Whether you’re just getting started with a new reef tank, or you already have a tank and are looking for ways to optimize the way it works, live sand can be of help in creating the perfect environment for the inhabitants of your marine aquarium.

In this article, I’ll explain a few things about live sand, when should you use it, and whether or not you need to have only live sand in your aquarium. Read on to find everything you always wanted to know about live sand!

What Is Live Sand

But what is live sand anyway? Live Sand, or LS, is sand that is stored and sold including some live micro organisms and bacteria. Those organisms will help the development of an ecosystem within your reef tank.

It’s said to be quite useful especially if you’re developing life in a new tank, since its features include organisms that will help clean the water from unwanted, harmful ammonia and nitrites.

Live sand will also help you with populating a new tank by helping other species in the water to thrive as they would in a natural environment.

Live Sand For Reef Tank

Types of Live Sand: Pure Vs Seeding

While you can always fill the bottom of your reef tank with live sand, it might become a little bit expensive if you use pure live sand to fill your sand bed (I’ll cover all you need to know about your sand bed afterwards in this article).

This is where seeding comes in handy: you get the live sand for your reef tank in a smaller amount and you mix it with dry sand (I’ll talk a bit about dry sand later on).

This way, you’re able to save a bit of money and still ensure you’ll have the right type of bacteria on your reef tank’s sand bed.


This practice is called seeding and ensures you cover your sand bed mixing live sand with dry sand to allow for the helpful bacteria to develop and populate your dry sand as well.

Do You Really Need Live Sand For Your Reef Tank

Whether you need live sand or not for your aquarium will really depend on the type of species you want to keep in your reef tank and whether it’s a new tank or a tank that’s already populated.

  • It’s easier to develop a community of species in your reef tank if you use live sand, but all dry becomes live sand at one point if you take good care of your aquarium.
  • If you’re using live sand for your saltwater aquarium, you’re just accelerating the process, but it’s not strictly necessary to get live sand straight away for your reef tank if you’re patient.
  • If you want to read more into live and dry types of sand for your reef tank, look up Aquarium sand: How to pick the right aquarium substrate for your reef tank.

How Much Sand Do You Need

Marine Depot recommends an amount of 70 pounds of sand per square foot in your aquarium. This means that for a tank that’s about 20 per 20 inches (length and width) you’ll need around 33 pounds of sand to create a two-inch sand bed – not too deep, not too shallow.

You can use Marine Depot’s Sand Bed Calculator to understand the amount of sand you’re going to need for your reef tank, depending on whether you’d like a shallow or deep sand bed. I’ll discuss the advantages of both further down, so read on.

Sand Bed Thickness: Deep Sand Bed Vs Shallow Sand Bed

The thickness of your sand bed will depend on the type of inhabitants you want to have in your reef tank, mostly.

In the past deep sand beds (from 3 to 6 inches of sand on the bottom of your reef tank) were supposed to be better as they helped anaerobic bacteria to thrive. The deeper you go, the less oxygen you have in your tank.

However, as the science behind reef tanks developed, it has become a common rule that a shallow sand bed is to be preferred. Shallow sand beds come from half an inch to an inch of sand on your sand bed, eliminating the chances of getting hydrogen sulfide pockets or the accumulation of detritus. Both these factors can be detrimental to the ecosystem of your reef tank.

What About Dry Sand

You can also ditch the live sand completely and go for dry sand instead.

Other than being much cheaper, dry sand will also become populated with micro organisms and bacteria if you give it enough time.

You can also purchase bacteria blocks, which are a cheaper version of live sand. These dissolve on the water and offer you the bacteria and organisms you need for your reef tank to be full of life, without the need to acquiring live sand for your whole sand bed or seeding (see above for more on seeding).

Maintenance Tips For Your Aquarium Sand

A few important things about keeping your aquarium sand clean and alive:

Implement a filtration system along with a good protein skimmer. This will help keep detritus off your reef tank and allow for easier thriving of the ecosystem in your aquarium.

If you’ve already started cycling your aquarium water for a while now, stay away from live sand. It might introduce strange bacteria in your tank that might be detrimental to the health of the ecosystem.

Scoop up any detritus you see like remainders of fish food or any algae that might be harming the population of your reef tank. This way, you’ll keep your sand bed clean and fresh so that the necessary bacteria can thrive.


Along this article, I explored the advantages and disadvantages of live sand for saltwater aquariums. Now, for a few final notes:

  • All dry sand becomes live sand if you wait a bit and take good care of your reef tank. So, if you’re looking for the best cost effective strategy, live sand might be a little expensive in the beginning.
  • Live sand will populate your aquarium faster with the right bacteria if you’re just starting.
  • If you already have a reef tank with its own bacteria and its own ecosystem, it might be a bad idea to introduce new bacteria using live sand.
  • Remember to cycle your water and clean it from any detritus, like remaining food from your fish or any harmful algae.
  • Also remember that it’s usually more appropriated to have a shallow sand bed in your aquarium, however, that will also depend on the species you’re hosting in your aquarium.

And with that note it’s a wrap. Happy fishkeeping!

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