and become hazardous. Gravel also helps regulate the PH balance of the aquarium by releasing beneficial nutrients at a slow and steady rate. This allows the beneficial bacteria to remain in the aquarium and encourages healthy conditions for fish.

How to Choose Gravel for Your Aquarium

Choosing the right aquarium gravel is essential in creating a healthy, clean, and safe environment for your fish. Consider the size, shape, material, and color of the gravel before you make a purchase. 

Smaller, rounded gravel is best for creating a more natural environment and can help keep your aquarium clean as it is easier for water to flow through it. Larger, spiky, and colorful gravels can be used to create an eye-catching landscape, but you’ll need to carefully monitor water quality and check the filter regularly. Regardless of the type of gravel you choose, ensure it is made of non-toxic materials that are safe for your fish. 

You should also consider the size of the aquarium you’re setting up when selecting the size of your gravel. As a general rule, use smaller gravel for smaller tanks and larger gravel for larger tanks so that the substrate will be level and will not block tubing or other attachments.

Cleaning and Maintaining Aquarium Gravel

Cleaning and maintaining aquarium gravel is essential for providing a safe, healthy environment for your fish. One of the key benefits of aquarium gravel is that it helps to filter the water as waste and other debris fall through it and become trapped.

The Proper Cleaning Techniques

To keep your gravel in good condition, you should carry out regular maintenance. This includes vacuuming the gravel to remove any waste and uneaten food, and rinsing the substrate with treated water. Regular water changes can also help to prevent debris and bacteria from building up in the gravel. 

How to Avoid harmful Bacteria

You should also take steps to avoid harmful bacteria and keep your aquarium clean. Bacteria can accumulate in aquarium gravel, so it’s important to make sure that you’re not introducing new bacteria when you clean. 

Start by rinsing the gravel with dechlorinated water, and use a vacuum that has been specifically designed for aquariums. When changing the water, do so in small increments until the desired water level is reached. This will help to keep the levels of harmful bacteria at bay.

Decorative Ideas for Aquarium Gravel

Decorating aquarium gravel can be a great way to add color and dimension to your fish tank. You can introduce aquatic rocks and plants to create beautiful aquascapes. It’s important to exercise caution when adding decorations to your tank. 

However, certain types of gravel can alter the pH levels of the water, which can be damaging to some species of fish. Do some research to make sure that the decorations you are using are suitable for your aquarium and fish.

Pro Tips for Setting Up Aquarium Gravel 

When setting up your aquarium gravel, it’s important to prepare the substrate properly before layering the gravel. Start by testing the pH levels to ensure the water is alkaline and clean before adding the gravel. You’ll also want to ensure that the filter isn’t too strong, as this can cause the gravel to become dislodged from the substrate.

Next, create the perfect aquascape for your tank by using various kinds of gravel for different effects. This might include creating a beach-like look with white or cream-colored gravel, or a rocky look with darker hues of gravel. Layer the gravel starting at the bottom and build up the bed until the desired level is reached.

Finally, it’s important to prepare the gravel before adding the fish. Regularly rinse the gravel under lukewarm water to get rid of any dust or dirt particles, and then use a coarse-grade sponge to scrub away any excess dirt. Doing this will ensure that the water is clean and the gravel is safe for your fish.

Fish That Flourish with Aquarium Gravel

Adding aquarium gravel to your tank can not only make your tank look amazing, but it can offer many benefits to the fish living in it. Gravel helps keep the aquarium floor clean, while also providing natural reservoirs of food and oxygen. When first setting up an aquarium, it’s important to select the right gravel for the fish species that you want to keep.

Popular Fish Breeds for Aquarium Gravel

 Some popular breeds of fish that thrive in a gravel environment include goldfish, cichlids, and smaller species of marine fish. When choosing the right gravel for your tank, it’s important to consider the size of the fish you plan on keeping. If you have smaller fish, then it’s usually best to go for smaller pieces of gravel.

Popular Fish Breeds for Aquarium Gravel

Tips for Safely Adding Fish to a Gravel Tank

When it comes to setting up a gravel habitat for your fish, preparation is key. Before adding fish to your tank, you should make sure that the gravel is thoroughly cleaned and free of potential contaminants. 

Once the gravel is clean, you should start creating your aquascape, which is essentially how your gravel and other tank decorations are arranged. Finally, once the gravel is set up, you can add the appropriate species of fish. With the correct setup, your fish can flourish in a gravel tank.


In conclusion, aquarium gravel is a crucial part of any aquarium. Not only will it keep your tank looking clean, but it also offers many other benefits. With the proper cleaning techniques and tank setup, aquarium gravel can create a beautiful, healthy habitat for your fish. After setting it up and selecting the right type of gravel for your tank, you can explore the many different fish breeds that will flourish with this type of aquarium substrate.

Need More Help?

Didn't find the answers you were hoping for? Check out our troubleshooting archive for more helpful information.