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I too have used Soilmaster Select and had no issues with water parameters like some seem to have. I did not rinse mine prior to adding it to the tank and had very minimal clouding unlike Catherine. Seems the majority of people who have issues with Soilmaster altering their water chemistry are the ones who rinse it. Out of curiosity, Hoppy, did you risne your Soilmaster?

If you can't find Soilmaster Select you may want to try and locate Turface Pro League. I believe this is the same stuff, just a different manufacturer.
 

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Yes, I rinsed my Soilmaster, and I rinsed it very well. I have set up one tank just rinsing the top layer before adding it to the tank. That also worked very well.
There goes my theory that maybe the rinsing has something to do with it altering the water parameters :)

Another cheap black substrate is 3M Color Quartz. It is heavier, so planting would be easier. But, it is both inert and with no CEC ability, so using it means the plants get all of their nutrients from the water and/or substrate fertilizer tablets. I haven't used it yet, but those who use it seem to be pleased.
Yes, I am very pleased with the 3m Color Quartz, now if were only a little bit easier to get I would be extremely pleased with it.
 
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