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How Do you Clean Aquarium Gravel?



How Do you Clean Aquarium Gravel?

Having a fish tank can be an amazing hobby. You can choose between freshwater fish and salt water fish. You don’t even have to have any fish in your aquarium – there is a multitude of other water creatures that could take your fancy. But for the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to fish in here.

With the pleasures that come with having your own fish tank, you are going to have to do some maintenance to keep the aquarium fit for any water life.

Besides the feeding and checking of water quality, one of the most important things to do is to maintain the aquarium gravel. In other words, the seabed of your fish tank.

Why should you clean your Aquarium Gravel?

Before we get into the reasons of why you should ensure that the aquarium gravel should be clean, let’s discuss what it is. That will help you to understand why it is so essential in the fish tank’s health.

The gravel that is used in fish tanks is also known as substrate and is a better way to describe the material used to fill the bottom of fish tanks.

Technically speaking, aquarium gravel is actually a specific type of substrate – even if it is the most common type. There are other types like sand and peat, but these are more specialized substrates. You need not worry though; most fish tanks will be fine with standard aquarium gravel.  

Aquarium gravel is an artificial type of material that ranges in size from peas to coarse sand. It is usually made up of quartz and can be naturally coloured or unfortunately, artificially coloured.

If you purchase really cheap gravel, you might run the risk of getting artificially coloured gravel that leaks off its colour to the tank water.

This could present serious issues to the water life in the tank by disrupting the water ph level. The reason that most gravel is made up of natural quartz is because it is chemically inert – it does not create any chemical reactions with the water and create by-products that could harm the fish.

Now that you know what it is and what type you should get, there are a few things that you should know with regards to why you should clean it regularly.

1. New Gravel

When you purchase new gravel, it is extremely important that you first rinse it off before putting it into the tank. In the processing of the gravel, there is a very fine powder that is formed due to the gravel pieces rubbing together.

You can put the gravel into a clean bucket that has no soap residue (soap could kill the fish). Then you must just rinse the gravel out until the water runs clear. Once that happens, it is safe to be put into the tank.

You may find that it is necessary to rinse the gravel quite a few times until it runs clear. Don’t worry about that as it is quite normal. Just do not be impatient – your fish’s lives depend on you.  

2. Biological Filtration

If you’ve bought a fish tank, you should know that it is necessary to filter the water continuously to ensure that it is oxygenated enough for the fish. There are several ways in which you can do this. This most natural way is by biological oxidation.

This is a process where good bacteria break down harmful ammonia and nitrates and then filter these into other compounds that are much less deadly.

The best way to get this type of filtration is ensure that the water has a high level of Oxygen and then ensure that there are enough features in the water for the bacteria to attach to – like aquarium gravel for instance.

The best type of filter to choose would be to ensure that all the water in a tank has been filtered around four times every hour. That will ensure that enough Oxygen is present in the water.

3. Reduction of Algae

Algae in a fish tank is a bad idea. The main reason is that the algae will actually absorb the available Oxygen in the water, thus depleting the levels in the tank. If too much algae grows in a fish tank, there is very high likelihood that the fish the tank will actually suffocate.

To prevent algae from forming in the tank, regular cleaning is required. There are various solutions that you can use, but be sure to try a natural product, like apple cider vinegar. Chemicals can sometimes be too harsh for the fish.

The definition of regular is slightly loose here as that could mean every few days to every few weeks. The amount of cleaning would depend on type of water and its temperature.

It will also depend on the type of fish in the tank. Some fish live off the waste of others, so they could be useful in slowing down algae growth.

4. Hygienic Habitat for fish

Like all living creatures, fish need an environment that is conducive to their well-being. Fish need a clean and well oxygenated water environment – regardless if it is fresh or sea water. They unfortunately cannot do it themselves or rely on the natural elements found in nature to do it for them. This is your responsibility.

5. Aesthetic looks

This isn’t as important to the fish as to you – the owner. Many fish tank owners like to be creative with the environment that they see in the tank. This would also depend on the type of fish that are in the tank.

We have discussed artificial aquarium gravel which comes in many different colours. If you are careful, you can find certain types that don’t leech into the water and are non-toxic to the fish. These could provide an interesting colour pallet to play with when customizing your tank.

How frequently should you clean your fish tank gravel?

This depends entirely on the fish and water in the tank. As we’ve discussed above, some fish can assist in cleaning the tank.

The number of fish in the tank relative to its size will be the biggest indicator of how often you will have to clean the tank.

Fish waste creates ammonia in the water which in large enough quantities will harm the fish.

A good rule of thumb for an average size fish tank will be to clean the aquarium gravel once a per month. This should ensure that the fish in the tank stay healthy.

How to Clean your fish tank gravel?

Now that we know how often you should clean your tank, you are probably wondering how to clean the gravel properly. It’s not as difficult as you think and should not daunt you.

Things you’ll need

Before you start, you will need some equipment. The type of equipment that you will need will depend on your budget as there are tools that can make your life easier. You will need the following:

  • A sieve that won’t let the gravel through
  • A clean bucket that doesn’t have soap
  • Fresh and clean water for rinsing
  • An aquarium vacuum (optional – but nice to have)

Cleaning the fish tank gravel will be quite easy, as long as you are careful to keep everything clean. And make sure that you resist any urge to use soap anywhere – soap and fish do not mix!

Once you have the equipment above, you will do the following steps to clean the gravel correctly:

  • Depending on your budget, you will either scoop out the gravel by hand slowly with a scoop or you will have special aquarium vacuum that will fill a bucket with the gravel.
  • Once you have removed the gravel, you will take the clean sieve and fill it half way with the gravel. Be sure to not overfill it as this could cause some of the gravel to be wasted in the next section.
  • Rinse the gravel in the sieve by passing water over the gravel and then agitate the gravel in the sieve. Keep doing this until the water runs clear. This will be a good indication that the gravel is now ready to go back in the tank.
  • Once you have cleaned the gravel, you can put it back in the tank directly. Just be careful when placing the gravel in again as you don’t want to disturb the fish in the tank.


The steps above are all that you will need to clean the aquarium gravel in your fish tank. As can be seen, there are a great multitude of things to be on the lookout for when cleaning the gravel.

Ultimately, if you are consistent and regular in your cleaning of the aquarium gravel, you will give the fish in your tank the best chances of surviving.

However, if you aren’t consistent, there is a strong possibility that you may not have fish for long. What will you do now that you know?

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