How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel Without A Vacuum?

Vacuums are one of the best ways to clean fish tank gravel efficiently. They are specifically designed for this purpose and can save us time.

However, vacuums are not something that every fish tank owner has. It can also be expensive for those who own a moderate to small aquarium.

Then how do these people clean their fish tank gravel if they don’t have a vacuum on hand?

Read ahead to find some amazing alternative options to clean the gravel in your fish tank just as efficiently as a vacuum would.

Is it Necessary to Clean Your Fish Tank Gravel?

Yes, it is necessary to keep your fish tank gravel clean. Over time, a fish tank accumulates a lot of debris and dirt.

The dirt often consists of uneaten food, fecal matter, and dust from the surrounding.

Debris and dirt are acceptable in the tank to a certain level. It might even be necessary to have it.

Debris consisting of organic matter like food and feces promotes bacterial growth— Bacterias help remove and recycle unwanted dirt and maintain the ecosystem inside a tank.

However, eventually, there comes the point where your bacteria’s ability to recycle the dirt gets saturated.

In addition to this, there is no way to remove the excess dust from the aquarium that accumulates and forms a thick layer of grime on the gravel.

At this point, you need to intervene and clean the gravel yourself externally. Otherwise, harmful substances will build up in the aquarium and make it difficult for the fish to survive.

How to Clean Fish Tank Gravel Without Using a Vacuum?

Now that we understand why it is important to clean fish tank gravel, with or without the vacuum.

Let’s get right into this guide to help you understand how to clean the gravel most efficiently in the absence of a vacuum.

Step #1 – Identify When To Clean It

It is essential to identify when your fish tank gravel is due for a clean-up. You don’t have to wait till a thick layer of dirt accumulates on the gravel.

This would only indicate that you are already late for a clean-up session.

You can do a weekly check-up on your gravel by simply using a small stick or a finger to dig a few layers of gravel gently.

Do it in a small corner so that you don’t disrupt the entire gravel and the bacteria sitting on it.

If you notice a small amount of dirt releasing in the tank, it’s time you need to clean up the gravel.

Do not dig deeper for dirt to release. You do not want to wash your gravel unnecessarily.

Step #2 – Remove Some Water From the Tank

Before you start cleaning the gravel, procure a bucket big enough to hold all your fish while you empty the tank to clean it.

Make sure not to clean the bucket with any chemicals before you put in the water from the tank.

Just rinse the bucket with normal water from the tap. Then take out a cup of water from the tank and rinse the bucket to remove any unwanted material.

Now gently remove some water from the fish tank and start filling the bucket till it holds enough water for all your fish to stay in.

Also read: Where to Put Your Fish When Cleaning the Tank?

Step #3 – Remove All the Fish From the Tank

Now carefully transfer all your fish from the tank into the bucket that you have just filled with the tank water.

You can take out your fish from the tank using a siphon. However, it is advisable to use your hand to scoop out the fish gently.

Place the fish in the bucket and feed them some food to get comfortable. Make sure to remove the excess water from the bucket. 

Step #4 – Remove All the Water From the Tank

Now that your fish have been transferred to a safe place, you can go into the tank with a bigger bucket without worrying about releasing a lot of dirt.

Drain all the water in the sink or let it down the flush.

You can also connect your tank to a pipe and a small motor that can directly drain out all the water in the sink.

Step #5 – Remove All the Plants and Decorations

Now that your tank is empty, carefully remove all the plants and artificial decorations from the tank.

Bear in mind that if you have live plants, it is not advisable to remove them as it will kill them in the process.

You are likely to opt for an alternate method of cleaning the gravel if you have live plants in the tank. You must also remove all devices attached to your aquarium, like the air filters, at this stage.

The only thing that must be left in the tank after this is the substrate.

After removing everything from the tank, clean all the plants and devices and scrub off all the dirt carefully before you reintroduce everything into the tank.

Step #6 – Remove the Gravel from the Tank

At last, you can remove the gravel from the tank.

Before removing all the gravel from the tank, keep at least two cups of dirty gravel aside. Do not wash this gravel. Keep it aside for later use.

If your tank is not large enough, pour the gravel into a tub directly. Otherwise, you will need a bucket to transfer it in batches.

Now take two pounds of gravel at a time and place it in the sieve to wash. Run it under the tap water and use your hands to mix it.

Keep running it under water till clear water starts flowing from the sieve.

Put this clean gravel in another tub and make another batch of two pounds of gravel to wash. Keep repeating this process till all the gravel is clean.

Step #7 – Mix the Dirty Gravel with the Washed One

Remember that you kept aside a small amount of dirty gravel before you started washing the gravel for later use.

Now is the time for you to use it. You mix this small amount of dirty gravel with the freshly washed gravel.

Yes, you heard it, right. And no, don’t worry, this will not make your hard work go to waste.

Only a tiny amount is added, and it is necessary to add this because you do not want all your gravel to be devoid of the healthy beneficial bacteria it previously had.

Washing the gravel cleans all the impurities, but you need some impurities to ensure that the bacteria survive.

We have already discussed the benefits of having this bacteria in the fish tank gravel.

Step #8 – Wash the Tank

Now that you have washed the gravel and all the plants and decorations you removed from the tank, it’s time to wash it.

Scrub tank walls using a sponge to remove all the grime and algae. You can also use a store-bought substance to remove unwanted algae from the tank.

Do not use any chemicals or detergents to get the glass looking extra clean. Residue chemicals in the tank walls will cause damage to the fish later on.

Do not rinse the plants and decorations. You can wipe them gently if you think that there is some debris over them. These plants and decorations have some beneficial bacteria that you need in your tank, so don’t clean it thoroughly

Step #9 – Place the Gravel Back in the Clean Tank

Now that everything is clean place it all back in the tank, starting from the clean gravel mixed with the small amount of dirty gravel.

Place it all back in the clean tank and make sure that it forms an even layer on the tank’s floor.

Place in all the plants and decorate. Carefully install all the devices again. Now fill the tank with fresh water to half of its capacity.

Step #10 – Place Back the Fish in Their Clean Home

It’s time to return the fish to their new clean home finally. You also add the old water from the bucket to the clean tank.

This helps regulate the environment for the fish. It also marks the last step of our gravel washing process without a vacuum.

It is true that cleaning the gravel without a vacuum is a time-consuming process, but it yields the same results as cleaning it with a vacuum and is a much cheaper alternative.

What other ways are there to clean the gravel without a vacuum?

There are two other methods to clean the gravel without a vacuum.

Method #1 – Clean the Gravel Without Removing it

You can clean the gravel without removing it from the tank. You will need to follow the same steps as mentioned above until step 4.

This method is employed in the case of live plants in the tank. Just add some fresh water to the tank till it covers the gravel.

Use your fingers to disrupt the gravel and release all the dirt in the water. Remove one-half of this water and add new water fish back into the tank.

Method #2 – Make a DIY Gravel Cleaner

You can use an old bottle and cut it from the bottom. Drill a hole in the cap and attach it with an air tube. Now your DIY gravel cleaner is ready.

You can use it in an up and down motion to clean the gravel in the tank without removing it from the tank.

You can use these alternate methods of cleaning the gravel without removing it from the tank.

While you can use these methods when you want to clean the gravel in your tank without using a vacuum, it would be best if you get a vacuum as that gets the cleaning done faster and more efficiently.

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