How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel

How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel – Step By Step Guide For 2018


Fish tank gravel adds to the beauty of any aquarium and creates a more natural habitat for your fishes. But there’s a downside of placing gravel inside your aquarium as it holds a lot of fecal matter, debris and compromise the water quality over time. Mostly recommend regular gravel cleansing alongside water replacement. Today, we will discuss how to clean fish tank gravel so that you can maintain your aquarium properly.

Gravel or substrate, as it is alternatively called, is the layer that is spread over the surface of the tank bottom. The gravel material varies in types and colors giving you a wide range of choice to decorate your fish tank.



First of all, unplug the power connection to your aquarium’s pump, heater, and filter. No need to remove the water and fish from the tank.


Take a 5-gallon bucket and put it below your aquarium. It will be used to hold dirty, filtered out water after washing the gravel.


Gravel vacuums can be bought readymade on stores, but it’s a simple DIY project that you can get done very easily. Here’s what you’ll need-

  • A clear plastic bottle with a cap
  • A piece of 0.5 inch PVC pipe. Now, the length of this pipe would vary depending on the depth of your aquarium. The one I used was about two feet long, and it worked great in my 55-gallon tank.
  • Two 0.5 inch male risers
  • Three 0.5 inch male hose connectors
  • Two 0.5 inch PVC female adaptors
  • One 0.5 inches threaded ball valve
  • Some plumbers tape.
  • 100% polyester filling. It will separate the debris you will be collecting. You could use some filter padding for this, but I recommend polyester filling because it’s inexpensive.
  • Two separate pieces of tubing. One longer, one shorter.
  • A power head. The one I used was rated 400 gallons per hour.

After you get all these, just follow the steps as described below-

  • De-label the bottle and drilling a three quarter inch hole in the cap.
  • Cut off the very bottom of the bottle and run a lighter around the edge to strengthen the plastic. Just be careful not to burn it.
  • Take one of your male risers and screw it into the cap. Should be a perfect fit.
  • Grab one of your female adaptors and screw it into place.
  • Take your piece of PVC pipe and connect it to the other end of the female adaptor. It will serve as the wand for the gravel vac.
  • On the other end of this PVC pipe, attach the other female adaptor
  •  Wrap plumbers tape around your remaining male riser and screw it into place.
  • Connect ball-valve to this piece.
  • Wrap plumber’s tape into one of your hose connectors and screw it into the other end of the ball valve.
  • We will now move on to setting up the powerhead. Simply screw in the other hose connectors to the input and output of the pump. Don’t forget to wrap the threads with plumber’s tape to ensure a waterproof seal.
  • Now connect one end of your longer piece of tubing to the wand and the other to the input of the powerhead.
  • Take your remaining short piece of tubing and connect it to the output.
  • The last step of the project involves taking a handful of the polyester filling and pushing it to the back of the bottle. Our gravel vac is now complete.


Immerse the suction end of the vacuum into the aquarium water and push it to the end of the aquarium, into the gravel. The open end of the tube should be placed into the bucket. Start the powerhead and keep the vacuum head over the gravels. Dirty water will continue to flow into the bucket.


Closely monitor the water that is being flown out by the vacuum. If the water turns clear it means the gravel you are vacuuming on is now clear. You can control the speed of the water flow through the ball valve. You can turn off the valve once the water turns clean but don’t switch off the power head just yet.


Remove the vacuum from the gravel but don’t pull it out of the water. Drag it to the next chunk of unwashed gravel and open the water valve. The vacuum will begin to draw out dirty water once again. As done in the previous step, close the valve as soon as the water turns clear. Repeat this process until the water level reaches two-thirds of its full capacity. Gravel accommodates bacteria crucial to aquatic life forms, so washing it all at once would destabilize the food chain within your tank.

How To Clean Fish Tanks


Before replacing the water, you have removed while vacuuming the tank don’t forget to take the current temperature of the water inside the aquarium. It is important because fish show high sensitivity when it comes to a change in water, thus the water inserted needs to be of the same temperature as before. Many tanks come with a built-in thermometer if your one doesn’t have one, you would need to do it the old-fashioned way by holding a glass thermometer into the water with your hand.


Fill up a bucket with clean water and make sure the water temperature matches the aquarium water. Before using the bucket, double check that it is absolutely clean and has no chemical residue that can affect the fish.  Tap waters are usually bleached with chlorine and other chemicals which would also be harmful to your fish. You should use necessary reactants to neutralize these chemicals before putting it into the tank. These water conditioners are available to buy at any pet stores or aquarium stores.


You might think that there are no technicalities involved at this phase; you can just pour in the water and get it over with- but you are wrong. Pouring in the water would end up beclouding the water as it would force up waste and other residuals from the gravel. Take off the bottle head from the vacuum and submerge the open end into the bucket water; this tone down the suction force and give us our desired delicate flow of water into the aquarium. The other end would go into the water. Turn on the powerhead and regulate the water flow with the water valve. Switch off the valve when the water level reaches an inch off the maximum capacity of your tank. Without this space, there would be no room for oxygen and without oxygen, your fish would suffocate.


Once you are done setting up your fish tank re-plug the heater, pump, and filter and turn them on.


Keep track of the date so that you can schedule another cleaning session in due time.


Why should you clean fish tank gravel at all? What happens if you don’t vacuum it every once in a while? Here are some of the possible repercussions-

  • Inefficient filtration system:  Gravel hosts colonies of useful bacteria that serve as a natural filtration system in your aquarium. But it is effective when  the growth of bacteria remains of restricted to a certain extent. Overgrowth of such bacteria would jeopardize their role of filtration.
  • Unpleasant habitat for fish: Gravels recreate a more familiar habitat to the fishes in your aquarium. But remember, your fish tank is a confined space not huge of the body of water. Gravel waste doesn’t bother fish in their natural habitats much because of the vastness of their living territory, but in a tiny aquarium, you need to manually clean the gravel to make sure it doesn’t create an unhealthy surrounding for your beloved pets
  • Unaesthetic: Not cleaning your aquarium gravel would make the water look cloudy and impose a severe blow to the overall look of your tank. Everybody loves an aquarium with clear, pristine water and if you are to have one, you would need to spruce up the gravel occasionally


Over cleaning your aquarium gravel is not recommended at all, rather it would severely hurt the ecosystem of your aquarium.  A light vacuum session once a week should keep the gravel in excellent shape


Hope reading our article gave you a clearer idea of how to clean fish tank gravel and why you should be doing it. If you find our article helpful please share it with your friends on social media. And of course, let us know what you think about the article by leaving your feedback in the comments section

About the Author Kevin Fox

A passionate blogger! Editor at Chooserly, and a regular author at HuffingtonPost, LifeHacker & Forbes!

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