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Clean Aquarium Gravel With Or Without Vacuum

As an aquarium owner, I faced the challenge of cleaning aquarium gravel. It is not a hard job, but it will take some time depending on the size of your aquarium. I think every aquarium owner should know the proper method to clean gravel inside their aquarium. In this article, I provide a step-by-step guide I prepared to clean my aquarium. This guide can apply to any size aquarium.

There are two major methods of cleaning aquarium gravel

  1. With vacuum
  2. Without vacuum
How to Clean Aquarium Gravel With Or Without Vacuum Quick

Step-by-Step Guide To Clean The Aquarium Gravel With Vacuum

You can follow the below-mentioned steps to clean aquarium gravel.

  1. Step 1 is to fill the bucket halfway with the water removed from the fish tank. Then pour the fresh water into the bucket to mix the old and new aquarium water to make it oxygen-rich. You can use this water to keep aquarium fish, during the cleaning process. Do not put fish directly into freshwater. Else, they will have a hard time to breath when the water condition suddenly changes. It may have a lethal effect on the fish.
  2. Secondly, Unplug all the electrical equipment such as the oxygen pump, fish tank decorative lights, hose pump, etc. Keep them away from the water tank to avoid water splash reaching the circuit or equipment.
  3. Now, move the fish into the bucket with the help of the fishnet.
  4. Then you can reduce the water level by draining the fish tank completely with the help of the pipe. Remove the dirt and fish waste particles residing at the bottom of the tank.
  5. Next, put the two full cups of the dirty fish tank gravel into aquarium buckets. This gravel would have beneficial bacteria that help the fish in staying healthy. Keep them aside so that when we put everything back, they will get a new place to thrive. The remaining bacteria will re-colonize the tank quickly.
  6. As the next step, remove the rest of the fish tank gravel and move them into separate buckets.
  7. Get the garden hose to clean the aquarium gravel. Turn on the faucet and full-blast the water on the gravel. Move the water around the fish tank gravel and turn them upside down while splashing the water on it with the help of the stick to clean both sides. Keep blasting the water at full force until you see clean water in the bucket.
  8. You may have to repeat the entire process several times to ensure no bacteria or harmful particles are left on the aquarium gravel.
  9. Keep the clean aquarium gravel aside. Next, clean the tank with warm tap water. make sure that you are not using any soap to clean the tank. The soap’s chemicals will react with the fish water and make the water condition hazardous for the fish.
  10. Clean the filter and all the equipment you use in the fish tank, such as thermostats, tubes, oxygen pumps etc. Wipe the inside with a paper towel to remove any remaining from the tank. Do not touch the wet hand or clean the electric equipment with water, such as decorative lights. Clean them with a dry cloth.
  11. Then, place all the clean gravel back into the tank. Nicely arrange them at the bottom of the tank to look beautiful. Make sure to mix the dirty fish tank gravel that you put aside before cleaning. Mix them nicely to spread them in the tank.
  12. Refill the tank again with clean water. Add the de-chlorinating agents to the water. You can buy the de-chlorinating agent from the Aquarium store. It kills harmful bacteria and makes the water condition suitable for the fish.
  13. Place other decorations in the tank such as plants, a feeding net, etc.
  14. Plug in all the electrical equipment. Activate the oxygen pump with the filter. Let the water consume a sufficient amount of oxygen from the air before placing the fish back in the tank
  15. Finally, move the fish back to the tank.

How to clean fish tank gravel without vacuum

There is a method to clean fish tank gravel without using a vacuum. Here I am going to explain it to you.

  1. Remove aquarium accessories from the tank. This is an optional step, but it is easy if you remove decorations from the tank to smooth the cleaning process.
  2. Stire the tank water with your hand
  3. Mix gravel well to release trap detritus from the tank.
  4. Then reduce the water level to one third
  5. If you think your water is still murky, repeat the above step one more time.
  6. All done.

Read more What Causes Oily Film Aquarium Water? Problem SOLVED

Tips for cleaning the aquarium sand

These tips will make your task easier

  1. This process is very similar to a gravel vacuum, first use the vacuum to suck the waste particles residing on the surface of the sand. These particles will be holding most of the dirt, and they will suck by the gravel vacuuming easily. Move the vacuum slowly over the sand. Check the water condition in the bucket. The water will be filled with dirt particles.
  2. Remove all the dirt from the water slowly, and remember to hold the suction pipe at the right height from the sand, so it will not suck the sand grains. Do not place the vacuum deep into the sand. Most of the dirt will be on one surface.
  3. Once you remove the top layer of dirt from the fish tank. Now turn the top layer of the sand slowly to move the dirt particles that are trapped underneath. When you do that, you will notice the waste particles start moving in the water. Do thoroughly in all the corners of the tank and move the sand up and down to push the particles up.
  4. Turn the vacuum again and remove the dirty water from the bucket. This process will help you remove most of the dirt from the water, and the sand will be ready to clean with fresh water.
  5. Remove the sand to a separate bucket and pour the warm freshwater into it to clean them. Use the stirring stick to mix the sand in the water and stir it until the sand become clean. Repeat the process until the water become clean.
  6. Place the dry sand under direct sunlight to kill the harmful bacteria. The aquarium sand will become new after a few hours, and it will be fully clean and ready to put back in the aquarium. The process is unnecessary, but doing this would help you remove harmful content from the sand.
  7. Put the sand back in the aquarium. Pour the tap water slowly into the tank. Do not forget to use the de-chlorinated agent to make the tap water condition suitable for the fish before placing the fish back in the aquarium. Arrange decorative in the water and activate the aquarium filter, and oxygen pump and let the water become normal.
  8. Clean the sand every two weeks so there will be not many waste particles in the water. Cleaning becomes easy when the water is fewer particles in it.

Why is gravel used in the aquarium tank?

People have a misconception about gravel. Many think the gravel is used for decorative purposes as they look good and natural in the aquarium. Using gravel for decorative purposes is one of the aspects of the wide range of use.

Putting gravel is unnecessary; you can have much other decorative stuff in the water that makes your fish tank look awesome. The gravel holds a much more important quality, which makes them more useful in the tank.

Read more How Long Does Water Take to Dechlorinate ?

Here are some of the benefits of Gravel.

Biological Filtration:

Gravel gives advantages to the owner in filtering the tank water. Micro bacteria generally get hide under the gravel. Small waste particles also get trapped underneath, which makes the water look clean. It eliminates the waste product from moving the water.

When you run the tank’s oxygen pump, the water produces the water’s moving elements, which makes swimming challenging for the fish. When you have gravel in the fish tank, it pushes down the waste particles underneath and restricts them from moving with water keeping the water clean all the time. If the tank doesn’t have gravel, you may have to change the water frequently to keep it clean.

Natural Habitat for fish:

Gravel is found in the river bodies as in the seawater. Fish would feel comfortable around the gravel as they will find its natural habitat similar to home. Fish will be less stressed and stay healthier when the water condition is nicer. 


When it comes to improving the fish tank’s aesthetic, gravel makes a big change in the tank. You can find several types of decorative gravel in the aquarium store. The store owner would have natural gravel to the synthetically manufactured graveling that looks awesome in the tank.

Human-made gravel will have various qualities such as a glow effect in the dark, different shapes and sizes, and rainbow color gravel. Both natural and factory-made gravel is useful for the fish tank. It gives an aesthetic appeal to the aquarium while keeping the water clean.

How to clean aquarium sand?

Keeping your aquarium clean and neat for the fish is vital for the fish. Cleaning is the regular process that makes the fish stay healthy. Sand used in the aquarium also requires frequent cleaning as they get dirty over time.

The fish waste particles, detritus, and bacteria produced in the water take place on the sand and underneath it. If you do not take cleaning seriously, the trapped detritus will move above the surface and start moving with the flowing water.

Once they are mixed up in the water, it will make the water condition unbreathable. The fish will have difficulty swimming in the water. In the worst condition, the fish would not be able to inhale the oxygen from the water.

Many aquariums have the perception that cleaning sand is difficult compared to aquarium gravel because of the small size of the sand. In some cases, the aquarium sand is very fine, which makes cleaning them challenging.

However, if you know the cleaning technique, you can complete the task quickly. There is not much difference in cleaning the sand compared to the gravel. Both are clean using the same process.

Sand would need more attention as it may wash out with the running water due to small particles. You may have to take some precautions before you through the running water on the sand. You would require a big aquarium bucket, vacuum, and stirring stick to perform the job. So get them ready before you begin the cleaning process.

Credits to KaveMan Aquatics

How often should I clean aquarium gravel?

It is not recommended to do complete gravel cleaning so often. That will disturb the established aquarium environment. The recommended method is the vacuum cleaning method.

In that method, you can initiate partial water changes, twice per month and clean the gravel using an aquarium using a vacuum hose also every time you do a water change. most importantly try to avoid practices, which lead to deterioration of your tank condition.

For example overfeeding and high fish density. if you can use a filter system in your tank, the water condition will not change for a long time. you only have to clean the filter once a week.

What is the best aquarium gravel cleaner?

There are several gravel cleaning vacuums available on the market (Amazon, eBay, etc). Before choosing a cleaner vacuum, there are things to be considered. Such as,

  • Size of the tank
  • Type of the substrate
  • Your requirement
  • Available budget
  • Preferred design

How do you clean aquarium stones?

The process is the same as cleaning the gravel. You can follow the steps given in this free guide to clean your aquarium stones. Just replace the gravel with stones.

Read more 15 Ways to Lower pH in Freshwater Aquarium.

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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.