Is White Sand Problematic?? - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-04-2012, 10:13 PM Thread Starter
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Is White Sand Problematic??

What are the rest of the pros and cons of white pool filter sand?

I'm thinking of breaking down my tank and replacing my black flourite sand with MTS topped with white sand after seeing this tank by Tom Barr.


But I have some misgivings about doing that as well, as for one thing with my preference for a low-maintenance jungle tank arrangement I don't have good access to clean the sand without causing havoc and damaging plants. My black sand stays perfectly clean enough looking, but I'm worried it might not be the same with white sand?

I'm also worried about the stains/algae you get along the front pane below the top of the substrate, which aren't visible with my black sand, but certainly would be with white.

Therefore I was thinking of either painting a black band on the inside or outside around the bottom of the tank to hide that, but wasn't sure if the black band would look strange with a white substrate. I could possibly do a white band instead if that might clash less?

Another alternative would be to mix up a batch of liquid epoxy or even silicon with pool filter sand and apply a layer of that around the bottom edges of the tank to create in impermeable layer which might match?

But then I don't want endless diatom blooms if pool filter sand is constantly releasing silica?
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-04-2012, 10:27 PM
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I used pool filter sand in my 90g when I had cichlids in it. I honestly didn't like it.
  • Sand scratches glass very easily so you have to be careful to not get a single grain caught in anything you're using to scrape the inside glass.
  • White substrate in a tank is like white carpet in a house: it shows every single speck of dirt—or in the case of an aquarium—fish poop. Not only does the color contrast make sure you can actually see every speck, but everything sits on top of the sand instead of filtering down. Even when you clean it, the fish make sure it's dirty before you can put the cleaning tools away.
  • Substrate always settles so that smaller particles slip down to the bottom leaving larger particles on top. That means a top coat of sand will begin to slip through the cracks of the larger particles of the substrate underneath. Over time, the two will mix. Eventually, the sand will end up on the bottom, mixed with the mulm and other tiny particles.
  • Because sand particles are so small, they can fit together very tightly, leaving little room for water in between. This causes it to become compacted. This can cause a secondary problem of trapping out fresh water, allowing anaerobic bacteria to colonize.
I believe a sand substrate, especially if it's put on top of another substrate, is very high maintenance. I did not like the look of it because it could not be maintained like the pictures on a regular basis. However, if you're willing to put in the extra effort, it might be something you'd enjoy.

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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-04-2012, 11:40 PM
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I do agree that using a sand substrate over any type of other substrate can prove to be very high maintenance. But using good quality, larger-grained, higher density PFS by itself can be very satisfactory from the standpoint of appearance, facility to keep clean (no detritus, uneaten fish food, etc. gets down under and into the sand, unless you turn it over and put it there yourself), is much more conducive to the well-being of bottom-dwellers like Cories, or shrimp, e.g.; it doesn't get siphoned out when vacuuming, like play sand does, and does not free-float when disturbed, to get into filters and clog up impellers.
And, if the sand depth is maintained at under 3", there is very little likelihood of anaerobic pockets developing.
As for white sand (as opposed to dark, or black) - one tends to pay more attention to cleansing to keep it looking good, whereas with black (which of course doesn't show the dirt as much) the tendency may be to get lazy, and not clean it as often (cause you can't see the crud) - to me that's an incentive to 'go white'.
And many plants grow very well in it, using root tab ferts.
As for maintaining it's fresh, new, clean look - that's easily done by removing (siphoning out) the top 20% layer of sand roughly every 6 months or so, and replacing that with new sand - no problem - stays looking like it's right out of the bag!

to Mxx: Your thoughts of placing a white band (tape) around the outside bottom of the tank, if using white PFS, is a good one - especially if you're leery about scratching the glass by getting down into the sand with a scraper to remove algae, etc.
And btw, PFS is completely inert - it does not leach silicates.

For what it's worth, here's my tank with quartz-based white silica PFS as substrate.
The sand had been in the tank for about a year when the pics were taken, and I had replaced the top layer of sand only once during that time, about 3-4 months before the pics were taken. The same sand looks just as good today as it did then.

http://s1105.photobucket.com/albums/...spaul/Sept2011
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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 12:33 AM Thread Starter
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I suppose scratching is not so much an issue for me, as I'd either be using white poolfiter sand or Black Beauty, which are equally dangerous in that way.

I've heard you can have a certain degree of luck with keeping it looking clean in for example a tank like the example I showed if you can direct the current down the front pane and then sweeping to the back. In that way anything landing on the sand gets swept to the rear into the dense plant beds and driftwood therefore leaving the front 'beach' looking pristine. Hang-on-back filters for instance achieve this type of flow.

I would top the MTS with a plastic embroidery canvas mesh before adding the topping sand, which should help keep the soil from mixing with the sand while aquascaping, etc to a fair degree.

I hear that pool filter sand is okay in terms of water flow, and that it doesn't compact like playsand does. After all, it is meant to act as a filter itself for pools. However, after a lot of research I'm of the opinion that anaerobic substrate isn't so bad. And as per reef tank practices, a deep sand bed actually helps ensure nitrates are kept under control. Now you still don't really want to go deeper than 5" for otherwise you might get anoxic activity instead.

Good to know that PFS doesn't cause diatom blooms! (But others had reported that...)

I'm at times a bit of a perfectionist, so a high-maintenance substrate that very quickly starts to look dirty and/or needs to be changed at regular intervals is perhaps not what I'm looking for though. I wonder if I'd be happier instead just sticking with black.

Paul, how did your sand start to look which made you decide to change it? Was it turning brown? Green? I'm surprised to hear that you actually had to change it to keep it looking clean. I would have thought it was inert and non-porous enough that you could just sift it a bit to turn over some cleaner sand if it starts to get a little algae on it after a while.

i wonder though if playsand would stay cleaner if it's not letting flow through, and therefore the sand particles below the surface wouldn't have bacteria growing on them like with pool fiter sand?
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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 12:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mxx View Post
I'm at times a bit of a perfectionist, so a high-maintenance substrate that very quickly starts to look dirty and/or needs to be changed at regular intervals is perhaps not what I'm looking for though. I wonder if I'd be happier instead just sticking with black.
This is pretty much what did me in. Even the pictures Paul posted, if you look closely, you can see some specks on the far left back side. Those specks drove me nuts. Here was the beautiful white and then poop!

And don't even think about what happens when Malaysian trumpet snails get into the sand. I created all kinds of sifters to get them out, but the babies are too tiny to stop them completely. No amount of filtration could clean out those "specks".

I used Leslie's pool filter sand (which you don't even have to pre-rinse) for about 2 years without ever having to scrape the top or add any more. I didn't have any real problem with it changing color. I did notice that it would become more dull looking after a few weeks so I would churn it to freshen it up by plunging the python into it while adding water to the tank. This moved the sand around nicely, stirring up a fresh surface. It may have also helped that I had cichlids which constantly took sand into their mouths and spit it back out their gills which helped to keep the sand stirred up, as well.

I did get algae along the glass just at and just below the sand level. This is where the scratching on my tank occurred (which is now hidden by the planted substrate). Cleaning that algae out almost always required that I get pieces of sand in the scraper. If you look at Tom Barr's picture you posted, you can see two levels of algae in his sand on the far left side of the tank.

I guess if you don't notice those kinds of things, it won't be a problem. I couldn't help but notice them. However, with a black substrate, these imperfections just melt away from my sight. So I guess it's just a person preference (or in my case, could be a personal problem! LOL!).

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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 03:17 AM
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Wow - picky, picky !
The Tom Barr tank is just about as good as it gets, and I believe mine is pretty fair as well.
If wee minor little things like that really bother you, then perhaps you want a different hobby - lol.
Got any pics of your tank we could have a look at ?
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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 03:37 AM
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I have had both black and PFS in my tanks... and Black is BY FAR the worst of the two as far as "build up" goes, I see alot more poo and little odd ball things on the black sand far more then my PFS.

My PFS has a few little darker specs in it, but I would rather have it look more natural then always vacuuming out the little particles. If you setup a power head well enough, you will have no build up of particles in your sight at all. Took me quite a few days to find the right angle.

It all comes down to personal preference as was stated.

I honestly don't have a problem with sand at all in general, besides for ONE thing. It has scratched my tank quite a bit, because I did not clean my brush thoroughly enough, was this my fault? Of course, but it was very hard trying to see black grains on a black Velcro like brush. That is the ONLY downside I ever have had with sand.

If I had to choose though for my next substrate, I would choose some type of Aquasoil or Eco Complete. Or some other non-sand substrate. Why? Because, honestly, I like to try everything atleast once.

Bolivian Rams make everything better.



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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 04:05 AM
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This is a trick some use (sorry if this is a repeat) and it will work on a cap, some folks put in a area across the front of the tank that is just enough to cover the glass because the sand get dirty from plant debris, fish poop, uneaten food, etc., they do this so it can be vacuumed up every 2 or 3 weeks and replaced as it only amount to a cup or so and a 50# bag will last a year. But even with a thick cap you should be able to vacuum of a little of the yop layer and replace it with new sand.

The tank you are looking at is a Low grow tank (I think) but I'm not sure on the substrate you would have to ask Tom.


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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 09:56 AM Thread Starter
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Some widely varying results and views here, which is all very helpful and informative!

With the Trumpet Snails, were the snails the problem themselves in terms of being 'specks' or did they stir up other messes? I suppose they're easy enough to avoid adding in any case, and not really necessary to use.

In terms of the sand looking 'dull' after a few weeks, was that relatively uniform or patchy? Uniform dullness I could potentially be happy to live with, for I don't mind a slightly natural look. In fact I might prefer to find a sand that is off-white rather than snow-white, so long as I could find one in a nice natural looking cream shade rather than either too yellow or grey.

Would using a smaller sand such as play sand perhaps keep the underlying sand cleaner due to lack of flow, so that when it does get stirred or sifted the freshened sand wouldn't have been acting as a substrate for bacteria to grow upon?

I hadn't thought of the cichlids thing, but that's a good point. I suppose adding a cluster of a small sand-sifter such as Bolivian Rams or Gymnogeophagus meridionalis might do some of that cleaning work for me constantly, which would be a major relief!

I definitely would want to put a band inside or outside of the tank to avoid the algae bands on the front pane like you see in that tank by Tom. Has anyone tried to create a band on the inside of the tank made from sand mixed with silicon or epoxy and applied to the front pane though?

It's a good point that black sand can show imperfections as well, although I hadn't any complaints when using it myself.

Or I could just skip the beach idea and go for a lawn look all the way to the front in case I'm not happy with the 'beach' look. So I might put in a MTS underlay anyway in case I decide to let a lawn grow over it anyway. Now whether a thick 'lawn' looks better/more natural with a black or white substrate is another matter, isn't it?

I see that there are some problems with using white sand, but perhaps with a bit of thinking I can design those issues out of my system. I'm thinking maybe adding maybe a spraybar just above the waterline hooked to a pump on a timer. So say twice a day that would kick on for 20 minutes and 'flush' everything away from front of the tank with a strong current. In that way I wouldn't have to have the equipment visible or have it noisy constantly but it would help to keep it looking clean while the slow-moving fish I'd keep wouldn't be fighting current all the time. I could separate the front beach from the rear planted sections with staggered driftwood pieces, and even put in a small step in order to help any detritus get swept back into the midground plants.

I might try this with a small tank soon when I have the chance to before trying it on something bigger, to see if I like it. On the tank I have in mind it'd be a black band I'd be spraypainting on the front pane of the tank, perhaps with Krylon Fusion. It'd look even better if I did it on the inside of the front pane of glass though, in case I could find a nice appropriate black non-toxic epoxy paint?
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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 09:36 PM
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With the Trumpet Snails, were the snails the problem themselves in terms of being 'specks' or did they stir up other messes?
The snails themselves were the issue. Even when I added assassin snails to kill them out, I had to get rid of their empty shells. Since they buried themselves in the sand, it was impossible to get rid of them. I changed out the sand one time, but all it takes it one snail to repopulate the entire substrate so I lost the battle.

Quote:
In terms of the sand looking 'dull' after a few weeks, was that relatively uniform or patchy? Uniform dullness I could potentially be happy to live with, for I don't mind a slightly natural look. In fact I might prefer to find a sand that is off-white rather than snow-white, so long as I could find one in a nice natural looking cream shade rather than either too yellow or grey.
It was uniform so you may be fine with it. You may also like the Leslie's brand of pool filter sand because it's a nice tan color (not pure white). There's a gentle variance in the color tone of the granules which gives a natural look that I think you'll like.

Quote:
Would using a smaller sand such as play sand perhaps keep the underlying sand cleaner due to lack of flow, so that when it does get stirred or sifted the freshened sand wouldn't have been acting as a substrate for bacteria to grow upon?
I can't answer your question directly, but I will say that just about everyone that I've know who has used sand has recommended pool filter sand over play sand (and many advise against play sand).

Quote:
I hadn't thought of the cichlids thing, but that's a good point. I suppose adding a cluster of a small sand-sifter such as Bolivian Rams or Gymnogeophagus meridionalis might do some of that cleaning work for me constantly, which would be a major relief!
But keep in mind that some sand sifter cichlids are notorious for uprooting plants. So research the fish carefully before buying.

I can't really comment on the other stuff, but I can see you're working it out in your head how you want to do it. The main thing I hope to offer are some of my experiences so you can determine if this is the right idea for you, and if it is, you can plan ahead to avoid some of the negative problems you might otherwise have. I know some people really love their sand, but I turned out to be one person who didn't. Whichever way you go, the best part is that it's just an aquarium which means if you end up not liking it, you can always change your mind and experiment with something else.

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post #11 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-05-2012, 10:14 PM
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Wow - picky, picky !
The Tom Barr tank is just about as good as it gets, and I believe mine is pretty fair as well.
If wee minor little things like that really bother you, then perhaps you want a different hobby - lol.
Got any pics of your tank we could have a look at ?
Well, I do think I said it was a personal preference and perhaps even a personal problem on my part (meaning I'm overly picky). It was certainly not intended as a slam on your tank or on Tom's. I was merely explaining what bothered me with my tank when I used sand to show how sensitive I was to the specks that unavoidably show. If the small specks or algae band on even the nicest of tanks bothers a person, then it's clearly not the tank, but the person. I don't like spicy food either, but I don't think that makes spicy food a bad thing.

While you may suggest that I should get out of the hobby because I do not like using sand as a substrate, I beg to differ. I do not have to use sand as a substrate. There are many other options available. I don't think people have to like each and every aspect of this hobby in order to enjoy and participate in the hobby as a whole. I love pelvicachromis fish, but would never expect anyone who does not share my same love to remove themselves from the entire hobby. Instead, I would encourage them to find a fish they love. There's plenty from which to choose.

As far as my tanks go, I have links to some of my journals in my sig lines which is attached to every post I write. My tanks have gone through many transformations, from terrible to terrific. But I'll throw a bone and offer a few pics to give an idea of my taste in tanks.

But most of all, I get the impression you felt insulted and responded defensively to my comment regarding your tank, and for that I am truly sorry as that was never my intention. What I was attempting to do was use your tank and Tom's tank as examples of excellent tanks using sand and how — even with such beauty and perfection — my eyes are drawn towards the algae and specks. I thought the contradiction of the tank's obvious beauty and my obsession with the specks would make a clear illustration that the sand was not the problem, but that the person was (me!), showing that sand was not for everyone. If your tank was not so beautiful, then the contradiction could not exist, making the example pointless. So I do apologize if my comments offended you in any way as that was not at all what I had intended. Your tank was/is extremely beautiful. Unfortunately, while I can enjoy the beauty of that design in someone else's tank, I drive myself totally nuts with every speck when *I* try to accomplish the same design, making it very clear that it's just not a good choice for me.

Feel free to dislike my tanks. I don't expect you to like my design (or lack thereof). However, I'm enjoying what I do all the same. I hope you are, too, with your tanks.

Here's some pics and some links to my journals where you can look at more pics if you're interested.

75g: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/ta...cs-mar-21.html



2.5g: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/ta...nano-torn.html



90g with cichlids: http://www.houstonfishbox.com/vforum...l=1#post445991



90g with plants: http://www.houstonfishbox.com/vforum...l=1#post579301



29g: http://www.houstonfishbox.com/vforum...d-Tank-Journal


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post #12 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-06-2012, 12:36 AM
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What sand is being used in the first pic?
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post #13 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-06-2012, 01:35 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Complexity for the good answers, and the thoughtful apology for others. It might not have been an issue, but it's good to err on the side of caution. Perhaps Paul was but suggesting that nothing is ever quite perfect when dealing with the messy complexities of life and nature, despite that we continue to strive for it!

I think I'll trial some pool filter sand on a small scale first. I just took a very close look at my black sand and there was a bit more debris on it then I had realized though...
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post #14 of 14 (permalink) Old 06-06-2012, 01:44 AM
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I hope I've been helpful. One more tip on the sand. Bring a cup of water with you when you go to buy it. Put a tablespoon or so of sand in the water and stir. If it clouds up, don't buy it. Keep going until you find a sand that does not cloud up. Trust me, it's out there (the Leslie's pool filter sand is most raved for this). When you get the right sand, it's so cool to be able to literally put it in your tank straight from the bag without any pre-rinsing.

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