Best Substrates for Betta – Review and Guide

The betta is known as the Siamese fighting fish and they live up to that name as they can be very aggressive which means you have to pair them carefully with other other fish in the same tank. This doesn’t stop people wanting them because of their colorful magnificent fins.

Substrate is anything used on the floor of the tank. There are different substrate products for different fish. Bettas’ natural habitat has lots of plants so you should use a gravel or sand substrate to anchor the plants. Gravel helps plant roots grow better than other substrates due to how it will not compact as tight as sand or other substrates.

This review will list 10 (5 gravel and 5 sand) of the best substrates for your betta and the pros and cons of each product to help you decide which is the best substrate for you and your betta.

Substrates for Betta Reviews

CaribSea Eco-Complete Substrate

Eco-Complete is a substrate made by CaribSea which has been in business since the 70s and sells all sorts of aquarium gravel. There are hundreds of public tanks, as well as thousands of aquarium enthusiasts who depend on CaribSea for their substrate.

Eco-Complete gravel substrate has several important ingredients that encourage plant growth. The more plants you grow the happier your betta will be. Eco-Complete is called complete because it is complete in minerals and biological bacteria to help in growing plants without getting any algae.

Eco-Complete is made from rich soil from volcanos that contain such good things as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and over 25 others. It sounds good enough to be a vitamin but please don’t let your kids eat them.

If you’re like me and want a substrate for your tank that is natural-looking for your betta, Eco-Complete is the one to buy. It does not have chemical coatings, artificial dyes, or paints making it much more safe than other substrates.

  • Encourages plant growth for a healthy habitat
  • Gravel is made of rich soil from volcanos that is easy to clean
  • Does not have chemical coatings, artificial dyes, or paints


  • May raise the pH level making it necessary to have a neutralizer

Spectrastone Shallow Creek

Spectrastone is made by Estes who has been America’s number one manufacturer of aquarium aggregates for over 40 years and makes only safe substrate gravel.

Spectrastone helps embed plants or decorations as it pulls the tanks’ interior together for an awesome aquarium. This substrate provides your betta fish with a gravel that has small enough pieces that are coated to protect them but not small enough to eat.

One great benefit of the Spectrastone gravel is that its pH neutral. It has a special coating that prevents each piece from breaking down and leaking minerals into the water column to change the pH levels.

If you’re like me and want a substrate for your freshwater tank that is natural-looking for your betta fish, Spectrastone Shallow Creek is the one to buy. What’s great about these rocks is that they look terrific with plants.

  • It is pH neutral and non-toxic designed for desktop tanks
  • Pieces of gravel are in various smaller sizes
  • It has a natural look and comes in several colors


  • It must be cleaned multiple times
  • Only comes in five-pound bags

Marina Decorative Gravel

Marina is made by Hagen who makes pet products since 1955 with its US branch based out of Mansfield, Maine. They have kept up with the demand of fish hobbyists who want designer aquariums that are easy to maintain and look better than their neighbors.

This pretty blue gravel from Marina is the perfect color to go with the décor of plants and blue decorations. Not only is this Decorative Gravel pretty, it is safe for the betta fish as it is coated with epoxy and prevents any problems with the chemistry of a freshwater aquarium.

What is great about Marina’s colored and coated gravel is that it is dust-free, so the water doesn’t get all murky when you add it. Plus, the pebbles are smooth and epoxy-coated, so my betta won’t get hurt when he brushes the bottom.

Marina is available in several colors and the epoxy-coat is safe for aquariums. They are for freshwater tanks only.

  • Several colors that will give your aquarium an outstanding look
  • The coating of epoxy doesn’t hurt the water’s chemistry
  • Decorative gravel can be mixed with marbles


  • Only comes in small one-pound bags

CaribSea Peace River Gravel

Since the 70s CaribSea has supplied hundreds of aquariums that are public and hundreds of thousands of private aquariums. CaribSea substrates are made to work and to keep your fish healthy and thriving.

The CaribSea Peace River Gravel looks natural with the feel of dark riverbeds. It’s the perfect size for planted tanks. This gravel holds your various plants, but you still have enough room for the roots to grow. Half the fun of having an aquarium is the planting of plants but don’t go wild planting too many plants. Leave some room for your betta.

This gravel is pH neutral, so you don’t have to worry about the pH affecting your fish’s health. CaribSea also does not use dyes or paints in making this substrate, so no chemicals will be released in the water.

Peace River is a perfect name for this gravel as it will make you feel like you’re sitting peacefully on the shore of your favorite river.

  • Bettas will be happy with the natural river habitat
  • It is pH neutral and no dyes or paint
  • Gravel holds your plants well


  • Difficult to use a gravel vacuum
  • Need to rinse gravel a few times

GloFish Aquarium Gravel

GloFish gravel is the right size so that your betta won’t eat it. It makes a good home for beneficial bacteria and is a great choice for betta tanks with under gravel filters.

If you’re looking for a different look for your aquarium, GloFish Aquarium Gravel is the perfect way to make your aquarium come to life. It is made up of gravel with colorful accents that stand out in a magical way using different colors of LED lights.

GloFish gravel is available in six exciting colors that will never be a boring view. Colors include Sunburst Orange, Starfire Red, Electric Green, Galactic Purple, Cosmic Blue, and Moonrise Pink.

At night you can use colored LED lights and in the day you can use regular white lights. The blue gravel will stand out with blue lighting. All you need to do is add the gravel, decorate with some plants and then add your Glofish. You will be amazed at the colors.

  • Don’t have paint or dyes
  • Gravel is not too small so that fish will eat it
  • Lots of colors to jazz up your tank and have bettas mirror the colors


  • Some complaints of pieces chipping

CaribSea Sunset Gold Sand

Since the 70s CaribSea has supplied hundreds of aquariums that are public and hundreds of thousands of private aquariums. CaribSea substrates are made to work while keeping your fish healthy and thriving.

The Super Naturals line from CaribSea’s freshwater sand matches natural places by making a natural habitat for betta fish. All you need to start is some tap water.

The unusual places like the Amazon river come to life with some of the world’s most colorful sea life and beaches that look like islands that have smoking volcanoes. You can create your own ecoscape with Super Naturals.

CaribSea doesn’t add any paint or dye. It is also complete with a protective slime coat to aid bettas if they get stressed. It also reduces nitrates and nitrites, eliminates ammonia, detoxifies metals, is pH neutral, and neutralizes chlorine.

My betta just loves Sunset Gold Sand because of its special kind of soft that won’t hurt bettas and their beautiful fins if they swim across the bottom of the tank.

  • It’s so easy to make a natural habitat
  • It holds plants well and won’t hurt betta fish
  • Delivers a protective slime coat for stressed fish


  • Darker than expected
  • It takes several rinses to be tank ready

CaribSea Arag-Alive

Arag-Alive™ Fiji Pink is a saltwater substrate made by CaribSea which has been in business since the 70s and sells all sorts of aquarium gravel.

Fiji Pink is packed with minerals like calcium and water-purifying bacteria to reduce waste, algae and ammonia, and help keep pH levels balanced for a long time. What is really something is that it has been proven that Arag-Alive will cycle a new aquarium faster than any others.

The best benefits are that Fiji Pink Sand has the perfect grain size that won’t get blown around easily. You can use it straight from the bag without rinsing or adding chemicals due to its millions of water purifying bacteria per pound.

Arag-Alive’s Fiji Pink has been formulated to keep your betta from getting new tank syndrome. Included to help clear up the water quickly is a clarifier that is also made to keep good bacteria growing.

  • No pre-rinsing or adding of chemicals needed
  • It is complete with biological and mineral elements
  • It has been proven to cycle days faster than other live sand


  • Not a true pink and is more like a beige color
  • Rinsing may be needed before adding to tank

CaribSea Tahitian Moon Sand

You can now create your own ecoscape aquarium tank called Tahitian Moon. Create a supernatural experience by re-creating a natural world right in your home.

CaribSea Tahitian Moon Sand is a deep black that makes for a nice-looking substrate that will bring out your betta’s colors and help them pop.

CaribSea Tahitian Moon Sand is all-natural without the need of any paints, dyes, or other chemicals used in some other brands. It is pH neutral and safe for all aquatic systems.

You can create a natural world with a piece of the Amazon that crawls through the dark jungles. Tahitian Moon Sand comes from islands that have volcanoes ablaze and smoking.

  • pH neutral and safe for all aquatic systems
  • Black creates great color contrasts
  • There are no paints or dyes used


  • May not be good for reef tanks
  • Some complaints of it having bad bacteria

CaribSea Aragonite Special Grade Reef Sand

The Aragonite Special Grade Reef Sand is a natural substrate that has a great balance of bacteria and minerals to make the water balanced. It is formulated especially for creating an environment that will be less work for you..

It comes from the ocean instead of being collected from beaches like other reef sand is. It can keep the pH at 8.2 and you won’t have to add chemicals constantly to the water. Nitrate, ammonia and other harmful elements are controlled in a natural way.

Just because this sand is so beneficial does not mean you should use a lot more than usual. A good amount would be somewhere between 1/2 inch and 2 inches in order to provide enough for the good bacteria to grow.

You won’t have to change the sand that often if you keep it clean using a vacuum to clear out old food and debris. You could also add some animals that are cleaners such as shrimp or hermit crabs but be sure to research which can live with your fish.

  • Keeps pH balanced
  • Perfect for bottom-dwelling fish or invertebrates
  • Reduces nitrates better than plain gravel


  • Not the grade of sand expected

CaribSea African Cichlid Sand

African Cichlid Sand is made of a rare Japanese plant-based soil. It promotes the growth of almost all aquatics plants. It contains organic ingredients and nitrogen level that encourages the growth of plants.

CaribSea’ s African Cichlid substrates can help you create different environments. It is made up of granules of size and density ideal for fast development of plant roots. They are made up of natural shapes that produce a natural habitat look.

If you are a beginner at being a fish enthusiast, the African Cichlid Sand is easy to handle and will help you make a beautiful aquarium planted in crystal clear water as you explore the wonderful colors of all the Cichlid mixes.

CaribSea’ s Cichlid products naturally keep the pH from drifting down especially in a crowded tank. Seasoned fish enthusiasts are known to appreciate how easy it is to maintain the water quality. You can eventually be like them as you enjoy the beauty of this substrate.

  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Creates a natural African cichlid environment
  • Reduces built up of debris


  • Difficult to use with under-gravel filters
  • It can easily compact

Types of Substrate

Marble Substrate: While marbles are aesthetically pleasing, this substrate isn’t considered the most ideal. Waste and debris can be trapped in between the marbles, making it difficult when it comes time to clean the tank.

Soil Substrate: Soil is the best option if you’re keeping a planted aquarium. You will still need a secondary layer of either gravel or sand to keep the water clean.

Gravel Substrate: Gravel is considered the best option by most aquarists due to how easy it is to clean. Gravel is also the best substrate for growing beneficial bacteria that help to break down waste. Not only that, but gravel comes in a multitude of different colors for the creative aquarist.

Sand Substrate: Sand can be an effective way to secure any plants that you might have in your tank. It is also the best option for keeping debris on top of the substrate. Though if you opt for sand substrate it will need infrequent raking.

Crushed Coral: This is a good substrate if you’re looking to raise the PH levels of your tank. Which is helpful if you’re keeping certain species of cichlids in with your Betta. Otherwise this isn’t a required substrate as Betta do better with standard PH levels.

Laterite or Vermiculite: These substrates are most commonly used with planted aquariums. Usually as a bottom layer, then topped with gravel or sand.

How to Select a Substrate?

Here are some things you may want to take into consideration when trying to find the appropriate substrate:

  • Particle Size: There are a lot of variations in terms of particle size. Large or tiny, the size of your substrate can have a significant impact on the health of your fish. Betta do well with smaller particles such as fine sand. The main con being that the smaller the particles that harder it can be to clean.
  • Color: This is entirely up to the personal tastes of the aquarist. White substrate shows up debris and waste more than say, brown substrate. Certain colors can be used to enhance the colors of your Betta, while others might wash them out.
  • Reactivity with Water: Certain species of fish require higher pH, others, like angelfish, prefer lower pH. Betta thrive in a neutral pH, so it’s better not to use substrates like crushed coral that heighten the pH levels unless you’re keeping cichlids in the same tank.

Frequently Asked Questions About Substrate

Could the substrate I choose hurt my Betta? It’s best to avoid coarse gravel since Betta sometimes like to sleep on their substrate. Don’t put any glass or sharp-edged objects in the tank with your Betta, they will injure themselves.

How do I keep my substrate clean? Using a gravel cleaner to vacuum your substrate once a week will keep your tank looking brand new.

How many pounds of substrate per gallon? The general guideline is 1lb of substrate per gallon. This of course can vary on how heavily planted your tank is and what kind of substrate you’re using.

How do I prepare my substrate for the tank? It’s generally best to clean your substrate before putting it in the tank. Don’t use any kind of cleaning chemical or soap on the gravel/sand. Simply empty the bag into a bucket or sieve, fill with water, and swill the substrate around. Keep draining and repeating until the water is clear.

Will putting substrate in my aquarium affect the water? Gravel and sand are generally inert. Which means that it won’t affect the PH of the water in your tank. For other forms of substrate, you may want to research and make sure that there won’t be any negative side effects for your Betta.

What substrate do Betta prefer? If you are looking to simulate their natural habitat, it is recommended that you combine soil, gravel, and sand.

How deep should the substrate be? Substrate should generally be filled to a depth of 1 ½ to 2 inches. If you have a planted aquarium additional depth may be required.

How to Maintain Your Substrate?

How you maintain your substrate can vary depending on what variety of substrate you’re using. When cleaning sand substrate, you can put a siphon above the sand and give it a swirl so that any waste sitting on top gets stirred up and sucked out.

Gravel substrate usually requires vacuuming. You will want to make sure that you own a good gravel vacuum for this particular task. Most hoses are automated, but with some you might have to start the siphoning process manually. If you suck on the open end of the hose you risk inhaling contaminated water, so you may want to try other methods.

You will want to clean the substrate in your tank around once a week to ensure that buildup doesn’t happen.

Advantages of Having Substrate

There are a number of advantages to having a substrate for your tank. It is more attractive, for one thing. Substrate comes in a variety of different colors, sizes, and shapes. Finding aesthetically pleasing substrate can be a good way to add a finishing touch when furnishing your tank.

Having substrate also helps enable the growth of beneficial bacteria. This is essential for eliminating waste. Bacteria can live without substrate, but they might not grow in sufficient quantities. There are always benefits to not having to deal with substrate in the first place. However, opting for a bare bottom tank will make it necessary to change the water more often.

If you are trying to simulate the natural habitat of your Betta, substrate will also be an ideal way to go about this. It gives the fish places to hide and reduces reflections in the tank that can cause your fish stress.

While bright colored gravel can be aesthetically pleasing if you’re going for a dramatic look, some people believe that it can cause stress for your fish. Bright colors simply aren’t conducive to their natural environment. To avoid this concern, you may want to opt for a more natural substrate.


If you want an aquarium that helps you to relax or one that perks you up, one of these 10 substrates for bettas will help you set up a decorative aquarium. If you’re not certain which you should use, try the first one of the gravel or sand depending on your preference for your betta.

You will enjoy how easy sand or gravel are to work with along with the products used to maintain your aquarium. You can save so much time by ordering it online and having it delivered in a day or two.

Please write us in the comments about your experience with this product or if you have any questions about anything that may not have been addressed in this article.

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