Best Substrate for Axolotl Tank | Aquascape Addiction

Best Substrate for Axolotl Tank

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We cover what we feel are the best substrate options for your axolotl tank, with a detailed comparison of sand vs gravel vs bare bottom for axolotls and answer some general common questions.

Best Substrate for Axolotl Tank

Axolotls are some pretty cool creatures indeed. It’s known as the walking fish and is actually a type of salamanders. Now, these cool creatures, just like with any other aquarium, need to have substrate.

The best substrate for axolotl tanks is usually going to be very fine sand, but there are a couple of other options too. Let’s look at the different type of substrate options, answer some common questions and finally cover what we feel are the 2 best options.

AquaQuartz Filter Sand Our Top Pick 9.3 / 10
Caribsea Super Naturals Fine sand and 100% natural 8.9 / 10

Sand VS Gravel VS Bare Bottom For Axolotls?

bare bottom axolotl tank

When it comes to substrate for axolotl tanks, there are three main options which you have to go with, these being sand, gravel, and bare bottom.

So, are all of these ideal? Is one better than the rest? Let’s find out.


Sand is considered to be the number one type of substrate for axolotl tanks. Now, sand is totally fine with axolotls over 3 inches in size, which is going to be any full grown axolotl. The sand must however be extremely fine and smooth.

The reason for this is because axolotls feed from the bottom of the tank, and they breathe down there too. Therefore, axolotls will ingest a good deal of sand when eating, plus they will inhale it too while breathing.

If the sand is rough and coarse, it may cause internal damage or blockages. If the sand is very fine, small, and smooth, then the axolotl will pass the sand through its system without issue.


Many people like to use gravel as substrate for aquariums, and yes, it can be ideal for some fish, but not for axolotls.

The reason for this is because they will end up ingesting small stones. It is virtually unavoidable. When an axolotl eats, it will eventually end up eating some of that gravel.

If the gravel chunks are rough, jagged, or not perfectly round and smooth, not to mention large, the gravel can easily injure an axolotl. Sharp gravel may cut the inside of the axolotl, such as the throat, stomach, and the digestive tract.

Gravel can also get stuck inside of axolotls and cause blockages. Simply put, gravel can literally kill axolotls.

Bare Bottom

Some people do choose to go with a bare bottom tank for axolotls, or in other words, no substrate at all. Now, this is considered a safe option in terms of breathing and eating.

If there is no substrate at all, then there is nothing to be inhaled or ingested which can end up causing problems.

However, the issue with bare bottom tanks is that they may end up damaging the sensitive toes of axolotls and causing sores on their feet.

Moreover, the other problem here is that bare bottom tanks do not mimic the natural environment of the axolotl, and this can end up causing stress and unhappiness. There’s also the fact that bare bottom tanks just don’t look very nice either.

The Verdict

The final verdict here is that the number one best type of substrate for axolotl tanks is very fine sand. It’s really the only viable option to go with.

There are two really nice sand substrates which we would recommend, both of which are covered below.

Best Sand for Axolotl Tanks

Here we have what are considered to be the two best aquarium sands to use as axolotl substrate. Let’s take a quick look.

1. AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand

This particular sand is extremely fine with extremely small grains, so if an axolotl eats it, the sand should pass through its system without issue.

Moreover, this sand is also 100% free of any chemicals and dyes, which means that it is non-toxic, so it won’t poison your axolotl when ingested. AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand is also totally odorless and non-staining.

This particular sand is 100% natural and it is designed so that it does not solidify. This is good for axolotls, as they won’t suffer from blockages due to ingesting it.

There is also the fact that AquaQuartz Pool Filter Sand has a nice white color, which should create some good contrast in the axolotl tank.

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2). Carib Sea Super Natural Moonlight Sand

There is a reason why Carib Sea Super Natural Moonlight Sand is advertised as premium aquarium substrate, because it is just that. For one, this sand is very fine and small, plus it is specially formulated to prevent clumping together.

At the same time, it is also 100% natural, chemical free, and dye free, which means that it is non-toxic. In other words, if your axolotl happens to swallow a few mouthfuls of it, there should be no negative side effects.

This is also a good option because the small grain size prevents detritus from slipping through to the bottom, thus allowing you to easily suck waste and uneaten food off the top using an aquarium vacuum.

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Best Gravel For Axolotl's?

Many people still want to know what the best gravel for axolotl tanks is. Well, as we have discussed in the opening sections, axolotls under no circumstance should have gravel or stones in their tanks as substrate.

There is no best gravel at all because gravel should not be used in our opinion. Axolotls are super clumsy eaters and they can easily take a mouthful of substrate along with whatever they are eating.

Gravel can get compact, block the digestive tract, and cause death. At the very least, gravel can also injure those soft axolotl toes and feet.

Can You Put Rocks in an Axolotl Tank?

No, the only real solution for axolotl substrate is sand. Rocks, if they are too small, may be ingested by axolotls and cause injury or death.

On the other hand, if the rocks are too large, they may injure the axolotl’s toes or feet, plus they will just be hard for the axolotl to maneuver over and around.

Therefore, rocks, stones, and gravel are all not ideal for axolotls tanks, not in the least.

Can You Use Tiles at the Bottom of the Tank?

Yes, this is actually quite interesting. Some people who do not want to use sand for axolotl substrate choose to use tiles.

The reason why some people use tiles as opposed to a bare bottom tank is to provide the axolotl with some grip. Axolotl toes and feet are very soft and smooth, which means that they will have trouble getting traction on a bare bottom glass or plastic tank.

Tile or slate, the right color, not only looks better than a bare bottom tank, but it can also help provide that much needed traction.

Tips for Cleaning Axolotl Tanks

Let’s quickly go over some valuable tips for cleaning axolotl tanks that you can follow.

  • To make the tank easier to clean, and to maintain water quality, an axolotl tank should be at least 20 gallons in size. This will mitigate the amount and concentration of waste within the tank at any one time.

  • Axolotl tanks, due to these creatures being quite messy, should have a very powerful and efficient external canister filter. These filters should be cleaned on a weekly basis to ensure efficient and optimal filtration.

  • In terms of water changes for axolotls, you should be doing a weekly water change of anywhere between 20% and 30%.

  • When it comes to cleaning the tank, you should be engaging in rigorous cleaning at least once per week. This means vacuuming the substrate, washing plants and decorations, and cleaning the interior walls of the tank too.


When all has been said and done, axolotls are pretty easy to care for as long as you set up their tank nicely and keep it clean. They aren’t picky eaters.

That’s for sure. It’s why you have to be careful when choosing their substrate, because they’re so greedy that they end up eating it along with their food. Remember people, sand is the only real option.

Image Credit: mlhill06fall12 @ Flickr