Aquarium Gravel Cleaner: Time for a Water Change?

Like a house’s floors need regular vacuuming, an aquarium’s substrate needs graveling or suctioning of the gravel to remove debris. You shouldn’t wait for the water to discolor or become cloudy before cleaning the substrate.

If you don’t regularly test the water quality in your aquarium, you may also not know that ammonia and other harmful substances are being absorbed in your substrate, building up in your tank.

Therefore, a weekly siphon can give you an opportunity to remove the most contaminated water and replace this with fresh water. 

If you have gravel in your fish tank, it absorbs a lot of debris, fish waste, food leftovers, and other organic matter that decomposes and finds its way into the gravel. Let’s look at the best aquarium gravel cleaner for your aquarium’s gravel-cleaning needs.

Aquarium Gravel Cleaner

What is aquarium gravel cleaner and how does it work?

There are many excellent aquarium gravel cleaners on the market, but you can make one yourself.

The aquarium gravel cleaner is simply a tube with a hose that is used for suctioning and draining water from your fish tank.

When the tube is elevated above water level, it creates suction, which causes the tube to suck or siphon the organic waste and debris from the gravel substrate.

All you need to start cleaning your aquarium substrate is a bucket and siphon kit.

Place the bucket below the fish tank, which will allow gravity to create suction when the siphon hose is submerged in the aquarium substrate

The organic waste is lighter than the gravel, allowing it to be suctioned into the tube, from where it spills into the bucket from the other end of the hose. 

Simple siphon hoses suction, with no control over how much water is suctioned. More advanced siphon kits come with primers to start the siphoning process, while others have control valves that let you choose how much water to suction at once.

The Siphon Cleaning Process for an Aquarium

To start the cleaning process, first turn off all the aquarium equipment. You will need a hose that’s long enough to reach the aquarium floor and back over the edge of the tank and into the bucket (on the floor). 

It’s preferable that the hose has a slight bend on the suction end in the aquarium. Also, avoid stretching the hose over the tank’s edge as the tube can bend shut, which will break suction. 

Some hose and siphon kits have a clip to attach the tube to the bucket, while others have speed regulators, which control how much water is suctioned and filtered. 

Here are the steps to help you siphon with a simple tube: 

  1. Fully submerge the tube in the tank, ensuring the tube is filled with water and has no air bubbles that block parts of the hose. 
  2. Keep the suction end of the hose submerged in the tank. Lift the other end of the tube over the side of the tank, securing it in the bucket. It helps to keep your finger on the end of the hose to stop the suction breaking if the water drains too fast. 
  3. If suction doesn’t happen immediately, you can move the hose up and down in the tank, trying to force water down the hose. However, in some cases, you may have to suck on the end of the hose to increase the suction pressure to get the siphon started. 

Some gravel cleaners have a suction part that is squeezed a few times until the water starts flowing. Others have a trigger mechanism that you pull, which releases the air bubbles, causing a flow of water to increase. 

The bucket should soon begin filling with the dirtiest water of the tank, which is siphoned from the substrate. Typically, the bucket is filled with fish wastes, rotting food, decaying plant material, and contaminated water that has the highest levels of ammonia and nitrates. 

How to Clean Better with the Aquarium Gravel Cleaner?

Never try to siphon the entire substrate of the aquarium. The roots of your aquarium plants are delicate, and siphoning there should be done lightly. Likewise, removing large ornaments from the substrate may result in a cleaner aquarium, but it can also disturb fish and other aquatic bacteria that are beneficial to your aquarium. 

If the siphon sucks up sand and small gravel that you don’t want to lose, you can add a polyester filling to filter the suction material. 

Larger parts such as sand and stone that can block the siphon hose can be removed by rinsing the hose in the tank. You can also sift through the material in the bucket if you use a powerful siphon kit. 

Simply rinse any material you want to keep and return it to the tank once you’re done siphoning. The largest concern is accidentally siphoning small fish or crustaceans like shrimp from the aquarium substrate. Using a filter fitting on your siphon tube is a good way to ensure you don’t damage a fish or bottom dweller that got sucked up. 

What If I Have Sand in the Bottom of My Aquarium?

If you have a sand or clay substrate in your tank, you wouldn’t want to just stick the end of the siphon tube into this as your siphon would suction up all the sand and clay. Instead, you will need a different approach:

Use a long spatula or your finger and draw a small circle in the sandy bottom of your tank. Wait a moment for the heavier sand particles to settle. The debris that is in the sand will float just above the sand as a silted cloud. Now use the siphon just above the sand, siphoning into this cloudy mass. 

Proceed to the rest of the sandy bottom, working in sections, gently agitating the sand with a spatula or your finger, then siphoning the cloud of silt that rises. 

Siphoning should be done without draining all of the water in the tank, so don’t get carried away with siphoning. If you drain a large amount of water, it will create an imbalance in your fish tank.

This is very important since any imbalance can cause stress to your fish, change the water chemistry, and result in other problems. Removing too much water would also mean you’d need to replace more than the recommended 15-25% weekly water change.

Which Siphon Kit Is Best?

Knowing what to look for in a siphon kit can be a challenge, so here are some top options and why each is great:

1. Best Basic Siphon Kit

Laifoo 7ft Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner for Fish Tank Cleaning Gravel  

The Laifoo 7ft Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner for Fish Tank is ideal as it’s simple to operate, and it’s also a cheap investment at less than $20. 


  • Comes with a siphon ball, so no more sucking to get the siphon process started
  • Tank edge clip helps prevent the hose bending shut
  • 7-foot hose is ideal for most hobby tanks
  • Handy detachable filter fits into the siphon mouthpiece to ensure no large particles or fish pass into the tube


  • No flow regulator, so you can’t determine how much you want to siphon at a go

This siphon kit is ideal for first-time fish-keepers and aquarium hobbyists. It’s affordable, functional, and it can be used on sand and gravel substrate tanks.

Also Read: Best Undergravel Filter

2. Best Regulator Siphon Kit

fishkeeper Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner  

The Fishkeeper Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner is a more advanced siphon kit that features a priming ball and flow regulator to help manage how much you siphon. 


  • Hose extensions to ensure you don’t have to stick your hands in the water while cleaning
  • Edge clip to keep tube from bending on the tank edge
  • Priming ball to start siphon process
  • Flow regulator clip that increases or decreases the tube aperture, which raises or lowers suction power
  • Great price at less than $20


  • The tube extensions are a little flimsy and can pop out when the suction is strong

The hose extensions work fairly well, and the handle with clip is thoughtful, but if you want to move around in a larger size tank, it can become a bother to have the hose attached to the side of the tank.

3. Best Multi-Functional Siphon and Water Replacement Kit

ZZM Fish Tank Cleaning Tools  

The ZZM Fish Tank Cleaning Tools, Aquarium Water Changer Kit is a unique siphon kit that uses water pressure from your local tap to suction the substrate. It can also reverse flow, which means you can pump water into the substrate of your aquarium to flush out silt and debris. 


  • Simple design: just attach to water inlet (tap) and turn the reverse or flow switch
  • 30-foot hose is ideal for large-scale aquariums or ponds
  • Comes with different size faucet adaptors
  • Includes filter to prevent suction of fish and large particles
  • Reasonably priced at less than $40


  • Adding water with the siphon can be a problem if you use tap water, which is not the right temperature and that hasn’t been treated or filtered
  • Longer length hose doesn’t come with a regulator or tank edge clip

While this siphon kit is a great buy for large aquariums, it’s like a hammer for smaller ones, so it’s best left for those who are cleaning out ponds and tanks of several hundred or thousand gallons. 

Siphoning should be done without draining all of the water

Don’t get carried away with siphoning because if you drain a large amount of water it will create an imbalance in your fish tank.

This is very important since the imbalance can cause stress to your fish, change the water chemistry, and cause other problems with it.

It is recommended to siphon 15% of the water if you clean the gravel weekly or 25% of the water if you clean the gravel monthly.

Also Read: 10 Best Electric Aquarium Gravel Cleaner

Gravel Cleaners: A Cheap Investment for a Clean Aquarium

Aquarium gravel cleaners are very good investments and very useful tools to use when cleaning substrate during weekly water changes in your aquarium or tank.

A gravel cleaner can be relatively cheap, easy to use, and an important part of your aquarium maintenance equipment.

Using an aquarium gravel cleaner is a great way to get rid of the organic waste that decomposes in your fish tank; plus, the cleaner makes water changes easier.

The best and cleanest aquarium is one that has a regularly cleaned substrate where all the particles, nitrates, ammonia, and wastes collect. With cleaner substrate, your water quality will improve, and you’ll have a sparkly aquarium too.

1 thought on “Aquarium Gravel Cleaner: Time for a Water Change?”

  1. I am planning to have shrimps and little bit worry about clean gravel and suck in shrimps… i know they are fast, but does that happen for somebody?


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