Should You Vacuum Aquarium Gravel? (What Happens If You Don’t?)

Image of vacuumed aquarium gravel

You should vacuum the aquarium gravel because leftover food particles and organic waste settle in the aquarium substrate and encourage the growth of bacteria and parasites. An aquarium gravel vacuum will help you get rid of these pollutants, maintain cleanliness, and improve water quality.

Having said that, let’s see what will happen if you don’t vacuum your aquarium gravel.

What Happens If You Don’t Vacuum Aquarium Gravel?

Almost every fish tank owner uses an aquarium filter in their aquarium.

Aquarium filters use mechanical, chemical, biological, or a mix of different filtration methods to clean the floating waste and dissolved toxins in the water.

This equipment continuously cycles water and eliminates both dissolved and floating waste.

However, all the waste in the tank doesn’t float up and reach the filter.

Small particles can find their way into the gravel and settle on decorations and accessories in the tank.

If you don’t clean these surfaces, they will develop bacteria and germs.

These can threaten the health of your aquatic animals and plants.

Such pockets of organic waste harbor anaerobic bacteria. These organisms breed quickly and establish colonies.

They release harmful gases like hydrogen sulfide into the water.

These toxins will pollute the water and make it unsafe for your fish and aquatic plants.

Over time, the size of such bacteria colonies grow drastically.

Not only will they upset the hygiene of your tank but will also produce foul odors.

To prevent this outcome, clean your aquarium gravel, tank decorations, and tank surfaces thoroughly.

You can manually perform this action by removing your fish from the tank. However, it’s not easy.

You would have to temporarily remove all the fish from the tank, take the gravel and decorations out, and clean every nook and corner.

An aquarium gravel vacuum makes the task a lot easier.

You can clean the substrate without removing all the water or the fish from the tank.

Aquarium gravel vacuums can also clean underwater decorations.

Hence, they are a sustainable and simple way of keeping your tank substrate in good condition with minimum effort.

How Do You Vacuum Aquarium Gravel?

The easiest way to vacuum aquarium gravel is by using a siphon vacuum gravel kit.

This instrument uses gravity and hydrostatic pressure to vacuum dirt and debris from the substrate and deposit it outside the tank.

An aquarium gravel vacuum kit consists of a siphon and tubing.

The siphon is connected to the tube on one side and the other end is left open.

Aquarium Gravel Vacuum Working

You will also need a bucket to collect the water during the process.

More advanced aquarium vacuums may use complex siphoning devices with a higher suction capacity to get the process started.

Here are the different steps to follow when vacuuming your aquarium gravel.

  1. Disconnect the aquarium filter, heater, and air pump before you vacuum your aquarium gravel.
  2. To begin the vacuuming process, submerge the siphon inside the tank and thrust one end of it into the substrate. At this time, close the end of the tubing that is near the bucket.
  3. When you are ready, release the rear end of the tube and place it inside the bucket.
  4. Move the siphon up and down. Water enters the tube and flows into the bucket through it. The waste particles will also rise with the water and flow into the bucket. If your vacuum has a squeezable bulb, you can use it to get the siphoning process started quickly.
  5. Drag the siphon through the substrate to capture all the grime. Since the waste is lighter than water, it will quickly rise within the siphon and flow into the bucket through the air tubing.
  6. Move the siphon through the substrate in an organized fashion. Drag it through the substrate in straight lines to capture and eliminate the trapped waste in a particular section.
  7. Push the siphon deep into the gravel to remove all the trapped particles.
  8. Small pebbles and rocks may also enter the tube during the process and block the water flow. When this happens, raise the siphon out of the substrate. These pieces will drop back into the water.
  9. Once you have emptied up to 25% of the water in your tank, you can stop. Raise the vacuum from the water, and it will stop sucking water in.
  10. You can now switch the filter back on and reconnect the air pump, heater, and other aquarium equipment.

Now, while vacuuming the gravel, the substrate particles can also enter the tube with the water.

However, you don’t want to remove them from the tank.

When this happens, just raise the siphon tube from the water. The substrate particles will gently fall back into place.

Resume the same operation till you get through the desired section of the tank.

How Often Should You Vacuum Aquarium Gravel?

There is no hard and fast rule for how frequently you should vacuum your aquarium gravel.

It depends on your tank size and how dirty the tank is.

If you keep a lot of messy fish, you will have to vacuum your aquarium gravel more frequently.

For instance, a fish tank with goldfish or plecos will need more frequent vacuuming than one with guppies and bettas.

Another factor to consider is the type of food you offer your fish.

If the fish flakes or pellets that you feed your fish disintegrate and settle on the substrate, you will have to clean the gravel frequently.

Additionally, you will have to vacuum more often if you feed your fish vegetables, fruits, and other natural food.

If you use a power filter, you can vacuum your gravel less frequently.

These filters are very efficient and they suck more waste than regular mechanical or biological filters.

They also prevent waste from settling into the substrate and polluting it.

You will also have to vacuum your gravel more often if your fish are ill or there is an excess population of snails and detritus worms.

Algae growth is also an indicator of poor hygiene.

In most cases, vacuuming the gravel once a week should suffice.

For tanks with a smaller bioload, you may be able to stretch it even further.

However, not vacuuming the substrate for more than three weeks isn’t a good idea.

You may not uncover all the waste if you allow it to accumulate for so long.

If you have a planted aquarium, vacuuming the gravel is very challenging.

Plant roots bind the soil together making it difficult to insert the siphon tube into the gravel.

Be very careful when thrusting the siphon inside since it can dislodge the plant roots and uproot them.

However, a planted aquarium is prone to less build-up. Plants clean the water and the soil naturally.

So, you don’t have to worry about cleaning your tank as frequently when you have plenty of plants in the substrate.


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