Can You Use Sand in a Discus Tank? {Which Sand Is The Best?}

Are you wondering if sand is a suitable substrate in a discus tank? What type of sand would be the best to use? Can I use a bare bottom tank without a substrate for discus fish?

In this article, these questions and more will be discussed with a focus on whether or not we can use sand as a substrate for discus fish tanks.

Can You Use Sand in a Discus Tank? Yes. Discus tanks would benefit from fine white sand, specifically pool filter sand where they can commonly swim down and pick away at the substrate like they would in the wild. Many experienced Discus fish keepers have also recommended bare bottom tanks without any substrate.

In our opinion, the best compromise between bare bottom tanks and a sand substrate would equal a thin layer of white pool filter sand no more than half an inch to 2 inches thick.

What Substrate Do Discus Like?

Discus fish are commonly known to enjoy digging around sandy substrates in their natural habitats around shorelines and riverbanks.

The sand substrate would be the best choice if it’s a fine or medium grade. Alternatively you could still opt for smooth surface gravel.

Some experienced aquarists who have managed tanks with discus fish, also recommended using bare bottom tanks without any substrate at all.

The most common answer would be to use a thin layer of fine white sand, particularly pool filter sand, to work well in a discus tank.

Are There Disadvantages To Sand In A Discus Aquarium?

Discus fish do enjoy sandy substrates in their tanks. There are some disadvantages to sand such as:

  • water doesn’t flow through it as well
  • it traps debris more than gravel
  • when it is stirred, discolored water rises up
  • causes filters to burn out quickly if it gets into the intake
  • raw or play sand that is not silica-based or pool filtered may raise pH levels.

What Should I Put In My Discus Tank?

A tank setup for discus fish should first consider the size of the tank itself. You’re aiming for a 75 gallon or larger tank that is tall in design due to the nature and the dimensions of your discus fish.

Plants that can tolerate high temperatures would benefit from being placed in a discus fish tank as well such as:

  • Anubias
  • Java fern
  • Bacopa
  • Sword plants
  • Micro swords

Air Stones, air pumps, powerheads and wave makers are not essential in a discus tank because these fish enjoy gentle currents or still water in their natural habitats.

However, if the temperature of the water is high, oxygen levels decrease. Increasing the flow of oxygen through filtration or a gentle to medium current can help keep your discus fish active and healthy.

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Can You Use Sand in Freshwater Tanks?

Yes. You can use sand in freshwater aquariums that also include discus fish. Sand in aquariums are usually silica-based. This type of sand can encourage the growth of brown algae.

Make sure that any silica-based sand you use has a coating to prevent this type of algae growth.

In a discus tank, the most commonly used type of sand is pool filter sand that is of fine white grain.

What Are the Types of Aquarium Sand?

We would like to review the 3 main types of aquarium sand that you can purchase in a fish shop or elsewhere. Here they are:

  1. Play sand
  2. Blasting sand
  3. Silica pool sand

1. Play Sand

Play sand is a cheap option that you can use to fill the bottom of your substrate in an aquarium. You can purchase it in hardware stores. There are various colors and grain sizes of play sand to make your substrate look appealing.

2. Blasting Sand

Blasting sand is a natural form of inexpensive sand that is blasted to keep the grain size and color consistent. Because it is refined, you will find that the texture and look of it is more pleasing than in most cases.

3. Silica Pool Sand

This is a specialty sand that is used for swimming pools, but also in many aquariums.

Silica pool sand is filtered and can be purchased in different colors and grain sizes as well. It is more expensive, especially when there is a coating around the silica to prevent algae growth.

The finer the grain and the lighter the color, the better it will look in your discus tank.

Is Sand Better Than Soil in a Discus Tank?

Fine sand is the top choice in a discus tank. Soil or gravel substrates are better for heavily planted tanks that are not common for discus fish who aren’t looking to spend most of their time in hiding.

Soil is a lighter type of substrate that can be swirled up when discus fish dig into it when they are foraging. Soil gets compressed easily in discus tanks where there is a higher chance of it rotting.

We recommend a thin layer of fine white pool filter sand over soil or gravel for your discus fish to enjoy.

Can I Use a Bare Bottom Tank for My Discus Aquarium?

You may encounter the advice of experienced discus fish keepers who express a fond desire to maintain their tank without any substrate whatsoever.

They place driftwood, a few rocks and vertically hanging decorations or live plants. We tend to differ from this opinion by offering the best compromise possible.

1/2 inch to 2 inches of fine white pool filter sand looks pleasing to the eye and also is not as difficult to maintain as a thicker layer.

Pool filter sand in a thin layer is suitable for discus fish to rummage around looking for some food at the bottom of the tank. It gives them something to do rather than leaving your substrate bare.


Discus fish enjoy sandy substrates and we hope you do too. No need to go overboard with it however. A thin layer is all you need.

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Brian Arial

Brian Arial has kept fish for leisure and worked with fish stores for most of his life. He enjoys writing and caring for aquariums and ponds.