How to Clean the Bottom of a Tropical Fish Tank

Updated November 21, 2016

Keeping the bottom of a tropical fish tank clean is one of the most important steps to overall tank health and maintenance. Aquarium gravel acts as a trap for all sorts of dirt and debris in the tank, from leftover fish food to fish waste. The bottom of the tank can quickly become a breeding ground for algae and bacteria if not kept properly clean. Cleaning the bottom of your fish tank is simple and can be done in just a few minutes each week.

Place the 5-gallon bucket on the ground next to the tank, and place the end of the siphon tube into the bottom of the bucket.

Submerge the entire head of the siphon vacuum into the aquarium at approximately a 45-degree angle.

Start the siphon by vigorously moving the siphon head up and down in the water column to build pressure, being careful to keep the siphon submerged as you do so. Alternately, you can submerge the head of the siphon in the aquarium and suck on the other end of the siphon tube to get the flow started. Make sure to drop the tube into the bucket as soon as the flow of water arcs over the tank side, or you may wind up tasting your fish water.

Sink the head of the siphon tube into the aquarium gravel, starting in one corner of the tank, and lift back out to suck up debris.

Continue siphoning the gravel, moving in rows across the tank, until you have drained out 10 to 15 per cent of the tank water.

Remove the siphon from the tank slowly to allow the water to drain into the bucket, and refill the tank with dechlorinated water.

Repeat this process once a week or every other week, cleaning a new patch of gravel each time.


Always turn off the tank's electrical components before cleaning the tank to avoid accidental shocks or damage to your equipment. This will also prevent the filter from clogging with stirred up debris from the bottom of the tank.

Things You'll Need

  • Aquarium siphon (also called a gravel vacuum)
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Water dechlorinator
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