Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Live sand made from aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate, is a favorite of many aquarists thanks to its lack of silicates, which can cause algae problems in your tank. Our top pick for best overall live sand is this aragonite product from Nature’s Ocean—its mix of live bacteria instantly works to remove harmful ammonia and nitrites and maintain a healthy pH level. It contains more than 10 million Heterotrophic bacteria in each pound (it's sold in a 10-pound bag). The product even guarantees instant cycling, so you won't have to wait to add your fish or coral.
Customers love using Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Live Sand in both new and established tanks, writing that their tanks quickly stabilized upon introducing the product. It looks great too, with tiny shells added to the mix for a more varied appearance. The sand also settles quickly, with any cloudiness usually dissipating within a few hours.
This light pink sand from Carib Sea is both functional and attractive, with millions of beneficial bacteria in every 10-pound bag. The sand’s micro-organisms are engineered to reduce “new tank” syndrome, where ammonia and nitrite levels become dangerously high—a common symptom in environments that haven’t had time to develop the proper levels of bacteria. It also discourages problematic algae growth and never needs to be replaced. It will begin to cycle immediately upon introduction to your tank and it works faster than many competing brands.
Customers say Carib Sea’s Fiji Pink Sand has the perfect grain size: small enough to look good, but large enough that it won’t get blown around the tank easily. While some mention that it’s not a deep pink—it contains visible pink grains but it's closer to beige in color—most agree that it’s one of the best live sands that you can buy online.
Best White: Pure Water Pebbles African Cichlid Bio-Activ Natural White Aquarium Live Sand for African Cichlids 20 LB
This beautiful white sand looks terrific—like lake sand, customers write—and contains tons of beneficial Heterotrophic, Autotrophic and Chemolithotrophic bacteria. Your tank’s biological filtration will get a noticeable boost since the sand increases the surface area for bacteria to colonize. The live organisms work quickly to remove nitrogenous waste and optimize your tank’s pH level. Sold in a 20-pound bag, the product can also be used in freshwater aquariums—as the name implies, it’s designed to replicate the environment of the African Cichlid, a colorful freshwater fish that’s popular with many aquarists.
According to customers, this is a live sand the settles quickly with minimal clouding, resulting in a tank that’s clear within a couple of minutes. While it’s not a pure white, it’s still one of the whitest sands available. Beyond that, it does an excellent job of buffering pH and reducing harmful toxins. One note: Some customers mention that the sand ships slightly wet in order to preserve the live bacteria.
Another winner from Carib Sea, this black aragonite live sand does a great job of setting off the colorful coral in your tank. Like the brand’s other products, it contains millions of beneficial bacteria to aid in biological filtration, resulting in an environment that’s ideal for tetras, angelfish, cichlids, and even turtles—but it’s just it works just as well in a marine reef tank. The company’s trademarked Arag-Alive substrate also aids in the growth of coral, with plenty of calcium, strontium, and carbonate, and helps to remove nitrates from their environment. Available in a 20-pound bag, the sand includes a bio-magnet clarifier to reduce cloudiness when it’s introduced to your tank.
Customers write that this sand is approximately 80% black, with some white and red sand mixed in. In other words, it’s more than dark enough to make your tank’s colors pop. The consistency is heavier than several other variants, but not gravel-like—buyers compare it to the texture of rock candy, which prevents it from getting blown around the bottom of the tank. If you’re looking for live sand that makes a strong visual statement this is a solid option.
Like regular, non-living sand, live sand comes in a variety of textures and sizes. If you’re looking for fine-grain live sand, our favorite is Carib Sea’s Bahamas Oolite product. This 100% aragonite sand simulates a natural marine environment and reliably buffers pH without the need for any additional chemicals. With its ultra-fine grain size, it’s ideal for deep sand beds and low-flow tanks, and can also be used in cichlid environments. The sand is sold in a 20-pound bag and is white in color.
Online shoppers write that CaribSea’s Bahamas Oolite sand is extremely fine in texture, with an almost sugar-like consistency that looks incredible in a tank. While this causes it to blow around a bit, an adjustment of your setup’s power-heads should solve the problem.
Why use a coarse sand? The larger grain size reduces the buildup of detritus inside your tank, for one thing, and some critters (like certain crustaceans) will appreciate the chance to burrow and build. We recommend the coarse-grade reef sand from Two Little Fishies, which consists of white aragonite, coralline algae flakes, and even tiny coral skeletons. It’s also packed with the company’s live BioPronto microbes, giving you the same kind of biological filtration you’ll find in most other live sand products.
Two Little Fishies Live Coarse Reef Sand requires no rinsing, and any cloudiness in your tank should subside after a few hours. The granules have an average size of three millimeters—large enough that they won’t get blown every which way around your tank. It comes packaged with natural seawater and is sold by the 15-pound bag.
Gravel-style substrates, like Activ-Flora’s Planted Aquarium Substrate, are more porous than regular old sand, making them ideal for planted tanks where aquatic flora need to take root. It has all the benefits of live sand, with plenty of Heterotrophic bacteria for rapid cycling without changing your tank’s pH. The iron-rich composition means you won’t need to include additional substrates, like laterite, and it’s free of artificial dyes and chemical additives. Even better, it contains dozens of micronutrients, including phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, which are gradually released to keep plants thriving.
Customers write that the Activ-Flora Planted Aquarium Substrate has a natural look and they quickly noticed a difference in their planted tanks. Priced under $25, it’s easy on the wallet and comes in a generous 20-pound bag. While it’ll cloud your water at first, it should clear up in a couple of days. Just be aware that this product is intended for freshwater planted tanks, not reef tanks with coral.