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Hello,

I'm new to planted tanks and have been reading many 'How tos' and now have a t5 light and some plants. I want to select a substrate that will not impact the water chemstry for the fish I have in my tanks.

Which substrate is the best choice?
 

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Not a simple question. It all depends on much money and effort you want to put into it. If chemistry is your thing then you can go with a completely inert substrate and dose ferts for your plants.

Otherwise you'd want to have an organic substrate like aquasoil or top soil (with a gravel or sand cap) This way adding fert will be nearly, if not completely, unnecessary.
 

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Personally, for a beginner, I'd recommend using an inert medium like pool filter sand. Root tabs will be necessary for heavy root feeders. You will also need to keep up with water column dosing, although that isn't as involved as it sounds.

By contrast, organic substrates are better in most respects, but can be a bit difficult to do properly - especially if you want to save a lot of money by making your own (aka mineralised topsoil). However, they give you a nice nutrient buffer so that if you do get lazy with dosing, less harm done. They are also more suited to growing the more difficult carpet plants, in my view, although not essential.

Although after six months of fish pooing in it, pool filter sand isn't really so 'inert' anymore...

If you do use sand, you must be careful to fill the tank very, very slowly - I mean it takes an hour with a trickling hose - to avoid fogging your water for days or weeks. Like most substrates, you really must wash it thoroughly.

PFS is sold at pool supply stores. It's very cheap. It is graded to be of a certain size, so allows water flow while minimising the risk of compaction and anaerobic bacteria growing (which most, but not all, agree is bad). For this reason, play sand is less appropriate - as it is usually finer - but many people have success with it, too.

Finally, whatever you choose, I'd highly recommend you consider introducing a colony of Malaysian Trumpet Snails. You'll find plenty of information about them elsewhere; I'll only add that overpopulation is only an issue in badly overfed tanks, and /or tanks with higher GH.
 

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I'd recommend using an inert medium like pool filter sand. Root tabs will be necessary for heavy root feeders.

By contrast, organic substrates are better in most respects, but can be a bit difficult to do properly
Poof filter sand doesn't stay white very long. I found it a PITA to keep white.

Difficult I and the dirty tank club would disagree on. There is even a whole section at APC forum for it called El Natural. My basic form is:
1st layer reptile coconut bark to add Co2 to the tank
2nd layer Scotts top soil
3rd layer River sand for topping.
 

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That's true, but my filter sand isn't white. It's really just sand of a certain size, and beyond that it depends on the region from which it is sourced. Commonly enough, it is river sand - exactly what you're using.

Reptile litter is interesting. I don't disagree that a DIY substrate is an excellent idea, I just think it's important to note that it's more complicated than sand.
 
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