Just like clean air is necessary for humans, clean water is crucial for a fish’s health. And one piece of essential aquarium equipment used for cleaning a fish tank is a fish tank vacuum cleaner.
In this article, we’ll share our top picks and show you how to choose the perfect gravel cleaner for a fish tank, how to pick the right size for your tank, and how to use it to maintain a cleaner fish tank, which are all very important lessons for every fish keeper.
You should also understand that a filter alone isn’t enough to keep the tank perfectly clean. The substrate also needs to be occasionally cleaned of any debris, falling food, and fish waste.
And this is where an aquarium gravel cleaner comes in.
Quick Picks: My Pick For Best Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner
Based on its great price, simplicity, and thousands of satisfied fish keepers, one of the best aquarium cleaners is the Python No Spill Clean and Fill aquarium maintenance System.
It’s a siphon-style gravel vacuum that can be used on a variety of tank sizes. Its unique design and a large hose (minimum 25 feet) allow it to be connected directly to a faucet. This eliminates the use of carrying buckets every time you clean the gravel in your tank since the water will be draining in the sink.
It also makes refilling the tank a breeze.
The amazing design and characteristic Python quality of the gravel vacuum cleaner make this Python water changer one of the best gravel vacuum cleaners available today.
Here Are The Runners Up
- For Nano aquariums (less than 10 gallons)
- Gravel vacuum for small tanks (10 to 20 gallons)
- For medium aquariums (20 to 55 gallons)
- For large aquariums (55 gallons+)
- Best Electric aquarium gravel cleaner
- Self-Priming Siphon Reviewed
Compare Gravel Vacuums & Cleaners
|Model & Capacity
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|25 Foot - Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System. Small - Large Tanks
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|EHEIM Quick Vac Pro Automatic Gravel Cleaner and Sludge Extractor. Small - Large Tanks
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|Fluval EDGE Gravel Cleaner, 15-inch Intake Tube. Med - Large Tanks
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|Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch. 20 gallons and up.
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|Marina Easy Clean Water Changer, 25-Foot Hose. Med - Large Tanks
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|Koller Products Tom Aquarium Mr. Cleaner Battery Operated Gravel Siphon. Nano Tanks
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|Lee's 6-Inch Slim Jr. Ultra Gravel Vacuum Cleaner, Self-Start. Small - Med Tanks
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|TERAPUMP Genuine Aquarium Fish Tank Gravel Sand Cleaner Long Nozzle Water Changer Flow Controller BPA Free TRFTCLN. Small - Large Tanks
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|Luigi's Aquarium/Fish Tank Siphon and Gravel Cleaner. Small Tanks
|Buy On Amazon
Detailed Reviews Of Our Favorite Fish Tank Gravel Cleaners
We have compiled a list of some of the best aquarium cleaners for you to go over. It might help you find the best cleaner for your particular aquarium.
1. Best Gravel Cleaner: The Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System
Our first pick is the tried and tested Python No Spill cleaner. As the name suggests, the direct faucet connection allows for a no-spill water change. And this is a problem that accompanies most water changes. The cleaner can be connected to most faucet designs without the need for an adapter.
The diameter of the gravel tube is standard, 2-inch. The default gravel tube length is 10″, but it can be swapped up with any of the extended length tubes offered by Python (from 20 to 72 inches). The standard hose size is 25 feet, but if your tank is farther away from a faucet and sink, you can opt for longer hoses (50′, 75′ or even 100′ in length).
The flow switch on the hose allows you to stop the flow of water easily. This also lets you control the amount of water you want to siphon off, without clamping the tube.
- Reasonably priced for such a high-quality product.
- It works perfectly on a variety of tank sizes, something that’s relatively unusual for standard size cleaners. The flow of the pull can be adjusted at the faucet. Thus many people find it useful, even for tanks as small as 10 gallons in size.
- It reduces the time needed for water changes and refills.
- The design makes it easy to be used on low-standing tanks; something typical siphon-types have a problem with. It works fine even if the tank is lower than the faucet height.
- By eliminating the need for carrying buckets, this cleaner makes vacuuming the gravel a less physically draining chore.
- Since water in the faucet needs to be turned on to get the flow going, it wastes some water.
- The suction might be weak if the pressure in the faucet isn’t high, which increases the time for water changes in larger tanks.
- Many people found the standard 10″ gravel tube too short to be practical for large tanks.
- Putting tap water directly into the tank isn’t feasible for a lot of people. So for them, it’s only half as good and, consequently, overpriced.
2. Eheim Quick Vac Pro Review (Automatic Gravel Cleaner)
The Eheim quick vac is a battery-powered auto gravel cleaner for your fish tank, ideal for aquarists who frequently vacuum the gravel, without changing the water. It offers a decent operation time of four hours, on a single pack of two batteries. This gravel vacuum cleaner is optimized for a suction power that gets the gunk out, without disturbing the substrate too much or damaging the aquascaping of the tank.
The water flows in, bringing in the waste which clings to the superfine mesh of the filter cartridge. The water then flows back. This type of cleaning keeps the water parameters steady without putting any conditioners in the water. Eheim quick’s manufacturers discourage its use on fine sand or gravel or for shallow tanks (anything under a foot).
The diameter of the gravel tube is 1.5″. The whole system stands 24″ in length when fully assembled, but it can be submerged up to 36″ in water.
- It cleans the substrate without water changes. Frequent cleanings increase the interval between partial changes.
- Suction is powerful enough for most cleanings.
- Since it doesn’t pull the water out, it can easily be used on smaller size tanks as well.
- Very easy for novice aquarists to handle and use.
- It cannot be used with finer substrates. Even mixed substrate with some small sharp gravel particles usually damages the impeller, killing the suction.
- Prone to damage through battery corrosion if they are not removed after every use.
- In a lot of cases, it’s found to have a short operational life.
3. Fluval Edge – Best Gravel Cleaner For Large Aquariums
Fluval Edge cleaner is designed with an angled gravel-tube lip (not the typical circular lip), which makes it ideal if you are used to cleaning your gravel by holding it at an angle. Thanks to its shape, the diameter of the gravel tube is 3.3″. It’s 15″ in length and comes with an extension tube for larger tanks (about 10-12 gallons in size). The hose is 5 feet in length.
A good feature is that it comes with two attachments that can be connected to the gravel tube. One is a gravel head that allows for deeper cleaning without damaging the edges of the tube, and another is a nozzle head for small, hard-to-reach areas.
- It’s good for thorough cleaning of tanks between the sizes of 6 and 12 gallons.
- The gravel guard feature prevents any gravel from going in with the flow.
- The edged tip allows it to cover corners better than a typical siphon-type cleaner.
- Slow suction is good for small tanks, but it substantially increases the cleaning time in large tanks.
- It’s hard to get the flow started.
- The attachment nozzles slow up the suction because of reduced diameter.
4. Aqueon – Best Aquarium Siphon & Gravel Cleaning Pump
It’s a simple siphon-type cleaner for aquarium maintenance. Some variants come with a bulb to assist with starting the flow. Gravel tube is two inches in diameter, 10 inches in height, and comes with a 6 feet long hose. It’s designed for a tank between the sizes of 15 and 55 gallons.
- Perfect flow speed for tanks around 20 gallons in size.
- The addition of the bulb makes priming the siphon much easier.
- There are complaints about the aqueon siphon vacuum not working but this is usually because a lot of people make the mistake of assembling the pump the wrong way, which prevents it from working properly.
- The hose isn’t good quality, and it’s hard to clamp manually.
5. Marina Easy Clean Water Changer
It’s another vacuum gravel cleaner that can be attached to a faucet, hence no-spill operation. It comes with a gravel guard and in two hose sizes, 25 and 50 feet. The gravel cleaner tube itself is 18″ long. The valve regulates the flow of the water.
- A filter-protector prevents fish from flowing in.
- If kept well, this cleaner usually has a long life, and it has strong suction in most cases. This makes it perfect for larger tanks.
- The brass connections make it more durable.
- The gravel tube tends to get clogged at the top, increasing the maintenance time.
- Relatively expensive.
- The standard adapter doesn’t fit into most faucets.
6. KollerCraft TOM Mr. Cleaner – Battery Operated
Another automatic gravel vacuum on the list, the TOM Mr. Cleaner, is designed for small tanks (usually under 20″ of depth). Unlike other battery-operated gravel vacuum cleaners, this unit can siphon off the water. It’s easy to extend the gravel tube length from 8 to 16 inches. The tube has a diameter of 2 inches.
- Reasonably priced.
- It can be used for spot cleaning as well as changing the water.
- Gentle suction doesn’t disturb the fish.
- It can’t be used for tall tanks since it isn’t totally submersible, and tube length is limited.
- The pump isn’t powerful enough for quickly siphoning off the water.
- You might need to do some waterproofing yourself to circumvent some design defects.
7. Lee’s Ultra Gravel Vac – Best Gravel Vacuum For Small Tanks
Lee’s Ultra Gravel Vac is one of the best gravel vacuums for a 5 gallon tank. It comes with a wide-mouth nozzle, akin to an actual vacuum cleaner. This allows for better coverage of the gravel, and less suction. The small size has a 9″ long tube, and the mouth of the tube is around 2″ in size.
- It has a high suction rate, so its good for draining water.
- It doesn’t clean the gravel as well as others in its price range.
- A largemouth makes it hard to maneuver around plants and decorations.
8. Boxtech Aquarium Gravel Cleaner
This is a powerful vacuum gravel cleaner. It employs a powerful 28W submersible pump, capable of 256 gallons per hour of flow. Apart from the typical operation, it can be used as a sand washer as well as a water shower. The cleaner can be used for a wide variety of tanks, up to 200 gallons in capacity.
It comes with four replaceable heads that can be mounted on the end of the gravel tube, sand-washing, cleaning brush, duckbill cleaning head (rotatable), and a differently shaped sand washer. It can be used just for cleaning as well as changing the water. It can be used for really tall tanks, thanks to an extending handle.
- A lot of features make it amazing for aquarium maintenance.
- The suction is powerful enough for a variety of aquarium sizes.
- Easy to use and assemble.
- Prone to clogging.
- In some cases, the motor got damaged after the first few uses.
9. Genuine – Best Gravel Vacuum For Sand
Closing the list is another siphon-style water changer. The gravel tube is 1.5″ in diameter and 3.6″ long. The cleaner comes with a bulb and an overall 52″ of hose length. A built-in filter on the tube prevents gravel from going in. It’s simple in design and reasonably priced. It can establish a flow of up to 1 gallons per minute.
- The suction is found strong enough by most users.
- Very reasonably priced.
- Even with the filter on, it can pull the sand and fine gravel in.
- The vacuum comes with no instructions.
What Is A Gravel Vacuum?
An aquarium vacuum cleaner is a substrate cleaner (gravel, sand, or other types) that sucks the waste off the substrate layer. And it’s not just the surface it targets; the vacuum is also used to pull the fish waste or uneaten food trapped beneath the substrate surface as well. This ensures that the waste or uneaten food isn’t decomposing inside the aquarium and producing any harmful compounds that can make your fish sick.
In principle, most aquarium vacuums are simple siphons. They are rigid plastic tubes (usually 2″ in diameter), open at one end, and connected to a smaller diameter tube at the other end. The other end of the tube is placed in a bucket when vacuuming the gravel. Through difference in height and gravity, the water in the tank is pulled upward, and by placing the gravel cleaner over or inside the gravel, it pulls the debris and waste with it, leaving the substrate clean.
Do I Need A Vacuum For My Fish Tank?
A gravel cleaner is an essential requirement for a clean tank, even with an adequate filter in place. The most obvious reason is to clear away uneaten food and fish waste. These two elements are part of any fish tank, and if left in it for too long, can really harm the health of your fish by releasing toxic ammonia in the tank water. Your filter helps keep the ammonia level steady with the presence of a beneficial bacteria colony, but it can get overwhelmed if the quantity of ammonia increases too much in an unclean tank. Gravel cleaner for fish tanks is the simplest answer to that problem.
Another way to keep the ammonia content in your tank water at healthy levels is partial water changes. On its own, changing the water doesn’t make a lot of difference, especially partial changes. Because even if you take dirty water away and put fresh water in, the source of the contamination (uneaten food and fish waste) will still be sitting on and under the substrate. A gravel cleaner helps you target the source of harmful substances in your fish tank.
A siphon-style gravel cleaner is as simple a tool as they come. For something so simple and basic, it’s an amazing piece of equipment. But everything has its drawbacks, and a gravel cleaner is no different. The first one would be that you have to get the hang of it, before doing it the right way. Also, when you are using a siphon-style cleaner, you will end up doing a partial water change, whether you want or not (though not with powered gravel cleaners). And since you have to go part by part in cleaning your substrate, it takes up time to get the whole substrate layer clean. Also, you have to be very careful with the small fish (or baby shrimps) and see that they don’t get sucked in. The same goes for the fine-particle sand substrates. A lot of it can get sucked up if you are not vacuuming the right way, disturbing the aquascape. In that case, it’s better to siphon from above the substrate layer, and don’t stick the siphon in like you can do with gravel. Also, you should crimp the tubing as soon as the cleaner is pulling something in there that you don’t want.
That said, the benefits of a gravel cleaner far outweigh the drawbacks, most of which won’t matter anyway once you get used to cleaning gravel in a fish tank.
Different Types Of Gravel Vacuums
While they all work on the same principle, there are a few different types of gravel vacuums. The three most common types are:
Siphon-style gravel vacuums are relatively simple and very effective. They serve the dual purpose of cleaning the substrate as well as doing a partial water change. They are good for almost all substrates but especially effective for gravel and large-grain aquarium sand (i.e., substrates with particles too heavy to be pulled in), and they work with fine sand as well. You just have to stir the sand before vacuuming and then siphon off of the upper layer of the substrate.
Electric gravel vacuums have a relatively more elaborate construction. These cleaners use an electric motor instead of gravity to pull the water. Consequently, electric gravel cleaners don’t allow for a water change by default, though most of them are equipped with an outlet for changing the water. They are helpful when you want to clean the substrate without changing the water. They also have a filter to trap and collect the waste, while the clean water is pushed back into the tank.
Tired of labor-intensive aquarium maintenance? An electric aquarium gravel vacuum simplifies the process and makes cleaning a breeze. Check out our recommendations for the best electric aquarium gravel vacuum and keep your tank spotless with ease.
Battery-powered cleaners are an improvement upon electrical gravel vacuums since manufacturers realized that putting a live wire and motor inside a tank full of water might not be a good idea (though filters and underwater pumps function the same way). They are relatively handier, and they usually have internal filters to trap the waste. Some battery-powered vacuums can also be used for water changes.
Both electric and battery-powered cleaners suffer from a few common problems. Like debris getting stuck in the impeller of the cleaner, or filter choking after sucking in too many fine substrate particles. Manufacturers are working on fixing these problems, but still, the manual siphon-type gravel cleaners are much more popular.
How To Choose The Right Size Gravel Vacuum For Your Aquarium?
Choosing the right-sized vacuum cleaner depends mostly on the size of your tank. Some other considerations are your tank’s substrate, biomass, whether it’s planted or not, etc. But the capacity of your tank is usually the most important factor. The size of the vacuum cleaner is determined by the diameter and length of the gravel tube (the hard plastic tube that is connected to the flexible pipe/hose). In some cases, the length of the flexible pipe is also important.
The diameter, along with some other factors, determines how much substrate area you can cover at once. But too big a diameter might siphon off a lot of water as well, and drain your tank faster than you can vacuum the substrate. Similarly, a smaller siphon means that it will take you a lot of time, covering the substrate in a wider tank. The gravel tube length determines how far in you will be putting your hand in the tank. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty (or in this case, wet), opt for a longer gravel tube. They come in a variety of lengths to cover any tank depth and usually go up as much as three feet in length. Some manufacturers provide even longer gravel tubes, reaching up to six feet in length to accommodate gravel cleaning of taller tanks.
The length of the flexible pipe (hose) doesn’t affect the start and control of the water flow from the gravel tube to the bucket (or a sink). But it helps if the material is flexible enough to be manually clamped and un-clamped easily (or if there is a flow switch). This is imperative when you want to stop something, like a small fish, shrimp, or fine gravel particles flowing in through the tube.
Gravel vacuums come in different sizes, based on different tank capacities.
Standard (or Medium) – This size is usually recommended for 20-gallon tanks. These cleaners have a diameter of 2″ (in case of Aqueon 1.5″) and a gravel tube length of around 10″.
Large – Designed for tanks with a capacity between 20 gallons and 55 gallons. They have a diameter of 2″ and a longer gravel tube (usually above 16″.
Small – Small size gravel cleaners are used for 10-gallon tanks (or tanks between 10 and 20 gallons). They have a diameter of 1 or 1.5 inches and a gravel tube length between 6 and 12 inches. It’s different for different manufacturers.
Mini, micro, and nano – These three sizes target different tank capacities under 10 gallons. They usually have a diameter of 1″. This is important because a larger diameter would drive the water out much faster, disturbing the tank environment and water parameters. Micro and nano are usually denoted for tanks under 5 gallons. The gravel tube length is usually around 4″ to 5″.
Slim – For some nano aquariums with small capacities but a tall build, slim vacuum gravel can be used. They have the same diameter as micro, or nano cleaners have 1 inch, but a much longer gravel tube, usually between 12 and 16 inches.
What Should You Look For When Buying?
As you might have gathered, most gravel cleaners are pretty straight forward devices, especially the siphon-style ones. Once you get the hang of it, you can clear away the sediment, uneaten food, and fish waste off of your substrate quite easily. Still, there are a few things you should look for.
What cleaner can I use to clean my fish tank?
The vacuum should be made from durable materials, especially the connectors because they are responsible for most water leaks in an aquarium’s cleaning. If the normal siphon starting method of moving it up and down seems hard, opt for a cleaner with a bulb or one that connects to the faucet. Electric vacuums are good for spot cleaning. But you have to deal with cleaning the filters.
But the most important thing is to get the vacuum according to your tank’s size and substrate type. Many gravel cleaners might not be as efficient for sand. You can go through consumer reviews for any product you are interested in, and find out about its durability and some of the common issues. A long warranty is also an excellent factor to consider.
How do you clean a fish tank with a vacuum?
Aquarium gravel cleaners work by pulling the gunk, fish waste, and other undesirable materials from and under the surface of the substrate (primarily gravel). Based on the cleaner, the waste is either trapped in a filter or passed in the draining water. The water is pulled either through the siphoning effect (manual) or using a motor and impeller (automatic).
How to clean gravel in a fish tank?
Push the gravel tube about an inch inside the gravel and gently stir it (keep it on the surface for sand or fine gravel substrate). It will pull the waste and debris up, leaving the gravel in place.
Do I need to clean gravel in an aquarium?
Absolutely yes. If you don’t, fish waste and uneaten food will disturb the ammonia cycle in your tank’s water. It can sicken and eventually kill the fish. Partial water changes and filter helps clean the water up, but they can’t replicate the benefit of cleaning the gravel.
How do you clean aquarium gravel without a siphon?
You can use an automatic gravel cleaner. It vacuums the gravel without siphoning it. If you don’t want to use that, then another method is to replace the fish, stir the gravel and do a partial water change (at least 30 to 40%). This might keep ammonia intake in check for some time. For more thorough cleaning, you might have to empty the tank and rinse the gravel. But this will mean that you might have to re-check the ammonia values, in case your filter hasn’t developed a sizeable enough bacteria colony to keep things running. It’s also helpful to rinse part of the gravel at one time, so the bacteria colony in remaining gravel doesn’t get disturbed.
When should I vacuum my aquarium?
It depends a lot on the type of fish you have (like Goldfish tend to be very messy) and your aquarium size. But a normal routine will be once a week with 10-20% partial water change. If you don’t have a lot of fish, you can do a vacuuming once a week with very little or no water change, then carry out a 25% water change once every two weeks.