Recycling tank sand

Clear plastic bin for drying sand. Photo by author.

Clear plastic bin with for drying sand with lid removed. Photo by author.

I have posted several times about my tank maintenance set-up. There are multiple advantages to using this process, which you can read at the end of that post.

Two of the advantages are money savings. One, of course, is that I don’t waste any source water in the effort, which is normal for Python-type vacuum systems. The other is that I recycle my sand. Yep, you can reuse the sand that you vacuumed out of the tank during your regular tank cleanings. How? It’s a bit work intensive, but you will save some money in the long run.

First, my tank maintenance process leaves all the sand that I vacuum up in a bucket, which is a good thing. Second, most of the detritus stays on top of the sand, which is key. I place the bucket into my fish room utility sink and use a spray wand on the sink to spray the sand. This usually stirs it up just enough to pull the detritus to the top if it’s not there already. Because I don’t typically vacuum up more than a cup or two of sand total between my tanks, it’s not much sand to have to sift through. Most of the detritus is visible, however, some isn’t. If you can see it, keep rinsing and dumping. Even with only a couple of cups of sand, it may take several attempts to get it all.

So how do I know if I removed most of the detritus? Smell. That’s right. Leave a bucket of sand that’s full of detritus sitting for a day and then stick your nose down near the bucket. The smell is unmistakable and pungent. So keep spraying and emptying the water until you can no longer see or smell the waste. However, you’re not done yet. There is another step. I put the sand in a plastic bin, which I then place outside in the sun to hasten the drying. Placing the sand in the sun will dry up any remaining detritus effectively halting the breakdown process. Rehydration of any existing detritus is a non-issue here.

Two important parts of this process for drying in the sun:

  1. Use a clear plastic bin. This allows the sun to penetrate the sides, etc. Don’t put the lid all the way on. Doing so will create condensation as the moisture in the sand heats up. That moisture will accumulate on the underside of the lid and then rain back down on the sand.
  2. Use a shallow bin with a large footprint. You can use a deep bin if you want, but you will only be using the bottom of it. The shallower the sand, the quicker it will dry. Aim for no deeper than 2-3″ of sand regardless of the bin.

Rather than one large bin, I use multiple smaller ones. Of course the size of the bin(s) you use depends on how much sand you have to dry. Note in the top left photo the lid appears to be completely covering the bin. It isn’t. There is about a 1/8″ gap between the lid and the body so air can flow preventing condensation on the inside. You can always leave the lid off, but you may end up with leaves or other such stuff in it if the bin is near trees, shrubs, etc. It’s Spring here now. The bins in the photos are on a table on my deck. My deck is surrounded by trees so I get lots of pollen and other stuff as the wind blows. I don’t want that in the bins.

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