How Much Gravel Should I Use For My Aquarium?

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Many aquarists have a basic question when planning and setting up an aquarium. How much gravel should I use? This question requires that you put some thought into the inhabitants of your tank. Another factor to consider is how you plan to decorate your tank, and the final look you desire. Perhaps the most important consideration is whether you are going to have live plants in your aquarium. Choosing the correct gravel can make the difference between a beautifully planted tank and one where your plants cannot thrive.

Factors That Influence Gravel Type And Depth

When planning your aquarium these factors will help determine the type and depth of the gravel you are purchasing. Two inches of gravel is a good starting point for most freshwater aquariums. A tank including live aquarium plants should have a deeper gravel bed to allow the plant roots room to grow and flourish. Some plant species such as sword plants do much better in a deeper gravel bed as they have extensive root systems. Other plants such as anacharis do not generate a root system, obtaining nourishment directly from the light and water.

The type of decor you will use is also an important consideration. I like to use some large rocks to form caves in my aquariums. I also tend to favor large pieces of driftwood which often require some form of anchoring to keep them stationary. For that reason I use a deeper gravel bed. From an aesthetic point of view, a gentle sloping from shallow to deeper as you go further back in the tank looks best. So for a tank with large rocks and driftwood I go from 2 inches in the front of the tank to 4 inches in the back. Artificial plants require a shallower depth and two inches should suffice.

Most aquarists consider the fish to be the most important aspect of their aquarium and here again the species you are keeping can help determine the type of gravel. Use caution not to purchase any gravel with sharp edges if you have burrowing fish such as catfish or loaches. They can be injured as they scour the bottom of the tank searching for food.

Gravel can be obtained in many sizes. Gravel consisting of larger pieces such as river rock needs some special care. Spaces between the gravel enable food particles and waste to be trapped under the surface. As these substances decay they can cause harm to your fish so extra care must be taken in keeping this type of gravel bed clean. Some fish will do much better with a finer grade gravel. Firemouths in tanks with a fine substrate can be seen picking up mouthfuls of gravel and they graze and when preparing a nest.

As you can see it is critical to carefully consider the appearance and inhabitants of your aquarium when making your decision on the the type and depth of gravel to use. It is the foundation of your aquarium and its purchase should not be taken lightly.

Determining How Much Gravel To Use

Once you have considered the above factors it is a fairly straightforward process to determine the amount of gravel you will need. Using the tank’s dimensions and the depth desired there are calculators available that will give you a very good estimate of the amount of gravel to purchase. For example let’s take a 55 gallon tank with dimensions of 48.25 inches by 12.25 inches. Running these numbers through the gravel depth calculator gives us 30 pounds for a 1 inch bed. This number just needs to be multiplied by the depth you plan to use and you have your estimate. For a four inch be you should plan on about 100 pounds of gravel.

For the sloping aquascape that I favor, I would use about 80 pounds. There is a link to a gravel depth calculator included below. I hope this information helps you in deciding how much gravel you need for your aquarium.

4 thoughts on “How Much Gravel Should I Use For My Aquarium?

  1. I have a 20 gal. long tank.
    I have an African Cichlid (I think Electric yellow female) that appears to be about 6″ long, an Upside-down cat fish that appears to be about 7.5″, & a Plecostomus
    about 8.5″ long. I have glued slabs of rock together to make 3 caverns because they all like to hide. I bought them together when the were all about 2″. I have about 3″ of gravel in the bottom to resemble a natural river bed and a piece of driftwood leaning in a corner. The finer gravel shifts to the bottom. I had real plants before but I got infested with snails. I now have only 2 small plastic plants with wider leaves so that Pleco can clean them and the fis can still swim. I have an under-ground filter and one that hangs over the back of the tank with charcoal in a filter bag. I have had these 3 fish for several years (I wish that I knew When) and they are fun to watch. I always called Goldie a female because she rearranges the furniture, but I think that she is female nesting. I have always returned the fish to the store when they grow this large but these 3 together are fun. The tank keeps itself pretty clean except for my water change and monthly bottom cleaning.
    My questions are: 1. Should I think about a 29 gal tank that is 7″ taller to give them more room to swim? 2. My tank becomes cloudy soon after I clean it. It is not green algae, it is just cloudy. I wondered if it is bacteria bloom? Too much food? It has not seemed to harm my fish but is not pretty. Am I cleaning the gravel too well? I have a syphon tube that I stick down in the gravel to pull out all of the dark brown stuff. I am more concerned because I really like these 3 fish together. 3. Do I have enough gravel / the correct kind for my tank? The ph is about 4.5-5.0, the temp is about 76.
    What do you reccomend?

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