How Does An Aquarium Gravel Vacuum Work? [Operate It Effectively]

Image of uncleaned aquarium gravel

Aquarium gravel vacuums work by sucking the dirt and debris from the substrate of an aquarium using a siphon and tube arrangement along with the help of gravity. You can drag the siphon tube over the aquarium substrate to remove the organic waste and dirt from it so that it gets cleaned thoroughly.

Let’s now talk about this in more detail.

What Is An Aquarium Gravel Vacuum?

Aquarium gravel vacuums have two main components:

  1. Siphon and
  2. Tubing.

The siphon is a large rigid tube with openings on either side.

It attaches to the flexible tubing on one side while the other side is left open for immersing in water.

Now, an aquarium gravel vacuum in its simplest form uses gravity to begin the suction process.

More complex models may have an air-filled bladder or use electricity to start the vacuuming action.

Although it’s easier to get the process started in electric-powered vacuums or those with air bladders, the basic principle of operation remains the same.

How To Operate An Aquarium Gravel Vacuum?

Aquarium gravel vacuums clean the substrate by sucking water and waste from the water using a siphoning action.

To operate these devices, you should insert the open end of the siphon tube in the substrate while holding the other end closed with your thumb.

Aquarium Gravel Vacuum Working

Once you properly position the siphon, you can release the end of the tube and point it toward a bucket.

Doing so will start the suction process, and water will be sucked through the siphon into the tube.

Within a few seconds, you will notice the substrate moving.

It will rise within the tube along with any waste that is present in the substrate.

Since organic waste and uneaten food particles are light, they will enter the tubing first.

Once these particles are inside the tube, the water and waste will get transferred into the bucket.

If you wait for too long, substrate particles like sand and gravel will also begin to enter the tubing.

To prevent this, just raise the siphon from the substrate, the sand or gravel will fall back into the tank.

You may need some practice to understand how the process works.

However, it’s very easy to perform once you get the hang of it.

By moving the siphon throughout the length of the tank, you can eliminate all the waste from the substrate.

It’s important to use a smooth and straight action to move the siphon through the substrate.

Shaking it up and down will only push the dirt and debris back into the water.

While vacuuming, you should also move the rocks and decorations and clean under them.

You can drain up to a quarter of your aquarium water in this manner and refill the tank with freshwater.

By combining your vacuuming session with weekly water changes, you can get through the entire tank and keep it very clean all the time.

How Does Vacuuming The Tank Help?

A live tank with aquatic animals and plants will carry organic waste. The waste particles are light and float up.

Tank filters will usually trap and remove these particles. However, some part of the waste will end up in the substrate and settle there.

These particles break down over time and release toxins into the water.

An increase in toxins like ammonia and nitrites is harmful to fish.

Hence, it’s important to get rid of the organic waste before it disintegrates and releases toxins.

Any waste that remains in the tank also causes bacteria to grow.

Anaerobic bacteria release poisonous gases like hydrogen sulfide, which harms aquatic pets.

By vacuuming the tank, you can get rid of the organic waste and dirt before it breaks down or triggers any bacterial growth.

How Often Is It Necessary To Vacuum A Tank?

Regular vacuuming will keep your tank environment clean and hygienic.

Depending on the bioload of your tank, you can vacuum your aquarium gravel weekly or once in ten days.

It’s a good idea to make aquarium gravel vacuuming a part of your regular tank maintenance routine.

Try to vacuum your tank at least once a week to keep it clean. You can vacuum the tank while performing a water change.

While vacuuming, you can replace 25% of the water in your tank.

So, over the course of a month, you will cover the entire substrate and have a clean tank.

Can You Use Aquarium Gravel Vacuums In Planted Tanks?

An aquarium gravel vacuum works by agitating the substrate and separating light, organic waste from the heavy substrate material.

In a planted tank, plant roots will hold the gravel together. Hence, it will be difficult to use a gravel vacuum in such tanks.

You shouldn’t uproot the plants while vacuuming as it can be fatal to them.

If the plants have dense roots, you should be very careful when using an aquarium gravel vacuum.

Limit the siphoning action to areas that don’t contain roots.

How To Pick The Right Gravel Vacuum?

When choosing an aquarium gravel vacuum, you have many options.

There are manual vacuums, vacuums with air bladders, and electric-powered vacuums.

Choose an aquarium gravel vacuum that matches the size of your tank.

The wide part of the siphon should be almost as tall as the tank.

If the vacuum is shorter than the tank, you will find it difficult to separate the substrate from the debris.

As a result, you may end up sucking out the substrate as well.

Meanwhile, if the siphon tube is too big, it will not be easy to start the suction.

Additionally, once it starts sucking the waste, you will find it difficult to control the vacuuming action. So, you should choose a tube of the correct size.

Electric vacuums are more expensive than manual ones. However, they are easier to operate.

Can You Clean Aquarium Gravel Without An Aquarium Gravel Vacuum?

Yes, you can clean your aquarium gravel without an aquarium gravel vacuum. However, it’s not easy.

The main benefit of using an aquarium vacuum is that you can clean the substrate without moving the fish out of the tank.

However, if you clean the substrate manually, you must remove all the fish from the tank.

Stirring up the soil can cause the fish to ingest the fine particles that will make them ill.

To manually clean the substrate, you should first remove the fish.

Next, scoop up the gravel from the tank and set a portion of it aside.

The substrate contains nitrifying bacteria that maintain the nitrogen cycle in the tank.

You can reintroduce them into the aquarium by adding this portion back into the tank.

Rinse the rest of the gravel with running water until it’s clean.

Then, mix the clean gravel with the part that was put aside and add it to the tank.

Finally, refill the tank with water and return your fish to it.

Performing this task manually every week is cumbersome.

So, invest in an aquarium gravel vacuum to manage the process better and with less effort.


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