How to Add Sand to an Established Aquarium With Gravel

Written by carolyn kaberline
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How to Add Sand to an Established Aquarium With Gravel
It's possible to change your aquarium gravel to sand, without starting over. (fish reflection image by cherie from

While gravel is one of the most popular bases for an aquarium, there are times when sand will provide a more natural look. Although it is possible to remove all the fish, plants and decorations -- then drain the aquarium -- and remove the gravel before adding sand -- there are times that the size of the aquarium makes this difficult to do. While starting from scratch may seem like the only way to get a sand base, adding sand to an established aquarium can also be done.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Sand
  • Buckets
  • Running water
  • Spaghetti strainer
  • 1 1/2-inch diameter PVC pipe

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  1. 1

    Decide on the type of sand that you want for your aquarium. Silica sand is one of the most popular, as it is fine, very easy to maintain, reasonably priced and easy to find. Play sand, black beauty and coral sand are other possible choices.

  2. 2

    Wash the sand thoroughly by placing a few pounds in a bucket and rinsing it thoroughly, until the run-off water is clear. Place the clean sand in another bucket and continue rinsing additional sand in the first bucket, as needed.

  3. 3

    Turn off any filters that the tank may have. This will make it easier to remove the old gravel and add the sand without clogging the filter holes.

  4. 4

    Remove the gravel with a small spaghetti strainer. Place this in another bucket until it dries: Then bag it for future use, or possible sale.

  5. 5

    Slide the sand down the PVC pipe -- slowly moving the pipe across the bottom of the tank -- until the floor is covered with one to one and a half inches of sand. The length of the pipe will depend on the size of the tank. It should be long enough to get within two or three inches of the tank bottom. This will help avoid clouding. Once the sand has settled, turn the filter back on.

Tips and warnings

  • If you do not have any PVC pipe handy, sand can also be added using a plastic bag. Cut off one corner of the bag, then add sand, keeping the hole pinched shut until it is underwater. Release the corner and allow the sand to flow out. Repeat this procedure until the bottom is covered with the desired amount of sand.
  • The sand can also be added without removing the gravel, although the gravel may work its way up through the sand layer due to water movement.
  • After rinsing the sand, do not add it to the tank if it is cold to the touch. It should be room temperature before adding, to avoid temperature shock to the fish.
  • If there is still some water on the sand, be sure to add some chlorine remover before placing it in the tank.

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