How to Clean Aquarium Sand Like a Pro

How to Clean Aquarium Sand Like a Pro

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When I agreed to having fish, I was trying to avoid cats and dogs and all the poop clean up that comes with them! A fish tank sounded like the perfect solution to make both kids and I happy!

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Little did I know that fish tanks require a certain level of attention! When an aquarium is in good condition, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

However, keeping an aquarium looking good takes a lot of work. One of the easy things to forget about for newer fish owners is maintaining not only the water but also the sand.

There are three main ways to keep the sand in your aquarium clean. You can use a siphon or a gravel vacuum; you can agitate the sand so the filter picks up the debris; you can put sand cleaning species into your tank.

How to Clean Aquarium Sand WITH a Siphon

Cleaning aquarium Sand with a Siphon
Siphons are a great tool for aquarium cleaning, but it takes practice

Cleaning sand for fish tanks with a siphon takes a little bit of practice. It’s a simple tool, but with sand, there are some tricks to be aware of. 

Siphons, or gravel vacuums, create a flow of water which creates a gentle suction in the tank. The aim is to lift the layer of sand a little to allow the dirt and debris to come loose. This is then removed along with the water leaving the siphon.

Because this removes some of your tank water, this is a good option for combining it with your usual tank maintenance. You can keep taking out water until you’ve reached your preferred amount, and then you can refill with fresh water.

The challenge is making sure you don’t suck all the sand out of the tank. Because sand is made of small light particles, it’s pretty easy to suck it up. The best way to avoid this is to keep the end of the siphon a good height above the sand. You’re trying to lift the sand but not let it enter the siphon. It does take a bit of practice.

How to Clean Aquarium Sand WITHOUT a Siphon

If you don’t have a siphon, there is an alternative. You can manually agitate the sand to release the dirt into the water. You can get special tools to do this, or you can just run your fingers through the sand.

When you use this method, your filter will be doing most of the work. The dirt gets lifted into the water, and it’s down to your filter to remove it. So, if your filter isn’t on the more powerful end for your tank size, you might be better off choosing another method. You may also need to clean your filter a little more frequently.

Using Sand Cleaning Fish To Clean Your Fish Tank Sand

Corydoras catfish cleaning quarium
Some types of fish can be your best friend when it comes to cleaning help

The final option for keeping your aquarium sand clean is to put sand cleaning livestock into your tank. These creatures give you a natural way to clean your tank and are also charming additions. 

Some freshwater options:

  • Corydoras catfish (these are great tank cleaners)
  • Loaches
  • Geophagus cichlid
  • Shrimp (better in smaller tanks)

Saltwater sand cleaners include:

  • Nassarius Snails
  • Sand sifting starfish
  • Fighting conchs
  • Sand sifting gobies

Even with these creatures in your tank, it is worth doing an occasional clean. They might not be getting every last bit of dirt, and there may be spots they choose to ignore. However, their presence does allow you to keep your tank healthy with less regular cleans.

How To Clean Aquarium Sand Before Use

There are a lot of choices for the sand you can use in your tank. But whatever you pick, it’s a good idea to wash it before you put it into your tank. If you don’t, your water will become cloudy and filled with dust.

Cleaning your sand before you use it is pretty straightforward. Just empty the sand into a large container like a bucket and overflow it with a hose. It would be best if you pointed the hose at the sand so it is agitated. Then, keep going until the water runs clear.

If you don’t have a hose, you can fill the bucket with water and agitate the sand with your hand. Then, drain off the water and repeat until the water remains clear.

Top Tips For Keeping Your Fish Tank Sand Clean

close look on a clean aquarium with sand and plants
There are strategies that help keeping your tank clean

To help keep your fish tank healthy, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Use the right sort of sand for your tank, avoid builder’s sand
  • Wash your sand before first use
  • Use a thin layer of sand — around 1 inch is enough for most tanks
  • Ensure you have good water flow as this will reduce the waste that makes it to the sand
  • Use a mixture of sand cleaning livestock and cleaning for the best results

Frequently Asked Questions

How to clean saltwater aquarium sand?

The steps for keeping sand in a saltwater aquarium are no different than those in a freshwater aquarium. Of course, any sand cleaning livestock needs to be suited to your salinity, but otherwise, there is no significant difference in the process.

How to clean black aquarium sand?

If you have sand that is black by design, you can clean it the same way you would any other sort of sand.

However, if your aquarium sand is turning black, this is a sign that anaerobic bacteria are growing in the sand. In this case, your best option may be to remove the sand and start with fresh, clean sand. To prevent a repeat, you can try a thinner layer of sand and increase the frequency of your cleaning schedule.

Should I clean my aquarium sand?

It’s essential to clean the sand in your fish tank because uneaten food and waste can collect in the sand. If you don’t clean it, pockets of dangerous anaerobic bacteria can form, which can be harmful to your fish.

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