Live Sand vs. Dry Sand in Reef Tank – What Are the Differences?

If you are thinking about purchasing a saltwater tank to put in your house, there are some things you need to consider and figure out before you buy. Keep in mind that there are some differences between having a freshwater tank and a saltwater tank, but don’t let the differences scare you away! 

I’ll share all the basics you need to know down below!

What are the differences between live sand and dry sand?

This is a popular question among aquarium hobbyists. With there being so many choices out there, I thought I give you the scoop on what the differences are between the two so you can make an informed decision. 

Live Sand 

Live sand is just what its name implies – alive. This type of sand is wet and contains living bacteria, microorganisms, and possibly crustaceans living among the particles. This type of sand can aid in biological filtration as well as provide another food source for the fish living in the tank. The organisms in the sand can also consume matter at the bottom of the tank. 

There are many kinds of live sand such as coral sand, reef sand, aragonite, and crushed coral. You want to be careful with which type of live sand you buy because you want to avoid silicates at all costs. They will cause problems for you in the future. 

Unfortunately, 100% live sand can be very expensive. If you’ve already bought a huge tank (say 150 gallons), then you’ll probably want to cut down on costs and buy cheaper sand for your tank. 

Dry Sand

Dry sand is again what the name implies – dry. This type of sand contains no moisture and no bacteria, microorganisms, or crustaceans. In contrast to live sand, dry sand is cheaper per pound. While live sand can cost from $1.95/lb and up, dry sand typically costs around $1.25/lb. 

One thing to note with dry sand is that before you put it in the tank, you have to rinse it off. If not, then you’ll end up with a cloudy tank and the silt will cover everything.

Get a bucket, fill it with RO/DI (reverse osmosis/di-ionized) water, and add the sand. Mix it around a couple of times and drain the water. You’ll need to do this a couple of times to make sure the sand is nice and clean before you put it in the tank. 

As with live sand, you want to avoid silicates in dry sand to limit the amount of algae growth you have in your tank. 

Can I use beach sand in my saltwater aquarium?

For those who are want to set up a saltwater aquarium in your house but also want to save money, it’s tempting to cut some corners during the process and pickup some sand from a nearby beach instead of buying sand at the store.

There are so many things to consider when getting sand straight from the beach.

Will I get in trouble?

If you live near a beach that gets a lot of tourist traffic, then you should also know that the appearance of the environment is very important to the cities. They spend time making sure the beach is looking pristine and that the tourists and locals are respecting the environment.

Some cities even bring in sand from other locations in order to give their beach that “untouched” look. Make you check the laws and regulations in your area to find out if you’ll be allowed to take the sand.

Be careful of pollution

As you know, water pollution is a huge problem in the world right now. Instead of finding a way to safely dispose of trash, a lot of cities dump it into the water or into huge landfills that lead toxins into the water and surrounding areas.

Tourist locations have the most trouble with this because of the amount of people that come through. It’s hard to find a body of water that doesn’t gave pollution in it, whether that’s plastic straws, heavy metals, tin cans, glass, bacteria, or articles of clothing.

These water pollutants can wash up on shore and get lost among the particles of sand you’re collecting. If allowed into your tank, they can affect the water quality or harm your fish.

You could take a sample of the sand, and have it analyzed to figure out if there is anything in it that could be bad for your tank.

Are reef tanks hard to maintain?

Saltwater reef tanks are not super hard to maintain. It’s definitely going to be different than caring for a freshwater aquarium, but nothing outside of your skillset. Once you understand the differences between saltwater and freshwater, you’ll understand the best way to keep your tank in tip-top shape. 

If you’re a beginner then you’ll probably want to start your tank with just fish. As you gain more experience, you can add live coral and other creatures to your tank. 

Make sure you purchase good-quality equipment for your tank, so you won’t have to be making unnecessary trips to the store to replace parts when something breaks or stops working.

Also, buying a bigger tank is better for when you make mistakes. The mistake doesn’t have as big of an impact when you make it in a big tank versus a small tank. 

You don’t have to have a ton or any experience with freshwater aquariums before deciding to buy a saltwater reef tank. As long as you’re patient, careful, and willing to learn…you’ll be alright. 

Final Thoughts

Buying live sand or dry sand doesn’t have to overwhelm you. Sure, they might be different from tank to tank in many ways, but there are some things you’d need to consider regardless of what type of tank you decide to buy and which sand you going to put in.

Hopefully, this guide outlined above made your decision-making process a little bit easier and when you finish reading this, you’ll be ready to dive into the wonderful world of saltwater reef tanks.