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? It’s not necessary to empty out all the waste and wash it in the sink. Instead, you can vacuum up the detritus with a simple aquarium siphon – no batteries required!
Step 1: Get the Materials
Two items are required: an aquarium siphon, also known as a gravel vacuum or cleaner, and a bucket to collect the water. A large trash can with wheels is a better option if you have multiple tanks to clean. The bucket can be used if the siphon’s hose extends far enough to reach the nearest sink or the backyard to water your plants.
The siphon consists of two parts: the tube that goes into an aquarium and the flexible, long hose that goes into a bucket.
The Python Pro-Clean siphon is a favorite of ours because it has high-quality flexible tubing that doesn’t kink and twist as easily. (As Amazon Associates, we earn commissions on qualifying purchases. Click the link to see how you can earn them.
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 like to scrub off the algae and clean the filter beforehand, so that all the excess particles in the water have a chance of being removed by the siphon.
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: Start the Siphon
Aquarium siphons use gravity to suck the water and debris out of your aquarium. The siphon must be connected to the bucket. (Some people use a small clamp to make sure the hose doesn’t slip out of the bucket.) Then completely submerge the tube inside the aquarium so that it fills with water. You can easily do this by keeping the tube at a diagonal angle with the tube opening pointed upwards.
Lift the tube from the water, and place it above the aquarium rim. Water will flow through the tube and into the bucket when you do this.
As soon as the water has drained halfway out of the tube, quickly plunge the tube back into the water at the same diagonal angle (such that the tube is still pointed upwards). The tube opening must be completely underwater in order for the water to continue draining into the bucket.
Once water is freely flowing into the bucket, point the tube opening downwards toward the substrate at the bottom of the tank.
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 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 will cause the heavy substrate to drop out of the tube while the lighter debris floats in the tube and is sucked up by the vacuum cleaner once you have un-crimped the hose.
Systematically vacuum the substrate back and forth in rows, as if you’re mowing the lawn. You can clean around a third of your aquarium substrate using this method. The next time you do a water change, you can vacuum the next third of the tank.
Step 5: Remove the Siphon
Once you’re ready to stop siphoning, cover the tube opening with your hand and lift the tube out. The tube will suction to your hand and prevent the dirty water from falling back into the aquarium. Flip the tube up and let any water remaining in the siphon drain to the bucket.
Click the video below to see the simple steps in action.
And that’s it! Refill the aquarium with new water that’s roughly the same temperature as the old water, and don’t forget to add dechlorinator to remove the chlorine, chloramine, and other toxic chemicals from the water.
Bonus Tip: Fill the Tank without a Bucket
You can fill your fish tank or multiple tanks from the faucet faucet.
1. Remove the sink faucet faucet aerator. Install the faucet adaptor with a 3/4 inch male garden hose connection. If you are unable to find the adaptor that fits your faucet, go to the hardware store and ask for help.
1. Attach one end to the sink adapter. Attach the other end of the garden hose to the Python hook.
1. Hang the Python hook on the aquarium wall to ensure that the garden hose will not slip out of the tank while filling it. 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. If you are done with all your water changes, raise the Python hook higher than the sink, and let the remaining water in the hose flow back into the sink drain as you coil the hose for storage.