Fish Tank Gravel: How to Clean it Properly

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Last Updated on 2023-05-24

If you’re wondering how to clean fish tank gravel, then you’ve found the right article! In this article, you will find out all the different methods you can use to clean the gravel in your fish tank and even how to do it when you don’t have a gravel vacuum!

So keep reading to find out everything you need to know!

How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel In Your Aquarium

If you plan on cleaning the gravel in your aquarium, the steps you need to take are extremely simple. Just do the following:

Unplug Everything

Before doing anything, you need to make sure that you’ve unplugged any electronics from your tank. This includes the light, heater, and filter. Doing this is going to help reduce the chances of an accident happening or shorting the electrical in the house. 

Get A Bucket & Vacuum

Now that you’re sure that everything has been turned off, it’s time to grab a gravel vacuum and bucket. You’re going to need both to clean the gravel efficiently. When you have your bucket, you’re going to need to set it below your tank; otherwise, the suction won’t work.

Begin Vacuuming

Now you just need to begin vacuuming the gravel. To start your vacuum, you should place it into the tank and beginning pressing the pump on the other side. You also need to make sure that when the back end of the vacuum is below the front end for it to work properly.

Vacuuming Effectively

Now it’s time to start vacuuming, you need to make sure that you’re vacuuming the gravel effectively. If you have large gravel, you can move it around with the vacuum to get more of the waste and muck out; however, if you’re using sand or something similar, then you should just place the gravel slightly above the sand to make sure none is getting sucked up.

Hit Every Spot

Now that you’ve started vacuuming, you just need to make sure you’re hitting every spot of the substrate. To do this effectively, without disturbing the tank, you should make sure that you’re lifting the vacuum perfectly vertically so you don’t disturb the rest of the tank.

Return Everything Back To Normal

Now all you have to do is return everything back to normal. Make sure you turn the heater, lights, and filter back on, and your fish tank is good to go again!

How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel Without A Vacuum/By Hand?

If you don’t have a vacuum, then don’t worry. You will still be able to clean the gravel in your tank effectively! However, remember, using a gravel vacuum is the best way to clean your gravel, and it’s worth waiting to buy a gravel vacuum rather than stir the gravel up needlessly.

To clean your vacuum without a gravel vacuum, then you should do the following!

Remove Your Fish

If you’re going to clean the gravel without a vacuum, then the first thing you’ll need to do is remove all of your fish so you don’t accidentally damage them. When you’re removing them, you should add them to a container filled with your current tank’s water so they don’t go into shock.

Begin Removing The Gravel

Now that all your fish are out, it’s time to remove all of the gravel. However, make sure you keep one or two cupfuls to maintain the beneficial bacteria that are living in the gravel.

Cleaning The Gravel

To clean the gravel, you can either run it through tap water to get rid of all the detritus, or if you need to remove algae or grime from the gravel, you can also use a mixture of bleach and water to wash the gravel. However, before adding it, you should thoroughly rinse the gravel and then finish by running it through dechlorinated water before finally adding it back to your tank.

Reintroduce The Fish

Now all you need to do is simply reintroduce the fish to the tank. It’s best to keep the lights off for a couple of hours to help lower the stress levels of their fish.

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How To Clean Gravel Without Removing The Water?

There’s no way you can clean the gravel in your tank effectively without removing the water, as you need to siphon the waste out of the tank.

However, the best thing you can do is clean your gravel when you need to perform a water change. This way, you can remove 15-20% of the water that you need to anyway while simultaneously cleaning the gravel.

And then all you need to do is dechlorinate some tap water and top your tank back up.

How To Clean Gravel Before Putting It In Your Fish Tank?

If you need to clean gravel before putting it in your fish tank, then you should add it to a container, cover it until it’s underwater, then give it a good stir and pour it out. Once you’ve done this, repeat the process until the water runs clear.

For the best results, you shouldn’t use too much gravel at a time; otherwise, it will take too long to clean completely. 

And once the gravel has been cleaned completely, you should rinse it one more time with dechlorinated water to remove all the chlorine and heavy metals, keeping it safe for your tank.

How To Clean Algae From Fish Tank Gravel

If the gravel in your tank is covered with algae, then simply cleaning it isn’t going to be enough. The best thing you can do is shake the gravel up and use a new toothbrush or similar brush to scrub as much of the algae off the gravel as possible. 

Once you’ve scrubbed as much off as possible, you can use the gravel vacuum to siphon it all out. 

If you still can’t remove the algae, then you may need to use bleach or vinegar to get rid of the algae. But to do this, you should remove the gravel and add it to a container. Once again, make sure to leave a couple of cups of gravel to harbor the beneficial bacteria that are found in the gravel.

Finally, once you’ve cleaned the gravel thoroughly, rinse it with dechlorinated water, and add it back to the tank!

How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel With Vinegar

It’s also possible to clean your aquarium’s gravel with vinegar as well. To do this, you should mix 2 cups of white distilled vinegar with 2 cups of dechlorinated water. Once you do this, add your gravel to the vinegar/water and let it sit for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, rinse it thoroughly again with dechlorinated water to ensure all the vinegar has been removed. Once it has, you can add your gravel back to the tank!

How Often Should You Clean Fish Tank Gravel?

Fortunately, you don’t need to clean your fish tank gravel that often. In fact, if you’re keeping the rest of your tank and the water clean, then vacuuming the gravel once a month is going to be sufficient. 

And remember, when you do need to clean the gravel for your tank, it’s never a good idea to remove the gravel, and instead you should opt to simply vacuum it instead.


As you can see, cleaning the gravel in your fish tank is incredibly simple, especially when you have a gravel vacuum. In fact, oftentimes, it’s best to avoid cleaning the gravel at all until you can get your hands on one.

If you liked this article, make sure you check out the rest of the website! Otherwise, have a great day!

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