How to Use a Gravel Vacuum to Clean Aquariums
Ever wonder if there’s an easy way to clean all the fish waste and uneaten food that’s fallen in between the aquarium’s gravel or substrate? The good news is that there’s no need to dump out and wash everything in the sink. Instead, all you need is an aquarium siphon to vacuum up any stray bits. No batteries needed!
Step 1: Get your Materials
Two items are required: an aquarium siphon, also known as a gravel vacuum or cleaner, and a bucket to collect the water. It might be more convenient to have a large trash container on wheels if you intend to clean multiple tanks. However, the bucket is optional if your siphon’s hose is long enough to reach a nearby sink or even the backyard to water your outdoor plants.
A siphon basically consists of two sections: the plastic tube that goes into the aquarium and the long, flexible hose that goes into the bucket.
We personally like using the Python Pro-Clean siphon because its high-quality, flexible tubing doesn’t kink or get twisted as easily. We earn commissions from Amazon Associates purchases that qualify.
Step 2: Prepare the Tank
There is no need to remove the fish while using the aquarium siphon, since the process of catching them is more stressful than slowly vacuuming around them. You should remove aquarium decorations from the area where you are planning to vacuum, as waste can collect under them. Some people prefer to clean the filter before cleaning the algae, so that the siphon can remove all particles.
Magnetic alga scrappers are excellent for cleaning algae, especially when you have the appropriate blade attachment. Make sure you get the acrylic or glass version that matches your aquarium walls.
Step 3: Get the Siphon started
Aquarium siphons use gravity and water to empty your aquarium. To start the siphon, make sure the hose end of the siphon is inside the bucket. To ensure that the siphon doesn’t slip from the bucket, some people use a clamp. Next, completely submerge your tube in the aquarium to fill it with water. You can easily do this by keeping the tube at a diagonal angle with the tube opening pointed upwards.
Raise the tube out of the water and above the aquarium rim until water starts flowing through the hose and into the bucket.
Quickly plunge the tube in the water with the same diagonal angle, so that the tube remains pointed up. To allow water to drain into the bucket, the tube opening must be fully submerged.
Once water has started flowing freely into the bucket, turn the tube opening toward the tank’s substrate.
Note: if the water level is too low or the tank is too small to maneuver the tube using this technique, you may need to use another method to start the siphon. The easiest method is to place the tube end in the aquarium and suck on the hose end with your mouth to get water flowing through it. Or else, you might get a lot of fish water.
Step 4: Vacuum the Gravel
The siphon should be pushed into the gravel or sand. Once it has started vacuuming, you can let the siphon go. To temporarily stop the suction, the substrate is much heavier than fish waste. You can periodically crimp your hose with the other hand. This causes the substrate to fall out the tube. However, the lighter debris will remain inside the tube. Once the heavy material is gone, the tube will continue vacuuming.
As if you were mowing the lawn, systematically vacuum the substrate in rows. Use this method to clean about a third of the aquarium substrate. You can vacuum the third tank when you next do a water change.
Step 5: Discard the Siphon
When you are ready to stop siphoning water, cover the tube with your hand and then lift it out. The tube will suction to your hand and prevent the dirty water from falling back into the aquarium. Flip the tube upwards and let the remaining water in the siphon drain into the bucket.
Click on the video to see this simple procedure in action.
That’s all! You can now fill the aquarium with water that is approximately the same temperature as the original water. Don’t forget to add a dechlorinator, which will remove any chlorine, chloramine or other harmful chemicals.
Bonus tip: Fill the tank without using a bucket
If you want to fill your fish tank (or multiple tanks) straight from the sink faucet without having to lug buckets of water back and forth, all you need is a garden hose, faucet hose adaptor, and the Python hook.
1. Unscrew the sink faucet aerator from the faucet opening. Attach the 3/4″ male gardenhose connector to the faucet hose adaptor. (If an adaptor does not fit your faucet, you can take the sink adaptor to the hardware shop to have it fitted.
1. Attach one end to the sink adapter. Attach the Python hook to the other end.
1. To ensure your garden hose doesn’t slip out of your tank when filling it, hang the Python hook on the aquarium wall. 2. Turn the heat on at the sink and allow the water to flow into the tank. 3. After your aquarium has filled, turn off the faucet water. After you have completed all water changes, you can raise the Python hook above the sink. Then, let any remaining water flow into the drain and then coil the hose for storage.