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. If you plan on cleaning multiple tanks, it might be easier to get a large trash can on wheels to put the dirty water. 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.
We personally like using the Python Pro-Clean siphon because its high-quality, flexible tubing doesn’t kink or get twisted as easily. (As Amazon Associates, we earn commissions on qualifying purchases. Click the link to see how you can earn them.
Step 2: Prepare your 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. However, you should move any aquarium decorations away from the area you plan on vacuuming because waste likes to collect underneath them. People like to clean the filter and scrub the algae off before vacuuming. This will ensure that any excess water particles are 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: Open the Siphon
Aquarium siphons work by gravity to drain the aquarium of water and other debris. Make sure that the siphon’s hose ends are inside the bucket before you start it. 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. The tube can be held at a diagonal angle and the tube opening pointed up.
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.
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 is freely flowing into the bucket, point the tube opening downwards toward the substrate at the bottom of the tank.
Not all siphons can be operated using this method. It is easiest to put the tube end into the aquarium. Then, use your mouth to suck water through the tube. You don’t want to get your hands dirty if you quickly place the hose into the bucket.
Step 4: Vacuum Gravel
Place the siphon in the gravel or the sand and allow it to begin vacuuming some of the substrate. Because the substrate is heavier than the fish waste, you can periodically crimp the hose with your other hand that’s not in the water to briefly stop the suction. This causes the heavy substrate to fall out of the tube, while the lighter debris still floats inside the tube and gets sucked up as soon as you un-crimp the hose and start vacuuming again.
You can vacuum the substrate systematically in rows. It’s like mowing the grass. This method can clean approximately a third the aquarium substrate. Next time you water change the tank, vacuum the remaining third.
Step 5: Take out the Siphon
When you are ready to stop siphoning water, cover the tube with your hand and then lift it out. The tube will hold onto your hand, preventing the water from leaking back into the aquarium. Flip the tube up and let any water remaining in the siphon drain to the bucket.
If you’re still not able to start the siphon, click on the video demonstration below to watch this simple process in action:
This is it! 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 a Bucket
All you need to fill your fish tanks (or multiple tanks) is a gardenhose, adaptor for faucet hoses, and the Python hook.
1. Unscrew the sink faucet aerator from the faucet opening. Install the faucet adaptor with a 3/4 inch male garden hose connection. (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 of the garden hose to the sink adapter. Attach the Python hook to one end of the gardenhose.
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 on the sink to the right temperature, and start the water flowing directly into your fish tank. 3. Once your aquarium is full, turn off the sink water. Once you’re done with water changes, turn off the sink water.