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Keeping Gravel Clean Is Important

Do you want your fish swimming in poison, of course not, keeping gravel clean is just as essential in the maintenance of an aquarium as are the partial water changes, cleaning the filters and water testing.

So how do you avoid it?

  • Don't overfeed
  • You will get varying suggestions of how much water to change on a weekly basis. It will obviously depend on how many fish you have in your tank, but don't forget to 'dechlorinate' new tap water.  I change approximately a ¼ in each of my tanks.
  • Check your filters when you do a water change, and don't wash your filter media in new tap water this will kill the bacteria.  Use the water that you have taken out of your aquarium.
  • Test water periodically for ammonia and nitrate, if you don't have a kit it's well worth buying one.
  • Keep the gravel or substrate clean.

Please note that the water in the tanks is crystal clear, as can be seen in some photographs.  It is the photography at fault.

We do not intend to go into the above in detail, there is so much free advice out there and many books.

We are not experts, but we have picked up a fair amount of knowledge, some by mistakes, but most by reading and asking questions.  Don't forget an unanswered question could cause you more problems than you think, and even be very expensive.  Please feel free to e-mail us.

 Gravel Cleaners

There are many types of gravel cleaners on the market, some of which are known to be cheap and nasty, while others are supposed to be the best that you can possibly buy.   We have tried various types including an under gravel filter.  We are not saying that any particular filter is better than any other but giving our personal experiences and opinions on what we have used. 

Under Gravel Filter 

We set up an under gravel filter in our largest tank.  Under the base of the filter there is a small gap, the filter is covered with gravel.  An air pump draws water through the gravel at the bottom of the aquarium where waste material is trapped.  The bacteria growing on the gravel biologically removes toxic fish waste, the water is then drawn under the filter plate and into the uplift tube, which feeds it back into the top of the aquarium.


Waste material builds up in the gravel bed reducing the water flow and this can cause unhealthy 'dead' spots so you still need to clean the gravel from time to time with the basic gravel cleaner.

We changed the filter cartridges as recommended every eight weeks, using both zeolite and carbon. The zeolite removes the most poisonous toxic fish waste - ammonia - and should be used until the biological activity in the gravel has become established.  We tried this for quite a while but from day one we were never really satisfied with it even though we used an air pump that was supposed to be powerful enough to feed 4 appliances.  On hindsight a power head would probably have been more efficient than an air pump.

We also found out that fish eggs could get sucked through, so you would have fish living under the base and eventually they would get stuck in the uplift tubes.  It was also a safe haven for snails to breed.

Talking about places for snails to breed here is the ideal place under the base of the Fluval 'U' series, so if you have a snail problem it is advisable to check the base often.



Gravel Siphon (Vacuum) Cleaners.

Gravel Siphon Cleaners are designed to separate and remove debris from the aquarium during routine water changes. As the water flows rapidly out of the hose end , it rises just fast enough on the wide end to lift and tumble the gravel. The dirt rises, and the gravel falls.  You need to start siphoning the water into a bucket, then insert the tube into the gravel. Lift and move to a new spot, working your way throughout the aquarium bottom. Continue until you have removed an amount appropriate for a water change, typically about a 20%  of your aquarium volume. Repeat on a regular schedule and your gravel will remain loose and fairly clean.

For us the drawback was having to watch the bucket didn't overflow, and when it was full, emptying it and restating the siphon action.



Battery Powered

An effective weapon against dirt and debris, a well-kept aquarium is  crystal clear with cleanliness right down through the gravel bed.  Sinking dirt particles, plant debris and organic residues repeatedly form an ugly layer of sludge. This provides the breeding ground for unwanted substances which pollute the water.

It is necessary to clean the the gravel at regular intervals and remove the dirt particles around plant roots, stones and corners. The battery powered cleaner works like a conventional vacuum cleaner: The pump sucks the dirty water from the bottom via the suction jet into the integrated filter element.

The original cleaner that we bought wasn't very powerful so if you decide to buy one of these make sure that it has enough power to do the job properly.  However I did eventually buy a larger one more expensive ones and unfortunately this was a bit hit and miss sometimes working and sometimes not.


The Power Gravel Cleaner

This cleaner is powered by a pump and hangs on the side of the aquarium.  It has a very efficient filter bag made of micro-porous material that traps even the smallest of particles, and is washable and re-usable.  It is mains powered and all electrical parts are insulated and completely submersible and can be cleaned under running water.  This gravel cleaner makes gravel cleaning simple, without the risk of spillage or leaks. Using this method of re-circulating the aquarium water means that you are able to clean the gravel thoroughly without having to change or remove large amounts of water.



The inline switch in the picture was fitted by us for convenience, because with basic gravel cleaner you need to start the siphon action before you can start to clean the gravel.   However having said that with this method it is one size fits all, and it is our chosen method to date.


First published 06/04/2007 (amended 09/03/2013)