Cleaning freshwater aquarium substrate doesn't have to be a daunting, time-consuming task. Learn the simple and easy way to clean your freshwater aquarium!
Cleaning your freshwater aquarium does not need to be a daunting, time-consuming task. In fact, most of the maintenance tasks required to keep the water quality in a freshwater aquarium high will take only a few minutes of your time. Cleaning the substrate in your tank, for example, is a task made easy through the use of a gravel vacuum. Thanks to this tool, cleaning tank substrate can be combined with routine water changes and, depending on the size of your tank, generally takes only 15 or 30 minutes to complete. Because cleaning the substrate in a freshwater tank is so easy, there is no reason for you to avoid doing it. If you do not clean your tank substrate on a regular basis the water quality in your tank may decline as a result of excessive waste build-up. Poor water quality leads to stress in fish, which can then lead to a greater susceptibility to disease. In order to keep your tank clean and to protect the health of your fish, clean the substrate in your tank on a regular basis.
Recommended Types of Substrate
When it comes to selecting the substrate for your tank there are a variety of factors you need to consider. Not only should you think about which substrate you prefer, but you also need to consider your fish. The native environment of your fish may have a particular type of substrate, such as sand or gravel, so it is wise to perform a bit of basic research to find out before you decorate your tank. Before choosing a substrate, you should also consider which types are the easiest to maintain. If you do not mind putting in a little extra effort to clean the specialized substrates recommended for a planted tank, feel free to select something like fluorite or Eco-Complete. Since I incorporate live plants in my tanks, Eco-Complete is my substrate of choice.
If you are looking for a substrate that is easy to clean, however, the best choices are either gravel or sand. Gravel is one of the most popular types of aquarium substrate and it is also easy to clean – all you have to do is use a gravel vacuum to remove accumulated waste. Sand is another easy-to-clean substrate popular among freshwater aquarium hobbyists. Because it is fine-grained, waste tends to accumulate on the surface where it can be sucked up by your aquarium filter. Sand is also a excellent choice if you decide to keep Corydoras Catfish, since the rough edges of gravel could damage their sensitive barbels. So, before you decide on which substrate to put in your tank it's best to have a good idea of what species of fish you want to keep.
Using a Gravel Vacuum
Gravel vacuums are the tool of choice among many aquarium hobbyists when it comes to cleaning the substrate in your tank. These tools are available in a variety of sizes and some models even come with attachments designed to reach into corners and underneath tank decorations. Select a gravel vacuum that is proportional to the size of your aquarium and to the amount of open space in your tank. If your tank is densely planted or heavily decorated, for example, you may need a gravel vacuum with a narrow mouth to avoid disturbing plants and decorations while cleaning the substrate. If you have a great deal of open space in your tank, however, a vacuum with a wide mouth will save time by allowing you to clean large areas of the tank at once.
Using a gravel vacuum is very easy and it is the quickest way to remove built-up waste from your substrate. To use your vacuum, simply submerge the head of the vacuum in the tank and drop the end of the tube into an empty bucket to collect the dirty water. Gravel vacuums use the force of gravity to draw water out of the tank, so it is wise to position the collection bucket below the level of the aquarium. Dip the head of the vacuum into the tank until it fills completely then remove it from the water. Watch carefully as the water begins to drain down the tube toward the collection bucket and quickly re-submerge the vacuum before it empties completely. This will form a pocket of air in the tube, starting a siphon effect that will draw water up through the vacuum and into the collection bucket. Once the siphon effect has begun, dig the head of the vacuum into the substrate and move it slowly around the tank to suck up accumulated waste.
Some gravel vacuums will connect directly to the faucet of your sink. The siphon-effect is created by simply turning on the water. While running water to create a siphon does waste a certain amount of water, many aquarium hobbyists prefer this method because of the convenience. Another method that offers some convenience is the fully-submersible battery operated vacuum by Eheim. While no water is actually removed from the tank, it does a good job of cleaning the substrate and has the added convenience of allowing a quick "spot clean" to remove the occasional uneaten wafer and small plant debris at the bottom of the tank. I really like the Python No-Spill gravel vacuum. It's a well made product and will make weekly maintenance much easier.
Tips for Cleaning Aquarium Substrate
While using a gravel vacuum, pay extra attention to caves and other places where your fish like to hide because these places are likely to accumulate the most waste. If you have live plants in your tank, be careful not to disturb the roots while using your gravel vacuum. It is wise to leave a two-inch radius around the stems of live plants – live plants garner nutrients from organic waste so it is a good idea to leave something for the plants to feed on. If you have chosen fine-grained sand as the substrate in your tank do not drive the head of the vacuum into the sand – rather, move the vacuum gently above the surface of the sand to collect any accumulated waste.
Because colonies of beneficial bacteria tend to be most concentrated in the substrate of a freshwater aquarium, it is unwise to siphon more than 30% or 40% of the tank volume at one time. Similarly, it is never a good idea to remove all of the gravel from the tank at once to wash it. Doing so could result in completely decimating the population of beneficial bacteria in your tank, which could cause your tank to re-cycle. The only time when rinsing substrate is recommended is when you set-up the tank for the first time. Packaged substrates such as sand and gravel are likely to contain dust and dirt, so it is wise to rinse the substrate until the water runs clear before considering it safe to add to your new freshwater aquarium setup.