Bare Bottom Fish Tank – Is It Possible? Pros & Cons Discussed

Updated on by Patrice Alsteen | Affiliate links may be present.

If you want to start a debate among aquarium enthusiasts, just bring up bare-bottom aquariums. What is the point of that gravel on the bottom, anyway? Is a bare-bottom fish tank a feasible option? What are the benefits of a bare-bottom aquarium?

Why Have a Bare-bottom Aquarium?

There are many reasons why an aquarium may not have substrate at the bottom. Some of the reasons for a bare-bottom tank may include:

  • Large fish
  • Large aquarium
  • Delicate fish
  • Breeding tank
  • Hospital tank
  • Quarantine tank
  • Or, simply for aesthetics

How is Substrate Beneficial?

Your substrate is full of bacteria. Before you get concerned, this bacteria is very beneficial to your tank’s ecosystem!

The bacteria in the substrate will consume ammonia, turn it into nitrite, and then, eventually, nitrate. In other words, the bacteria in your substrate helps to neutralize the waste your fish produce.

Pros of a Bare-bottom Aquarium

If the bacteria in the substrate is so important, why would anyone want a bare-bottom fish tank in the first place? There are several advantages to a bare-bottom aquarium.

Easier to Clean

In a bare-bottom aquarium, there is no sand or gravel to sift through when you clean your tank. Simply siphon up the waste and the tank is clean!

Easy to View Fish

There are fewer areas for fish to hide without substrate. This is one reason bare-bottom aquariums are used for fish that need extra observation.

Better Water Flow

Fewer materials in the aquarium usually equate to a better water flow. The water can circulate better and reach the filter more easily.

Dead zones are also easier to spot in a bare-bottom aquarium. Look for areas where waste builds up, then adjust or add flow to your system.

Easier for Fish to Find Food

Once food sinks into the gravel, it is difficult for the fish to find. Food on the bottom of a bare-bottom aquarium is easy for fish to spot and eat.

Fish are Less Likely to Get Injured

Delicate fish may become injured on rough gravel if they brush against it. Owners of rare or delicate fish may opt for a bare bottom tank.

No Unwanted Parasites

Scuds, bristle worms, flatworms, and other unwanted creatures often lurk in the substrate. It can be difficult to eradicate some of these parasites! Without a substrate, pests do not have a place to hide.

Cons of a Bare-bottom Aquarium

There is a reason that most tanks have gravel or sand on the bottom! Here are the downsides to a bare-bottom fish tank.

No Place for Beneficial Bacteria to Grow

This is the number one case against a bare-bottom aquarium. Your substrate is full of beneficial bacteria that will help break down and neutralize the waste that the inhabitants of your aquarium produce. The beneficial bacteria turns harmful chemicals into nitrites and nitrates.

Without the helpful bacteria, it is up to the aquarium owner to filter out harmful chemicals and maintain nitrite/nitrate levels in the tank. This can be a bit complicated, especially for new aquarium owners.

Limited Live Plant Options

The substrate helps live plants establish roots in your tank. There are plants that can thrive in a bare-bottom aquarium, but your options will be limited.

Fish Waste is More Obvious

Fish waste sinks to the bottom of the tank. In a bare-bottom tank, it is much more visible.

More Maintenance/Care Is Required

Since that beneficial bacteria that typically live in the substrate is missing, you will have to be extra careful about cleaning, filtration, and testing nitrite/nitrate levels in your fish tank.

Limited Fish Options

Some fish don’t do well in a bare-bottom aquarium. Fish that enjoy moving sand or gravel, or hiding in the rocks may be stressed out in an aquarium that lacks a substrate. Some fish are dependent on the bacteria in the substrate for survival.

Diminished Water Quality

Water quality in a bare-bottom tank needs to be consistently monitored for ammonia and nitrite levels. Without beneficial bacteria in the substrate, the water quality may be affected.

Less Like the Natural Habitat

Fishes like cichlids enjoy burrowing in the sand and gravel at the bottom of the tank. They are more comfortable and happy with a more natural tank environment. Some fish may not mind.

In order to keep your fish happy, find out if that particular variety of fish enjoys digging or burrowing before you put them in a bare-bottom aquarium. Overall, a sand or gravel floor is more like a naturally occurring habitat for your fish.

What Type of Plants Do Well Without Substrate?

Look for a rhizome plant, such as java fern or anubias. These types of plants can attach their roots to any surface, such as tank decorations, or even the aquarium wall!

Moss, such as Marimo moss, is easy to add to a bare-bottom aquarium. Just drop it in! This type of moss will provide fish with a place to hide.

Pothos is a floating plant. The roots hang into the water, and the leaves remain on top. Pothos will also help with nitrite removal in your bare-bottom aquarium.

What Type of Fish are Best for a Bare-bottom Aquarium?

Some types of fish need substrate in order to be healthy. There are other fish that will do well in a bare-bottom aquarium.

Goldfish are perfectly happy without substrate. Betta fish and minnows also do well in a bare-bottom tank. Oscar fish may also do well in a bare-bottom tank if the proper water levels are maintained.

Final Thoughts

A bare bottom fish tank is possible! In fact, it may even be beneficial for some types of delicate fish. Other fish won’t do as well without substrate. It is important to understand the ins and outs of bare-bottom aquariums before you attempt to start one. With the right types of fish and plants, your bare-bottom aquarium can thrive.

About Patrice Alsteen

Patrice has been an animal lover, right from her childhood. She's currently enjoying the company of her cat, dog, aquarium fishes, and a few small furry companions.

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