What Is The Best Substrate For Your Aquarium?

The substrate used in your aquarium is an important but often overlooked component in the creation of a healthy aquatic environment. It is the foundation upon which your aquascape will be created. There are numerous substrate options available that will allow the aquarist to create an appealing simulation of the natural environment of the fish and plant species in their tank. Brightly colored substrates that would never occur in a natural setting are also available and are usually not a good choice when setting up your aquarium.

Caution needs to be taken when deciding on the substrate you will use. Depending on the type of fish in your aquarium some substrates will perform much better than others and will actually contribute to the health of your fish. The same can be said of a planted aquarium. Choosing the right substrate can make a huge difference in your ability to maintain the health of your aquatic plants. The wrong choice will hinder the ability of the plants to flourish and leave you disappointed with the results. Though you may be tempted to buy the least expensive product available this will probably not be the best choice. Spending a little more at the outset will enable your aquarium and its inhabitants to thrive and add to your enjoyment as an aquarist.

In this article we will identify the best substrate to be used in a variety of settings. We will look at how different substrates work better with certain fish species and which is best to use in a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will guide you in making your decision when purchasing the substrate for your aquarium. In particular we will look at substrates recommended for use with goldfish, bettas, African cichlids and planted freshwater community aquariums.

What Is The Best Substrate For Goldfish?

The very popular goldfish is kept by many aquarists around the world. Often purchased as juveniles they can be small fish just a few inches in size. Goldfish can grow to be quite large and require a large tank in which to thrive. They are also commonly kept in outdoor fish ponds.

When visiting your local fish store you may see small goldfish in a tank with a substrate consisting of marbles or brightly colored gravel. While this may make for appealing viewing it is not conducive to keeping your goldfish healthy and happy. Goldfish have very specific behavioral characteristics that preclude the use of many types of substrate available. Goldfish love to forage along the bottom your tank, picking through the substrate for morsels of food. This behavior should influence your decision when choosing their substrate.

Gravel of any size is not a recommended substrate for a goldfish tank. This is for a number of reasons. One of the most popular substrates available is variously colored, small, pea-sized gravel. This type of gravel is totally inappropriate for a goldfish tank. As your fish grow and go about their natural foraging behavior they will pick up pieces of this gravel in their mouths. On occasion they will swallow these pieces of gravel and this can cause serious health effects such as a ruptured digestive tract. This can lead to the death of your fish, so small gravel should be avoided when planning a goldfish tank.

Another problem shared by all size gravel is that there is space between the individual pieces in which food debris can be trapped. As it dissolves it creates toxins that are harmful to your fish. Goldfish spend a lot of time at the bottom of your tank making them especially vulnerable to these toxins. Marbles share this problem of spaces for food to become trapped and are also not a good substrate for goldfish.

Water softness can be a problem as hard water is beneficial to the goldfish’s fins and scales. Crushed coral is often used to increase water hardness but should not be used for goldfish. The sharp edges of the coral pieces are dangerous to the foraging fish and can cause mouth injuries.

Sand is by far the best choice in substrate for your goldfish aquarium. It packs tightly together eliminating the problem of spaces for food particles to be trapped. Debris will settle on the surface of the substrate and be easily removed. Additionally and just as importantly, sand will not hurt the goldfish if it is ingested. It may even be beneficial if eaten as it passes through the fish and helps clear out its digestive system. Choose sand for your goldfish substrate.

What Is The Best Substrate For African Cichlids?

Aquarists who choose to keep African cichlids should be aware that their care is demanding and specific water conditions are required for their survival. African cichlids originate in the Rift Lakes of Central Africa. These lakes have a naturally high PH and this needs to be recreated in your cichlid tank.

Another characteristic of cichlids is that they are avid diggers and love to burrow and create caves. This behavior will uproot plants and the fish will then consume them, so plants are usually not used to decorate a cichlid tank. Rocks and caves are vitally important to your cichlid tank. Cichlids are naturally aggressive and territorial. They will claim a cave and attempt to drive all others away. To minimize the aggression your tank mates will exhibit you need to have a sufficient number of caves for the cichlid population you plan on keeping.

With those factors in mind we see that a proper substrate for a cichlid aquarium will need to help buffer the water’s PH. It will also need to allow for digging without injuring the fish and enable you to create substantial rock and cave formations that will not be moved or toppled by digging fish.

Though some aquarists choose to go with a bare bottom tank free of substrate for their cichlids this is not the best layout for your cichlid tank as it eliminates the opportunity for the fish to dig and tunnel. Small and large gravel are inappropriate for reasons similar to that of goldfish. Smaller gravel can be ingested and cause health issues and all size gravel can cause toxins to be created that are dangerous to your fish. Cichlids like the bottom of the tank and will be susceptible to these toxins.

Plain, well washed sand is an excellent choice of substrate for your child tank. It will work well with the cichlids foraging habits and serves as a stable base for your rock and cave work. There are substrate products available that also help in buffering the PH and will keep it at the high range required by your fish. Coral sand or sand containing aragonite are recommended as they are excellent at performing this buffering. CaribSea’s Eco-Complete for cichlids is a good choice for your substrate, but any coral or aragonite sand should work fine. Crushed coral if around finely enough will also buffer the water and let your fish forage safely.

What Is The Best Substrate For A Freshwater Planted Aquarium? 

Choosing the right substrate for your freshwater planted tank requires you to put some thought into what type of fish and plants you will be keeping. Using gravel can pose the same problem of accumulating toxins and cause health issues with your fish. You can minimize these problems with vigorous gravel cleaning combined with regular water changes but there are other considerations. If you plan to keep any of the popular Cory catfish then you need to find a substrate that is not sharp as that can injure the delicate undersides and barbels of these fish. Some the more popular substrates designed for a planted aquarium are rather rough and will not serve well in a tank with Cory cats.

In some cases your best solution is to use two kinds of substrate. The bottom layer will be intended to promote plant growth and can be rough. Covering this with a thinner layer of a rounded gravel will protect your bottom dwelling fish while affording the benefits of the plant enhancing substances in the bottom layer of substrate. We will talk about the bottom layer designed to assist in plant growth.

Regularly, well washed sand will work in your planted tank but may pack too tightly to allow the root systems of certain aquatic plants to flourish. Mixing sand and some fine gravel can help with this issue. There are substrates specially designed for planted aquariums that will alleviate this problem. They are produced with a clay or lava base and are excellent at both biological filtration and promoting root growth. Two excellent products that are very similar are Flourite manufactured by SeaChem and CaribSea’s Eco-Complete for the planted aquarium.

Both of these substrates contain essential nutrients to promote plant growth. Flourite is made of a very porous clay gravel and is an excellent substrate for your plants. It does not soften the water or change PH levels. It will never need to be replaced for as long as your tank is operational. It is available in a regular sand variety as well as black, dark and red options. You can use this in a freshwater tank with or without plants.

Eco-Complete has similar properties. It is made from volcanic soil and contains many of the same nutrients and minerals as does Flourite. In addition it contains live bacteria that rapidly converts fish waste into plant food. This product is available as a very fine black substrate or a slightly larger red version. Either of these two products would be an excellent choice for the substrate in your planted aquarium.

What Is The Best Substrate For A Betta Tank?

Betta fish are kept in a large variety of different size tanks. Some aquarists will use very small tanks that will only house a single fish and some artificial decorations. In other cases a medium sized planted aquarium may be where you choose have your betta live. A betta needs a resting place in the tank so even in a small tank it is advised that you have at least one artificial plant for its use. Live plants are even better if that is an option you wish to pursue. You also want to choose natural colored gravel or sand for your betta tank. Though bright colors may appeal to the aquarist they can be the cause of undue stress in your specimens. The gravel’s colors will also compete with the fish’s natural coloration.

In a small tank that will only contain a betta it is critical not to use gravel that allows food particles to get trapped and disintegrate. With no bottom feeders to help clean up, any food going to the bottom will be subject to decay. Though bettas may lounge about the bottom your tank they are not bottom feeders and will not perform this duty in their tank. For this reason, large grained gravel or marbles are not to be used in a betta tank.

With these thoughts in mind we can see that in many cases the same substrate choices that work well for planted freshwater tanks will work well for your betta. If you are decorating with artificial plants then you do not need to go to the expense of a Flourite type of substrate, but sand would be an excellent choice. A betta tank with live plants will achieve the same benefits as those mentioned above for a freshwater planted aquarium.

What Is The Best Substrate For You Aquarium?

As you can see from the above discussion, this is a question that cannot be answered without asking other questions. Fish and plant selections are crucial to determining the substrate that will work best for you. A general rule for all tanks is that large grained gravel is problematic as bed for toxin production.

I hope this discussion has helped you in choosing a substrate for your aquarium. Take the time to plan your aquarium before purchasing the substrate and you will have a much easier time of maintaining a healthy and visually appealing tank.

Marineland Aquariums Review

If you are considering purchasing a new aquarium you have number of options. You can buy a tank, filter, lighting system and other necessary accessories separately. Several manufacturers have made your initial selection a little easier by offering complete aquarium kits that include many of the items you need to get started. We will look at the line of Marineland aquariums and see what they include in their packages. We will also briefly discuss several alternative aquarium kits.

Why Choose An Aquarium Kit?

Buying an aquarium can pose some confusing questions. Even after you decide on what size aquarium you will get you need to choose a filter and light that will work well with that aquarium. If you plan on keeping tropical fish you will also need a heater and thermometer. These are the essential accessories that you need to maintain a successful aquarium before you even consider selecting substrate, fish and plants or decorations.

Aquarium kits remove some of the confusion and potential mistakes you can make when selecting the basic items for your aquarium. When you buy an aquarium kit you will get a light and filter that are sized correctly for your tank. Most kits include other accessories such as a heater and thermometer. Some also come with food or water conditioner samples. Purchasing an aquarium kit simplifies your decision making and delivers everything you need to get started in one box. An aquarium kit is usually less expensive than buying all of the required items individually.

One potential drawback to an aquarium kit is that many of the components will be made by the same company. Some experienced aquarists may favor lighting systems and filters that come from two different manufacturers. This is a compromise that must be accepted if you want the ease and cost savings of a complete kit.

Marineland Aquariums

Marineland is one of the manufacturers offering complete aquarium kits. They have kits ranging in size from 3 gallon desktop units through various standard rectangular sizes. The largest complete kit Marineland has includes a 55 gallon tank and accessories. They all come with filter and lighting systems included. The smaller tanks up to 5 gallons in size do not include a heater but tanks 10 gallons and larger come with this important piece of equipment. When making your initial purchase all you need in addition to the aquarium kit is gravel or substrate.

You are now ready to get started whether you are new to the hobby or just want to easily set up a new tank.


  • Simplified purchasing decisions.
  • Filter and light correctly sized for the aquarium.
  • Larger tanks include a heater, thermometer, net and food samples.
  • Cost savings by buying a complete package.


  • No choice to mix and match various manufacturers’ equipment.
  • Lights may not be powerful enough for plants or corals needing high intensity light.

Marineland Aquarium Features And Benefits

Lighting System

All Marineland aquarium kits include an LED lighting system. These lights run cool and are very cost efficient to operate. The lights feature a 3 way toggle switch that enables you to choose between a shimmering daylight appearance and a more subdued, relaxing moonlight glow. The lights fit unobtrusively in the aquarium hood making for a sleek overall appearance of your aquarium. They are designed for standard aquarium applications and will serve well for a tank containing plants that require low to moderate light.


Every Marineland aquarium kit includes a properly sized filtration system. The smaller tanks that are under 5 gallons feature a hidden filtration system that uses Mainland Bio-Foam for biological filtration and have an adjustable flow filter pump. Larger system come with a Mainland filter that hangs on the back of the tank. These filters also perform biological filtration through the use of Marineland’s Bio-Wheel technology.

Appearance And Utility

The fact that all components are designed to work together as one unit make these tanks very appealing from an aesthetic point of view. Integrated lighting and filtration lead to an aquarium that looks good and will operate efficiently to care for the tank’s inhabitants.

Positive Reviews

I have seen positive review around the internet regarding the Mainland line of aquarium kits. Comments focus on the completeness of the kit, the brightness of the LED lights and the quiet operation of the filtration system. The multiple sizes available and overall quality made these kits a hit for many aquarists.


1. Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank Starter Kits

Aqueon offers aquarium starter kits in a variety of shapes and sizes ranging from small betta tanks to a full size 55 gallon tank. They come complete with LED lights, filters and in the larger sizes heaters, thermometers and other accessories.

2. Coralife Fish Tank LED BioCube Aquarium Starter Kits

The BioCube line of aquariums by Coralife offer more powerful LEDs that will be capable of maintaining a small reef environment. They also come with integrated filter systems specifically designed to perform in their tanks. These tanks are more expensive than some other starter kits but are a good choice if you require the increased light intensity they provide.

3. Tetra Aquarium Kits

Tetra is another well known name in the aquarium business that offers complete aquarium kits. With choices from a 1 gallon hex tank up to a full 55 gallon, they have options for all aquarists. Filters, lights, heaters and other accessories are included as with the kits available from other manufacturers.


The Mainland line of aquarium kits are a good choice if you are considering setting up a new tank. While these aquariums may not work if you are planning a reef tank or want houseplants requiring high light levels they are very good for an average planted or unplanted freshwater setup. Decide what type of fish and plants you will be keeping and then choose the correct size. Get some substrate when you buy the kit and then go home and have fun setting up.

What Is The Best 20 Gallon Aquarium?

In this article, we will look at some of the best options on the market today for the aquarist looking to purchase a 20 gallon aquarium. We will be focusing primarily on complete aquarium kits that include most of the accessories necessary to get your tank up and running. In our review we will point out features which may make one tank more suitable for your purposes than others. We hope to be able to help you identify the best 20 gallon aquarium kit for your needs.





Our rating


Marineland 20 Gallon LED BIO-Wheel Aquarium Kit

Included 200 Watt Submersible Heater, Fish Net, Thermometer, Food And Water Care Samples


Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank 20 Gallon Starter Kit

Included 20H glass aquarium, low profile LED full hood, Quiet Flow LED Pro Power Filter with medium cartridge, 100W preset heater, premium fish food, water conditioner, fish net, thermometer


Tetra 20 Gallon Aquarium Kit

included 20 Gallon Glass Aquarium, a LED hood, a Tetra Mini UL Heater, a Tetra Whisper 20 Filter, a artificial Boxwood Plant Mat, 4 artificial plant


Marina 20 Gallon LED Aquarium Kit

Includeed a Marina Slim S20 clip-on filter with quick-change filter cartridges


Carolina Biological Supply Company Deluxe Marine Aquarium Kit

Included 20 gallon all glass aquarium, an air pump and airline tubing, LED lights, 2 filters, under gravel filter,  A 100 watt heater,  a thermometer/hydrometer 15 pounds crushed coral.


CoralLife LED BioCube 16 Gallon Starter Kit

Right white, sparkling blue and color enhancing LEDs

Automatic 30 minute sunrise/sunset and 60 minute moonrise/moonset functions to replicate natural day cycle


Fluval Vista Aquarium Kit - 23 Gallons

Included LED lamp, An Aquaclear power filter, net, fish food, water conditioner and biological enhancer, heater and thermometer

Why Purchase A 20 Gallon Aquarium Kit?

There are many styles and sizes of aquariums that you can buy. In order to enable an easier route to getting started in the aquarium hobby, many manufacturers now offer complete kits. Hopefully you have given some thought concerning what you intend to keep in your aquarium before determining that a 20 gallon tank is the size that is appropriate. Major choices such as if you will have a planted or unplanted freshwater aquascape or a saltwater reef tank should be made before you actually buy the aquarium kit. The type and number of fish you would like to have also need to be considered.

A 20 gallon tank is sufficient to have a small reef environment or a freshwater community tank comprised of mostly small fish. You can create a stunning planted aquascape in a 20 gallon freshwater aquarium. This is a very nice size for new aquarists. Smaller tanks can be harder to maintain due to the possibilities of water chemistry issues that can more easily occur in a small tank.

Taking all these factors into account, let’s say that you have decided that a 20 gallon aquarium is what you would like to have. Now you need to find the best way to set up your tank correctly.

Aquarium kits are available from many manufacturers. These kits can greatly simplify the process of choosing the right equipment to complement the actual tank. Lighting systems that are included in these packages are designed for the specific tank in the kit. This can be easier than trying to find a light that will fit your tank and look good. Similar advantages can be obtained when considering the filtration system you will use. Aquarium kits come with a filter that is rated to adequately care for that specific size aquarium which again reduces the need to independently choose a filter. Many of the 20 gallon kits also include heaters, thermometers and other accessories like nets that are critical to tank maintenance.

Purchasing all of these components in a package often leads to substantial savings when compared to buying them individually. This can be a major factor in your decision to purchase a kit.

One potential drawback to buying an aquarium kit is that all of the components are coming from the same manufacturer. Experienced aquarists may have a favorite lighting system or filter that is not available in a kit. You may also have very specific lighting needs for the organisms in your tank that none of the packaged kits can address completely. In those cases you may want to do it yourself and just purchase a solitary tank, adding the other components that you favor to complete your system. If you are a new aquarist or just want to set up a quality tank in the simplest and most economical way, then an aquarium kit is the best way to go.

Some Of The Best 20 Gallon Aquarium Kits

We will now look at some specific 20 gallon aquarium kits. Some manufacturers make tanks that are not exactly 20 gallons but are close enough in size that we will include them in our review.

1. Marineland 20 Gallon LED BIO-Wheel Aquarium Kit

Marineland’s 20 gallon aquarium kit comes complete with everything you need to get started. Opening the box reveals a 20 gallon glass tank and hood. LED lighting integrated into the hood gives the tank a sleek, modern appearance. The lights stay firmly in place when the hood is opened for feeding or cleaning and you will never be replacing bulbs with this unit. A three position toggle switch lets you choose between bright daylight or cool blue moonlight. The hood itself is designed to allow for easy feeding and the addition of accessories such as a heater or tubing. Marineland manufactures stand alone filters featuring their BIO-wheel biological filtration system and includes one in this kit. The filter performs admirably keeping your water clear and removing toxins that are harmful to your fish.

This tank is suitable for fresh or saltwater fish though the lights will not support coral growth. It’s a fine choice for a freshwater planted tank. The kit also includes a 200 watt submersible heater, thermometer, fish net as well as food and water conditioning samples. There is also a setup guide included that walks you through installing all the components correctly. Here is a video demonstrating this aquarium.

2. Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank 20 Gallon Starter Kit

Aqueon’s 20 gallon starter kit is another complete starter kit that is suitable for a freshwater planted or unplanted tank. It can also be used for a fish only saltwater aquarium. Filtration is handled by an Aqueon QuietFlow filter that provides 4 stage filtration to ensure crystal clear water. The filter features a high flow rate and quiet operation. The kit contains a submersible preset heater, thermometer and net. Food and water conditioning samples are also included. LED lighting is incorporated into a sleek hood design but is limited to white light, not offering the moonlight option of some other LED systems. This kit is a reasonably priced entry into the aquarium hobby that offers good value for your money.

3. Tetra 20 Gallon Aquarium Kit

Tetra has long been a name associated with quality products for the aquarist. The 20 gallon aquarium kit they offer is another complete starter kit ideal for setting up a new tank. The kit includes all the accessories you need with a heater, thermometer and net. Samples of TertaMin fish food and Aquasafe water conditioner are included. The standard setup has an LED lighting system built into the hood that creates a shimmering daylight effect. There are no color options with the standard Tetra kit. It is energy efficient and you will never be replacing bulbs. The Whisper filtration system will keep your water clean and healthy by performing full three stage filtration employing filter floss, activated carbon and Biofoam. Tetra also offers a ColorFusion 20 gallon aquarium that allows cycling through different colors of LED lights or allows you to pick one and stop the cycling.

4. Marina 20 Gallon LED Aquarium Kit

Hagen has been a respected name in the aquarium hobby for many years. They produce this Marina 20 gallon kit. It features an LED lighting system built into the hood that produces light simulating natural daylight. A Marina Slim clip-on filter that incorporates a quick change filter cartridge is included. Rounding out the package is a fish net and samples of Hagen’s Nutrafin Max fish food and Nutrafin Plus water conditioner. A feature not found in other packages is the inclusion of Nutrafin Cycle which will get your tank off to a good start by introducing beneficial bacteria to your tank before you stock it. Unlike some of the other products we have looked at this kit does not come with a heater but does have a thermometer. This means there is at least one piece of equipment that you will need to add if keeping tropical fish. This is another kit adequate for starting a new aquarium.

5. Carolina Biological Supply Company Deluxe Marine Aquarium Kit

Here is a kit specifically designed for those aquarists specializing in saltwater aquariums. The company also has a freshwater kit but we will concentrate on the saltwater version as it contains everything that you need for setting up a saltwater tank with the exception of the marine organisms you will be keeping. In addition to a 20 gallon all glass aquarium an air pump and airline tubing is included. LED lights built into the hood will allow you to create a small reef environment in this tank. Two filters are included in this package. In addition to an in tank filter it also has an under gravel filter. A 100 watt heater and a thermometer/hydrometer round out the accessories. An extra bonus to get you started is the inclusion of 15 pounds crushed coral for substrate and enough sea salt mix to give you 20 gallons of saltwater for your tank. This company does not manufacture all of the components as we see in some of the other packages but rather has chosen what it sees as the best accessories to include in its kit. It is quite expensive in comparison to other 20 gallon starter kits but does provide more additional accessories than most competitors. A good choice for those saltwater aquarists who are not on a tight budget.

6. CoralLife LED BioCube 16 Gallon Starter Kit

Another option for the saltwater aquarist is the BioCube line from CoralLife. Though this tank is a little smaller than a 20 gallon tank it has some features that make it stand out from the crowd. It is designed to maintain a small marine reef environment. The integrated filter system that is built into the back of the tank will meet all your filtration needs giving full three stage performance and oxygenating your water before returning to the tank. You can customize the filter with your own choice of media if you wish. The tank is very appealing to the eye with a sleek, modern hood design that houses an excellent LED lighting system. White, blue and color enhancing LED bulbs give you a sparkling blue nighttime light and a bright daytime option. An integrated timer lets you program it to create a 30 minute sunrise/sunset and a 60 minute moonrise/moonset simulation. A quiet, submersible pump with an adjustable return nozzle rounds out the package. You will need to purchase a heater, thermometer and other accessories as this kit is all about the tank lights and filter. While this tank will work for a freshwater planted aquarium, it is designed primarily as a saltwater tank and is more expensive than other starter kits.

7. Fluval Vista Aquarium Kit - 23 Gallons

The Fluval Vista aquarium kit is a trifle larger than a 20 gallon tank but deserves mention due to its distinctive appearance and plentiful features. It features a seamless panoramic display that will show off your aquascape to great effect. The lighting system employs a soft start LED lamp that will slowly reach full brightness minimizing daily shock to your fish. An Aquaclear power filter and media are included the package ensuring clear, clean water. Other accessories included are a net, fish food, water conditioner and biological enhancer to promote healthy bacterial growth. The kit also comes with a heater and thermometer. This tank is recommended for use only as a freshwater aquarium. Fluval also makes stands specifically designed for this aquarium.

What Is The Best 20 Gallon Aquarium?

Now back to our original quest to identify the best 20 gallon aquarium. As you can see there are many options available to you. You can always use the D.I.Y. method and choose components from various manufacturers to get the look and performance you want. This is not really necessary with the quality of starter kits now available. You can find one that suits your budget and space and enjoy the convenience of purchasing an all-inclusive aquarium package.

If you are determined to keep your tank size to exactly 20 gallons then I would recommend the Marineland BIO-Wheel aquarium kit. Its high quality filter and lighting system make it an excellent choice. It comes with everything you need to get your tank up and running except the gravel, plants and fish. Those who can squeeze a little more space to house their aquarium might want to go with the Fluval Vista. The distinctive panoramic view and soft start lighting are features that stand out from the competition and will let you create a striking freshwater aquascape. Have fun choosing your aquarium and much luck with your future aquascape!

What Is The Best Light For Aquarium Plants?

The type of lighting you choose for your aquarium can make a huge difference in its appearance. If your tank contains live aquarium plants then the lighting chosen will also play a critical role in the viability of those plants. Picking the correct lighting can help your plants thrive while using the wrong lighting system will hinder your ability to obtain the beautifully planted tank you envisioned. We will look at some of the best lighting options concentrating on those that work best with a freshwater planted aquarium.

What Types Of Aquarium Lighting Are Available?

Aquarium lighting systems have improved tremendously from the time when simple incandescent bulbs were the industry standard. Many different lighting systems designed to perform different functions are now available for your tank. Let’s take a quick look at the major choices an aquarist has when deciding on their aquarium lighting.

An aquarium that contains imitation plants and decorations can get by with a basic and inexpensive incandescent light. This kind of light will adequately illuminate your fish and decorations. The incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat which can make resulting water temperature problematic. They also are not energy efficient, have shorter effective bulb life than fluorescents and will cost more to run than most other systems. Incandescent lights are usually not the best choice for your tank.

The next step up in lighting options are fluorescent lights. Though initially costing more than an incandescent fixture, the longer bulb life and energy efficiency make these lighting systems less expensive in the long run. Fluorescents come in many different intensities and light spectrums to allow the aquarist to choose a light that will enhance the appearance and health of their tank and its inhabitants. Common options for the aquarist are T8 bulbs which provide normal intensity light and T5 bulbs that generate high intensity light. You can obtain bulbs that are specifically manufactured to produce light in the blue and red regions of the color spectrum which is ideal for promoting aquatic plant growth. Compact fluorescents that increase the light output by using multiple bulbs can be used to save space while at the same time generating substantially more light. A fluorescent lighting system is a good choice for many planted aquariums.

Metal halide lights are high intensity discharge systems. They have long been popular among saltwater enthusiasts whose tanks require very high intensity light. Reef tanks in particular can benefit from this type of light. Metal halides are also good for tanks over 24 inches deep. Obtaining the intensity of illumination of metal halides with other types of lighting can be challenging in a tank of this depth. These lights generate a lot of heat and need to be used with a chiller or fan to counteract the heat production, so they are not the most economical choice.

LEDs or light emitting diode lights are a fairly new addition to aquarium lighting. The method of light generation employed by LEDs is called electroluminescence. LED lights will cost more initially but use a very cost efficient manner of producing light that makes these lights less expensive to run than all other types of aquarium lights. This type of lighting also generates very little heat. LED lights can easily support aquatic plant life. They are rated with a PAR value to assist you in making your choice. PAR stands for Photosynthetically Active Radiation and indicates that the light generated is in the spectral range required by photosynthetic organisms. PAR values can change at different water depths so care must be taken to choose a light that will be adequate for your particular aquarium. LEDs are becoming more popular for aquarium enthusiasts and come with many features such as remote control and lighting effects that are not present in other lighting systems.

Variations In Aquatic Plant Light Requirements

Not all aquatic plants will flourish in the same lighting conditions. Using the incorrect light intensity will lead to disappointing results. Plants that do well with low to moderate light intensities include some very popular varieties such as the Amazon sword plant and the Java fern. A single fluorescent or LED fixture will be sufficient to successfully grow these plants. Other species like the Sagittaria family and Hygrophilia require more intense light and will benefit from multiple fluorescent lights, a good compact fluorescent fixture or an LED system. Even higher intensity is required to provide adequate light for some other plant species. The Bacopa and Cabomba species fall into the category of plants that need intense light to thrive. High intensity T5 fluorescent bulbs in a reflector housing or a sufficiently powered LED system are your best bet if you are planning on keeping these kinds of plants.

As you can see there are some decisions to be made regarding what plant species you intend to keep in your aquarium before choosing the lighting system. A tank containing lush aquatic plants is beautiful to look at and will enhance the lives of your fish by providing the most natural environment possible in an aquarium setting. You definitely should consider high quality fluorescent lights at a minimum and if your budget can handle it you may want to move up to an LED system. They are becoming more reasonably priced and will do great job of lighting your planted tank. LEDs also run cooler and cost less to operate after the initial purchase.

Some Of The Best Lights For Aquarium Plants

We will now look at several different lights that are excellent at promoting aquatic plant growth. Our review will encompass both fluorescent and LED lighting fixtures. 

1. All Glass Aquarium Fluorescent Strip Light

Manufactured by All Glass Aquarium under the imprint Aqueon, this is a good entry level light for those wanting to employ fluorescent lights in their aquarium. It is available as either a strip light to replace another fixture or a full hood that opens to allow for easy fish feeding. These lights are designed for freshwater use and can handle any T8 fluorescent tube. The fixture comes with a full spectrum light suitable for general aquarium needs but can be fitted with an Aqueon Floramax bulb more conducive to plant growth. The intensity generated by this fixture and bulb is suitable for plants requiring low to moderate light to flourish. It comes in many sizes from 16 to 48 inches and has models designed to work perfectly with a bow-front or hexagonal shaped tank.

2. GLO T5 HO, Single Light High Output Linear Fluorescent Lighting System

Hagen has long been a trusted name in aquarium products. They are the manufacturers of this GLO T5 High Output fluorescent lighting system. Upgrading from T8 bulbs to the stronger T5 bulbs make this fixture perfect for the planted freshwater aquarium. It has a built in reflector to increase light reflection and intensity. Available in sizes from 24 to 54 inches this light is easily installed on many size tanks using the unit’s integrated extension brackets. The slim design will let you place up to six of these on an aquarium that is 18 inches wide so you can get all the light you need for any type of plants you are keeping. This fixture is water resistant negating the need for a glass top to protect your lighting system and will work with any properly sized T5 replacement bulbs. Flora-Glo bulbs made by Hagen will produce light in the blue-red spectrum that is ideal for growing aquatic plants. This is a good choice for the aquarist requiring more light than a T8 system while still remaining more affordable than some LED systems.

3. Fluval Aquasky LED system

Fluval’s Aquasky LED lighting system is designed to provide lighting options suitable for aquarium plants requiring low to moderate light intensity. As with many LED systems if affords the aquarist many opportunities to create lighting effects to enhance the tank’s appearance while at the same time generating adequate light to grow your plants. The infrared remote control enables you to simulate different weather effects like a cloudy day or a lightning storm. The Aquasky comes in a variety of sizes and each unit is expandable by 12 inches to further allow use on tanks of varying size. Fluval has priced the Aquasky aggressively and it is one of the more reasonably priced LED units on the market. Its energy efficient operation and 50,000 hour bulb life will offset the initial price tag. Fluval’s dual lamp timer is compatible with this light enabling you to set it up, program it and forget about it. It will provide vibrant light and encourage plant growth for years to come.

4. Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Aquarium LED Light

The FugeRay Planted+ LED light by Finnex is an excellent choice for a planted aquarium. Designed for any size tank, one feature that sets this light apart is the concentration on the red portion of the light spectrum that is critical for promoting plant growth. Rather than using cheaper red LEDs the FugeRay incorporates 660nm red LEDs which produce a wavelength that has been shown to be one of the most efficient for promoting photosynthesis. Other features include a splash guard to prevent water mishaps and a moonlight feature that concentrates on the blue LEDs to create a pleasing nighttime appearance. A slim design and unique leg fixture lets you mount the FugeRay on any size aquarium. No extra cooling is required as the unit handles heat dissipation itself. Finnex promises a long bulb life of 40,000 hours. Though this unit does not have weather simulation options like some other systems, it produces excellent light for your aquarium plants and is a good choice if you are looking to go with an LED light.

5. Marineland Aquatic Plant LED Light With Timer

The Aquatic Plant LED by Marineland is another reasonably priced lighting system designed to keep your aquarium plants flourishing. Its secure mounting legs will fit any aquarium from 18 to 60 inches length. An integrated clock and timer allow for easy programming of daylight and lunar modes and ensure that your plants will always receive the amount of light they need without daily intervention. It has an appealing slim design that will complement your aquarium. A newly redesigned dispersion lens perfectly blends the light for optimum results and produces a natural shimmer effect. It does not offer the weather simulation possibilities of more expensive units but will certainly help you in keeping a lush, planted aquarium.

What Is The Best Light For Aquarium Plants?

You want the best lighting system you can get for your aquarium plants. Cost considerations may come into play when making your decision. While there are fluorescent lighting systems that will do an adequate job of promoting good plant growth, LED technology gives the aquarist more flexibility in creating interesting lighting effects while still caring for the plants. LED lights are now becoming price competitive with fluorescent lights and over the long run may prove to cost less to operate when factoring in bulb life and energy use.

For the aquarist who wants to combine a high quality LED light designed for your plants with the ability to create weather effects that are interesting to observe the Fluval Aquasky is a good choice. If your interest is purely in providing your aquarium with a great light that will enable you to create the lush plant growth you desire I would recommend the Mairineland Aquatic Plant LED with the integrated timer. While it does not offer remote control capabilities, the timer gives you plenty of control without needing any additional equipment. The Mainland unit is a quality, reasonably priced lighting system that will be a welcome addition to your aquarium setup. Your plants will love it!

What Is The Best Filter For A Planted Tank?

In this article we will look at some of the best filters for a freshwater planted aquarium. Filtration is key to maintain any aquarium’s health and appearance. Planted tanks often require specific lighting and water conditions for the resident plants to thrive. Proper filtration is key in creating and maintaining these water conditions. Many systems allow the addition of various media to assist in the manipulation of water characteristics such as hardness that are necessary for your plants’ survival.

Why Use Filtration For Your Planted Tank?

Most aquariums benefit from the use of a filtration system. Though there are some aquarists who go completely low tech and attempt to maintain a planted aquarium without filtration, this is not the norm. The majority of us use filters to keep the water circulating in our tanks and to keep them clean and healthy for the plants and animals we choose to keep.




Gallon Per Hour

Our Rating


Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

115 gph - 350 gph


Hydor Professional External Canister Filter

190 gph - 345 gph 


AquaClear Power Filter - 110 V

100 gph - 500 gph


EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter with Media

42gph - 92 gph


Fluval C Power Filter

119 gph - 264 gph

Aquatic plants derive many of their nutrients through their contact with the water and even a gently flowing circulation will improve the plants’ ability to extract these vital substances. A filtration system adequate for your size tank will provide this water circulation. While water circulation can also be obtained without filtration by use of a powerhead to simply move the water around, your fish will benefit from good mechanical and biological filtration. The plants themselves perform biological filtration and at some point in a heavily planted tank may eliminate the need for additional filtration of this kind. Mechanical filtration which removes particles from the water to keep it clear can not be neglected. In a closed system such as an aquarium mechanical filtration is vital to the system’s long term viability.

Since the aquatic plants in your tank rely on water movement, an aquarium filled with stagnant, stationary water will not do your plants or fish any good. That being said, you also do not want an extremely vigorous water circulation. Filters come rated for a specific size aquarium usually based on a gallon per hour (GPH) number. This indicates the number of gallons of water your filter will move in an hour. In general for a planted aquarium you should start with a filter that can move 7 to10 times the amount of water in your tank. I currently have a 10 gallon planted aquarium with a filter rated at 75 gallons per hour and it moves the water quite nicely. You do not want to overdo the flow rate as you want your plants to at most be gently swaying in the water, not pinned down beneath a strong flow. This will allow optimal nutrient absorption by your plants and will also allow your fish to find peaceful areas of the tank where they do not have to fight the current to remain stationary and rest.

The amount of water moved is not the only factor to look at when considering circulation. The direction of the flow is important in distributing the nutrients and CO2 that your plants need. The best way to achieve this is with a flow coming from the back of the aquarium. The water should flow from the rear to the front of the tank without breaking the surface of the water. It will then flow down the front of the tank to the substrate and then return to the filtration system by moving across the bottom of the tank. This creates a front to back circular motion of your tank’s water. The flowing water will in this way contact all your plants and keep them nutritionally satisfied.

Chemical filtration needs to be addressed with some caution in a planted tank. Carbon, which is a standard in many filtrations systems, can adversely affect your plants. Filters that allow the addition of buffers that adjust water hardness to levels compatible with your plants can be beneficial when used correctly.

Types Of Filters

Filters are available in a variety of configurations for your aquarium. All of these filters require maintenance to keep them in good working condition. Some filters have reusable filter pads and sponges that can be cleaned and used many times. Other filters use cartridges that are disposable and require replacement every time you clean your filter. There are pros and cons to each type of filter and it is often a matter of personal choice as to the filter you will purchase. As we will see, some types of filters will definitely work better in a planted tank than others.

The two main types of filters suitable for your planted tank are canister filters and hang on the back (HOB) filters. They both have some advantages and disadvantages as we will discuss below.

Canister filters are very efficient in maintaining your aquarium and offer flexibility when considering filter media or buffers to change or maintain your water chemistry. On the positive side canister filters require maintenance less often and usually allow control of the water return through a spray bar attachment. Keeping this spray bar underwater is the best way to use it and it can create excellent water circulation throughout your aquarium to the benefit of all plants and fish. A canister filter will usually be located below your tank with only room for hoses needed behind the tank which allows you to place your aquarium closer to a wall. In most cases they have reusable filter media reducing the need to purchase replacements. Though requiring maintenance less often, canister filters are more complicated to clean and restart than an HOB filter. These filters are available for larger size aquariums so that can be a determining factor when choosing your filter. Canisters are not recommended for small aquariums. Canister filters are also more expensive than HOB filters.

 HOB filters are a great choice for aquariums of up to 55 gallons if you plan on using just one filter. They can be used in larger aquariums if multiple units are employed. HOBs are generally less expensive than canister filters and can be obtained in sizes that work for very small tanks. Maintenance is simpler with an HOB filter but the media often is comprised of disposable filter cartridges which will add to the expense of maintaining your filter. They are easy to set up but do need some space to fit behind your tank. HOB filters are less flexible in directing the return water flow from the filter though some of the newer models do have a flow control to allow some variation in flow rate. Some HOB filters can be a little noisy.

Undergravel filters are not really appropriate for a planted aquarium. The plants roots can get tangled in the grates and hinder the filter flow. Cleaning an undergravel filter also entails taking your tank apart. This is not something that an aquarist who has worked hard to achieve a nicely planted aquarium will want to deal with.

Some Of The Best Filters For A Planted Tank

Here are some of the best filters you can purchase for your freshwater planted tank.

1. Fluval C4 Power Filter

The Fluval C4 Power Filter is an HOB filter that will work well on planted tanks up to 50 gallons in size. It provides extensive mechanical, biological and chemical filtration through a 5 step process that leads to clear and healthy aquarium water. A feature of this filter that is especially important for a planted aquarium is that it uses a patented refiltration system that allows you to control the water output. You can slow it down to protect delicate plants and fish and allow the plants optimal nutrient absorption. Maintenance can be performed in stages due to its modular design, allowing you to replace or clean only one type of media at a time. This filter combines some of the best features of a canister filter with the ease of use of an HOB. It is designed to allow customization of the filter media if so desired, to say replace carbon with another biological filtration pad, or hardness buffers to protect your plants. It includes a telescoping intake tube to allow water to be drawn from whatever depth you desire. A nice choice in an HOB filter.

2. Eheim Classic Canister Filter

Eheim has been making canister filters for a long time. The Eheim Classic is available in various sizes to suit many aquariums, and allows for a canister to be used in a fairly small setting. It provides the benefits of a canister filter mentioned above and comes with a spray bar, eliminating the need for extra accessories. It is very quiet and energy efficient. The Classic can be used with filter pads or filled with loose filter media of your choosing. Some users found it to be difficult to prime but in all other aspects it is a great choice for a canister filter and will do the job of maintaining your planted aquarium.

3. AquaClear Power Filter

The AquaClear Power Filter is available in different sizes that are excellent for planted aquariums up to 55 gallons. Its multi-stage filtration system provides complete mechanical, biological and chemical filtration. It runs quietly which is a big factor when looking at HOB filters. AquaClear uses a unique waterfall system that gently and silently returns the filtered water to your aquarium. As with the Fluval C4, this filter gives you some flow control often only found in a canister filter and enables you to slow down the water flow rate to protect your plants. It is easy to set up and its media baskets make for easy maintenance. This filter features a large filtration volume that produces extended contact time between filter media and water. You can use additional media to perform custom chemical filtration by adding your own bulk materials to the media baskets. The AquaClear Power filter will serve you well in your quest to keep your planted tank looking great.

4. Hydor Professional External Canister Filter

The Hydor Professional External Canister Filter is another fine choice for your planted tank. It comes complete with a spray bar to control water flow and is available for use in aquariums up to 150 gallons. It is easy to use and set up featuring an easy priming mechanism. The filter is manufactured to run silently with little vibration and allows for various combinations of filter media. It is a little more expensive than some other canister filters but its exceptional quality offsets that expense. The square design makes it a space saver as well. An excellent choice in a canister filter for your tank.

5. Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter

The Cascade filter by Penn Plax is a very economical choice in a canister filter. Its available models offer very effective filtration for both small and large tanks. The filter has a simple push button priming mechanism to eliminate problems when restarting the unit. This filter is easy to install and will take about 30 minutes to get up and running. Large media baskets extend the time between required maintenance and let you use the filter media of your choice. Sturdily constructed and quiet to operate, the Cascade filter is ideal for those wanting to check out a canister filter but reluctant to spend a lot of money.

What Is The Best Filter For Your Planted Tank?

All of these filters will do a good job of maintaining the health and appearance of your planted aquarium. As for all filters, be sure to purchase the proper size. Even the best filter will not work on a tank larger than it is designed to handle. There are both power HOB filters and canister filters available for most size tanks and you can always use more than one for a very large aquarium. Though you cannot go wrong with any of these filters, I would recommend the Fluval C4 Power Filter as the best filter for your planted aquarium. Its winning combination of canister filter properties and HOB ease of use brings this filter to the top of my list. Whichever filter you choose I wish you great success in your endeavor to create a planted aquarium that you will be proud to display.

Fluval Aquasky LED

Aquarium lighting serves a number of purposes. Lighting can be used simply to enhance the appearance of your tank and show off your fish. If your aquarium will be used to grow live plants, then the type of lighting chosen becomes more important. The Fluval Aquasky LED lighting system is designed to promote aquatic plant growth in plants requiring low to mid light levels. It is also suitable for a saltwater aquarium that only houses fish.

Considerations When Choosing A Lighting System

The type of aquarium you plan to keep will dictate the kind of lighting system you should purchase to achieve the best results. Simple incandescent lights are sufficient for a freshwater aquarium that will be decorated with artificial plants. A planted freshwater tank will benefit from a lighting system that will assist in the plants’ growth. Fluorescent lighting has been the best choice available for a planted tank with bulbs designed to concentrate on the portions of the light spectrum most beneficial to plants. Recently, LED lighting has become more popular with aquarists. LED lights enable more control over the light spectrum emitted from a single fixture so you can tune it to the exact parameter that most benefit your plants.

LED lights are also used by aquarists to promote coral growth, but not all LEDs are suitable for that purpose. You need to buy the correct light for the aquarium you want to keep. While LED lighting is more expensive to purchase initially, there are cost savings in its energy efficiency and longer lasting bulbs. The unique properties of LED lights warrant your consideration when choosing your aquarium lighting.

Fluval Aquasky LED

The Fluval Aquasky LED lighting system is a hood type fixture that mounts across the top of your aquarium. It comes in a variety of sizes and can be used on tanks from 24-60 inches in length. The lighting package includes an infrared remote to control the lighting intensity and to create different effects such as a cloudy day or a lightning storm. This light does not have the full spectrum intensity required by live corals, but is great for freshwater plants requiring low to mid level light. It is manufactured to withstand water splashing so can be mounted close to the water’s surface to enable better light penetration.


  • 1. Promotes freshwater plant growth.
  • 2. Remote control enables color selection and weather effects.
  • 3. Energy efficient.
  • 4. Reasonably priced compared to other LED systems.
  • 5. Available in a number of sizes to fit most aquariums.


  • 1. Not recommended for tanks with corals.
  • 2. No light switch means you need to use the remote to turn the light on and off.
  • 3. May not work as well for plants requiring extremely high levels of light.

Fluval Aquasky Features And Benefits

Easy to use and install

Each Fluval Aquasky unit is adjustable and can expand up to 12 inches to cover various size tanks. It has an IP67 waterproof rating meaning it will not be adversely affected by splashing water and can be used to replace any lighting system with no additional hardware.

Here is a short video demonstrating installation and some of the light’s features.

Remote Control Capabilities

There are several options regarding remote control for this lighting unit. It comes with the Skypad infrared remote controller which enables color and brightness adjustments. The controller can also recreate various sky effects and has a memory to allow you to save up to 4 different settings.

There are 11 preset sky effects built into the controller. This light is also compatible with Fluval’s dual lamp timer which opens up even more customization of your aquarium’s lighting. Here is a demonstration of some of the various effects you can achieve with the Aquasky.

Durability and Price

The Aquasky comes with a 3 year warranty so keep the box and receipt. The company claims a 50,000 hour lamp life under normal operating circumstances which works out to over 5 years. This is a nice lifetime for an aquarium lighting unit. It is priced aggressively and is a good choice for those venturing into LED lights as an alternate to their fluorescent lighting systems.

Very Positive Reviews

The Aquasky receives very positive reviews for both enhanced plant growth and the multiple lighting effects it can create. The only negative reviews were from those aquarists who inadvertently bought this light thinking that any LED system is suitable for coral. All Aquasky users with freshwater planted tanks were very happy with its results.


1. Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus Light Aquarium

This lighting fixture compares in price and features to the Aquasky. It is a lightweight full hood LED light that will work nicely on a freshwater planted aquarium. Remote control of light color and effects is included with this light.

2. Finnex FugeRay Planted Aquarium LED Light

The Finnex Fugeray is a more economical choice when purchasing LED lights. The light performs very well for planted freshwater tank but does not have the remote control capability of the other models discussed. Its lighting effects are limited to a daylight and moonlight setting.

3. Marineland Aquatic Plant LED Light With Timer

Marineland LEDs are a very popular alternative among fresh and saltwater aquarists. They are reasonably priced and come in a variety of sizes. This light comes with an integrated timer to make it easy to maintain optimal lighting conditions for your tank. It does have a shorter bulb life span than the Aquasky and some other LED fixtures.


The Fluval Aquasky is good choice for the aquarist wishing to add an LED lighting system to their freshwater planted aquarium. The light control possibilities combined with the special effects that can be created by this unit make this a versatile fixture that will serve you well. Features such as its waterproof rating and extremely long lasting bulb life coupled with a reasonable price make this an LED lighting system that you should seriously consider when upgrading your aquarium lights. If interested you can check it out here.

EcoComplete Substrate

Your aquarium’s substrate is the foundation on which your aquascape is built. Choosing the wrong substrate can make it hard or impossible to create the environment you desire. EcoComplete Substrate is manufactured by CaribSea with the goal of making your tank more easy to manage by adding nutrients and minerals to your substrate. EcoComplete comes in two varieties. One is designed to be used in a planted aquarium while the other is for use by those aquarists specializing in African cichlids.

Considerations When Choosing Substrate

Your aquarium’s substrate is an important but often overlooked part of your tank’s initial setup. Choices need to be made when first setting up a tank. You need to consider if it will be fresh or saltwater. In the case of a freshwater tank you need to decide if you will have a tank with live plants or if you will be going with artificial decorations. The type of fish you will keep also needs to be considered as certain substrates are not suitable for some fish species. In some instances using the wrong substrate can have catastrophic effects on your fish.

An example is using small, pea sized gravel with goldfish as this will lead to ingestion of the gravel and injury to your fish. Using the wrong substrate in planted aquariums can pose difficulties in getting the root system to grow properly and hinder the ability of the plants to thrive. If you plan on keeping African cichlids very strict water conditions need to be maintained to ensure their health. These fish need a high PH in order to survive and that can be challenging when using ordinary substrate.

EcoComplete Substrate

The EcoComplete line of aquarium substrates by CaribSea solve some of the problems encountered with both planted aquariums and African cichlid tanks. The addition of trace elements and PH buffering minerals can greatly increase the chances of your success in keeping these kinds of tanks. The planted tank substrate is sized to allow for maximum root growth of your plants.


  • Easier to maintain a planted freshwater aquarium.
  • Helps maintain proper PH for your cichlid tank.
  • Makes initial cycling of your new tank easier.


  • EcoComplete is more expensive than other substrates available.
  • Only 2 color choices for planted aquariums.
  • Can cause rising PH levels in planted tanks when introduced to an existing tank.
  • In some cases can raise water hardness level.

EcoComplete Substrate Features and Benefits

EcoComplete For Planted Tanks

This substrate will get your planted aquarium off to a great start. It is made with rich basaltic volcanic soil that contains iron, calcium, magnesium and more than 25 other trace elements to nourish your aquatic plants. EcoComplete substrate for planted tanks is sized correctly with highly porous spherical grains to allow for maximum root growth of your plants. It also contains contains live Heterotrophic bacteria. These bacteria are helpful in rapidly converting fish waste into natural food for your aquatic plants. The initial tank cycling that is critical to an aquarium’s success is assisted by the live water-purifying bacteria that are included in this substrate. It comes packed in a Liquid Amazon black water solution that enables immediate use with no rinsing. It is available in black and red as seen here.

EcoComplete For African Cichlid Tanks

African cichlids require high PH to thrive or even survive. EcoComplete eliminates the need to dose your aquarium with chemicals to maintain the proper PH levels. This is accomplished by the addition of such minerals as aragonite, calcium and magnesium among other trace elements. Its composition mimics the natural environment of the African Rift Lakes that are the natural home of these cichlids. It is packed in a water conditioning solution and can be used out of the bag with no rinsing necessary. EcoComplete is manufactured to allow for maximum surface area to encourage the growth of beneficial water cleansing bacteria. Cycling of a new aquarium is speeded by the addition of live water-purifying bacteria contained in this substrate. It is available in a number of colors and sizes as seen here.

Users Like This Product

There are many positive reviews for both varieties of EcoComplete Substrate. In addition to being great for plant growth the dark color gets raves for bringing out the vibrant colors of tropical fish. The cichlid product gets great reviews as well both for maintaining optimum water conditions for the fish and highlighting their colors as well.


1. Flourite

Seachem’s plant enriching substrate is called Flourite. It is a reasonable alternative to EcoComplete in that it also introduces iron and other minerals into your tank’s substrate reducing the need for other plant foods and supplements. Flourite is made of red clay that will not break down in your aquarium. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes as you can see here.

2. ADA Aquasoil “Amazonia”

This is another substrate designed to enhance your planted aquarium. It contains buffers to maintain water PH at 6.8 which is perfect for the Amazonian aquatic life it is designed to complement. This PH may not be suitable for the fish you will be keeping so caution should be taken when deciding which substrate to buy. Amazonia is also more expensive than the other plant enriching substrates.

3. Nature’s Ocean Bio-Active Live African Cichlid Substrate

Here is an alternative for those keeping African cichlids rather than planted aquariums. It promises to maintain proper PH for the life of your tank. It also contains live bacteria to assist with tank cycling. It comes in a number of colors and grades to allow you to create a natural looking environment for your cichlids.


The EcoComplete family of substrate products can greatly enhance your aquarium keeping experience by reducing cycling time and simplifying tank maintenance. The PH buffering the cichlid substrate and the plant enriching nutrients of the planted tank product means you will not need to add additional chemicals to achieve a beautiful tank. You should checkout this product by clicking here.

AI Prime HD Aquarium LED Light

Lighting is a very important aspect of aquarium keeping. There are many lighting options available to the aquarist that can perform varied functions. Choosing the correct lighting can be challenging. You may plan to use your lighting to enhance the tank’s appearance by highlighting the colors of the fish and decor. In other cases your lighting is key to the promotion of plant and coral growth. The AI Prime HD LED aquarium light can be used for any of your aquarium lighting needs but is especially useful to those growing corals and plants.

Considerations When Choosing A Lighting System

The inhabitants of your aquarium will influence the type of lighting you want to obtain. A tank with artificial plants and decorations may get by with a simple incandescent light. Fluorescent light has long been the standard for freshwater aquarists with planted tanks. These lights are also used for saltwater tanks that have live rock and coral. LED lighting has recently become popular in the aquarium field and has some advantages over the other lighting types. It is economical due to its long lamp life and energy saving compared to other lights. LED lights allow for fine tuning of the light spectrum emitted giving more control in encouraging plant and coral growth. LEDs can be set up to mimic sunrise, sunset and moonlight giving your tank lighting that is as close to nature as possible. Bulb heat transfer to the aquarium which can be problematic with other lighting systems does not occur with LED lights.

LED lights are a great choice for the aquarist planning on a saltwater or reef aquarium. They also work well when used for a freshwater planted tank. They are more expensive than other lighting systems but some of this expense is offset by their energy efficiency. Their unique properties may make it worth the money when choosing your lights. LED systems are available in many different sizes and styles to complement your aquarium.

AI Prime HD Aquarium LED Light

Aqua illumination’s AI Prime HD Aquarium LED light is a compact, powerful and versatile LED fixture that will work well for any kind of aquarium. The Prime HD is the successor to the company’s original AI Prime and offers more power and customization that the original model. Its hyper drive technology allows for maximum light output while only drawing 55 watts of electricity to operate. It is a high tech lighting fixture that is perfect for a small reef or coral environment. It comes Wi-Fi enabled and offers optional mounting arms for optimal placement on a rimmed or rimless tank.


  • Customizable lighting spectrum.
  • Various mounting options available.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity for increased control.
  • Energy efficient.


  • More expensive than some LED lights.
  • Not suitable to be used singly for large aquariums.
  • Might not work as well on very deep tanks due to power limitations.
  • Not as strong in the white light portion of the spectrum as some would like.

AI Prime HD Features And Benefits

Spectrum Customization

Through the use of carefully chosen LEDs this unit gives you the capability of customizing the light spectrum that the device emits. This is a very nice feature that can be critical for getting problem corals or plants to respond positively to your lighting. You can tune the specifications to get exactly what your organisms need.

Mounting Options

Three different mounting options are available for the Prime HD. It can be suspended over your tank with the hanging kit or mounted on the aquarium. Two types of tank mounts are available permitting flexibility in placement and use. Individual corals and plants can be targeted much more easily than with full hood type LED lights.

Wi-Fi Control

The Prime HD comes Wi-Fi enabled. The self-contained Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a separate controller. An app called myAI controls the device and can be used on any smartphone, Android device or an Apple or Windows computer. Using the app allows remote control of one or several devices and enables you to create some very impressive lighting displays. Here is a video demonstrating the Prime HD as it recreates a lightning storm over this salt water aquarium.

Positive Reviews

I have found many satisfied users of the A1 Prime HD when searching the internet. The features most mentioned are its flexibility in placement and lighting spectrum. Users also state that the unit is very quiet during operation. The control afforded by the built in Wi-Fi is another feature that pleases aquarists using this light.


1. Current USA Orbit Marine Pro Marine Reef LED Lighting System

This unit is a full hood LED lighting system. It is about equal in price for use on small aquariums and also comes in larger sizes so you could use a single unit rather than several of the AI Prime. It is good for coral growth and is controllable as to the color spectrum emitted. The full hood design makes it somewhat less flexible than the AI Prime.

2. AquaticLife Reef Edition EDGE LED Aquarium Light

Another full hood type unit, this LED light is a less expensive alternative to the AI Prime. It does not offer the level of control that the AI Prime does. The lights are controlled by a timer that works in 10 minute increments rather than through a Wi-Fi connection.

3. EcoTech Marine Radion™ XR15W G4 Pro LED Light Fixture

This ExoTech LED light is more expensive than the AI Prime. It is slightly more powerful and may enable a single light to cover a larger portion of your aquarium. It is customizable through Wi-Fi access and is a tank mounted unit thereby enabling placement options.


The AI Prime HD is an excellent choice for the aquarist requiring lighting designed to promote coral or plant growth. The multiple mounting options give you enhanced flexibility in placement and light targeting. Its quiet operation, customizable light spectrum and remote control operation make this an LED you should checkout. Click here to take a look.

The Best Substrate For Goldfish

Goldfish are one of the most popular fish amongst aquarists. Though they can grow quite large as adults and therefore demand a large tank they can tolerate cold water and do not require a heated aquarium. They are also very commonly found in outdoor, man-made ponds and water gardens.

Choosing the correct substrate for your goldfish is critical because they spend a good portion of their time sifting through it in search of food particles. Goldfish also produce a lot of waste especially as the tank’s temperature increases. For this reason certain substrates are not as suitable for goldfish as for other types of freshwater fish. While having a substrate will improve both the tank’s appearance and your fish’s well-being, using the wrong material can be harmful to your goldfish. In this list we will look at the substrates available to use when keeping goldfish and will point out why some substrates should definitely be avoided.

1. Bare Bottom Tank

Some aquarists choose to go with the bare bottom approach and eliminate all substrate. While this may make it easier to clean your tank, it denies the goldfish the foraging that is a natural behavior of this species. It also leads to a rather drab appearance and will limit your ability to decorate the tank. You will find it difficult to place rocks or other decorations with no substrate to use for stability.

2. Small Gravel

Small, pea-sized gravel is one of the most popularly available substrates in the aquarium world. While it is an excellent choice for some applications, it is not the recommended substrate for goldfish. It may be acceptable to keep smaller goldfish in a tank with small gravel but as they grow the gravel becomes a problem. As the goldfish forage through the gravel, they can be prone to swallowing some particles. This can lead to serious negative health effects such as ruptured digestive tracts. A larger fish is more apt to accidentally swallow some gravel so as your fish grows you will need to replace this type of substrate.

The space between the gravel particles also allows for the copious waste generated by these fish to be trapped. As it decomposes the waste forms toxins at the bottom of the tank. Goldfish spend a lot of time at the tank’s bottom and exposure to these toxins can lead to a degraded immune system and cause your fish to be more susceptible to disease.

3. Large Gravel

Larger sized gravel eliminates the problem of the fish swallowing the individual pieces. Unfortunately this kind of substrate leads to even more and larger spaces between particles where waste can be trapped. This will lead to similar problems with toxins that are harmful to your fish. In general gravel is not a recommended substrate for your goldfish.

4. Soil

Aquarists looking to save money will sometimes attempt to use regular soil as a substrate. While this will not do any harm to your goldfish, their digging and foraging will put this soil into suspension in your tank’s water leading to an unattractive, messy looking tank.

5. Crushed Coral/Shells

Water hardness can be a benefit to the scales and fins of your goldfish. Using crushed coral or shells will help maintain high water hardness levels. These substance should not be placed in the tank as a substrate but instead can used in your filter system to increase water hardness. The crushed coral often features sharp edges that will damage your goldfish as they go about their foraging.

6. Marbles

I have seen marbles used as a substrate in goldfish tanks at pet shops. These environments are not set up for long term habitation. While they are colorful and may give your tank a distinctive look, marbles have all the same detrimental characteristics as large sized gravel. Toxins will be produced and the marbles make it nearly impossible to keep a planted tank. Not recommended as a substrate for a goldfish aquarium.

7. Sand

Sand is by far your best choice of substrate for a goldfish aquarium. Sand does not allow the waste to get trapped below as the waste remains on the sand’s surface. This eliminates the problem of toxins associated with using a gravel substrate. Some gas buildup is possible with a sand substrate, but purchasing a sand designed for aquarium use rather than play sand will reduce these issues. Aquarium sand can be found in different colors though white is recommended as waste products are more apparent against a darker background.

The sand forms a perfect bed for your foraging goldfish. They will dig happily throughout the day as they search for food. The fish may ingest some sand particles but this will not prove harmful. It may even be beneficial to the fish in helping to clear out its digestive system. It has been suggested that the sand can irritate the goldfish’s gills but this idea has been disproved. Sand is also an excellent choice to use when considering a planted goldfish aquarium. Your goldfish will enjoy the addition of live plants and using sand allows for their proper care and placement.

The Best Substrate For Goldfish

Keeping your goldfish happy and healthy should be your goal as an aquarist and finding the right substrate will go a long way in achieving your desired results. Sand is the best choice of substrate when keeping goldfish as it provides the fish with the same ability to forage they would find in their natural environments. It is the best choice when combining live plants with goldfish and will allow all tank inhabitants to flourish.

What Is The Best UV Sterilizer For Your Aquarium?

In this article I will help you find the best UV sterilizer for your aquarium. This often overlooked piece of equipment can help you maintain a beautiful and healthy aquarium, free of algae and parasites. We will look at why it is important and then review some of the best and most popular models available.

What Is A UV Sterilizer?

An ultraviolet (UV) sterilizer is a filtration device that uses an ultraviolet light bulb to kill free floating microorganisms. Even the best maintained aquarium is home to many unseen parasites, bacteria and algae. By the time, these problem microorganisms are numerous enough to become apparent to the aquarist they have gained a strong foothold in the aquarium and are hard to remove without negatively impacting the aquarium’s general health. Using a UV sterilizer will help with these issues by genetically altering the microorganisms that pass through the device. The UV light shortens the life cycle of the microorganism thereby limiting their ability to reproduce and harm your aquarium. UV sterilizers have long been used by enthusiasts of saltwater aquariums but they can be equally useful for freshwater aquarists.

UV sterilizers are traditionally an additional in-line device installed as the final piece of equipment in your filtration cycle. Many models require an independent water pump or a connection to the return hose of a canister filter. There are some models that are self powered as well as UV sterilizers that are free standing and are not tied into the rest of your filter system.

Why Use A UV Sterilizer?

UV sterilization can be a major asset in controlling unwanted algae growth and green water. Biological filtration, normal feeding and exposure to light all contribute to algae growth which cannot always be controlled with standard aquarium maintenance such as water changes. If you are encountering problem algae growth you should strongly consider the addition of a UV sterilizer to your filtration system. You may find that this device is the ideal solution to your algae problem and will eliminate your need for other algae control water treatments.

Parasite control is another main use of UV sterilization. Parasites are inherent in any aquarium. They are introduced to the environment through the addition of new species and through water additions. In some cases harmless populations of parasites can increase to the level that they become problematic. Many of these parasites, such as ich, are invisible in early life stages and only become obvious to the aquarist when they have attacked a fish’s weakened immune system. At this point you need to resort to medications which can often impact the rest of your aquarium in undesired ways. Use of a UV sterilizer will help limit this kind of problem by destroying the parasites before they can impact your tank’s inhabitants. When used properly you can reduce parasite levels in your aquarium to those found in the wild. In this manner you can greatly reduce or eliminate the need to medicate your tank’s inhabitants.

Another popular use of UV sterilizers is in outdoor ponds. Green water and free floating algae are often problems in outdoor fish ponds. UV sterilizers are very good at controlling this free floating algae and would be a great addition to your pond’s filtration system.

Some caution needs to be taken when using UV sterilizers as they may remove some nutrients that your live plants require to thrive. These can also impact the effectiveness of medications so be careful before medicating a tank that employs a UV sterilizer. These issues can be controlled by using your UV sterilizer periodically to clear your water in a planted tank rather than having it run constantly. When medicating your tank you may need to turn off your sterilizer for a time to achieve your desired results. It is also not recommended that you use a UV sterilizer during your tank’s initial cycle as you want some good bacteria to flourish and the UV may negatively impact this bacterial growth.





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for freshwater and saltwater aquariums up to 500-gallon


for small ponds, aquariums and water features


for aquariums up to 20 Ga. (80L)


Integrated UV lamp ballast


Lamp Life on the Market 14 Months

How To Use A UV Sterilizer

Adding a UV sterilizer to your aquarium’s filtration system will show benefits no matter what type of aquarium you maintain. The sterilizer needs to be properly sized regarding parameters such as flow rate, lamp wattage and exposure time. This refers to the amount of time that your water is exposed to the UV light. Recommendations are for a flow rate of approximately 20 gallons per hour flow per watt of UV light.

When using an in-line model the UV sterilizer should be the final filtration device your water runs through before returning to the aquarium. This means installing it after all other mechanical and biological filtration devices. This allows the UV sterilization to have its greatest impact on your water quality after all large debris has been removed.

Free standing sterilizers are also manufactured to allow independent placement by hanging or placing it in your tank and not having it attached to the main filtration system. Though perhaps not quite as efficient as an inline sterilizer, they still will provide benefits to your aquarium and allow for more flexibility in placement and usage. This style of UV sterilizer is great to have available for temporary use when faced with a disease or algae outbreak. It is also ideal for those who want to use UV sterilization intermittently rather than constantly. Some planted tanks benefit from this type of usage.

Proper maintenance of the device is relatively simple but key to its effectiveness. Sterilizers require regular cleaning of the quartz sleeve that houses the bulb. Replacing the bulb regularly is equally important in keeping the UV sterilizer operating at peak efficiency. A weak or older underpowered bulb will degrade performance and you will not obtain your desired results.

Some Of The Best UV Sterilizers

Here are some of best UV sterilizers currently available.

1. Coralife Turbo-Twist UV Sterilizer

This sterilizer can be used in both fresh and saltwater tanks and comes in a variety of sizes that can handle large aquariums up to 500 gallons in size. This unit is easy to install, is user friendly and has a unique turbo-twist design that forces the water to pass by the UV bulb 3 to 12 times before leaving the unit leading to increased efficiency. The turbo-twist is a versatile unit that comes with brackets so it can be hung on your tank and can also be used as an inline sterilizer in conjunction with the rest of your filtration system. It has a powerful 36 watt UV bulb which does a great job of killing organisms and algae and has a very durable quartz case. This video shows its algae killing power in action. This is an excellent choice for your UV sterilization needs.

2. Aqua UV 15 Watt Advantage 2000+

This sterilizer is great for small and medium tanks. It is rated for 200 gallons of freshwater or 70 gallons of saltwater aquarium capacity and can be used both indoors and outdoors. The sterilizer is an inline device that works best connected to the return hose from a canister filter or a separate water pump. Its most unique feature is that the unit hangs off the back of the tank, saving room inside the tank for your fish. A clear quartz cap shows a glow when the long lasting lamp is active. Easy to install and maintain, it does an excellent job of controlling algae and parasites and will contribute to your aquarium having crystal clear water.

3. AA Aquarium Green Killing Machine Internal UV Sterilizer

The AA Aquarium Green Killing Machine is an excellent UV sterilizer with models available for use in aquariums up to 50 gallons. It is fully submersible and easy to set up without tools. The included mounting suction cups allow you to hide the unit behind other aquarium decor. It uses a patented technology that allows water to come in direct contact with the UV light allowing the machine to get by with a 9 watt bulb. This sterilizer can be clipped onto any waterfall type filter expanding its versatility. Another nice feature of these sterilizers is that they have an LED indicator that alerts you to the need for a bulb change. The mini model pictured below is designed for use in tanks up to 20 gallons, so even small aquariums can benefit from UV sterilization. Its name is well earned as it is an excellent antidote for problem algae and green water as seen in this video.

4. Sun Microsystems In-Tank Submersible UV Sterilizer

Here is another submersible sterilizer that has some unique features. It works for salt and freshwater tanks up to 55 gallons. An economical feature of this sterilizer is that a water pump is built into the unit saving the cost of that additional piece of equipment. Its self contained design allows for easy installation. If you have multiple tanks this may be a great choice as you can use it sequentially in multiple tanks giving each a good cleaning before moving on to the next one. Using the included suction cups it can be mounted either horizontally or vertically to the inside of your tank. It also has a filter sponge to remove more debris before the water gets to the UV light. The unit does produce powerful suction so care must be taken if you keep snails or very small creatures in your aquarium. If you are breeding livebearers this sterilizer is probably not the best choice, but for all other aquarium applications it is an excellent option. It is a compact, inexpensive unit that will do a great job of keeping your aquarium’s water clear and clean.

5. Aqua Ultraviolet 25 Watt UV Sterilizer

This is a versatile UV sterilizer that is designed to service large tanks. It can handle freshwater environments up to 1200 gallons and saltwater aquariums up to 150 gallons in size. Its indoor-outdoor construction and flow capacity also makes it a great choice to clear your pond’s water. This unit is available in black and white to complement your aquascape’s decor. It is simple to install with an optional twist body design to allow installation flexibility. It is also designed to allow for easy bulb and quartz sleeve maintenance. The company’s website even has installation videos available. This unit is manufactured to create maximum flow rates and achieves 99.9% UV transmission rates. It also boasts an industry best bulb life of up to 14 months. Using this sterilizer your tank’s water will be clean in 3-5 days and will remain crystal clear.

What Is The Best UV Sterilizer For Your Aquarium?

All of these UV sterilizers are very good and will perform well for you. Certain factors such as space constraints or finances may lead you to choose one over the others for its unique characteristics or its price. If space and cost are not constraints then I would recommend the Coralife Turbo-twist UV sterilizer as the best available. Its 3 models are sized to suit most aquariums. The most powerful contains a very strong 36 watt UV lamp. The versatility of its mounting options give the aquarist freedom to use this unit in a variety of ways that can complement your current filtration system.

The Turbo-twist is easy to set up and install and will quickly cure your tank’s problems. I believe that the turbo-twist technology which exposes the water to the UV light repeatedly improves its efficiency and is a major step forward in aquarium sterilizers. Its demonstrated ability to eliminate green cloudy water and control parasites and diseases such as ich make it a great choice for any aquarist. I would feel very confident in purchasing this unit for my own aquarium.