How to clean aquarium gravel making your fish tank gravel debris freeClean aquarium gravel is important in a fish tank because it keeps the fish healthy. On the contrary, dirty gravel messes with the aquarium water quality causing it to look cloudy. But not to worry, as you can thoroughly clean your fish tank gravel with or without an aquarium vacuum kit.

Read this article to find out different step-by-step methods for cleaning aquarium gravel.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel

You should clean fish tank gravel before putting it into a new tank. It would take a maximum of 30 minutes to clean. Here are the easy steps to follow.

You would need a sizeable six-inch sieve and a five-gallon aquarium bucket.

  • Get your gravel
  • Put some in the sieve
  • Pour water
  • Repeat the process

1. Get Your Gravel

You need enough gravel that would sufficiently cover your tank to about three inches deep. Additionally, get a soap-free and sterile five-gallon aquarium bucket.

2. Put Some in the Sieve

Place your six-inch sieve over the bucket, then fill the sieve with gravel until halfway full.

3. Pour Water

Run some water over the gravel in the sieve, then shake it. Allow the water to drain into the bucket and continue rinsing the gravel until the water runs clear. Once the water becomes clean, you can put the gravel in your tank.

4. Repeat The Process

Repeat the steps until you have enough gravel to fill your tank.

Cleaning Outdoor Aquarium

The best way to clean aquarium gravel is to do it outdoors especially if it is new tank gravel. This is because the dust residue cannot harm your lawn; however, it can clog sink drains. Follow the steps below to use this cleaning method.

  • Pour a bag of gravel into a bucket.
  • Set your high-pressure hose to the standard outdoor pressure setting
  • Spray the gravel in the bucket intensely with water
  • The residues would wash off the gravel causing the water to become cloudy
  • Pour out the water on the lawn
  • Repeat until the water begins to look clear
  • Transfer the gravel into the tank
  • Empty another bag of gravel and repeat the steps

After filling the tank with the gravel and water, you may still have some residue. Do not worry as the filter would easily trap them after some water changes.

Clean Using a Water Siphon

You can clean old aquarium gravel by using a water siphon. Here are some crucial tips when using a siphon

  1. The different types of siphons would efficiently vacuum debris from it by stirring it up.
  2. Gravel vacuum removes the debris-filled water and replaces it with dechlorinated water.
  3. Do not use soap to wash your gravel surface as residues are toxic to fish
  4. However, make sure that after the water change, the temperature in the tank remains the same.
  5. Unplug the aquarium heater during the water change to prevent air exposure and lower water temperatures.

Using a Vacuum

Below are step by step methods to follow when cleaning aquarium gravel in fish tank with a vacuum:

  1. Unplug all aquarium equipment, then move your fish and tank decoration away
  2. Take some water from the old tank and transfer it onto the new location the fish would stay during the cleaning process to help them acclimate better.
  3. Place the vacuum hose into the aquarium so you can begin to clean the gravel in a fish tank
  4. Make sure to be thorough, so all trapped debris is sucked up
  5. Leave about 40 percent of the tank water, so you have enough beneficial bacteria, then perform a gradual water change
  6. Continue until the gravel is clean and the water becomes clear
  7. Replace the fish and tank decoration in their aquarium and plug in the filter, air pump, and heater.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel Without Removing Water From Your Tank- Using DIY Vacuum Kit

The easiest way to clean your aquarium gravel without removing the water is by using an aquarium vacuum. Here is a quick DIY vacuum kit you can make if you do not want to buy a store-bought brand.

Making the DIY Vacuum Kit:

What do you need:

  • An aquarium bucket
  • A plastic bottle with a bottle cap
  • One meter long plastic tube

Steps of Procedure:

  1. Unplug your tank equipment
  2. Cut the plastic bottle into two halves
  3. Cut a hole into the bottle cap, then place the tube in the hole
  4. Reattach the bottle cap to the bottle
  5. Dip the makeshift siphon into the aquarium
  6. Ensure the other end of the tube is in the aquarium bucket as some water and debris would flow
  7. Gently lift and re submerge the makeshift siphon, so the water begins to circulate
  8. Take out the siphon from the aquarium but cover the bottle opening, so water doesn’t drain into the bucket
  9. After cleaning the gravel, fill the tank with clean water and test the parameters, so it suits your fish
  10. Plug back your tank equipment.

How To Prevent Algae Growth

The best method of preventing algae growth is to cut off light, phosphate, and nitrate sources. You can install UV lights in the tank and use a gravel siphon. The lights kill algae cells from growing but would not kill existing algae colonies already growing in the tank. Remember that this vacuum doesn’t suck the gravel but stirs it up.

Regular use of the vacuum causes the gravel to turn over, thereby totally cutting off the algae access to lights. Furthermore, frequent water changes eliminate nitrate and phosphate in your tank. But, be sure the nitrate levels meet the fish species’ needs in your tank.

How To Clean Your Old Aquarium Gravel Without a Vacuum—With Bleach

This method of cleaning involves the use of bleach to disinfect aquarium gravel. It eradicates nasty build-up and algae growth without the use of vacuums. You would need some bleach, a basin, and hot water. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Prepare the Cleaning Solution.

Mix 10 percent of bleach with 90 percent of hot water. A lower concentration of bleach would also work and are safer for fish. Bleach is effective in tackling debris and waste.

2. Take Out the Fish.

Move your fish from the tank and place them in a bucket containing some dirty tank water.

3. Put Aquarium Gravel in the Basin

The basin has to be large, containing all the gravel and cleaning solution.

4. Clean the Tank Gravel

Fill the basin with enough water and bleach solution to cover the gravel completely. Then stir the gravel with a gloved hand until the chemical compounds in the bleach cause the debris to come off. However, do not let the gravel sit in the bleach solution for more than 30 minutes to one hour, or the chemical compound can cause the gravel to break.

5. Rinse the Aquarium Gravel With Water

Once the debris comes off the gravel, drain out the cleaning solution. Then use the hot water to rinse the gravel repeatedly. Three to four times is fair enough to get off the bleach residue.

6. Allow the Gravel to Dry.

You can allow the gravel dry naturally under the sun or just air dry.

7. Move the Gravel Back to the Aquarium.

Once the gravel dries, move it back to the tank. Then put in your tank decorations and fill the aquarium with water. Put in the fish after cycling the tank. Please note that you may not wash all the gravel so you can have some beneficial bacterial left to help cycle the tank faster.

Using Vinegar

Cleaning with Vinegar is a cheap way to get rid of tough algae and water stains from the aquarium gravel. However, you should use accurate measures so you do not leave a residue that would be toxic to the fish.

Take out your fish from the tank. Then, make a cleaning solution of one part white vinegar and one part water. Next, pour the solution on a sponge and gently use it to rub on the gravel surface, especially if you have live plants. Then rinse thoroughly afterward.

Cleaning After Sick Fish

If your tank recently experienced a disease outbreak due to a parasite or other infection, you need to deep clean your tank. Here are simple methods on how to do it:

  • Take the gravel out of the tank and soak in hot water
  • Alternatively, you can boil them for about 10 minutes
  • If you are not fully convinced of how sterile it is, you can make use of the bleach/water solution mentioned above to soak the gravel
  • Rinse it with hot water after some minutes
  • Allow the gravel to cool before adding it back into the tank
  • Be sure to clean other items in the tank, including the tank itself


1. How Often Should I Clean My Aquarium Gravel?

You should clean aquarium gravel at least once a month using a vacuum, but it could be more frequently if you have a lot of fish in your tank. Similarly, you would need to clean your aquarium gravel more often if your fish is a bottom-dweller or bottom-feeder.

Other signs that tell you when to clean your aquarium gravel include:

  • Visible debris on the substrate
  • A foul smell emanating from your tank substrate
  • Your fish begins to avoid certain areas in the tank
  • Presence of detritus worms in the substrate
  • Unusual ammonia spike
  • Your fish seems sick and sluggish

However, you should consider a thorough deep clean that involves complete tank drainage and total gravel removal a few times yearly. A deep clean is important because a dirty substrate reduces the water quality. Indeed, regular partial water changes would take out most of the debris in the tank, but the dirty gravel contaminates the tank.

2. Can I Clean My Aquarium Gravel With Live Plants in My Tank?

Yes, you can clean aquarium gravel even with live plants in the tank. Gently use a soft sponge to scrub off the debris around the live plant’s area and leave the plants untouched. Another way to clean the aquarium gravel without disturbing the live plant is by using a gravel cleaner. Set the cleaner one inch above the aquarium gravel, so it traps debris without uprooting the plants.

You should use a mild setting to clean the gravel surface gently and perform frequent water changes to prevent debris build-up. Alternatively, you can use a python vacuum to clean the tank gravel but leave behind adequate nutrients for the plant. Furthermore, aquatic animals like Malaysia trumpet snails can help stir up the substrate. They would make it easy for detritus worms to get sucked off by the filtration system.

3. Why Clean New Fish Tank Gravel?

Indeed new aquarium gravel is marked as pre-rinsed or pre-cleaned, but it may still contain dust, grit, and poisonous residue and debris. These toxic particles should not get into the aquarium as they get settled at the bottom of the tank. You see, occasionally they get stirred which causes cloudy water, thereby discomforting the fish.

Furthermore, some dye residues from cheap gravel can discolor the water. In some cases, it poses a long-term danger to the fish because the color poisons the fish gradually. So, cleaning it beforehand is essential.

4. Would Vacuuming Aquarium Gravel Remove Good Bacteria?

How to clean aquarium gravelNo, or at least not enough to cause significant damage to your tank. Cleaning gravel in fish tank without a vacuum may remove a tiny percentage of good bacteria. However, the bulk of the bacteria colonies lives in deep crevices in your substrate. Furthermore, your tank filter would have colonies of good bacteria, so you do not need to worry about losing some.


Cleaning aquarium gravel is crucial as it can cause a decrease in water quality. Hence, here are some pieces of information to remember when cleaning aquarium gravel:

  • Using a vacuum is the easiest way to clean your aquarium tank
  • You do not have to clean the aquarium gravel deep often
  • You should use a small percentage of bleach or vinegar to clean the gravel surface
  • It is necessary to wash new aquarium gravel even though the packaging says it has been pre-washed
  • The easy way to keep your gravel surface clean is by performing regular water changes

We have discussed several ways you can clean your gravel. Which are you looking forward to trying in your tank?

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