Best four cichlid tank substrate complete buying guideFinding the best substrate for cichlids is an integral part of creating the right tank environment for them, the reason for this is that cichlids prefer water with a high pH level of around 8.2, which is not easy to maintain with most normal substrates.

Keep reading as we have tested various options available online to help you find one that is suitable for your cichlids.

Comparison Chart

Name Weight (in pounds) Colour
Carib Sea African Ivory Coast Sand

20 Black & White
AquaNatural Coarse Aragonite Sand

20 White
Carib Sea Aragonite Reef Sand

40 Off-white
Stoney River White Aquatic Sand

5 White


The Best Substrate For African Cichlids

Let’s get straight into our list of the best substrate for cichlids tanks:

1. Carib Sea African Ivory Coast Sand

– Pros

  • Free bio-magnet clarifier
  • White and black design
  • Biological filtration
  • Specially designed for cichlids

– Cons

  • May not be uniform

The Carib Sea African Ivory Coast Sand is a substrate that is designed significantly for cichlids.  It is developed to acclimate water to the conditions of the African Rift Lakes, which are home to African cichlids.

The sand for African cichlids is very appealing and comes in a mix of white and black grains, hence being different helps the colors of fish to shine more prominently.

The african cichlid sand does this by changing the pH to match these natural conditions making it great for your cichlids. An added benefit with the Carib Sea African Ivory Coast Sand is that it aids in keeping your tank water clean. The sand is perfect for cultivating live beneficial bacteria, which promote the biological filtration of your tank. So, it will clean through various unwanted substances such as waste and make your tank much safer.

– Bio Magnet Clarifier

Carib Sea has added a unique bio magnet clarifier inside as well, something you won’t find in many other options and is very useful in keeping your tank clean. All you have to do is use a bit of the liquid in your tank, and it will clump up to the suspended particles and weigh them down. Additionally, things like floating sand and waste particles will gradually drop down, making them easier to clean.

While the sand is great for your tank, we faced only one issue: the substrate is not uniform, and some grains are larger than the others. While this is not an issue for most people, you might want to sit through it if you are looking for uniformly fine sand.

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– Overview

If you are looking for a substrate for an only-cichlid tank, the Carib Sea African Ivory Coast Sand is a great option to look into. While it can be used with all fish, the sand is formulated to recreate cichlid habitats’ natural pH and alkalinity in the wild. Moreover, it aids in the biological filtration of your tank, which helps clear out unwanted substances.

2. AquaNatural Coarse Aragonite Sand

– Pros

  • Keeps pH stable
  • No impurities
  • Phosphate-free
  • Ethically harvested

– Cons

  • Slightly expensive

For those of you looking for an all-natural substrate for your cichlids, the AquaNatural Coarse Aragonite Sand is one to check out. This sand is genuine aragonite and is harvested from regions of the Bahamas, hence, it has no impurities that can harm your fish, making it a great option for most tanks.

An added benefit when it comes to the collection of this substrate is that it is ethically harvested. As AquaNatural has a lease with the Bahamian government for the aragonite’s sustainable sourcing, the company makes sure to maintain the natural environment when doing so. Furthermore, you will be getting genuine marine aragonite which is great for your cichlid tank.

Moreover, this substrate is highly efficient at buffering your tank’s water. Buffering means the ability to keep the pH of your water stable even as substances are added to it. This sand, in particular, keeps the pH stable at 8.2, which is suitable for your cichlids.

While you are getting an ethically obtained and natural marine aragonite, this does have a drawback. The complex and natural processes do end up costing a lot which is why this substrate is one of the most expensive on this list. In brief, while it is definitely worth the price, you might want to further think of this option if you are on a tight budget.

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– Overview

The AquaNatural Coarse Aragonite Sand is a great substrate that doesn’t come at the cost of environmental damage. It is ethically harvested from water bodies in the Bahamas which means you are getting pure marine aragonite without any impurities. This sand is also great at maintaining the pH level of your tank, but all this does make it slightly expensive.

3. Carib Sea Aragonite Reef Sand

– Pros

  • Great for all fish
  • 100% aragonite
  • Natural look
  • Uniform grain size

– Cons

  • Needs rinsing before use

The Carib Sea Aragonite Reef Sand is a beautiful option for your cichlid’s tank substrate. Unlike many other options available on the market, it is designed to simulate a natural environment in your tank. Moreover, using this substrate is a great way to improve the aesthetic appeal of your cichlid’s habitat.

The sand itself is 100 percent aragonite without any impurities or unwanted substances. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about any toxic materials which may harm your cichlids or any other fish in your tank. Moreover, aragonite is great at maintaining pH and will keep your tank’s pH levels stable as well.

The sand is also safe for use with all types of fish of all ages, making it a great option for multiple tanks or even if you plan on building a large tank with different types of plants and animals. However, while it is safe for use with fish, you will have to keep in mind to clean this substrate before use.

It is very important as many smaller particles are present in it right out of the package. Note that, before using it in your tank, clean the substrate thoroughly under water to clear out any of these and avoid it fogging up your tank.

Thankfully, apart from the smaller particles, the grain size of this substrate is mostly uniform and quite large. It makes the initial rinsing easy but will also increase the amount of waste that gets through the gaps in your tank.

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– Overview

If you are looking for a substrate that can improve the aesthetic appeal of your cichlid tank, the Carib Sea Aragonite Reef Sand can suit your needs. It is formulated to look exactly like the natural habitat of some species and will make your tank look much more realistic and alive. Moreover, the substrate is natural and safe for fish of all ages.

4. Stoney River White Aquatic Sand

– Pros

  • Does not affect pH
  • Non-toxic coating
  • Safe for freshwater tanks
  • Contains live bacteria

– Cons

  • Better suited for smaller tanks

If you want a substrate that will keep your tank safe and clean for use with all kinds of fish, the Stoney River White Aquatic Sand is an option for you. Along with just your cichlids, this substrate is safe for use in freshwater and saltwater aquariums, making it a great choice for all kinds of fish or tanks you may have.

It can be used in varying conditions due to Stoney River’s non-toxic coating of the sand. This coating removes any unwanted substances and makes sure the sand does not react with your water in the wrong way. All in all, you won’t have to worry about it affecting your tank’s pH or phosphate level.

While it does remove toxic substances, the sand can still clean your tank, because it provides the perfect habitat for many beneficial bacteria to grow. These bacteria are responsible for biological filtration and can clean through waste and toxins. It makes it great for tanks with a high bioload with different kinds of fish.

While the substrate itself is a great all-around choice, setting up is not very convenient. Stoney River sells it in five-pound bags, and it will require rinsing before use. Therefore, you might have to buy multiple packets for a larger tank to fill out the floor.

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– Overview

The Stoney River White Aquatic Sand is a natural substrate that will keep your ecosystem intact. This substrate is covered in a special non-toxic coating that removes various harmful chemicals and substances that could harm your cichlids. Briefly, it is great for promoting biological filtration in your tank, which can reduce waste and other toxins.

Buying Guide

Here’s a list of some things you should consider when looking for a cichlid tank substrate:

– Look and Feel

Along with many other things, one of the most important things your substrate will change is the look and feel of your tank. The latter is because it takes up a large amount of space, and the different patterns and colors can easily define your tank environment.

It is important to note that you should always look for a substrate option that matches your setup. To clarify the latter, if you plan to build a natural tank that mimics wild habitats, you can use a naturally excavated substrate. On the other hand, for stimulating a more modern or futuristic approach, an artificial substrate or something in more sober colors might be a better option.

– Pre-Use Cleaning

When you buy a new substrate, there is a high chance that it contains many particles of different sizes. It could be due to various reasons, such as the packaging or the transport causing it to move around and the substrate to break apart. While it may seem harmless, these particles are very important to remove and require rinsing and cleaning of the substrate.

Note that if you put it directly into your tank, the lighter particles will begin to float. In some cases, this can lead to the fogging up of your tank or even worse problems such as cutting up your fish’s fins. At the end, whenever you buy a new substrate, make sure you rinse it off at least once before use.

– Size & Texture

Size and texture of the grain are two of the most important factors to consider when it comes to choosing the best substrate for Cichlids because these fish like to stay at the bottom of the tank and root around the substrate. Naturally, a smooth and fine substrate would be ideal for them, as they can injure themselves while digging in a coarse-grained substrate.

– Good Bacteria

Good bacteria are a building block of every healthy aquarium, as they not only perform biological filtration by getting rid of the nitrates and ammonia, they also keep the harmful bacteria count under check.

Normally a tank may take up to three weeks to complete its nitrogen cycle. However, this process is sped up in the presence of good bacteria. Thus, it is recommended to add a substrate that is rich in bacteria to your cichlid tank.

– Color

Lastly, let’s discuss a subjective factor you could consider while making a purchase. Even though there are plenty of color options available for aquarium sand, cichlids tanks look the best with yellow or white. It is initial to note that these colors complement the look of cichlids, making the tank look more vibrant and healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s discuss a few frequently asked questions related to substrates for cichlids:

1. How Many Substrates Should I Add in My Cichlid Tank?

Apart from choosing the appropriate substrate for your cichlid, it is also very important to add the right quantity to the tank. Since cichlid fish like to dig in the sand, you should add a decent quantity of substrate to allow them to do so. Otherwise, they might injure themselves from the bottom layer of the tank while digging.

Typically, you’ll need two pounds of substrate for every gallon of water in your tank. Doing this will allow you to get an even layer of substrate that is around two inches in thickness.

2. Do Cichlids Prefer Sand Or Gravel?

While gravel can also be used, cichlids most often prefer sand as the substrate for their habitats. They will often ingest small amounts of this sand, and it is known to help with digestion. Moreover, aragonite sand is found in natural regions and is very beneficial for maintaining the right pH levels for cichlid growth and promoting biological filtration. So, you should avoid gravel for cichlids.

3. What Do Cichlids Like in Their Tank?

Most cichlids species prefer warmer water with a high pH level of approximately 8. While they are quite hardy and will be able to withstand various temperatures and alkalinity levels, keeping them in these conditions is the best for their optimal growth. Also, they prefer sand as the substrate for their tank as it is easier for them to ingest.

4. Do Cichlids Need Coral?

While they don’t need coral, it can be very beneficial for your cichlids since cichlids prefer an environment with a constant and high pH level. Due to this, substances like aragonite sands or crushed corals which are able to maintain this pH level would be great for your tank. Although, make sure you are maintaining the right pH level regularly.

5. Why Do Cichlids Dig in Sand?

Cichlids are notoriously known for digging into and even ingesting their substrate for various reasons. The most prominent cause of this is for breeding purposes in the fish since they try to create spawning pits in your substrate, which is done by digging and removing sand from specific areas.

6. Does Cichlid Sand Raise Ph?

In most cases, aragonite sand will not directly raise the pH levels of your tank’s water. Instead, these sands are designed to help in maintaining a high pH level for cichlids. If you want to increase the pH level, you can add baking soda to your aquarium in minimal quantities.

7. What Rocks Are Safe for Cichlids?

There are many kinds of rocks that can be added to a cichlid tank to improve the look and environment. For this, there are no real rules you need to follow except that the rocks should be smooth. Nonetheless, using ceramic stones, slate rocks, or even rives stones would be a great way to liven up your fish tank.

Best four cichlid tank substrate8. Is Aragonite Good for African Cichlids?

Aragonite sand is primarily found in the Bahamas and is a great substrate for cichlids. It has great buffering capabilities and is able to keep the pH levels at 8.2, which is perfect for keeping cichlids.


After testing out all the different substrate options, our decision for the best substrate for cichlids is the Carib Sea African Ivory Coast Sand. This African cichlid substrate is designed specifically for the species and is able to acclimate water conditions to the natural conditions of these cichlids. So if you’re a beginner looking for a suitable substrate for your cichlids, be sure to check this one out.

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