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A Better Way to Gravel Vacuum a Fish Tank

Tropical aquarium fish

Ever find yourself dreading the need to vacuum the gravel in your tropical fish tank? You know it needs to get done, but you just keep pushing it back on your to-do list?

Good news.

There’s an easier way. Here’s a better way to gravel vacuum an aquarium…

Prepare your tools first

You don’t want to be mid-vacuuming and realize that you don’t have everything nearby that you need. So before you start cleaning the gravel in your fish tank, make sure you have these tools at hand:

  • A large bucket or trash bin
  • A gravel vacuum (siphon)
  • Long, waterproof gloves (if you want to keep your hands clean)

You want to make sure your bucket or trash can is large enough to catch a lot of water. It’s easy to get caught up vacuuming and not realize that your bucket is overflowing. Trust me, larger is better.

The caveat is that the bucket must be situated lower than the bottom of the aquarium in order for the siphon to work.

Choose the right siphon

Siphon gravel vacuums are pretty simple tools. It doesn’t really matter which brand you purchase, but what does make a difference is the length of the tubing.

You want a tube that is long enough to easily reach the bottom of the aquarium without you having to dip your arm into the water while still being short enough that it’s easy to maneuver. The right size will depend on the size of your tank.

At The Tye-Dyed Iguana in Fairview Heights, we carry a few different gravel vacuum sizes:

Aqueon Siphon Vacuum Gravel Cleaner Mini 5"

Aqueon Siphon Vacuum Gravel Cleaner Medium 10"

Aqueon Siphon Vacuum Gravel Cleaner Large 16"

Follow the process

The first thing to do is put the end of the tube down in the bottom of the bucket. Some people like to put the whole hose into the tank to get the air out of the tube. You can do it that way, but it’s a whole lot messier than the process I’m going to tell you about here.

Instead, put the business end of your gravel vacuum in the water at a slight angle (with the open end pointing slightly upward), and only lower it until it fills with water.

Then, keeping the vacuum held at the same angle, lift it up out of the water just until you see the water start to flow. As soon as the water starts flowing, lower it back into the tank and pinch the hose to stop the flow. Now you can position your gravel vacuum where you need it to be in the tank.

The magical art of pinching the hose

Once you have a vacuum going, the secret to getting out all the dirt and grime without sucking out all of your water is pinching the hose. As you siphon, let the vacuum pick up just enough water that the gravel lifts up but doesn’t go into the hose.

You’ll see lots of dirty water come up into the vacuum. Suck some up, pinch the hose to stop the suction, then repeat. This allows the gravel to fall back down. You’ll basically get a pump action of dirty water getting sucked up in repeated pumps.

Every time you pinch the hose, you stop the suction and can move on to another area in the tank without sucking up too much clean water. Remember to move decorations out of the way—they tend to accumulate a lot of dirt beneath them.

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