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? 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

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. It is easier to use a large, wheel-mounted trash can to collect the water from multiple tanks if you are planning on cleaning them all. 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 is basically made up of two sections: The plastic tube that goes in the aquarium and long flexible hose that goes in the 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 the 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. Aquarium decorations should be moved away from the area that you will be vacuuming, as waste tends to accumulate underneath them. Some people like to scrub off the algae and clean the filter beforehand, so that all the excess particles in the water have a chance of being removed by the siphon.

Magnetic Algae Scrappers are great for cleaning up algae, especially if they have the matching blade attachment. Make sure you get the acrylic or glass version that matches your aquarium walls.

Step 3 – Start the Siphon

Aquarium siphons use gravity as a method to remove water and debris from your aquarium. Start the siphon by making sure the siphon’s hose is in the bucket. (Some people use a small clamp to make sure the hose doesn’t slip out of the bucket.) Once the aquarium is filled with water, fully submerge the tube into the aquarium. The tube can be held at a diagonal angle and the tube opening pointed up.

Keep the tube in the water until it is above the aquarium’s rim.

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 the water to continue flowing into the bucket the tube opening should be completely underwater.

Once water is flowing freely in the bucket, you can point the tube opening towards the substrate at bottom of the tank.

If the water level in the aquarium is too low or too small, the siphon may not be able to be started. It is easiest to put the tube end into the aquarium. Then, use your mouth to suck water through the hose. Quickly place the hose end into the bucket, or else you may get a mouthful of dirty fish water.

Step 4: Vacuum the Gravel

The siphon should be pushed into the gravel or sand. Once it has started vacuuming, you can let the siphon go. The substrate is more heavy than the fish waste so you can occasionally crimp the siphon with another hand. This will temporarily stop the vacuum from working. This causes the substrate to fall out the tube. However, the lighter debris will remain inside the tube. Once the tube is uncrimped, you can start vacuuming again.

As though you were mow the lawn, systematically vacuum the substrate. This method can clean approximately a third the aquarium substrate. When you are done with the water change, you can vacuum up the rest of the tank.

Step 5: Remove the Siphon

Once you’re ready to stop siphoning, cover the tube opening with your hand and lift the tube out. The tube will stay in your hand, and the dirty water won’t fall back into your aquarium. Turn the tube upside down and let the water from the siphon drain into a bucket.

Click the video below to see the simple steps in action.

And that’s it! The aquarium should be refilled with fresh water at the same temperature as before.

Bonus Tip: Fill the Tank Without a Bucket

A garden hose, faucet adaptor, and the Python Hook are all you need to fill up your fish tank, or multiple tanks, directly from the sink faucet.

1. The faucet aerator should be removed from the faucet opening. Attach the 3/4″ male gardenhose connector to the faucet hose adaptor. If you are unable to find the adapter that fits your faucet then take the sink adaptor to the hardware store for assistance.

1. Attach one end of the garden hose 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 the tank when filling it, hang the Python hook on the aquarium wall. 2. Turn on the sink to the right temperature, and start the water flowing directly into your fish tank. 3. Turn off the water source to your aquarium when it has reached full capacity. 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.