Bare bottom tanks and tank stand buffers

20g long segregation tank with 1/4″ fitted styrofoam between tank and stand. Photo by the author.

Many cichlid enthusiasts, in fact most fish keepers, utilize some type of substrate in their aquariums. It might be sand, gravel, some type of stratum for plant growth, or a combination. Nothing wrong with having a substrate. However, if you’re not keeping shell dwellers, eartheaters, tunnelers, or plants, you might consider keeping a bare bottom tank. Why?

There are multiple reasons why a bare bottomed tank is advantageous. For one, they’re much easier to clean. There is no worry about sucking up substrate when you vacuum and clean. Also, unless you have cichlids breeding in the tank, you’re guaranteed that anything on the tank bottom, which you didn’t put there, needs to be removed, such as detritus. 

Most of my tanks are bare bottomed. I do this for several reasons. Like I mentioned, it makes tank cleaning so much easier and quicker. Another reason is that I often have fry. Because of the species I keep, most of my fry hug the bottom of the tank. Let me expand on why this second reason matters for omitting a substrate.

Most tanks and/or tank stands do not come with tank mats, the thin little foam mats that sit between the tank and the stand, something more typical with rimless tanks. I have become a big fan of having some type of mat or buffer between my stands and my tanks, especially if the stands are metal. Metal has little structural give, which means if any part of the top of the stand is slightly uneven or has a “burr” of some kind, it can put stress on the tanks when they’re full of water (remember, freshwater weighs ~8.5lbs per gallon). I mitigate that risk by using some type of flexible buffer between my tanks and their stands. 

Empty 40g breeder tank with fitted 1/2″ polyethylene foam between tank and stand. Photo by the author.

Sometimes that buffer is nothing but a piece of cut-to-fit plywood. Other times it is some type of foam, including styrofoam. These kinds of buffers relate to the second reason for having no substrate – fry. Unless the tank stand is white or some other color, which they usually aren’t, the bottom of a clear glass tank will be dark. Plywood and many foams are typically a lighter color. The advantage? Any fry on the bottom of the tank is easily contrasted against the light background. I can spot them much more quickly and easily, as well as any detritus. 

Yes, light colored sand substrates provide the same advantage, but that takes me back to the first reason I advocate for bare bottom – ease of cleaning. Vacuuming the tank takes on a whole new level of ease when you don’t have to worry about sucking up sand, gravel, or fry that you can’t see. 

If your tank situation doesn’t demand that you have some type of substrate, consider doing without. Most fish won’t care. 

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