How To Clean Aquarium Sand

How to Clean Aquarium Sand

An important part of a fish tank is the gravel or sand.

Unfortunately, this is also a part of the thank that a lot of people forget about when cleaning it.

You might think that sand is just sand, right? It doesn’t need to be cleaned and taken care of… but it does.

Like everything in an aquarium, the sand also needs to be cleaned regularly, because it gets dirty just like everything else in there.

Because of the nature of fish tanks, everything inside it is reliant on us humans to clean and maintain it. 

If you have recently taken a hard look at your sand and have realized that it needs to be cleaned, you’re in the right place.

Here, we’re going to take a look at what makes aquarium sand dirty, how to clean it, and how to keep it cleaner for longer.

Believe it or not, there are ways to make sand cleaning really easy and almost enjoyable.

By following the tips mentioned in this post, you’ll no doubt be surprised by how simple this really is, and all the problems that can be avoided.

What Causes Aquarium Sand to Get Dirty?

Anaerobic bacteria will turn the sand in your fish tank black.

When this happens, you will probably smell something rotten, which is an obvious sign that you need to clean your tank.

Ideally, you should clean the sand before this happens.

Any food and other waste will also accumulate on the sand over time, which can make it dirty very quickly.

Instead of being faced with black, stinking sand, you should create a routine where you can it frequently.

Sand cleaning should happen every week when you do a tank clean, so it’s always best to stay on top of things.

How to Clean Aquarium Sand (1)

How to Clean Aquarium Sand?

There are lots of different ways to clean your aquarium sand and maintain it.

Below are some methods you can use to keep your sand looking great.

There are a few hands-on ways to do this as well as an easy way.

You will have to find out which method works best for you and your tank and go from there.

Manual Cleaning

  • Gravel Vacuum – also called siphons, these devices are really handy for sand and gravel cleaning. They work by creating gentle suction via a flow of water. When you use this method, you are loosening the debris and dirt from the sand by lifting the sand, and the dirt is picked up by the siphon.

As this method removed some tank water, doing this while cleaning is a great idea, and you can do this as part of a water change.

Although this method takes some practice (it’s easy to accidentally vacuum all the sand up), when you learn how to do it correctly it’s an amazing tool.

  • Use your hands to stir the sand – this isn’t a true a cleaning method, but it does help. You can simply use your fingers and run them through the sand to dislodge the debris and dirt. Once you do this, you can either siphon the dirt out, or let your filter take care of it.

Pairing this method with a water change is also a good idea.

This method should only be used when the sand is relatively clean.

If your sand is visibly dirty and hasn’t been cleaned in a long time, this method is not suitable.

  • Try a turkey baster – this method is another great way to dislodge the debris and dirt from the sand. You can once again use a siphon or do a partial water change to help things along.
  • Removing and rinsing the sand – this method is great for sand that hasn’t been cleaned for a long time. We will go through a step-by-step process for how to carry out this method, as there are some things that should and should not be done.

How to Rinse Sand Safely (or add new sand)?

  1. Get a scoop to remove sand from the tank.
  2. Shut off the flow in the tank. This is so that any waste that is stirred up does not cloud the aquarium.
  3. Remove your chosen amount of sand from the tank carefully. It is not advised to take all the sand out of the tank in one session, as this will have a negative effect on the beneficial bacteria. Place the sand you want to clean in a bucket or another container for cleaning.
  4. ** If you are going to be putting in new sand, it is advised that you still rinse off your new sand before adding it. If you don’t rinse your sand, it will likely cloud the aquarium.
  5. ** If you are going to put in new and, carefully add the new sand to the tank. Carefully place it at the bottom of the tank and try not to let sand float through the water.
  6. If you are going to re-use your sand, rinse it with clean water. Add water to the bucket until it’s about ¾ full, then use your hand to stir the sand and water.
  7. Carefully empty the water from the bucket.
  8. Repeat step 6 and continue rinsing the sand until the water is clear. This may take several rinses depending on how dirty the water is.
  9. When the sand is clean, scoop it back into the tank very gently to avoid the sand floating in the water. 

This method won’t always work for established tanks, as you will be getting the good and bad bacteria.

However, as long as you do not do the whole tank at once, it should work well.

Always allow time between cleaning so that the good bacteria can establish, or else there will likely be a lot of problems.

Natural Cleaning

  • Sand sifters – there are a number of sand sifters you can add to your tank to help clean the sand. These creatures include some starfish, gobies, snails, sea cucumbers, and crabs.

You will have to figure out which sand sifting creature is best for your aquarium based on its size, what else is in the tank, and whether it’s salt or fresh water.

Making use of these animals will make taking care of the sand a lot easier, plus you will have some more interesting creatures to watch work.

Ways to Keep Your Sand Clean For Longer

  • Clean the sand before initially putting it in your tank – when you buy new aquarium sand, it’s a good idea to rinse it thoroughly before using it in your tank. There are a number of things that could be on the sand before it’s cleaned, so rinsing it will make it safer and easier to handle in the long run.

If you don’t rinse your sand, it will likely make the aquarium cloudy.

Although this will settle in a week or do, it may bother a lot of people who want their aquarium water to be crystal clear.

  • Only use a thin (1 inch) layer of sand – to avoid anaerobic bacteria, make sure that your sand is no deeper than 1-inch (2.5 cm). Deeper sand beds are more prone to experiencing these problems.
  • Get fish that clean the sand – as previously mentioned, getting sand sifting creatures can help you maintain a clean tank for longer. 

Some Tips for Sand in Your Aquarium

  • Stick to one type of sand or gravel – don’t mix fine sand with coarse gravels or grits. All the fine sand will gradually make its way to the bottom and the larger pieces will be on top. 
  • Not all sand belongs in aquariums – there are so many types of sand, and many of them are not suitable for aquariums. Don’t buy just any sand and expect to add it to your aquarium. This could actually be dangerous as the pH levels could change, and other unwanted chemicals or bacteria could be added to the tank unintentionally.
  • Clean all new sand or gravel – when you buy sand for your aquarium, rinse it thoroughly with clean water. This will reduce the cloudiness you will experience from adding new sand.

Final Thoughts 

Sand in your aquarium is easy to take care of once you know all the basic rules.

There are a lot of simple things you can do to help the sand stay clean, including putting in some elbow grease and setting some sand sifters.

A lot of the manual methods for cleaning sand work well when paired with other things.

For this reason, it is beneficial to have a high-quality filter that will catch dirt and debris before it becomes a problem. 

Now that you know how to clean the sand in your aquarium, I hope your tanks continue to look as stunning as they should be.

If you’re thinking about getting an aquarium, hopefully this was helpful to you, and you feel a little less intimidated about cleaning the sand.

What are you waiting for? Get cleaning that sand!

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