Fluval Stratum Review: Is It a Good Substrate

Fluval Stratum Review

Today, I’m reviewing one of the most acclaimed substrates for the healthy growth of both plants and shrimp. In this Fluval Stratum review, I’ll discuss its features, how it can be unique from the others, and what downsides it might have.Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum, For Fish Tanks, 4.4 lbs., 12693

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As you might already know, the substrate provides much more than esthetics to your aquarium. It’s essential for proper bacterial growth and, by extension, the processing of ammonia into non-toxic materials.

Make sure to stick around till the end of this post. I’ll present some alternatives in case the Fluval Stratum isn’t good enough for you.

Without any further ado, let’s get going!


Fluval Stratum: Pros and Cons

In a hurry? Well, you can save time by quickly browsing the following list of pros and cons. It should tell you all the basic information you need to decide on whether you’ll purchase this substrate.


  • It contains lots of beneficial nutrients thanks to its volcanic nature
  • The delicate roots can penetrate it easily
  • The baby shrimp can hide in its pores for protection
  • It maintains perfect pH for plants and shrimp
  • Its dark color makes the small shrimp stand out more


  • The light soil might not provide enough anchorage for large plants like the Amazon Sword.
  • Baby shrimp can outgrow the small pores quickly
  • It might cause water turbidity
  • It’s a bit expensive

What’s Unique About Fluval Stratum

I’ll begin by highlighting the top features that set the Fluval Stratum apart from any other substrate.

It’s Based on Mineral-Rich Volcanic Soil

Over the course of history, anthropologists were always dazzled by the behavior of our ancestors. They think that several civilizations chose to migrate and live beside an active volcano that pushes flaming rocks every now and then.

When they looked closer, they knew it had to do with agriculture. As it turned out, the fresh nutrients coming from the center of the earth provided a multitude of healthy nutrients for plants. We’re speaking about potassium, sodium, iron, and more.

As you can tell, aquatic plantations aren’t that different from the plants in your backyard. In fact, some aquatic setups might be a bit harder for the plants due to the absence of proper light and photosynthesis.

For that reason, volcanic soil is the ultimate substrate for a planted aquarium. Fluval sources its volcanic rocks from the foothills of Mount Aso in Japan, which is currently the largest active volcano there.

Its Granules Are Delicate With Lots of Pores

Unlike most of the other substrates, Fluval is keen on keeping the granules small and delicate. This way, the small roots recently grown by the plants can easily infiltrate through the soil and pick up nutrients.

Thanks to the lightweight granules, the surface can maintain a non-compacting state. In other words, the substrate will enclose lots of small pores throughout its whole volume. And that’s where the true benefit of this substrate emerges.

After the shrimp eggs hatch, the delicate newborn shrimp might be sent into the most dangerous environment. They can be harassed or even eaten by the bigger, stronger fish. That’s why it’s crucial for them to hide until they’re big enough to fend for themselves.

That’s where the Fluval Stratum comes in handy. The baby shrimps can easily dig into this delicate substrate and hide themselves whenever the environment gets risky. That’s why Fluval markets this substrate as “plant and shrimp stratum”.

Fluval Stratum General Features

After highlighting the unique aspects, we’ll take a look at the general features that you can find in most of the other commercial substrates.

It’s Dark

The color choice of the substrate varies considerably between aquarists. It depends on your setup, light, tank size, etc.

If you’re growing shrimp, a dark substrate will be preferred. It should make the shrimp and plants stand out more than white or yellow substrates.

It Lowers the pH

Generally speaking, most shrimp and plant species prefer slightly acidic, soft water. Without getting into chemical details, the Fluval Stratum is built to do that. It has the ability to lower the pH of tap water to make it perfect for the delicate shrimp.

That’s why I generally recommend it for beginners. It’ll take one variable off your plate to let you focus on what’s more important.

The Drawbacks of Fluval Stratum

Nothing is perfect, right? In this section, I’ll highlight the things that might not be that great about the Fluval Stratum. You’ll be left to judge whether these disadvantages are that critical to your setup or not.

It Might Not Provide Enough Plant Anchorage

Earlier in this post, I stated that the granules of Fluval are kept delicate with interstitial porosities so that the small roots can penetrate it easily. Well, that very advantage might also be a significant drawback.

The lightness of this substrate limits your plant choices to some extent. You’re restricted to small, short plants that don’t need anchorage. If you put a plant with numerous large leaves and long stems, the roots will probably stick out of this substrate.

The Baby Shrimp Will Outgrow It Quickly

Unfortunately, you can’t depend on Fluval Stratum as the only hideout for your shrimp. The small pores between the granules will be too small for the shrimp to hide once they get a bit older.

But to be fair, this can’t be considered a major disadvantage. No substrate can provide shelter for small and large shrimp at the same time.

That said, you can pair the Fluval Stratum with a bunch of other hideouts to get the best result.

For baby shrimps, Java Moss is a must-have. Its spaces are small enough for baby shrimp, yet it has a bit of freedom to accommodate them as they’re getting bigger. Best of all, shrimp is the best inhabitant of Java Moss. It’s capable of cleaning algae and debris off the leaves without causing damage to the dainty structure.

For adult shrimp, placing a couple of cholla wood pieces should act as a hideout and food collector simultaneously.

It Might Cloud the Water

Just like any dark substrate, the Fluval Stratum can make the aquarium dark and cloudy. Some aquarists believe that the volcanic ingredients might accentuate this effect even more.

But truth be told, water cloudiness depends on the aquarist more than the substrate. Some aquarists wash the substrate before getting it into the aquarium to get rid of any lurking organisms like pest snails.

While this works for hard substrates like gravel, it’s absolutely wrong for granule-based substrates like Fluval Stratum. Washing with water crushes the grains into small particles that would flow around the tank and cause turbidity.

The same effect also happens when you move the stones and driftwood too much after filling the tank. Likewise, avoid filling the aquarium with water in an aggressive or rapid manner, or else the substrate will be disintegrated and disturbed.

It’s a Bit Expensive

When compared to other substrates, you’ll find that the Fluval Stratum costs nearly double the average. But since it doesn’t need to be changed that often, we can’t view this as a significant flaw.

Check out this video from Fluval describing Stratum in their own words.

Fluval Stratum Alternatives

If you don’t think Fluval Stratum can satisfy your needs, no worries! Here are two of the best substrates that can be used alternatively.

Tropica Aquarium Soil

This substrate from Tropica also lies on the expensive side. It’s even pricier than the Fluval Stratum. It comes in two sizes: 3-liter and 9-liter bags.

The Tropica Aquarium Soil is an active substrate. This means that it can actively lower the pH to make the tank more suitable for shrimp. This makes it a worthy competitor to Fluval Stratum.

Although Tropica didn’t build it from volcanic rocks, it still provides exceptional nutritional value for growing plants. This is possible through its high cation exchange capacity (CEC). In simpler words, this substrate absorbs some of the nutrients from the water and keeps them available for the plants over a long period of time.

If you’re planning on breeding shrimp, make sure to buy the version with the large particle size. Tropica produces a compacted, powdered edition that won’t provide enough hideouts for shrimp.

The Downsides

Just like the Fluval Stratum, this substrate has a high probability of clouding your water. But this can be controlled by avoiding pre-washing, rapid water filling, and aggressively relocating items in your aquarium.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia

ADA produces its Amazonia substrate from decomposed leaf mulch that it sources from Japanese farms. This way, it has all the amazing organic perks while including small amounts of volcanic ash. That said, it can provide the highest amount of nutrients for plants.

But unfortunately, the small grain size of the Amazonia isn’t suitable for breeding young shrimp. Also, it has a much higher tendency to cause cloudy water. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Fluval stratum break down?

Fluval Stratum is known to break down more easily than other types of substrates. It could be one of the reasons why it makes a powdery mess when first introduced to your tank. But once it settles on the bottom, the water becomes clear once again.

Should you rinse Fluval stratum?

It really depends. I personally don’t rinse it before use, but others recommend that it’s rinsed. In my experience, if it’s rinsed before use it starts to become muddy and is difficult to work with.

Typically you would place stratum in your tank, place your decor add a little bit of water so you can start to add some live plants, then fill the rest of the tank. That said when you fill your tank be sure to protect the stratum with either a plate or a plastic bag.

Can I mix Fluval stratum with gravel?

Stratum is lighter than gravel so if mixed the stratum won’t mix well. However, if used as a base gravel or sand could be used as a cap for the stratum which is a very common thing to see in dirted tanks.

The Final Word

As you saw, the Fluval Stratum is among the best substrates intended for breeding shrimp and plants at the same time. Since it’s based on volcanic ash, it provides exceptional levels of nutrients to grow the plants in the fastest time possible.

Remember, I strongly advise against washing this substrate before placing it in the aquarium. This would disintegrate some of the soil, leading to dreadful water turbidity.

Further Reading: Be sure to check out our round-up Best Substrate For A Planted Tank and learn which substrates promote the fastest plant growth.

Wishing you all the best!

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