How to use a Gravel Vacuum To Clean Aquariums

Photo of author


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, all you need is an aquarium siphon to vacuum up any stray bits. No batteries needed!

Step 1: Get the materials

An aquarium siphon is also known as a siphon cleaner, gravel vacuum, or siphon kit. It consists of a bucket that holds the dirty water and an aquarium siphon. 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.

Python Pro-Clean siphons are a great choice because of the high-quality, flexible tubing. It doesn’t kink as easily and is easy to twist. (As Amazon Associates, we earn commissions on qualifying purchases. Click the link to see how you can earn them.

Step 2: Prepare your tank

The aquarium siphon does not require you to remove fish from the tank. It is easier than 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: Start the Siphon

Aquarium siphons work by gravity to drain the aquarium of water and other debris. 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. The tube can be held at a diagonal angle and the tube opening pointed up.

Raise the tube out of the water and above the aquarium rim until water starts flowing through the hose and into the bucket.

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). To allow water to drain into the bucket, the tube opening must be fully submerged.

Once water is flowing freely in the bucket, you can point the tube opening towards the substrate at 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. Quickly place the hose end into the bucket, or else you may get a mouthful of dirty fish water.

Step 4: Vacuum the Gravel

Place the siphon in the gravel or the sand and allow it to begin vacuuming some of the substrate. 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 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.

As if you were mowing the lawn, systematically vacuum the substrate in rows. This method can clean approximately a third the aquarium substrate. You can vacuum the third tank when you next do a water change.

Step 5: Remove the Siphon

Once you’re done siphoning, wrap the tube in your hand. Then 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 upwards and let the remaining water in the siphon drain into the bucket.

Click the video below to see the simple steps 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 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. Remove the sink faucet faucet aerator. Attach the 3/4″ male gardenhose connector to the faucet hose adaptor. (If you cannot find an adapter that fits your faucet, take the sink aerator to the hardware store to get help finding the right adaptor.)

1. Attach one end to the sink adapter. Attach the Python hook to the other end.

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. Set the temperature of the sink to the desired level and let the water flow directly into the fish tank. 3. After your aquarium has filled, turn off the faucet water. Once you’re done with water changes, turn off the sink water.