How Can I Put Sand Into A Tank That Already Has Water And Fish In It?

What I do to add sand to an established tank is:

  1. Rinse the sand thoroughly — a member here gave a good tip about placing the sand in an old pillowcase then rinsing in that.
  2. Be sure to turn off internal or HOB filter. (I’m not sure about canisters since I haven’t added sand to my tanks with canister filters.)
  3. Take handfuls of the sand and gently place it in the bottom of the tank where I want it. Some is going to float which is why we turn off the filter.
  4. Let it settle and then resume operations as normal. After the majority has settled, you can turn the filter back on. Some may float on the surface for a bit but it will eventually sink.

Someone else may have a different/better method but that is how I do it. ;)

One note of caution — if you already have a sand bed in the bottom and are just adding more, try not to disturb the existing bed over much. Gases can be released that may be harmful to the fish. If you’re doing a replacement — or if you’re changing from gravel to sand — do small sections at a time over several days. This will also save the beneficial bacteria that has formed in the substrate.

Plants are great for keeping nitrates in check — if you have the right sort of fish. Some fish just don’t want plants in their tanks (i.e. many African cichlids) and will uproot and destroy anything you plant. Many South/Central American cichlids, on the other hand, thrive in a planted tank.

If you would like to add plants, there are many plants that you can bury the roots in the sand. I personally love cryptocoryne. It’s very easy to grow — even in lower light — and attractive. I’ve had both red (bronze) and green. There are also various swords that are easily grown. Melon swords are very nice and usually don’t get too tall. There are some swords that do get tall and make a beautiful background. You may need to add a bit of fertilizer at first but once they are well established, they usually do pretty well without it.

Image posted by Peter

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • kgoerg: All great advice. To add the sand, instead of by handful, try a funnel and PVC tube. Make sure all equipment is cleaned thoroughly. Place the funnel into the PVC and pour the sand in slowly while moving the tube to place where you want the sand. A one inch PVC diameter seems okay and will not cause huge disturbances in the bottom of the tank.
  • Vale: Good tips! I imagine that if it’s not added slowly it can make the water cloudy until it settles.
  • debcc: kgoerg: great tip! Thanks!
  • Oreo1: I typically rinse the sand then just take cup fulls and dump the sand in lol! The fish don’t care!
  • nyleve: I would suspect if it’s just dumped in the water it could certainly get trapped in the filaments of the fishes gills and cause irritation. At least if it is carefully placed at the bottom there will be less suspended in the water column to become trapped.
  • Fishlady47: I also use a small cup to put the sand in my tanks. Slow of course tho. 🎅🏻
  • Aj Millar: I used sandwich bags filled them with sand let them sink then slowly burst them worked a treat

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