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How to Clean Sand in Fish Tanks

how to clean sand in fish tanks

I agree that having a fish tank requires you to invest a lot of time cleaning everything inside. Apart from the aquarium water, the sand is also an essential part of the aquarium ecosystem that needs cleaning consistently.

But how to clean sand in fish tanks? There are three different methods that you can use to clean the sand in the fish tank. The first and the most popular one is vacuuming. Then, you can do manual cleaning and put sand cleaning fish to help clean and maintain the sand over time. All of these methods will be discussed thoroughly in this article.


Cleaning the Aquarium Sand Through a Vacuum

The most popular way of cleaning the sand substrate in the aquarium is to vacuum all the dirt and debris found in the sand. There are two different tools that you can use for this cleaning method. One is to use a regular tube and a siphoning tool.

Using a Regular Tube

One way to clean the sand in the fish tank is to use a regular tube that will be used to vacuum all the dirt and substrate in the sand. When cleaning the sand, all you have to do is hover it around the sand to suction all the dirt or debris found in the substrate or on the surface of the sand.

When using this tool, the most important thing is to have excellent water flow in your aquarium. Once the dirt, debris, and the excess food work their way into the sand, it will just stay on the surface, which means having an excellent water flow will mean that the filter will take care of this dirt.

Using Siphons or Gravel Vacuum Tool

A siphon comes in various sizes, but when it comes to cleaning the sand, I suggest using the small one so that the sand does not get off the tube. The key to using the siphon with sand is not to leave it in the sand for too long; otherwise, it will go off over the tube.

Using a siphon will create the flow of water that creates a suction effect. This suction effect will then be used to loosen the debris and the dirt and eventually be removed together with the water which leaves the siphon.

The only challenge with using the siphon is learning how to prevent the tool from sucking in the sand. Since sand comes with small particles, it is normal for the siphon to suck it. The solution is to keep the siphon at a distance from the sand without negating the suctioning effect. Or, you can put the tool on the sand surface but not leave it for too long to prevent the sand from suctioning.

Cleaning the Aquarium Sand Manually

If you do not have any of the suction tools used above, you can have the option to clean the sand manually. What you will do is manually agitate the sand for the dirt to be released into the water so that the filter can clean it.

This process is actually similar when learning how to prepare sand for an aquarium. When designing sand for aquarium usage, the only difference is that you are using a pail to manually agitate the sand for cleaning until the water runs clear.

In this method, you are manually agitating the sand in the aquarium so that the dirt will be removed and released into the water. For this method to be effective, you should have a powerful filter in the aquarium so that the dirt can be lifted easily once it is released into the water.

Putting Sand Cleaning Fish in the Aquarium

how to clean fish poop from sand

This method is like a passive or natural way of cleaning your sand inside the aquarium. Putting fish species that can naturally clean your sand is a clever idea that you can do. There are several sand cleaning fish that you can put in the aquarium for this purpose. Please see the table below:

Freshwater Sand Cleaning Fish Saltwater Sand Cleaning Fish
Corydoras Catfish Fighting Conchs
Geophagus Cichlid Sand Sifting Gobies
Loaches Sand Sifting Starfish
Shrimp Nassarius Snails


This fish species will go down to the bottom of the aquarium and will grab a mouthful of sand. The fish will then sift and spit it out, naturally cleaning the sand from any dirt. The best thing about this habit by this fish is it will be repeated all day long, ensuring your sand will be clean consistently.


Loaches are considered scavengers once they are put in the aquarium. Loaches come in different varieties, but they clean off the bottom by going to the substrate to look for food.


There are hundreds of these fish species, but all of them can help clean your sand substrate. This fish will scavenge at the bottom of the tank to look for food making your sand clean and free from debris and excess fish food.

How to Clean Fish Poop From Sand

Fish waste or poop is one of the dirt found in the sand apart from the excess food that the fish did not eat. Fish waste or fish poop is dangerous to the fish because it can create additional nitrogenous compounds in the water that will invite bacteria inside the aquarium.

So, removing and cleaning the poop or fish waste in the aquarium is necessary. Fortunately, the method we have listed above will clean the dirt and debris found in the sand and clean the fish pood, which is stranded in the substrate.

Certainly, vacuuming the sand will help in removing the fish poop. You can also strain the sand manually using a strainer to remove the poop found in the sand substrate. It is also essential that you have a powerful filter because it helps remove the toxic compounds in the aquarium water, including the fish poop.


When having an aquarium in your home, learning how to clean sand in fish tanks is an essential skill to know. There are different ways to clean the sand in your fish tanks, but the most important thing is to do it consistently and on schedule because it is an essential aspect of the maintenance of the aquarium.

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