How to use a Gravel Vacuum To Clean Aquariums

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? The good news is that there’s no need to dump out and wash everything in the sink. Instead, you can vacuum up the detritus with a simple aquarium siphon – no batteries required!


Step 1: Get your Materials

You just need two items: an aquarium siphon (also known as a gravel vacuum, gravel cleaner, or siphon kit) and a bucket to hold the dirty 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. 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.

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. We earn commissions from Amazon Associates purchases that qualify.

Step 2: Prepare the 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. 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 algae scrappers are great for cleaning off algae, especially if you have the matching blade attachment. Make sure you get the acrylic or glass version that matches your aquarium walls.

Step 3: Open the Siphon

Aquarium siphons use gravity and water to empty your aquarium. 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. You can easily do this by keeping the tube at a diagonal angle with the tube opening pointed upwards.

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

Once the water is drained half-way from the tube, plunge the tube into the water quickly at the same angle so that it faces upwards. For water to continue dripping into the bucket, the tube must be completely submerged.

Once water has started flowing freely into the bucket, turn the tube opening toward the tank’s substrate.

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. 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. 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.

Systematically vacuum the substrate back and forth in rows, as if you’re mowing the lawn. 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: Discard 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 upwards and let the remaining water in the siphon drain into 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:

That’s all! 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 using 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. 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 other end of the garden hose to the Python hook.

Python hook

1. To ensure your garden hose doesn’t slip out of your tank when filling it, hang the Python hook on the aquarium wall. 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. After you have completed all water changes, you can raise the Python hook above the sink. Then, let any remaining water flow into the drain and then coil the hose for storage.