Best Substrate for Betta Fish

This post will cover the best substrate for betta fish.

Betta fish are some of the most popular and beautiful freshwater fish in the world.

They have been a popular pet for years because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to care for, and come in a variety of stunning colors.

A common question asked by owners of this species is what is the best substrate for betta fish?

Substrates come in a wide variety of options, and many of them work well for bettas including sand, gravel, rocks, or pebbles.

But is one of these substrates better than the others for the health of your betta?

Betta Fish Substrate Recommendation

Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag
  • Will not affect PH
  • Safe for use in freshwater aquariums
  • Non-Toxic coating

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Chances are also good that you want a tank that is pleasing to look at whether you prefer a natural look, exotic look, or plan to include an aquatic look with a planted tank.

The overall health of your betta also depends on the substrate, so keep in mind this decision is not just about the aesthetic look of your tank.

In this post, we will cover the best substrates that may be best suited for your specific needs as well as how you can go about setting up your tank with these materials.

We will give you the options we recommend and offer a description of each one so you know if it is the right one for your tank environment.

If your goal is to build a happy, healthy, and attractive aquarium for your betta, this article is perfect for you!

Quick Guide Comparison Chart

Comparison Chart

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Betta Fish Substrate Overview

Aquarium substrate is a material that goes on the bottom of your tank to provide a natural environment for fish. It can be sand, gravel, or some other type of material like crushed coral.

There are many different types of substrates available, with the main purpose being to create a safe environment for fish and aquatic life.

Some people choose gravel or sand as their substrate because it is easier to clean than other materials like soil or clay.

Aquarium substrate plays a critical role in the health and well-being of your fish.

It provides support for their gills, helps prevent injuries from sharp objects on the bottom of the aquarium, and filters out harmful chemicals that could be present in the tank water by utilizing the nitrogen cycle.

If you’re not using an adequate amount of substrate pollutants can build up over time causing your fish to become ill.

Do Bettas Need Substrate?

A substrate is not a requirement for a betta fish tank; however, it is recommended.

Many new betta fish owners think it is easier to keep their betta tank clean if they leave the bottom bare. While there is some truth to this, it is not the best decision to keep your betta healthy and happy.

Betta fish feel intense stress when they see their own reflection, which happens with a bare tank bottom.

Even a simple substrate like aquarium sand, aquarium gravel, or natural gravel can decrease the stress of your pet fish without dramatically increasing the maintenance time.

A betta tank without substrate also creates the ideal environment for unhealthy bacteria to grow, increasing the possibility of illness in your fish. Whereas a good substrate will do the opposite and enhance beneficial bacteria to increase the natural wellness of your fish.

Reasons to Use Substrate in Your Betta Tank

Substrate for a betta tank is not a requirement. However, it is highly recommended for numerous reasons.

The following details will cover the most important reasons substrates for betta fish are a good choice when setting up your aquarium.

Biological Filtration

Biological filtration is the process of using specialized bacteria and water plants to remove ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, heavy metals, and other substances from the water. Most of these harmful substances are created from the natural waste from the fish.

A sound biological filter will help your fish live a happy healthy life by removing the harmful toxins from their environment.

If you use a natural substrate in your aquarium, such as sand or gravel, it works as a natural biological filtration.

When waste falls to the bottom of the tank, it falls into the crevices and in-between the rock surface. The gravel substrate offers a wide span of surface for good bacteria to grow and kill the harmful waste.

The importance of your substrate cannot be understated. It provides stability for your betta fish to keep them in a thriving environment.

Easier Maintenance

Most new fish owners think a bare tank is easier to keep clean.

As previously mentioned this can sometimes be true, but not in all ways.

The biological filtration of rock or gravel substrate assists in reducing the number of times the aquarium water needs to be changed, even when only using a siphon.

Bare bottom tanks have nothing to collect the natural waste from the fish, leaving it settled on the bottom of the tank or floating in the water.

With nowhere for the waste to go, the bowl or tank needs to be cleaned more frequently.

Resemble Natural Habitat

Betta fish first originated in Thailand and Cambodia. The waters they swam in were filled with live plants, rice paddies, driftwood, sand, and river stones.

Betta tanks with substrate provide a natural environment for the fish.

Going one step further and adding live plants to the tank will not only keep your fish healthy but also very happy.

Improve Water Chemistry

Aquarium substrate is more effective at providing natural biological filtration than any man-made products since it contains small holes filled with bacteria that break down ammonia and nitrites into Nitrate (which becomes part of the ecosystem and further feeds your plants).

Essentially, the substrate improves the water chemistry by being a natural filtration system.

While bettas easily acclimate to various water conditions, they thrive most in neutral to slightly acidic water.

Therefore, substrates that leak carbonate and calcium into the water are not the best option for bettas. Examples of this type of substrate are crushed coral or aragonite sand.


Look for a notice on the substrate bag or container prior to purchasing that states the product will not alter tank water chemistry.

Planted Aquariums

Live plants are not necessary for the health and well-being of betta fish.

However, with plants part of their natural habitat, a planted aquarium makes sense for a betta fish tank. Live plants also improve overall water quality through the absorption of excess fish waste.

Substrate is not an option if you decide to move forward with a planted aquarium (unless floating or water column plants will be used.) If the plan is to add rooted plants, substrate is used to anchor the plants to the bottom so they don’t float to the top of the aquarium.

Planted tanks require substrate that provides the proper nutrients for them to grow, leaving gravel or sand substrate as the last option since neither contains the properties to meet the growing needs of plants.

However, these substrates can easily be combined or layered with additional substrate products that are healthy for both plants and bettas, as well as add the necessary root properties for the plants.

Decrease the Stress Level for Your Betta Fish

Male bettas are known to be aggressive with other fish, which is what gives them the alternative name of Siamese Fighting Fish.

With a bare bottom tank, it was previously mentioned this allows the fish to see their reflection and it creates a stressful environment for them.

When a betta sees their own reflection, they think it is another fish coming at them and going on the defense. The chance of your fish injuring themself by slamming into the glass as they try to fight themself is high.

For this reason alone, adding substrate to your betta aquarium is almost a must to keep your fish safe.

Best Types of Substrates Found in Betta Tanks

Numerous types of substrate can be purchased at a pet store or aquarium outlet.

However, not all of them are suitable for freshwater aquariums, and specifically, for a betta fish tank.

A comparison chart is provided at the end of this review section including the pros and cons of each type of substrate.

No Substrate

As previously discussed in detail, using no substrate is not best for betta fish.[/vc_column_text]


This is a common choice for new betta owners. It is pleasing to look at a tank floor layered in colorful marbles while the betta glides through the water.

However, it is not necessarily the best betta substrate.

Many marbles create their own glare under the water, which can create stress for the fish.

The smooth texture typically does not do a good job at holding down the debris and waste, creating more work for the owner to keep the tank clean.

Aquarium Gravel

Gravel is considered one of the best substrates for betta fish, and it is the most commonly used substrate by betta owners.

Gravel allows water to freely flow through it, preventing the buildup of bacteria and amoebas in the substrate.

It offers a natural appearance, keeps debris and waste from lingering in the water, and provides the necessary natural filtration to create a healthy environment.

It is important to purchase gravel that is free of sharp edges to keep your fish from cuts or knicks if they scrape the stone.

Gravel is available in a variety of natural colors. Be sure to never put painted gravel in your tank as it may harm your fish.

Marina decorative gravel or other types of aquarium gravel come in bright and exotic colors if your preference is not a natural look.

Aquarium Sand

Another type of substrate commonly used by betta owners is sand.

The natural appearance it offers is popular, and it is a good option for holding the betta waste without sinking too deep because it is much more compacted than gravel.

This prevents old food and waste from getting buried underneath rocks where it can decay and rot, creating a necessary water change.

Stone Aggregate

If gravel or sand is the natural environment you want to create, but don’t care for either of them, stone aggregate can provide a similar look.

It is comprised of sand, pebbles, and stones, and is sourced from a natural outdoor environment and packed specifically for fish tanks.

Stone aggregate can be purchased in a variety of shapes and sizes.

It typically costs a bit more to purchase than gravel or sand. You also need to read the notes on the bag to ensure you are purchasing a variety without sharp edges.


Although stone aggregate is sourced outdoors, it is highly discouraged that you create your own mix from the backyard or anywhere else.

Without knowing any chemicals they may have come in contact with, or other unknown substances, you risk the chance of altering the water chemistry.

To maintain a stable and healthy environment you don’t want to change the pH or affect the pH of the water balance in any way with unknown chemicals.

Soil Substrate

This substrate will be necessary if aquarium plants will be added to the setup.

They will struggle to survive with a substrate that provides the proper nutrients to aid in growth.

Soil substrate requires a secondary material such as sand or gravel, to be layered on top of it, keeping the water clean.

Substrate Options Recap

No Substrate


  • There is no substrate to clean for tank maintenance
  • Leftover food won’t fall under substrate and rot


  • The bare surface is not capable of producing healthy bacteria
  • Creates potential stress for your betta to see his own reflection
  • No option for planted aquarium



  • Attractive to look at


  • Difficult to anchor plant roots
  • Potential to create glare resembling a reflection in the water
  • Can trap debris and extra food underneath creating rot
  • Increased maintenance with frequent water changes

Aquarium Gravel


  • There is no compaction, allowing water to easily flow through
  • A variety of sizes and colors are available
  • Provides the necessary surface to establish healthy bacteria
  • Low maintenance with the option to vacuum up uneaten food in-between water cleanings without creating a cloudy tank


  • Does not provide the required nutrients for planted tanks

Aquarium Sand


  • The compaction prevents waste and uneaten food to fall underneath and rot
  • Debris rests on top of the surface creating simple maintenance
  • Available in various colors for good aesthetics
  • No chance of sharp or rough edges that can injure your betta fish
  • Provides the necessary surface to establish beneficial bacteria


  • Can become too compacted, preventing necessary water flow
  • Does not support live plants
  • Must be stirred regularly to prevent Hydrogen Sulphide gas from building up, creating a toxic environment

Stone Aggregate


  • Offers an aesthetically pleasing natural look
  • Comes in various shapes and sizes
  • Simple maintenance by using a siphon to clean debris and waste from the bottom surface
  • Plants can be anchored into it
  • Allows water to freely flow through


  • It May have jagged or rough edges
  • Typically more expensive than sand or gravel
  • Uneaten food has the possibility of getting lodged underneath and rotting



  • Supports live plants with nutrients required to grow


  • Requires a second material for layering, it cannot be used alone

Rinse your substrate prior to adding it to your aquarium.

Shipping creates dust to accumulate and settle inside the bag or container, creating a dingy mess of your water.

The easiest way to clean substrate is to dump it in a 5-gallon bucket in the yard and rinse it thoroughly with a water hose until the water runs clear.

Best Substrate for Cleaning and Maintenance of Your Betta Tank

Routine cleaning is necessary for all freshwater aquariums.

If you are looking for the easiest maintenance, gravel is the first choice for betta tanks.

The next option for simple maintenance is sand.

However, it compacts easily so raking is required in-between the water cleanings.

How Much Substrate Does a Betta Fish Tank Need?

The thickness of the substrate for your betta tank depends on the size of your aquarium.

However, the general layer of thickness is approximately 1 inch for a freshwater fish tank.

If you are including a planted betta tank, the layer of thickness will need to be between 2 and 3 inches. This allows the plants necessary space to grow as their roots spread through the substrate.

Best Substrate for Betta Fish Reviews

1. Spectrastone Shallow Creek Premium Aquarium Gravel

Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag
  • Will not affect PH
  • Safe for use in freshwater aquariums
  • Non-Toxic coating

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Spectrastone aquarium gravel is a mixture of stones in various sizes specifically designed to create a natural-looking environment.

Spectrastone gravel will not affect the PH and the coating is non-toxic.

2. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel - Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbs
  • GRAVEL: Seachem Flourite Black is a specially fracted stable porous clay gravel for the natural planted aquarium. Its appearance is best suited to planted aquaria, but may be used in any freshwater...
  • AQUARIUM BED: Gravel modifiers such as laterite are not necessary when using Seachem Flourite Black as this product is most effective when used alone as an integral substrate bed, but it may be mixed...
  • SET-UP: When adding water to the aquarium, fill slowly to avoid disturbing Flourite Black substrate bed. Place a bowl in the aquarium and add water directly to the bowl, allowing water to overflow...
  • COMPATIBLE: Flourite Black substrates will work fine with an under gravel filter and will not soften or decompose to an unsuitable state within your tank.Flourite substrates will work fine with an UGF
  • SAFETY: Seachem Flourite Black is not chemically coated or treated, thus does not alter the pH of the water. Flourite Black is beneficial for the life of the aquarium and need not be replaced.

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Seachem Flourite is not made from sand or gravel.

It is a top recommendation for planted betta tanks.

The pH is neutral in Seachem Flourite so the water chemistry will not be altered, and it has the required nutrients for plants to flourish.

The best thing about this substrate is that it does not have to be replaced like a typical substrate.

Other substrates for plants break down after several years, the nutrients become scarce, and replacement is required for plants and fish to keep thriving.

Seachem Flourite is baked clay specifically created to be used as aquarium substrate.

3. Pisces Gunsmoke Aquarium Gravel

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Pisces Gunsmoke Aquarium Gravel is pure natural gravel that is triple-washed before it is bagged to be sold.

The color offers a natural look with predominantly grey stones woven with silver flecks.

The stones are mostly oval in shape. Depending on the amount of your betta tank it is sold in different size bags so you can get exactly the amount you need.

4. Marina Decorative Gravel

Marina Decorative Gravel, Rainbow, 1 lb
  • Epoxy-coated gravel safe for aquarium water
  • Helps maintain clear and healthy water
  • Provides optimum surface for beneficial bacteria colonization
  • Color: Rainbow. Size: 0.15"-0.2"

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you’re looking for bright, exotic colors for your betta fish tank, Marina Decorative Gravel has you covered.

It comes in a variety of colors including epoxy-coating to ensure it is safe for your betta fish and aquatic plants.

The manufacturer states it provides beneficial bacteria for the surface, which is a positive addition for all freshwater tanks.

Marina Decorative Gravel is dust-free. However, it is still recommended to thoroughly wash it before putting it in your betta fish tank.

5. CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand, 20-Pound, Sunset Gold
  • Create a supernatural experience by re-creating the natural world in your home
  • soft sand great for soft belly fish and turtles
  • ph neutral ; safe for all aquariums
  • no paint or dyes used
  • made in the USA

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand is an excellent choice if you go with sand for your betta tank substrate.

It is free of dye and paint, pH neutral, and safe for all aquariums.

Users state they cannot tell the difference between real sand and CaribSea Aquarium sand.

CaribSea Super Naturals Aquarium sand is available in numerous colors to meet the decor of your fish environment.

6. CaribSea Eco-Complete

CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black
  • Complete substrate for freshwater planted aquariums
  • Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish aquarium plants
  • Substrate encourages healthy plant root growth

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

CaribSea Eco-Complete is the perfect substrate for a planted tank for your betta fish.

It provides necessary nutrients for thriving aquatic plants.

CaribSea Eco-Complete is sourced from rich basaltic volcanic soil rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, sulfur, and potassium, plus more than 25 additional elements.

Comparison Chart Recap

Comparison Chart

Last update on 2023-10-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Words on the Best Substrate for Betta Fish

There is a wide variety of substrates to choose from when selecting the best substrate for betta fish.

With the details on what creates a happy and healthy environment for betta fish, it is time to narrow down the best option and create a thriving environment for your betta fish.