Understanding Aquarium Gravel Types: Fine vs. Coarse and Managing Gravel Cleanliness

To clean aquarium gravel, I recommend using a gravel vacuum or siphon to remove debris and waste. Gently stir the gravel and vacuum the loosened dirt. Repeat this process during regular water changes to maintain a clean and healthy aquarium. Learn more in the full article below.

Article photo for How do I clean my Fish Tank Aquarium gravel
How do I clean my Fish Tank Aquarium gravel?

Quick Answer

In my experience, cleaning aquarium gravel involves using a gravel vacuum or siphon to remove debris without taking out the beneficial bacteria. You'll want to hover the vacuum just above the gravel, allowing it to pick up the waste but leaving the gravel itself mostly undisturbed.

At a Glance!

Cleaning Method Frequency Tools Needed Duration
Gravel Vacuum Bi-weekly or Monthly Gravel vacuum/siphon 15-30 mins
Rinsing (New Tanks Only) One-time Bucket and Dechlorinated water Varies

What factors can affect the answer

1. Gravel Type and Size

image comparison between coarse and fine aquarium gravel
Whilst Coarse gravel is most commonly used in my experience, it does allow old food & fish waste to accumulate in the gaps making it require more cleaning.

Over time, I've come to understand that not all gravel is created equal. The type and size of the gravel in your aquarium can determine the amount of debris it collects and how easily it can be cleaned.

Fine Gravel: While it looks lovely and smooth, finer gravels can compact, making it hard for waste to sift through. This type may require more frequent cleaning.

Coarse Gravel: Larger, coarser gravels allow debris to fall between the gaps. This might make your tank appear cleaner on the surface, but it can store a lot of waste underneath.

Gravel Type Cleaning Difficulty Frequency
Fine Moderate to High Bi-weekly
Coarse Moderate Monthly

2. Tank Occupants

comparison between bottom feeders such as cat fish and goldfish
The type of fish you stock in your Aquarium will affect how often you clean your fish tanks. Bottom feeders will do most of the work for you, whilst Goldfish are more likely to feed in the upper regions of your tank.

The inhabitants of your tank play a significant role in how dirty your gravel gets. Let's face it; some fish are messier than others.

Bottom Feeders & Cleaners: If you have species like Corydoras or shrimp, you might notice less debris as they often feed off particles on the substrate.

Messy Eaters: Fish like goldfish tend to be messy eaters, resulting in more food particles in the gravel.

I personally have at least 2 catfish in each of my aquariums. Not only does it add a nice dynamic to my Aquarium - but they hoover up what the messy goldfish leave behind.
Tank Inhabitants Impact on Gravel Cleanliness
Bottom Feeders Less debris; natural cleaners
Messy Eaters More frequent cleaning needed

3. Overfeeding

Photo of an angel fish with lots of uneaten fish food on the fish tank gravel
Overfeeding your Fish might seem innocent and harmless - but over time you will need to not only clean your gravel more often - but your entire filtration system.

I've made this mistake in the past: overfeeding. It's easy to think a little extra food won't hurt, but over time, it contributes significantly to the waste accumulating in your gravel.

Solution: Ensure you're feeding the right amount. Any uneaten food should be removed after a few minutes to prevent it from sinking and decaying in the gravel.

Feeding Habit Impact on Gravel
Correct Amount Minimal waste in gravel
Overfeeding Increased debris; more cleaning

To clean aquarium gravel efficiently, remember to turn off any heaters and filters beforehand. Use the gravel vacuum to gently clean the surface without digging too deep, ensuring you maintain the beneficial bacteria. If you're setting up a new tank, consider rinsing the gravel in a bucket with dechlorinated water until the water runs clear.

Is your Fish Tank older than 6 months?

In established (aged) tanks, avoid doing a full gravel rinse, as it can disrupt the tank's biological balance.

Consistency and gentle cleaning have been key to a thriving, clear-watered, healthy Aquarium.