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. You can instead vacuum up all the debris with an aquarium siphon, no need for batteries!


Step 1: Get the Materials

Two items are required: an aquarium siphon, also known as a gravel vacuum or cleaner, and a bucket to collect the water. A large trash can with wheels is a better option if you have multiple tanks to clean. The bucket can be used if the siphon’s hose extends far enough to reach the nearest sink or the backyard to water your plants.

The siphon consists of two parts: the tube that goes into an aquarium and the flexible, long hose that goes into a bucket.

Python Pro-Clean siphons are a great choice because of the high-quality, flexible tubing. It doesn’t kink as easily and is easy to twist. (As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases, and commissions may be earned from the link above.)

Step 2: Prepare your tank

The aquarium siphon does not require you to remove fish from the tank. It is easier than vacuuming around them. You should remove aquarium decorations from the area where you are planning to vacuum, as waste can collect under 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 off algae, especially if you 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 to suck the water and debris out of your aquarium. To start the siphon, make sure the hose end of the siphon is inside the bucket. (Some people use a small clamp to make sure the hose doesn’t slip out of the bucket.) Then completely submerge the tube inside the aquarium so that it fills with water. You can easily do this by keeping the tube at a diagonal angle with the tube opening pointed upwards.

Raise the tube out of the water and above the aquarium rim until water starts flowing through the hose and into the bucket.

Once the water is drained half-way from the tube, plunge the tube into the water quickly at the same angle so that it faces upwards. The tube opening must be completely underwater in order for the water to continue draining into the bucket.

Once water is freely flowing into the bucket, point the tube opening downwards toward the substrate at the bottom of the tank.

You may need another method to activate the siphon if the water level or tank size is too small. It is easiest to put the tube end into the aquarium. Then, use your mouth to suck water through the tube. Or else, you might get a lot of fish water.

Step 4: Vacuum Gravel

Push the siphon into the gravel or sand, and let it start vacuuming up some of the substrate. To temporarily stop the suction, the substrate is much heavier than fish waste. You can periodically crimp your hose with the other hand. This causes the heavy substrate to fall out of the tube, while the lighter debris still floats inside the tube and gets sucked up as soon as you un-crimp the hose and start vacuuming again.

Systematically vacuum the substrate back and forth in rows, as if you’re mowing the lawn. You can clean around a third of your aquarium substrate using this method. The next time you do a water change, you can vacuum the next third of the tank.

Step 5: Take out the Siphon

Once you’re ready to stop siphoning, cover the tube opening with your hand and lift the tube out. The tube will suction to your hand and prevent the dirty water from falling back into the aquarium. Flip the tube upwards and let the remaining water in the siphon drain into the bucket.

Click on the video to see this simple procedure in action.

And that’s it! Refill the aquarium with new water that’s roughly the same temperature as the old water, and don’t forget to add dechlorinator to remove the chlorine, chloramine, and other toxic chemicals from the water.

Bonus Tip: Fill the Tank without a Bucket

If you want to fill your fish tank (or multiple tanks) straight from the sink faucet without having to lug buckets of water back and forth, all you need is a garden hose, faucet hose adaptor, and the Python hook.

1. Remove the sink faucet faucet aerator. Screw on the faucet hose adaptor that has a 3/4″ male garden hose connection. (If an adaptor does not fit your faucet, you can take the sink adaptor to the hardware shop to have it fitted.

1. Attach one end of the garden hose to the sink adapter. Attach the Python hook to one end of the gardenhose.

Python hook

1. To ensure your garden hose doesn’t slip out of your tank when filling it, hang the Python hook on the aquarium wall. 2. Turn the heat on at the sink and allow the water to flow into the tank. 3. Once your aquarium is full, turn off the sink water. 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.