What’s The Best Substrate For Betta Fish?

Here’s the sad truth:

Too many Betta owners overlook the importance of substrate in the health of their fish.

Most just check the color and price. Or worse–don’t have substrate.

But, if you do a bit of research and choose right, you can really enhance the look and health of your aquarium.

In this article, I’m going to provide you with everything you need to make the best decision possible when it comes to choosing the best substrate for your lovely Betta.

Let’s get started.

Betta Fish Substrate Overview

The Best substrate for Betta fish is Seachem Flourite Premium Natural Substrate.

Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs
Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs

    Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

    What Substrate Do Betta Fish Have in the Wild?

    Betta fish are native to the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. Their native range includes Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

    They inhabit slow moving waterways, rice paddies, rain water ditches, floodplains and ponds throughout the region.

    Generally, these habitats have silty, muddy bottoms, often covered with leaf litter.

    It can be difficult to recreate this kind of environment in an aquarium, mostly because mud bottoms in aquariums are very messy and difficult to maintain. 

    So, if it’s not practical to replicate their natural environment exactly, what should we consider when picking a substrate for a Betta tank?

    Pro Tip: Please, remember, just because you see Bettas in the tiny cups in the pet store does not mean that you should keep them in a small container. I recommend housing them in at least a 5 gallon (19 liter) tank.

    How to Choose The Best Substrate For Your Betta

    Water Chemistry

    Bettas originate from waterways that are very soft and acidic.

    They can be acclimated to a wide variety of water conditions, but they do best in neutral to slightly acidic water.

    This means you want to avoid substrates that greatly increase the water’s mineral content (general and carbonate hardness). 

    Don’t use substrates like aragonite sand or crushed coral. These substrates will constantly leach calcium and carbonate into the water, raising the GH, KH and pH.

    Also, I don’t really recommend that beginners use substrates that lower pH, like some planted tank substrates. They can cause problems if you don’t have a solid handle on the ins and outs of water chemistry.

    Inert Substrate is Your Friend

    Didn’t know that you could have a close relationship with sand and gravel?

    No? Well… some of us are just more enlightened than others.

    But seriously, I really do recommend that you use inert substrates in a Betta tank. 

    Gravel is a good choice, you can get a variety of natural colors and shades as well as man made colors to match any decor you want.

    You can also use inert aquarium sands. Look for a notice on the label that states the sand will not alter your water chemistry. 

    I’ve even seen aquarists use play sand or pool filter sand.

    Pro Tip: Always rinse your substrate thoroughly before putting it in your tank. Dust tends to accumulate inside the bag from being shipped. Unrinsed substrate can turn your tank into a cloudy mess for days.

    To avoid this, put the substrate in a clean 5 gallon bucket and run water through it with a garden hose until the water runs clear.

    Putting Down Roots?

    I always encourage people to add live plants to a Betta tank. Bettas need hiding places and they love to take little naps on plant eaves.

    And live plants can help improve water quality by taking up excess nutrients produced by fish waste.

    But what type of plants are you going to use?

    Plants like Java fern or anubias grow best attached to something like rocks or driftwood. They don’t care what kind of substrate you use. 

    The same goes for floating plants, they’ll never even touch the substrate.

    Many stem plants, like Brazilian pennywort or ludwigia, feed directly from the water column. They can be planted in the substrate to anchor them, but otherwise they’re not picky, so you can use whichever substrate you prefer.

    But heavy root feeders, like Amazon swords, will do best in an inert planted substrate. Their roots will spread under the surface and draw nutrients up into the body of the plant

    Pro Tip: Please, see my review below of Seachem Flourite below if you’re looking for an inert planted substrate.

    How Much Substrate Do You Need For a Betta Tank?

    Again, it depends. The amount of substrate you use is based on the size of your tank.

    Generally, for a fish only tank, you want about an inch of substrate.

    For rooted live plants, 2 inches gives your plants plenty of space to spread their roots.
    Here is a nifty calculator that will give you a rough estimate how much substrate you’ll need based on your tank size.

    Pro Tip: If you’re using a fish tank under 5 gallons, stop what you’re doing, read this article. Then go out and get your Betta a suitable fish tank.

    The Usual Suspects: Gravel vs. Sand

    Aquarium Gravel

    Available in a variety of colors and sizes, you could potentially achieve most looks with this style.

    But, what you need to remember when choosing gravel, is to avoid sharp edges so your Betta fish won’t damage its fins.

    Pros of using aquarium gravel:

    • Doesn’t clump together, meaning water can pass through–reducing the chance of toxic pockets of Hydrogen Sulphide building up.
    • Easy to vacuum uneaten food without disturbing the substrate and clouding your tank.
    • Too heavy to get sucked into your filter.
    • Comes in a variety of colors.
    • Provides a surface for beneficial bacteria to establish.

    Cons of using aquarium gravel:

    • Can sometimes have problems with anchoring plants down properly (not a huge issue).
    • Can be easier for live food to hide in.

    Aquarium Sand

    Again, aquarium sand comes in many different varieties–from course sand to black Tahitian Moon sand.

    Lightly colored sand can create a nice sparkle and provide a smooth look to your aquarium.

    Pros of using aquarium sand:

    • Tight sand particles make it a clean type of substrate.
    • Easy to clean because debris tend to sit on top of the sand instead of mixing in.
    • Visually appealing and many varieties available.
    • No sharp edges for your Betta to damage itself on.
    • Provides a surface for beneficial bacteria to establish.

    Cons of using aquarium sand:

    • Difficult to use with undergravel filters.
    • Sand can easily compact. So it’s not ideal to have with live plants, because their roots will find it hard to penetrate.
    • You have to stir it regularly to ensure toxic pockets of Hydrogen Sulphide gas can’t build up.

    What Other Types Substrate Are There?

    While sand and gravel are by far the most popular options hobbyist use, they’re not your only option.

    Here are some other types of substrates you could try:

    Marbles

    Personally, I wouldn’t use them myself because they’re not suitable for larger tanks.

    However, they do provide a huge variety of colors, so you’ll be able to pick one to complement your Betta.

    Pros of using marbles:

    • Aesthetically pleasing.

    Cons of using marbles:

    • Not suitable for larger tanks because they’re too large for vacuums to remove trapped debris.
    • Not very good at anchoring plants.
    • You’ll have to perform frequent and large water changes.
    • Don’t look natural.

    No Substrate

    Going for the ‘bare-bottom’ look is another option, but, again, I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Pros of using no substrate:

    • You don’t have to clean the substrate.
    • No chance of uneaten food being lost and left to rot.

    Cons of using no substrate:

    • No surface for beneficial bacteria to grow (this is very important).
    • Impossible to root plants.
    • Your Betta could become stressed by its own reflection.

    So yeah–these are options, but honestly, I don’t recommend you using either of them.

    Why?

    Because neither of them are very good a promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.

    If your tank is unable to cycle, your Betta is going to be living in a toxic environment and that’s not okay.

    Stone Aggregate

    If you want a natural look, and don’t want sand or gravel, this is your best option. It’s made up of sand, stones, and pebbles sourced from the great outdoors.

    Pros of using stone aggregate:

    • Provide a natural look.
    • A variety of shapes and sizes are available.
    • Can anchor plants into it.
    • Easy to siphon and clean.

    Cons of using stone aggregate:

    • Need to be aware of sharp/rough edges.
    • Tend to be more expensive than gravel or sand.
    • Uneaten food could get lost in it.

    Now, here’s what you don’t want to do if you choose this route.

    Pop outside and pick up a bunch of different stones or rocks you find lying around.

    You don’t want to do this because you have no idea what they may introduce into your tank or if they’ll affect the water chemistry.

    Always buy treated stone aggregate so you know it’s safe.

    Best Betta Fish Substrates Reviewed

    1. Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand

    CaribSea Super Naturals is a great choice if you’d like to have sand in your aquarium.

    It comes in a variety of colors that can really give your aquarium a natural look. 

    Sand also provides a lot of surface area for beneficial bacteria.

    And the Super Naturals line of sands from CaribSea are all inert and will not affect your water chemistry.

    There are some downsides to sand. You have to be sure to stir the sand bed periodically or else you run the risk of pockets of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a foul smelling and highly toxic gas, developing under the sand’s surface.

    Stirring the sand up with your hand or a wooden kitchen spoon can prevent these gas pockets from forming.

    It’s also trickier to clean sand than it is gravel. If you try to push the gravel vacuum down into the sand, you’ll end up sucking up a bunch of sand into your bucket.

    The trick is to wave around the gravel vac tube about an inch above the surface of the sand. This stirs up the fish poop and detritus so you can suck it up with the vacuum but avoid sucking up actual sand.

    Also, sand will just fall through the slots on an undergravel filter. So, it’s really not a good choice if you plan to use this kind of filtration.

    Lastly, sometimes sand isn’t a great plant substrate. It doesn’t provide plants with any kind of nutrients since it’s totally inert. And sand can compact and hamper plant roots from spreading easily. 

    Pros

    • Comes in a variety of colors
    • Looks very natural
    • Won’t change water chemistry

    Cons

    • Can form hydrogen sulfide if not stirred
    • Trickier to clean than gravel
    • Not great for plants
    • Can’t be used with an undergravel filter
    Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand, 20-Pound, Crystal River
    Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand, 20-Pound, Crystal River

      Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

      2. Spectrastone Premium Gravel

      Gravel is by and large the most common aquarium substrate and a great choice for a Betta tank.

      This Spectrastone gravel is a mix of small river pebbles meant to give your tank a natural look. 

      I like that this gravel is a mix of different sized stones. I think that makes it look more like an actual creek bed.

      Gravel does a fairly good job of anchoring rooted plants, but it doesn’t provide any kind of nutrients for heavy root feeders.

      Fish poop will work it’s way into the gravel, so you have to make sure that you push your gravel vacuum tube down until you hit the bottom of the tank to suck out the accumulated wastes.

      Pros

      • Easier to clean than sand
      • Gives a natural look
      • Will anchor rooted plants
      • Won’t change water chemistry

      Cons

      • Waste builds up in it
      • No built in nutrients for plants
      Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag
      Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag

        Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

        3. 18 Pounds Black Decorative Pebble

        This is a pure black, pea-sized gravel. I like this in particular because it is not a painted gravel, these are natural stones.

        Some dyed or painted gravels can be problematic because they will leach color into the water or the paint will eventually start to scrape off of the pebbles.

        But, you don’t have to worry about that with natural stones. Pretty cool.

        Black gravel can really make your Betta stand out. I really love the contrast between the super dark substrate and the brightly colored fish.

        This is sort of a big bag, so depending on your tank size, you might have some left over. You could always use the remaining stones to cap potted plants or some other decorative purpose.

        Just like other gravels, waste will accumulate down in the pebbles, so you’ll need to use a gravel vacuum.  

        Pros

        • Natural, unpainted stones
        • Great contrast between fish and substrate
        • Won’t change water chemistry

        Cons

        • Waste has to be cleaned out
        18 Pounds Decorative Pebbles Small Black Stones Aquarium Gravel River Rock, Natural Polished Decorative Gravel,Garden Ornamental Pebbles Rocks,Black Decorative Stones,Black Pebbles, Decor (Black)
        18 Pounds Decorative Pebbles Small Black Stones Aquarium Gravel River Rock, Natural Polished Decorative Gravel,Garden Ornamental Pebbles Rocks,Black Decorative Stones,Black Pebbles, Decor (Black)

          Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

          4. Seachem Flourite (Top Pick)

          Seachem Flourite is a bit different from the other substrates that I’ve covered so far. It’s not made from sand or gravel. 

          It’s a baked clay that’s designed to be a planted aquarium substrate. 

          There are minerals in the clay itself that plants will be able to feed on. 

          Also, when you dose liquid fertilizers into the water column, the Flourite will absorb them. Root feeding plants will then be able to absorb these trapped nutrients.

          I recommend Flourite over other planted substrates for several reasons.

          I like that it’s pH neutral, meaning it will not alter your water chemistry at all. Some other substrates can release ammonia and/or cause a drop in pH.

          These changes in water parameters aren’t impossible to deal with, but they can end up killing fish if you don’t know what you’re doing.

          But, the biggest reason is that other kinds of planted substrate have to be replaced every few years, but Flourite doesn’t.

          Other planted substrates start to break down and become mud. Plants also eat up all of the minerals in the substrate over time.

          This leaves you with no choice but to rip everything out every few years so you can replace the substrate.

          But, since Flourite never starts to soften up into mud, this isn’t a problem. And it constantly absorbs nutrients from the water column that it will feed to plants. 

          As the company states, this substrate is good for the life of the aquarium.  

          The biggest problem people have with this product comes from getting it set up in the aquarium. This substrate can really build up an impressive amount of dust inside the bag.

          Your best bet is to put it in a 5 gallon (19 liter) bucket and rinse it. And rinse it. And then rinse it again.

          That’s really not an exaggeration AT ALL!!

          If you don’t rinse it well, your aquarium will look like it’s filled with mud and it can take up to a week for it to clear up.

          Plus, once it’s rinsed, you should fill the aquarium very carefully and very slowly to cut down on particles being kicked up into the water.

          Although Flourite can be a pain to get set up initially, it really is a great choice if you want root feeding plants.

          Pros

          • Great substrate for rooted plants
          • Good for the life of the aquarium
          • Absorbs minerals from the water column

          Cons

          • Can muddy your water if not rinsed thoroughly
          Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs
          Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs

            Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

            Top Pick For The Best Substrate For Betta Fish

            So, which one is best?

            Well…that really depends.

            If you’re looking for ease of use, and don’t plan on having a bunch of rooted plants, I’d go with the gravel. It’s easy to get set up and use. 

            There’s a reason it’s the most common kind of aquarium substrate.

            If you’re willing to put in a little more effort in exchange for aesthetics, the sand looks the most natural. You really can make your tank look like a natural creek with sand and the right aquascape.

            But, for root feeding plants, the Flourite is the clear winner, no questions asked.

            So, think about what kind of tank you want and what kind of maintenance you’re willing to put in.

            I hope I’ve given you the information you need to choose a substrate that’s right for your Betta tank.

            I wish you and your fish the best of luck!

            Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs
            Flourite, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs

              Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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              Christopher Adams
              Hey there, my name is Christopher and I'm the creator and editor of this site. I've owned successful aquariums for the past 23 years. My mission is to educate, inform, and entertain on everything that's fish.

              15 Comments

              1. Actually the limit to the size of a Betta Fish Tank or Bowl is 2 gallons,they may not be happy with the size,but some people have to take risks.A lot of people recommend 5 gallons,but its fine for people to keep Betta Fish under 5 gallons.I just wanted to point out that sentence since it may have offended people and its not actually true

              2. I’m a complete Betta newbie! I’m setting up my tank and I put sand on the bottom, with gravel on top. But how do I clean it? Sand and gravel seem to have different cleaning methods.

                • Hey Michale, you can angle your siphon so you don’t disturb the surface. And your gravel should protect your sand from any debris working its way in. You can check out our article on cleaning a fish tank for more information: https://modestfish.com/how-to-clean-your-fish-tank/

                  P.s., sorry it took so long for out response. It seems we missed your comment before.

              3. I’m a beginner in wanting to care properly for a bettafish. I plan to purchase a male veiltail from petsmart (I would purchase one from a smalltime petshop, but alas the closest pet store is an hour away, and its petsmart :/) I am going to nab a 5 gallon aquafilter tank with a built in filter, and led light to mimic natural lighting. I’m also getting a thermometer, proper drops for the enviornment, a 30 watt heater, and bloodworms. I can hopefully find some good live plants, but I wanted to know if there are any specific type of live plants that could be potentially harmful to a veiltail? I’m goin to try the combo you suggested, but I’m worried about what specific plants to buy.

                • Hello Kaula, thank you for your comment. Okay, so generally, if you’re adding your standard aquarium plants like Java Fern, Amazon Sword, Anubias etc. you’ll be fine. When it comes to your Veiltail, you want to avoid all sharp objects and rough edges in your tank (commonly caused by fake not live plants), so stick to the classic aquarium plants and you’ll be fine.

                  Wish you all the best of luck! And feel free to contact us if you have any more questions, I’ll always reply as soon as I can.

                  Happy fish keeping.

              4. Do you use the products you list on here? Because I would like to know if the gravel listed can get the hydrogen sulfide pockets since it is described as having very tiny pebbles on Amazon.

                • Hello, Erin. Thank you for your comment, sorry for the late response, I have been on a break. Yes, I have used a number of these products over time. Yes, it is possible to have hydrogen sulfide pockets, however, with smaller pebbles, it’s less likely to happen. If you stay on top of water changes and siphon your gravel, your chances will be reduced further. But, in this hobby you’re creating your own microenvironment, which could be completely different from mine–even if we had all the same stuff!

              5. Probably a silly question but, I am just being introduced to planted tanks and such. My betta buddy is in a 10 gal, no filter, no heater, no artificial lighting – some live potted plants and he seems to be a happy, healthy fish. He is waiting on a transfer to his new 29 gal, and I am interested in setting up our first planted tank home. Will this be possible w out the filter, heater, and artificial lighting?

                • Hey Susie, thank you for your comment. Yes, it’s possible to run a tank using plants as filtration, there are many examples on youtube so I suggest you check them out. But, I’ll be honest, they’re not the easiest of things to run long-term so I wouldn’t personally recommend it to a beginner. And about the heater/lighting, if your room temperature keeps your tank water around 80F it should be fine but there are risks, and if your tank’s plants are still getting enough natural lighting to stay alive, it is possible. Overall, yes it’s possible, but in my opinion difficult to maintain.

              6. Hey, I’m looking into setting up a betta fish tank. This is my first time keeping a fish, so I’m trying to figure things out. I want to use sand as my substrate, but I was wondering how you would go about cleaning sand, and if you could use a siphon for a tank with sand as the substrate.

                • Hello, Haleigh, thank you for your comment. Yes, you can use a siphon with a sand substrate. You just need to do it at an angle 🙂

              7. Hi! I’m doing a planted ten gallon betta tank at the moment with just sand as a substrate (using root tabs) and I was wondering your thoughts on sea chem Flourite as a base, with rounded pebble gravel on top? I’d like to add many more plants and maybe even move him to a 20 gallon long. Currently I have a couple Anubias species, some java fern, amazon sword, and floating anacharis/Elodea.
                I’d like to add some micro swords and bacopa, would that be okay for him?
                Thanks so much!

                • Thank you for your comment, Noelle. I don’t see why these plants would cause any issues :). Wish you all the best

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