How To Clean Old Aquarium Gravel – Step By Step Guides

Last Updated on January 20, 2022 by Fabiola L.

Wondering how to clean old aquarium gravel? These are the fastest and easiest ways to improve the health of your aquarium. Find out more!

Gravel is not just a mere decoration for an aquarium; it has a number of great uses for fish development. However, the overall health of your aquarium can be compromised if you do not know how to clean old aquarium gravel in the right way.

So, jump in and find out how to do it right – step by step.

Do You Really Have To Clean Old Aquarium Gravel?

With a fully cycled tank comes a stable amount of beneficial bacteria to break down fish waste ammonia and nitrite. That actually means that it’s possible to maintain a fish tank with very little gravel cleaning.

These are some of the reasons why you should choose gravel as a substrate for fish tanks.

  • It’s a good place for the life of beneficial bacteria.
  • Increases ammonia level
  • Gravel can help reduce fish stress
  • Protects fish eggs from predators
  • Preserves the roots of aquatic plants

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How To Clean Old Aquarium Gravel In The Three Simplest Ways

The gravel in your aquarium needs to be cleaned at least once every two weeks. The most basic rule is to clean it with each change of water. Now it’s time to say a little more about the process itself.

  1. How To Clean Old Aquarium Gravel With A Vacuum

It’s best to use a gravel siphon vacuum cleaner to vacuum the gravel in your fish tank. This type of vacuum cleaner works by using gravity and hydrostatic pressure to suck the dirt off the substrate. In addition, it helps with disposal outside the tank.

How To Clean Old Aquarium Gravel With A Vacuum

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Material needed:

An aquarium vacuum cleaner with an aquarium cleaning hose

Bucket of water

Freshwater with dechlorination liquid


Step 1

Disconnect all electrical equipment from the aquarium. Since the process doesn’t take long, you don’t have to worry about durability and the removal of water, fish or aquatic plants, and aquarium decorations.

Step 2

Place the bucket below the level of the aquarium and immerse the suction kit in the water. Note that the suction pipe of the siphon should be completely inside the tank.

Step 3

Cover one end of the tube with your thumb and immerse it in the bucket. The other end should lie under the gravel base. When you have finished setup, release your thumbs. By this act, the old dirty water with debris and waste along the pipe will go directly into the bucket. The procedure is complete when clean water starts coming out of the tube.

Pay special attention to the dirtiest parts of the aquarium (cracks, boulders, rocks, and caves).  When it comes to aquatic plants, try not to get closer than 2 inches, because they actually feed on organic waste.

Step 4

You can complete the suction process when the water level drops by about one-third of its full height. Simply cover the ends with your thumbs again and remove the tube from the tank. Keep in mind that it is not good to clean the whole tank at once, as it is not good for fish and plants either.

  1. How to Clean Fish Tank Gravel Without a Vacuum

This low-tech method involves the following steps.

Take a glass and take out the gravel. Put it in a sieve in which you will wash it later. Wondering how to wash gravel for a fish tank? It’s very simple! You can do this in one of the following two ways.

  1. a) Fill the bucket with water, then slowly pour a few inches of gravel and let the dust settle to the bottom. Stir the gravel slowly and add new water from time to time. Repeat this process until all the gravel is clean.
  2. b) Put it in a sieve with running water or a hose, and rinse for a few minutes.

All done! This is how you clean old aquarium gravel without a vacuum cleaner.

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How To Disinfect Aquarium Gravel

Regular disinfection is one of the key steps to the health of your aquatic friends. You can clean your aquarium gravel with bleach or vinegar. These are also the most common forms of aquarium disinfection.

How To Clean Aquarium Gravel With Bleach

Keep in mind that bleach is a harmful (deadly) chemical to your fish if not used properly.  Therefore, follow these instructions carefully.

If you use a concentration of 10% bleach, mix bleach and water in a ratio of 1: 9. Although a lower concentration of bleach, like 5% or 6% is also quite sufficient. Put the gravel in a bowl and pour a mixture of water and bleach into it. Be careful not to soak it for more than 15 minutes as the material may break due to a chemical reaction. Rinse it several times with warm water and air dry.

Cleaning Gravel And Fish Tank With Vinegar

Vinegar is the safest natural way to clean an aquarium without adversely affecting the fish and the things in it. You can use apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar. It’s best to make a mixture of vinegar and water in a ratio of 1: 1. You can even soak the filter, heater, hose, pump, gravel, and decorate things with vinegar.

Did you know that vinegar has a mild acid that can easily remove calcium and hard deposits from tank walls? Feel free to use it. It’s completely natural and safe!

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  1. Set Up A New Clean Aquarium For The Fish

Once you have cleaned your aquarium (with or without vacuuming), it’s time to make it a great living place for the fish again.

After cleaning the fish tank with a vacuum these are the following steps:

  • dechlorinate the new liquid to make it safe for the fish,
  • pay attention to the water temperature, it must be the same as usual,
  • fill the tank and turn on all equipment.

After cleaning the fish tank without a vacuum these are the following steps:

  • return the gravel back to the tank,
  • prepare the water and add it to the tank,
  • place aquatic plants and decorations in their places,
  • turn on all equipment.

In Conclusion

Cleaning a fish tank is not always an easy task. However, keep in mind that keeping your fish tank gravel clean is very important for maintaining a healthy aquarium.

If you have any questions or ideas on how to clean old aquarium gravel, feel free to leave a comment for us. We are expecting you!

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