How To Easily Clean Aquarium Substrate with or without using Siphon Vacuum Gravel Cleaner?

If your aquarium gravels are dirty then it would pollute your aquarium water & it is dangerous for your fish. When you overfeed your fish then the leftover food stuck in the gravel which releases harmful chemicals. If you have rotting live plants in the aquarium, then it would make the substrate dirty. Also fish waste is trapped in the gravel which pollutes the water.

How to easily clean aquarium substrate?
How to easily clean aquarium substrate?

If you do regular water changes then it would remove the harmful chemicals that are released from matter such as rotten plant, fish waste & leftover food, but if your gravels are dirty then it would pollute the fresh water quickly. Hence, it is very important to clean the aquarium substrate to remove the leftover matter that is polluting your water, & also you can clean your tank glass surfaces & decorations.

My recommendation is to vacuum your tank gravel while doing regular water changes to clean your substrate.

In this article we are going to see various methods of cleaning tank gravel using or without using a vacuum cleaner.

If your aquarium is cycled, then you will have a balanced amount of good bacteria that can breakdown harmful ammonia that releases from fish waste into less harmful nitrites & further breakdown nitrites into nitrates which is even less harmful & can be removed with regular water changes. This process is done very fast when your aquarium is cycled & also people use biological filtration media in their filter to house large quantity of beneficial bacteria. Often people think that mechanical filtration is important because it traps fish waste but the best filtration is biological filtration. Mechanical filtration traps fish waste but allows ammonia that releases from fish waste to pass through the mechanical filtration media. Biological filtration media consists of porous material that has numerous tiny pores that houses lots of good bacteria which breaks down ammonia into nitrites & further into nitrates. Usually normal filter can’t remove nitrates from the aquarium & we use live plants which absorb nutrients & they help plants in growth.

You must use vacuum cleaner to suck food particles & rotten plants matter from your gravels. If you fail to clean your substrate, then it could challenge you to do more regular water changes. Dirty water will grow algae too.

How often you must clean tank substrate is based on the dynamics of your aquarium. Dirt builds up quickly in smaller aquariums that do not have plants & have too many fish. Also you must do complete substrate cleaning after every 2 weeks.

It is very important to change 10 to 20 percent water weekly.

Having a thickly planted aquarium, will only require regular gravel cleaning once in a month. It is very important to make sure that dead plant leaves that decompose on substrate do not toxic your tank water.

Tanks having too many fish will have more dirt on the gravels. For clear water you need to wash your gravels once in two weeks. If your tank water is clear, then you can vacuum gravel your substrate once in a month.

How to clean fish tank substrate:

There are multiple methods for cleaning your tank substrate. You can choose any method by considering the situation, type & how much dirt is accumulated on your gravel.


How to wash your gravel with a vacuum kit:

You can vacuum fish tank gravel using a siphon vacuum gravel cleaner. It follows the principle of gravity & hydrostatic pressure to vacuum dirt from gravels & assist in taking it out of the aquarium.

Make sure your siphon tube is always higher than the fish tank being cleaned to take out the dirt while avoiding the gravity which stops water going out.

Dirty water should fill up a bucket placed outside aquarium.

Make sure air bubbles should not form in the vacuum tube or your siphon vacuum kit will not work well.

Make sure the tube is filled with the dirt before you take it out of the aquarium.




Step 1: Turn off electrical appliances:

Unplug your aquarium heater, aquarium filter & air pump before you start cleaning your aquarium. Do not disturb your tank & allow your fish to stay in the water & do not remove decorations or plants. This method is usually fast & should not stress your fish that much.


Step 2: Submerge:

Use your substrate cleaning kit & bucket. Place your tank bucket below tank level & start the cleaning process by submerging the kit in your aquarium. Place the vacuum tube fully inside water.


Step 3:  Up & down Motion:

Start moving the tube in the water in small up & down motions of about 2 to 4 inches around substrate until water starts its motion of coming out of the aquarium using the tube.


Step 4: Vacuuming:

Once dirty water starts coming out of aquarium, move the tube over the complete substrate to ensure you remove all of the dirt.

Make sure you thoroughly remove dirt from complete aquarium gravels. The tube might remove some of the pebbles, but they will fall back in the aquarium after you raise the tube.


Step 5: Remove the Tube:

After your tank has 75 % water left, just remove the tube.


Step 6: Turn on electrical appliances:

After thorough cleaning of the substrate, turn on your heater, filter & air pump.


Cleaning of aquarium gravel without using a vacuum kit:

It is difficult to clean your aquarium substrate without using a vacuum gravel. This process will need lots of time & effort.

Also it is not a good way of cleaning because it can stress your fish & disturb your aquarium balance.

It involves removing your aquarium fish & setting a separate aquarium for them, & taking out the substrate from the aquarium. It is a stressful process for the fish & will imbalance bacteria colonies.

In this method, you will be able to break compact substrate pockets that cover tough organic dirt.

In order to remove dirt without using a vacuum, you can follow steps mentioned below:


Step 1: Setup New Aquarium:

Setup a clean aquarium where you can temporarily shift your fish while you are busy in cleaning substrate. Move about 50 % aquarium water to the new aquarium.

This way your fish will have the same water conditions & will not be stressed that much.


Step 2: Shift your fish to the new aquarium:

Use a fish net to shift your fish to the new aquarium.


Step 3: Turn off electrical appliances:

Turn off your heater, filter & air pump.


Step 4: Clean your substrate:

Remove decorations & live plants. Take the dirty substrate out of the aquarium & place it in a clean container. Wash your gravels with water.

Do not clean all the gravels because this way you will lose all of your good bacteria. Make sure you leave middle & bottom layer of gravel & only remove top layer or if gravels are very dirty then clean middle layer of gravels too.


Step 5: Turn on aquarium appliances:

Spread clean gravel in aquarium, & add decorations & live plants. It is time to turn on heater, filter & air pump.


Step 6: Add Clean Water:

Add clean water & make sure it has the right temperature & pH.


Step 7: Add Fish:

Transfer fish back from new aquarium to the main aquarium using fish net.

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