Best Substrate for Aquarium Snails – Sand vs.Gravel

While starting a fish tank, you need to decide to have gravel or sand as a substrate. Most of the time you make the decision based on the fish you have. Is it as important to have snails in consideration while choosing the substrate? I decided to figure it out!

The type of substrate is not very important for the snail, instead chose the substrate depending on the fish you keep. Gravel has the benefits of easier movement for the snail. Sand has the benefit of making it easier for the snail to reach the food since it lands on the top of the substrate.

There are some things to consider while chosing the substrate. There are some benefits with both gravel and sand while keeping snails.

Benefits of Having Gravel As Substrate With Snails

The benefit of having gravel as substrate while keeping snails is that it will make it easier for the snail to move and hide. It will also provide places for the snail to put their eggs, making it easier for the snail to reproduce.

Gravel is basically small stones that are bigger than the stones sand is containing. This will make the space between the rocks in the substrate significantly larger than what it is between the stones in the sand.

In this space, the snails are able to hide and also lay eggs.

If the snails are bigger, like the Mystery Snail they will not have the benefit of hiding since the spaces are smaller. The food that the fish are not eating and are food for the snails will fall in between the cracks too, making it harder for the snail to reach the food.

The snail will reach the food either way though, it could stretch its body between the stones to reach the food, but it will be some work for the snail to get the food.

There are some downsides to having gravel too. There is a risk that a pebble will get stuck between the snail and its shell, potentially harming the snail.

The snail will generally be fine though. Firstly, the risk is very low that it will get stuck. The snail will know where to crawl to not get any problems with the stones getting stuck.

Secondly, if it gets stuck the snail will probably get it out by itself. The snail could stretch and bend its flexible body to be able to remove the pebble being stuck.

Benefits of Having Sand As Substrate With Snails

Snails and sand are a good combination since most snails will bury themselves inside the sand, making the sand aerate and release toxic gases that could build up inside the sand. It will also make it easier for the snails to reach the food since it lands on the top of the sand.

The Malaysian Trumpet snail is a master digger. It loves digging into the sand to get shelter and to lay eggs. This is the most common snail that digs down into the substrate.

The action of digging moves the sand around and releases gasses building up when the debris is broken down inside the substrate.

If too much gas is building up and then released you risk your fish tanking damage. This is what the snails are helping with to prevent.

Another benefit of having sand as a substrate is that the food will land on the top and not fall down into any cracks.

This will help the snails get to the food easier.

A downside of having sand is that you need to have snails are digging. Not all snails are digging. For example, ramshorn snails are not digging into the sand.

If the snail is not digging you run the risk of the build-up of toxic gases as described above.

The snails digging are the snails that have a more pointy shell, like the Malaysian Trumpet Snail.

What to Consider When Choosing The Substrate

When choosing the substrate, you should take into consideration what type and color. You should choose it based on primarily the fish you are going to have. More colorful fish will be more vibrant if the substrate is dark. If having catfish you need sand to not destroy their barbels.

The snail will be fine either way. Most snails don’t dig down into the substrate, which makes the choice of sand or gravel irrelevant for them.

The exception is if you have trumpet snails, it’s better to have sand than gravel.

The substrate is more relevant with the fish you have in your fish tank.

If you have colorful fish such as neon tetra, you will find that they will be more vibrant in color if you have dark substrate.

That’s because the fish will feel safer with a darker background since bigger fish will not see them towards the darker bottom.

With a safe fish, you could have a little bit more color to impress the girl fish.

The darker color substrate is available with both sand and gravel.

If you have a catfish such as Corydoras, you need to have sand. The barbels of the catfish will get damaged when they are dwelling at the bottom around gravel.

Their barbels will get stuck in between the stones of the gravel and will get damaged. If the barbels are damaged the fish will have a harder time orientate and it could die.

With sand, you don’t have that risk since it will not get stuck between any rocks.

Cost is another factor to take into consideration.

When adding substrate into your fish tank you should aim to have about 1-2 lbs (0.5-1 kg) of substate per gallon (4 liters) of water. This applies to both sand and gravel.

While taking a look at Amazon you see that the price differs a lot depending on the sand and gravel. I couldn’t find the same brand of sand and gravel but you will find gravel a lot cheaper than sand.

At Amazon, you will find gravel from GloFish that is really cheap.

If we look at the sand on Amazon, we find that sand from Stoney River costs more than gravel does.

If cost is a consideration, you should go for gravel. The snails don’t mind, be sure you have the right type of fish for the substrate.


I have been a fish keeper a big part of my life. During the years I have gathered and searched a lot of information about fish keeping and here, on the website, is where I share that information to help you with your fish keeping. I want to provide the information that I didn't get when I had a question about my fish tank.

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