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How to add substrate to your new fish tank without making a mess

Adding substrate to a new fish tank seems simple at first. However, you could run into issues such as having cloudy water or even scratching your aquarium.

This guide at Aquarium Blueprints will provide a step by step tutorial to safely add pebbles, gravels, sand, soil and other types of substrate without making a mess.

Washing the Substrate

Before adding the substrate of your choice to the tank, we recommend washing it. This is because the pebbles, gravels, sand, soil or whatever you are using could be covered with dust particles that may end up clouding the water. Even if the substrate you brought claimed to be “pre-washed,” giving it another rinse or two couldn’t hurt.

The only substrate type that you don’t want to wash is one that are designed to have beneficial bacteria. This is because washing the bio-activated materials with tap water that has chlorine or chloramine will harm the bacteria.

To wash your new substrate, we recommend using a bucket. Put your substrate in and then fill the rest of the space with high-pressure water. You can do so by using a hose or by turning the faucet until you reach the highest pressure level. The high pressure will help separate the dust particles from your substrate. Remove as much of the water as you can from the bucket with your substrate and then repeat the process.

The water in the bucket should become more clear with subsequent rinses.  Once you see that the water in the bucket is clear, you can then begin to add the substrate to your fish tank.

Slowly Adding the Substrate

When adding substrate to your aquarium, then we recommend doing so slowly with a cup. This is especially true if you are using pebbles, gravels, crushed corals and other firm types that can scratch up your tank (especially if you have an aquarium made of acrylic). Not to mention that you can also use the cup to help you craft the landscape to your liking.

Gently Adding Water

Once you added all your substrate, it’s time to add water. Just like previous step, we recommend adding liquid in slowly. This is because you don’t want to disturb your substrate, which will cloud the water and, if you have a substrate with sharp edges, scratch the glass/acrylic panels.

Before you start, we recommend using a large bowl and placing it, upside-down like an igloo, on top of your substrate. Aim for the bowl when you are slowly pouring your water into the tank. If done correctly, you will avoid any splash back that will move the pebbles, gravels and/or sand (the latter can be especially easy to displaced when compared to the other types).

Clearing Cloudy Water

After adding water, there is a chance that your tank could still be cloudy even if you did several pre-washes beforehand. Don’t fret just yet! We recommend waiting a day or two to see if the cloudiness clears up as the particles should settle down in the substrate.

If it stays the same, we suggest running your filter if you haven’t done so already and then wait for several days or so. Hopefully, the sponges will suck up the particles from your water column.

If you are stilling running into cloudy water after waiting a few days and using a filter, then you might want to think about removing all the water from the tank. Afterwards, you can take out the substrate and then manually clean it again. Hopefully, the re-rinsing will clear up the water in your tank.