How To Clean Aquarium Gravel?

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel (1)

Owning an aquarium can be a rewarding experience, especially when your tank is well filtered and brimming with colorful fish.

And while caring for an aquarium can be worthwhile, this does not mean that it is easy. 

For example, many aquarium owners will often have to clean the inside of their rank to keep the water fresh for their fish and plants.

This means having to clean the glass, the filter and, of course, the substrate. 

While gravel can look beautiful in your aquarium, it is also the area of the tank that builds up the most debris, which can make the water cloudy and harmful to your fish.

So if you want to know how to clean the substrate, then you’re in the right place. 

In the following article, we are going to teach you how to clean your aquarium gravel using two simple methods.

We have also included some helpful tips about how to approach the process and what you will need to complete the job. 

So if you want to know more about cleaning aquarium gravel, this article has everything you need to get started… 

Does Your Aquarium Gravel Need Cleaning? 

Before you can start cleaning your aquarium, you must first determine whether the gravel needs to be cleaned or not, as the cleaning process can be very complicated and sometimes prove more detrimental than regular cleaning. 

For example, if your aquarium has been fully cycled, then you should be able to maintain the number of beneficial bacteria used to break down fish waste and debris.

If this is the case, then it should also be possible to maintain your aquarium without having to clean the substrate on a regular basis. 

However, this does not mean that the gravel should be ignored, as it is common for the substrate to become contaminated with solid food and plant grime, both of which can be removed with the help of a vacuum. 

Failure to clean the substrate can result in the accumulation of dirt and debris, which can impact the conditions of the water and make it uninhabitable.

In these conditions, algae will also be able to thrive between the pebbles, which can lead to a buildup of bacteria and a rather unfortunate smell. 

To combat these problems, you will need to vacuum the gravel to remove the grime and break down the algae in the substrate.

It is also possible to purchase an airstone to improve the condition of the water in the pebbles. 

How Often Should You Clean Aquarium Gravel? 

How often you should clean the substrate will depend on the dynamics of the aquarium, as different tank conditions can accumulate more dirt than others. 

In most cases, grime will accumulate faster in small overstocked aquariums with little plant life, which will need to be vacuumed every two weeks to promote the maintenance and health of the fish. 

If your aquarium is dense in underwater life, then you can forego this and clean the substrate once every month.

During this process, you will also need to remove dead leaves that have decomposed on the gravel, as this can release harmful bacteria into the water and impact the conditions of the tank. 

The substrate in overstocked aquariums will gather more dirt because of the food waste from feeding more fish.

This is especially true if your aquarium is densely populated with species known to produce a lot of matter, such as goldfish and oscars. 

In basic terms, vacuuming the gravel every two weeks is a necessity, unless your aquarium is clean and densely planted.

In which case, you will only need to clean the substrate once every month. 

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel (With Vacuum)?

While it is possible to clean the substrate manually, most aquarium owners will use a siphon vacuum cleaner to speed up the process. 

These vacuum cleaners use hydrostatic pressure to remove the grime from the pebbles, while also allowing you to transfer the waste outside the tank. 

To use the siphon vacuum cleaner correctly, you must ensure that: 

  • The siphon tube must always be higher than the aquarium, as this will allow the dirt and water to flow with the help of gravity. 
  • Make sure to always have a buck in close reach, as you will need to deposit the waste in a container or receptacle. 
  • It is important that there are no air bubbles in the tube, otherwise, it will not work during vacuuming. 
  • Let the tube get filled with dirt before removing it from the tank, as removing it too early could lead to other problems. 

So without further ado, let’s take a look at how to clean aquarium gravel with a vacuum cleaner… 

Step One: Unplug The Aquarium 

To begin, you will need to unplug the heater, filter and air pump but leave your fish and decorations in the aquarium.

In most cases, the process should not take long to complete and should not cause much stress for the fish. 

Step Two: Submerge The Cleaner 

For the next step, you will need the vacuum cleaner and an empty bucket.

Place the bucket below the aquarium and submerge the kit in the tank.

Once the cleaner is in the tank, make sure that the siphon tube has been fully submerged. 

Step Three: Use Up-Down Motions 

Start moving the tube inside the water in small up-down motions about 2 – 4 inches from the top of the substrate.

Continue to do this until water starts to flow through the tube and into the bucket below. 

Step Four: Vacuum The Substrate 

When the flow has been established, move the tube over the gravel and start vacuuming up the grime.

For the best results, we recommend moving the tuber further into the substrate, which will help to gather more dirt. 

Step Five: Turn The Siphon Tube 

When your aquarium is 75 percent full, turn the siphon tube up while still inside the tank and remove it to drain out the remaining debris.

In some cases, the tube could get full before reaching this stage, which means you will have to drain it and repeat the process until you have reached the desired level. 

Step Six: Plug Back The Aquarium 

Once the gravel has been reasonably cleaned, clear the cleaning area and replug the heater, filter and air pump. 

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel (Without Vacuum)?

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel

Cleaning aquarium gravel without a vacuum can be a long and tedious process, although this does not mean that it is impossible. 

While the method is known to take more time and effort, it is also cheaper and can help to break down substrate pockets that are caked in grime. 

So without further ado, let’s take a look at how you can clean aquarium gravel without a vacuum cleaner… 

Step One: Prepare The Tank 

To begin, you will need to prepare a clean aquarium for your fish, where you will transfer them during the cleaning process.

Once the tank has been cleaned, use a tube to siphon 50 percent of the original water into the holding tank.

Step Two: Transfer The Fish 

When the new aquarium is ready, you can start transferring the fish using a net.

However, if you keep species that have delicate fins, you may need to use your hands to avoid further problems. 

Step Three: Unplug The Tank 

Before you can start cleaning the gravel, you will need to unplug the heater, filter and air pump from the aquarium.

Unlike our previous instructions, you will also need to remove the plants and decorations. 

Step Four: Clean The Gravel 

To clean the substrate, there are two methods that you can use.

The first method removes the gravel from the tank and places it on a sieve for cleaning.

While the second involves pouring the gravel into a holding pan and filling it with water. 

If you choose to use a sieve, then you can hold the gravel under running water until the current runs clean. 

However, if you have chosen to place your gravel in a holding pan, then you can fill it with water and use your hands to move the pebbles around.

When the substrate looks clean, drain the dirty water and return it to the tank. 

Step Five: Plug Back The Tank 

When the gravel is clean, you can dry it and mix it with a portion that has been left unwashed.

Once you have added it back to your aquarium, you can replug the heater, filter and air pump. 

Step Six: Replace The Fish 

Once the clean aquarium is ready, you can put back the fish using the same method you used to remove them. 

And there we have it, that is how to clean aquarium gravel with or without a vacuum cleaner. 

We hope that you found this article helpful and that you will refer to it the next time you need to clean your aquarium substrate. 

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