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How to Clean Aquarium Sand or Gravel

Why do you need aquarium sand or gravel?

Sand and gravel are parts of the substrate in an aquarium. A substrate means the materials that make up the bottom of your aquarium. You can use many materials to build a substrate for your aquarium. The most common types are sand and gravel.

A substrate will make your aquarium more natural. It can also provide a place for plants and beneficial bacteria to grow, which can help with the removal of waste and the nitrogen cycle. And it is a suitable place for your fish to lay eggs and hatch them. So it’s important to build a substrate for your aquarium, and that is why you need aquarium sand and gravel.


Which one to choose? Aquarium sand or gravel?

Aquarium sand is different from aquarium gravel. The table below will help you figure out which one is best for you to build your substrate.

Picture Benefits Drawbacks

Aquarium sand

Aquarium sand

1) Cheap and easy to get.

2) Provide plants with a base to put their roots.

3) The waste is easy to remove because they stay on the surface of the sand.

4) Fish can burrow down in it.

1) Not suitable for heavy roots to grow.

2) Clog the filter or gravel vacuum used to clean the sand or fish tank.

3) Create anaerobic dead zones.

Aquarium gravel

Aquarium gravel

1) Cheap and easy to get.

2) Allow both small and big roots to grow.

3) Not affect the water chemistry.

4) Unable to be stirred up by fish, won’t result in cloudy water.

1) Waste will hide beneath the gravel, causing water pollution.

2) Hurt fish.

Why you should clean the aquarium sand or gravel?

Not only is the substrate suitable for beneficial bacteria to grow, but also suitable for waste to accumulate. The waste can be fish waste, debris of fish, leftover food and others.

If you don’t clean the aquarium sand and gravel, the waste will create toxic substances, which would create unsafe conditions and death for the fish in your aquarium.


How to clean new dry aquarium sand or gravel?

When you buy a bag of aquarium sand or gravel, you may be told that it has been washed. But you’d better wash it again before you put it into your aquarium.


Use a faucet

  1. Put some sand or gravel in a bucket.
  2. Put the bucket under the faucet.
  3. Open the faucet and let the water flow into the sand or gravel but not wash it away.
  4. Use your finger or a stick to stir the sand or gravel to remove the dirt. When the bucket is full, turn off the faucet and continue to stir.
  5. Pour the dirty water away, but do not pour out the sand or gravel.
  6. Repeat steps 3,4 and 5 until the water you pour out is clean.
  7. Pour the clean sand or gravel into your aquarium and let it dry for 24 hours before adding water or other equipment to the aquarium.


Use a garden hose

  1. Put some sand or gravel in a bucket.
  2. Plug the garden hose to the bottom of the bucket.
  3. Open the faucet and adjust the hose to let it agitate the sand or gravel.
  4. Change the position of the hose when the water is clear until the sand or gravel is cleaned thoroughly.
  5. Drain water as best as you can without draining any sand or gravel down the drain.
  6. Pour the clean sand or gravel into your aquarium and let it dry for 24 hours before adding water or other equipment to the aquarium.


How to clean aquarium sand or gravel in the tank?

When you have used the sand or gravel for a while, there will be much waste stored in it, so you need some professional tools to clean it.


Use livestock


Some species can serve as cleaners in an aquarium. They will swim over and sift through the sand to find food all day long, which will turn over the sand or gravel and help clean it. These species can be Corydoras and suckermouth Catfish, Botia Loaches, shrimp, snails, Bristlenose Pleco, etc.

But the livestock is easy to get infected, so this method can not go on for long. You still need to use efficient tools to clean the sand or gravel.


Clean it without a gravel vacuum/siphon

Clean the sand or gravel without a gravel vacuum may be troublesome because you need to move out all of the things in your aquarium.
  1. Prepare a container that is filled with water from your aquarium to settle down your fish.
  2. Unplug the tank and other electrical equipment to avoid safety risks.
  3. Pour out all of the water in the tank into a container. (If the water is dirty, change it.)
  4. Pour out the sand or gravel in a bucket to rinse it until it is clean enough. (The same steps as cleaning the new dry sand or gravel.)


Clean it with a gravel vacuum/siphon

Hygger Hand-Operated Ball Aquarium Water Changer

[Know more]

With the help of a gravel vacuum, you don’t have to empty your aquarium. It will be much easier for you to clean the aquarium sand or gravel.
  1. Stir the sand. When the tank becomes cloudy, stop stirring and wait until your tank settles down. The dirt is slighter than the sand or gravel, so once they settle, the dirt will float on the surface of the sand or gravel.
  2. Use your gravel vacuum to siphon the dirt on the surface. Make sure your gravel vacuum is put on the surface or it will suck in the sand or gravel, which will clog your tool.
  3. Clean your filter.


How often should you clean aquarium sand or gravel?

It’s hard to say for sure because there are so many factors that will determine the frequency of cleaning the aquarium sand or gravel.
  • The type and amount of fish you keep.
  • The size of your tank
  • The filtration system you use
  • Freshwater or saltwater
  • The plants in your aquarium
  • How often do you feed your fish


Tools for aquarium cleaning

  • Filters: clean the dirty water in your aquarium
  • Gravel Vacuum: clean the substrate of your aquarium
  • Fish net: remove fish from the tank before cleaning
  • Algae pad: clean the algae in your tank
  • Aquarium Glass Magnet: clean the glass of your aquarium



You have known much about the aquarium sand and gravel. But do remember, you don’t have to set a substrate for your aquarium. Set one for your fish tank when it needs. Once you have set one to give your fish a better environment, don’t forget to clean it regularly. Following the tips mentioned in this article, I believe the aquarium sand or gravel will be clean all the time.

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