How to Wash FLUORITE

The Perfect Plant Substrate

You know, I wouldn't have thought there was an article in this subject, but I see so many questions about it on the boards I thought maybe it was something that needed to be addressed. We are talking about SeaChem's Fluorite, a fracted clay material that is just about the perfect substrate for growing plants--at least in my humble opinion. It's the right size, it's loaded with iron and other trace elements to feed the plants' roots, it won't affect the ph or hardness of your water, and it's even pretty! How can you beat that? The only complaint I ever hear about it, aside from the cost--and I hear it all the time--is how messy it is when you wash it and how badly it clouds your tank. Well, it doesn't have to be that way--it's not that way for me--and I thought I would share my methods in the hope it will help alleviate someone' else's frustration.

So why use Fluorite? What's wrong with plain old gravel? Well--nothing, really, except plain old gravel is just that; it's inert, and it offers nothing extra to help your plants grow. If you use plain old gravel, you'll find that you need to use substrate fertilizers to give your plants a boost. It's more than that, though--Fluorite is the best rooting medium for plants I've ever come across. It's the perfect size, and it's lighter in weight than regular gravel and doesn't compact as easily, and that together with the nutrients it provides encourages roots to grow like nothing else I've ever tried. Yes, it costs more than gravel does, but think of it as an investment in good plant growth--and a way to protect your investment in all those plants you're going to be buying! Keep in mind that Fluorite occupies more mass than an equal weight of gravel does, so you don't need quite as much; a 15 pound bag is more than enough for a 10 gallon tank, you'll have some left over. About one pound of Fluorite per gallon will give you plenty of substrate; you'll have to buy half again as many pounds of gravel. You can reduce the cost considerably by mixing it with small gravel, up to about 50-50. That's what I prefer to do, and I feel my results have been just as good with a mixture as they have been with a 100% Fluorite substrate. How much you want to use is for you to decide.

So, you've decided you want to use Fluorite to give your plants the best possible medium to grow in. Great! Now what? Without further ado, here's how you can get it from the bag to your tank with a minimum of effort for you and cloudiness for your tank.


Note tomato plants. If you're going to wash Fluorite, you might as well do it someplace where all that nice water and Fluorite dust will do some good. I use the heavy duty disposable aluminum pans and split a bag between two of them, and then place them in my garden or anyplace else that needs a good soaking. Grab your hose (preferably one with a high pressure nozzle) and prepare to blast away. Turn on the water, and spray with the hose until the pan overflows; keep spraying as the yucky stuff floats out of the pan--a minute or two is plenty.

disposable aluminum pans

Here's what it looks like after the initial rinsing. Huh? What Fluorite? All I see is a pan of mud! Now, now, be patient--we're not finished! Pour off as much of the muddy water as you can without dumping out the Fluorite along with it.

after the initial rinsing

Now rinse again with the hose until the pan overflows, another minute or two. At right is the pan after the second rinse. Surprise, you can see the Fluorite! If you're really compulsive, you can do it a few more times until the water is clearer, but if you can see the Fluorite in the pan through the water, you're pretty much done. Keep in mind that the more you wash it, the more you abrade it, and the more stuff it will let go of. This is counterproductive. Not only won't it EVER be completely clear, you're eating away at that expensive substrate you just bought. You want it to leach out that stuff in your tank, not in the aluminum pan in the garden!

Now rinse again

I guess it would have made more sense if I had taken a picture of the Fluorite IN the colander, but hopefully you'll get the idea. Anyway--pour as much of the water off the Fluorite as you can without dumping the Fluorite (I keep mentioning that because if you DO dump it, there's your expensive substrate either in the garden or the lawn. Go ahead, try and pick it up. Now try and pick it up without picking up a whole handful of crud you don't want in your tank.) Pour the Fluorite into the colander. Any colander will do. I have no objection to doing Fluorite one day and pasta the next (you CAN wash the thing out, you know), but if you're pickier than I am, you can either get a colander strictly for aquarium use or just use an old one. Grab your trusty hose, and blast away (don't fill the colander TOO full, or you're back to trying to pick the Fluorite out of the lawn again) for a minute or so. If you've gotten this far and have spent more than ten minutes doing it, you've spent WAY too much time rinsing.


If you skip this step, you might as well forget all the other ones, and I wash my hands of you AND your Fluorite. Shake as much water as you can out of the Fluorite while it's in the colander, spread a garage towel (come on, EVERYBODY has garage towels) on a nice sunny spot, and then spread the Fluorite out on the towel. LET DRY!!! If you want to speed the process along, once it's dry on top, grab another garage towel and spread it out; then pick up the Fluorite in the towel. Just use the edges to slide it to the middle, grab all four corners and lift; you won't lose a piece, I promise. then spread it out on the dry towel, and it will be dry in no time. I usually leave it out there for half an hour or so and go do something else in the meantime. Once it's dry, pick it up in the towel again and put towel and all in a five gallon bucket, and then just carefully remove the towel. VOILA!! It's ready to go in the tank.

spread the Fluorite out on the towel

Once the Fluorite is in your tank, the way you add the water will make a big difference too. Find a good sized bowl that's not too deep, and weigh down your hose so the water flows into the bowl; turn on the water and fill slowly. Just let the water overflow the bowl to fill the tank. Once the bowl is under a few inches of water, you can just let the water flow in, but keep the hose nozzle under the surface. The tank at right is a 120 gallon which is still filling; looks pretty clear, doesn't it? I promise you that if you add your fluorite (or ANY substrate, for that matter) to the tank dry, you will have virtually no cloudiness at all from the substrate material.

the way you add the water will make a big difference too

he payoff is a nice clear tank right from the get-go

Obviously this method works a lot better if you choose to do it on a sunny day with the air temperature somewhere above freezing. I'll grant you that if you happen to be setting up your tank in Manitoba in January, you may have to improvise, but it is entirely possible to do this whole thing inside in the bathtub if you have to--in fact, it will keep those annoying little pieces of gravel from winding up down the drain as long as you don't get carried away with the hose. Just be sure to keep the dog out of whatever room you've spread the fluorite out to dry in.

The payoff is a nice clear tank right from the get-go (do people still say that? Lately I've had the feeling that I'm losing touch with pop culture). This is the 120 gallon, three days after setup and first planting:


It's not crystal clear yet, but that's not the fault of the Fluorite. No planted tank is going to be crystal clear in three days, biological stuff has to happen first--but it doesn't have to be cloudy either. This is what the tank looked like after six weeks:

biological stuff has to happen

Told you the Fluorite was good stuff.


Back Home...

Valid HTML