Ditching my gravel for sand this weekend

  • #1
ALL OPINIONS WELCOME Sorry a bit of a long read.

Please let me know what you think of how I plan on changing out my gravel for 60 pounds of CaribSea Black Tahitian Moon sand in my 65 gallon tank 36” wide 18” deep. We have black epoxied gravel in the tank and it looks okay but I have been so impressed with the look of black sand over the gravel sub straight. I also plan on adding a few bottom feeders at a later date. The tank is cycled so my plan is to keep as much good bio in the system as I can.

Before I go any further with the process I want to say that I run two filters an HOB Marineland Bio-Wheel 350 and an API XP-M canister filter each filter is capable of running the aquarium on its own.

I want to keep the stress level of the fish as low as possible during the sub strait swap. I plan to use a rubber made container to hold the fish with one or two pieces of structure so the fish have a place to hide or settle in and around. I will place the heater in it and may put the HOB on there (I’m still up in the air about that) I think my air pump and couple of 5 inch bubble stones will suffice. I will also use a clean 5 gallon bucket to put the plastic plants and other rocks in with water from the tank.

I plan on following the directions on the bag for rinsing the product, they suggest getting a 5 gallon bucket and cutting the top two corners off and place the bags in a bucket and feed water in one side flushing out finer particles that would cloud up the aquarium through the other open corner. I have a feeling this will not meet my expectations so I will more than likely put about 5 to 10 pounds of sand in a clean 5 gallon bucket and gently rinse from the bottom up until the water starts to run clean over the lip of the bucket. I don’t want to over clean explanation further down.
So to start I plan on removing 70% of the water to hold the fish over in the temporary holding container. Once the fish and plants are out I plan on removing the rest of the water above the gravel line for retention also.

Once all of the gravel is out I plan on testing the remaining water to see if the ammonia or nitrites are spiked as there will be a bit of fish waste and unconsumed food that was trapped deep in the gravel. If the test look normal I will start adding all of the sand to the tank.
Here is where the fun begins and why I don’t want to over clean the sand. Some of the sand is a powdery consistency as time goes by all of that will settle to the very bottom and the larger grains will work their way to the top. I could be wrong but I believe when the finer material settles to the bottom it will help create a barrier of fine dense particles that will help in preventing gas build up under the larger grains. If anyone knows of any tricks my ears are open I have a couple of ideas using vibration just haven’t worked out the actual application or what type of tool to use.
Once the water quality and clarity is good I will add some of the retained water back to the tank and start running the filters I will then slowly add some of the tank water back to the temporary holding tank to help acclimate the fish. Once that is complete I will add the fish back completing the aquarium.

Please let me know if I have over thought this or what you have experienced. I am open to suggestions on modifying my plan and are there any recommendations of a buffer to help calm the fish while all of this is going on.

  • #2
I started my tank with sand and am a newby. I can't give you much information but cleaning a tank with sand is harder. Some sand always sucks up in the siphon so every time you clean the tank you will ultimately lose some sand. I don't want to pour the sand in my bucket back into may tank because I know it's also contains fish poop. Gravel is heavier so the lighter waste goes all the way up the siphon and into my bucket, leaving the gravel behind. Sand is lighter so inevitably some sand gets sucked up with the waste. After almost six months I am seeing the need to add more sand to my aquarium.
  • #3
This what I used when I transferred to sand-
Hope everything goes well!
  • #4
Hi, welcome to fishlore

Your idea of rinsing the sand is better than the cut the bag open method so I'd go that route.
Your plan of moving the fish and heater (and I'd also run the hob) seems right on.

As far as air pockets go, if you stick to an inch to two max of sand it really shouldn't be an issue. If you put live plants that will aerate the sand naturally as the roots grow throughout. I always have MTS (malaysian trumpet snails) in my sand tank as they really keep the sand aerated. I love them but some people do not.

You don't siphon sand directly the way you do gravel. What you do is swirl the siphon an inch or so above the top of the sand and any poop, debris gets pulled up that way. That's one of the nice things about sand is detritus sits on the top.

If this tank has been setup awhile you will probably experience a cycle bump with some ammonia and/or nitrites showing up from removal of the substrate. I'd recommend dosing prime daily while you have them and doing a large water change if they get up towards 1.0 (which I don't think they will). You could also add in some Stability daily after the change.

Lastly, if your ph and temperature match between the two tanks you can just switch them from the bin into the tank. I have done this numerous times. You should not need to acclimate if they match. If you have unusually high nitrates in the tank then you will need to acclimate them so I'd test that first.

Hope it goes well
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
CindI thank you the input,
I think my original plan was the best route to go but I ended up removing all of the gravel this morning with the fish in. First thing this morning I tested the water.
PH 7.6, Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, and nitrate 5.0.

After removing all of the gravel the only thing that changed was the PH it dropped closer to 7.2. the gravel has been out for about an hour and the 2 filters almost have the water crystal clear again.

My plan now is to just run the filters for 2 or 3 more hours to polish the water. I did add some of the larger plants back in to give the fish a place to hide out if they wish.

I don't have any prime at the moment but will pick some up later today along with stability. I will also pick up some MTS while I'm there.


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