Why To Clean Aquarium Gravel? [How To Clean It Effectively?]

Image of an aquairum with gravel and plants

Maintaining the hygiene of aquarium decorations and equipment is essential. But why should you clean aquarium gravel?

You should clean aquarium gravel to maintain the beneficial bacteria in the tank. The beneficial bacteria help to keep the fish healthy by eliminating the fish waste, uneaten food, and plant debris from the tank. You can clean the gravel once every two weeks by vacuuming it with a kit or manually.

Cleaning the aquarium gravel is vital to provide a healthy environment for the fish to thrive. So, let’s understand the aquarium gravel cleaning process in detail.

When To Clean Aquarium Gravel?

Aquarium gravel can become dirty and smelly over time.

In addition, the tank water can get toxic if the uneaten food, fish waste, and decayed plant matter get trapped in the gravel and are not cleaned often.

So, aquarium gravel needs regular cleaning to keep it healthy and safe for tank inhabitants.

You should clean your gravel when you notice any of the following signs in your aquarium:

  1. Your gravel starts to look dark or discolored. This indicates an accumulation of organic material such as algae, decaying plants, uneaten food, fish waste, etc. If this happens, it’s best to remove all the harmful materials from the gravel before they cause harm to your fish.
  2. You notice foul odors emanating from the gravel. These are usually caused by bacteria growing on the surface of the gravel. It’s important to note that even though there is no visible growth on the gravel itself, You should clean it because it can affect the health of your fish.
  3. There is an excess amount of ammonia. Ammonia levels above 0 ppm are considered harmful to most fishes. Therefore, it’s recommended to check the level of ammonia in the tank regularly.
  4. Fish have started avoiding their usual spots. For example, Corydoras fish are bottom swimmers. If they avoid swimming near the bottom of the tank where the gravel is located, it needs cleaning.
  5. Some of your fish seem lethargic or sluggish. This indicates that the environment inside the tank has changed drastically, which makes them uncomfortable. Stress can also be fatal to them. So, it’s better to take action immediately.

How To Keep Aquarium Gravel Clean?

Aquarium gravel needs adequate maintenance.

Therefore, it needs to be regularly cleaned by vacuuming the gravel with an adequate vacuum kit or manually without a vacuum kit.

Besides, the way to clean the gravel depends on:

  1. Whether the gravel is newly purchased,
  2. If the tank is planted,
  3. Whether you are using a bleach solution to clean it, or
  4. Whether you wish to clean the gravel without removing the water from the aquarium.

So, let’s now discuss this in detail to understand the numerous ways to clean the aquarium gravel.

Recommended Further Reading:

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel With A Vacuum Kit?

A siphon vacuum gravel cleaner is usually used to clean the aquarium gravel.

It works by using hydrostatic pressure and gravity to suck and trap the dirt and debris from the gravel.

Given below are the steps to clean aquarium gravel with a vacuum kit:

  • First, unplug the filter, heater, and air pump. Then, transfer the plants, fish, and aquarium decorations to another tank temporarily. Remember to transfer some amount of water from the main tank into another tank so that the fish experience the same tank conditions.
  • Place a bucket below the aquarium.
  • Submerge the kit into the aquarium. Ensure that the siphon vacuum tube is entirely inside the aquarium.
  • Start to move the tube upward and downward about a couple of inches above the gravel. The water inside the aquarium will then move from the tube into the bucket placed below the aquarium.
  • To clean the gravel thoroughly, you can move the gravel vacuum a bit deeper into the gravel to trap all the accumulated dirt and debris.
  • During this process, you may find some gravel pebbles getting sucked into the tube. However, they will fall back into the aquarium once you raise the tube.
  • Once the aquarium water level comes down by around 25% to 30%, you can turn the gravel vacuum tube up while still inside the water.
  • Then remove the tube from the aquarium and let the water drain from the tube.
  • You will notice that the debris and dirt particles will rise into the siphon.
  • Don’t remove more than 40% of the aquarium water. You need to keep the beneficial bacteria in the tank.
  • Continue this process until the gravel is adequately cleaned and the water starts to clear.
  • Finally, once the gravel is thoroughly cleaned, you can place the fish, plants, and aquarium decorations into the main tank and fill the tank with clean water. Also, plug in the filter, heater, and air pump.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel Without A Vacuum?

Cleaning the aquarium gravel without a vacuum is a time-consuming process.

However, manually cleaning the gravel helps break the compact gravel pockets that hold tough organic dirt.

To clean the aquarium gravel without a vacuum, follow the below-mentioned steps:

  1. Prepare a new tank: You need to prepare a new tank as the fish need to be moved while cleaning the aquarium gravel. You should transfer about 50% of the existing tank water to the new tank to ensure the fish get the same conditions as earlier.
  2. Transfer the fish: After preparing the new tank, you can transfer the fish into it either using a net or with your hand. Ensure that you gently transfer the fish as they shouldn’t get injured.
  3. Unplug the equipment: Unplug and remove all electrical equipment like a filter, heater, air pump, and aquarium lights. Also, you need to remove the plants and decorations.
  4. Cleaning the gravel: You can remove some of the dirty aquarium gravel and place it in the sieve for cleaning. You shouldn’t clean the entire gravel at once because you will lose all the beneficial bacteria by doing so. Once the gravel is in the sieve, rinse it thoroughly under running water. You can turn the dirty gravel upside down so that all the dirt and debris settles down.
  5. Plug back all the electrical equipment: Once the gravel is clean, you can plug back all the equipment you removed earlier.
  6. Refill the tank: Now, mix the clean gravel with the uncleaned one in the aquarium. Refill the tank with clean water and set your earlier water parameters.
  7. Put the fish back in the tank: Lastly, you can put the fish back in the main aquarium. Again be gentle and let the fish settle in.

Related Further Reading:

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel Without Removing Water?

The best way to clean aquarium gravel without removing water is by using a suitable aquarium vacuum kit.

Vacuuming the gravel ensures no loose particles get left behind that can harm the fish.

It also removes the harmful algae from the surface of the gravel.

You can follow the steps mentioned above for cleaning the gravel with a vacuum kit.

Another way is to make a DIY vacuum kit if you don’t wish to purchase a vacuum kit from outside.

How To Make DIY Vacuum Kit?

For making a DIY vacuum at home, you will need the following things:

  1. A plastic bottle with a lid,
  2. A bucket for holding the aquarium water, and
  3. A plastic tube that is around 1 meter long.

Follow the steps to make a DIY vacuum kit at home:

  1. Gather all the required things and keep them handy.
  2. Unplug the filter, air pump, and heater from the aquarium.
  3. Cut the plastic bottle below the label.
  4. Place the tube on the bottle lid and cut a hole in the lid.
  5. Place the tube inside the hole and reattach the lid to the bottle.
  6. Submerge the bottle lid and some part of the tube into the aquarium, just like a siphon. Perform this step as you do with a vacuum kit.
  7. While performing this, ensure that the other end of the tube is in the bucket as some water will get removed along with the dirt, debris, and other unwanted substances.
  8. You can now move the bottle up and down so that the water starts to circulate. You can even place the bottle deep into the gravel so that all the accumulated waste gets cleaned thoroughly.
  9. Remove the bottle from the aquarium in the same manner as you remove the siphon. Cover the bottle opening with your hand so that the water doesn’t spill over and empty it into the bucket.
  10. Finally, refill the tank with clean water and also set the earlier water parameters. You can then replug the heater, filter, and air pump into the aquarium.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel Before Use?

Most new aquarium gravel is marketed as pre-cleaned or pre-rinsed by manufacturers.

However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean it and can directly place it in the aquarium.

New aquarium gravel can contain dust, debris, or other unwanted residues from the factory that can harm the fish if not cleaned correctly.

Improperly cleaned gravel is one of the common reasons for slightly cloudy water in new aquariums.

Hence, it’s vital to clean the new gravel before use.

You can clean the aquarium gravel before use by following the below steps:

  • You need to clean the new aquarium gravel in batches, as cleaning all of them at once may not remove all the dust and debris.
  • First, soak the gravel in a clean bucket filled with tap water. You can swish the gravel upside down to stir it a bit. Let the gravel soak for a few minutes so that the dust and debris soften up.
  • Next, inspect the water. The water may discolor a bit due to the dye used to color the gravel. Also, heavy material will sink to the bottom, whereas light material will float at the top.
  • Now remove the initial water and replace it with fresh tap water. While filling the bucket, agitate the gravel vigorously, so all the dirt and debris get removed.
  • Again pour the water out and repeat the cleaning process several times until the water looks clear and all the dirt, debris, and accumulated waste get cleaned thoroughly.
  • After cleaning the gravel in a water bucket, the next step is to rinse the gravel through a strainer. For this, you need to place the gravel in a strainer and hold it under running water for rinsing it thoroughly.
  • Then shake the strainer under running water to dislodge heavy materials. Once the gravel is adequately rinsed, place the strained gravel in another bucket.
  • Fill the bucket containing the strainer-rinsed gravel with water until the water covers the gravel by an inch. Simultaneously, swish the gravel while the water is pouring into the bucket.
  • Then let the gravel settle in for a couple of minutes. Afterward, inspect the water if it’s clean and clear. If the water is not clean, you need to repeat the process until it’s clear.
  • After the aquarium gravel is cleaned thoroughly, the last step is to soak it in a bucket of dechlorinated water for about 15 to 20 minutes. You can swish the gravel in dechlorinated water so that it gets cleaned thoroughly.
  • Finally, empty the dechlorinated water from the bucket, and your new gravel is now clean to be placed in the aquarium.

Related Further Reading:

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel With Live Plants?

It’s essential to clean the aquarium gravel with care if you have a planted aquarium.

This is because the plants shouldn’t get disturbed while cleaning the gravel as it can affect their growth.

The best way to clean the gravel with live plants is by using a soft sponge.

It will ensure that the plants don’t get damaged while cleaning the gravel.

Alternatively, you can use a gravel cleaner.

You can run the gravel cleaner one inch above the gravel to trap most of the waste and debris without uprooting the plants.

You can even run the gravel cleaner mildly over the gravel to clean the waste from the gravel.

Another way is to use a python vacuum. You can gently move it around the plants.

It helps avoid the detritus from building up and allows the plants to use the nutrients that they need.

For planted tanks, light vacuuming is sufficient if you have an adequate filtration system.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel With Bleach?

Cleaning the aquarium gravel with bleach is an efficient way to get rid of algae, dust, and other impurities.

However, you need to be careful while using bleach, as any leftover traces can harm the tank’s inhabitants.

Also, avoid using bleach on brightly colored gravel as it may fade.

You can follow the below-mentioned process for cleaning aquarium gravel with bleach:

  • Prepare a 10% bleach solution in a clean bucket by mixing nine parts of water with one part of bleach.
  • Use bleach with water only. No other chemical should be used in the solution.
  • Then, pour the bleach solution into a pan with gravel.
  • After pouring the solution, stir it a little.
  • You shouldn’t soak the gravel in the bleach solution for more than 15 minutes. Otherwise, it may break due to chemical reaction.
  • Next, rinse the gravel in warm water until all traces of bleach are removed. Rinsing the gravel is vital to ensure all residual bleach is neutralized and removed.
  • Lastly, let the gravel dry entirely before placing it back in the aquarium.

Interesting Further Reading:

Related Questions

How often to clean the aquarium gravel?

How often you should clean the aquarium gravel depends on factors such as the number of fish, how messy the tank inhabitants are, and whether the tank is densely planted or not.

As a general thumb rule, aquarium gravel needs to be cleaned every two weeks. However, if you hold a tank with many live plants and few fish, you can clean the aquarium gravel once a month.

The cleaning process should involve siphoning the gravel and changing 10% to 15% of the water.

Can you wash aquarium gravel?

You can wash the aquarium gravel with warm water to get rid of dust, dirt, and other impurities that may have accumulated on it over time.

However, avoid using soap or detergents to wash aquarium gravel as they are highly toxic to fish.


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