How to Clean Aquarium Sand

How to Clean Aquarium Sand

I recently switched from gravel to sand substrate in my aquarium, and I loved how natural it looked and how much it resembled the ocean. But it left me wondering how to clean aquarium sand.

Thankfully, I learned that’s it not too difficult to do. All it takes is a little extra effort on my part, and there are even some things you can do to prevent it from becoming too dirty between cleanings.

Why It’s Important To Clean Your Aquarium Sand

As an aquarium owner you probably already know how important it is to keep your tank clean. Not only is it more pleasing to look at when it’s clean, but it’s a safer environment for your fish and any live plants you may own.

When you have a gravel substrate, debris falls down between the rocks. It’s not usually visible, and you don’t need to clean it as often.

However, when you use sand, it forms pockets because it’s packed so tightly. Fish waste and excess food fall down into the sand, decays in those pockets, and when they are disturbed, they release gases that can kill your fish. This is the number one reason why it’s important to learn how to clean aquarium sand.

Do This Before Adding New Sand To Your Aquarium

When you buy play sand or any other type of sand, simply adding it to your aquarium will create cloudy, dirty water. This is why it’s important to clean it before adding it.

You can do this by pouring the sand into a bucket and wetting it down with your water hose until the bucket is almost filled to the top. Drain the excess water, and repeat the steps until the extra water is no longer cloudy. Even when your water is clear, you may want to rinse it a few more times just to ensure it’s as clean as possible for your fish.

Using The Right Kind Of Sand For Your Aquarium

All sands are not created equally, and most people don’t realize this at first. Before you add sand to your tank, talk to your local aquarium expert to learn which is the best type for your fish.

Generally, play sand or pool filter sand that you can pick up at any big box store is the best option for most aquariums. It’s also the least expensive and the easiest to maintain.

You can also pick up sand that is packaged to use specifically in aquariums at almost any pet store.

If you use horticultural sand, disturbing it could release ammonia into your tank that can be harmful to your fish.

How to Clean Aquarium Sand

Now that you have your new sandy substrate, you’re probably wondering how to clean aquarium sand once it’s in the tank. While it makes take a few extra minutes out of your week, it’s not hard to do.

All you really need is an aquarium siphon and your own fingers.

Start by hovering the siphon over the sand about half an inch to one inch from the surface to vacuum up any noticeable debris, like fish waste or extra food that didn’t get eaten.

Once you’ve cleaned the surface, carefully and briefly dip the siphon into the sand to help prevent gas pockets form forming. Be sure to do it quickly because if you keep the siphon deep in the sand too long, you’ll vacuum up all of your substrate.

Once you’re finished with the siphon, rake your fingers through the sand to further ensure you don’t have any gas pockets. After this, you can perform your water change and replace any plants or decor that you moved before cleaning.

A Note on Plants and Decor

If you have live plants in your sand substrate, do not remove them for cleaning or you run the risk of tearing up the roots.

If you have artificial plants and other decor items, whether or not you remove them before cleaning your sand is up to you. Some aquarium owners believe that decor holds healthy bacteria that your fish need to thrive. Cleaning it only removes the healthy bacteria until it can build up again.

Keeping Your Aquarium Sand Over Time

How often you clean your aquarium sand depends on a few factors. Many people opt to do it when they change the water, whether they do it weekly or less frequently. Keeping an eye on how much waste builds up can also help you determine when to clean your aquarium sand.

That said, maintaining the cleanliness of your aquarium on a daily basis can help keep your sand and water cleaner and reduce the amount of time you spend performing a full deep clean. There are many ways to do this.

Of course, as mentioned above, cleaning any new sand you purchase before adding it to your tank should always be a top priority.

Anytime you notice waste floating in the water, use a small net to dip it out before it even touches the substrate.

Be extra careful when adding and removing plants and other decorations. Gas pockets can form beneath them, or they may disturb the sand.

Always make sure your filters and any other equipment are working properly. Perform all other regular maintenance, like water changes, on schedule. Keep your aquarium as clean as possible.

Add Snails, Shrimp & Fish That Self-clean

One fun way to help keep your aquarium and the sand substrate clean is to add creatures that clean up waste and debris. Snails, certain types of shrimp, and some fish will do some of the work for you. They should never be used as a substitute for regular maintenance, but they may provide you with a little extra help along the way.

Self-cleaning Fish

Bristlenose Plecos are nocturnal freshwater fish that will eat extra food that tends to fall to the bottom of the tank. They also eat algae that can build up on your decor and tank walls.

Self-cleaning Shrimp

If you don’t want to add fish, consider shrimp instead. Typically red, though they come in multiple colors, cherry shrimp will eat extra food that falls into spaces your bigger fish may not be able to get to. Ghost shrimp also eat extra food but be aware that they usually breed quickly, so you may end up with quite a big family of these helpful creatures.

Self-cleaning Snails

When many aquarium owners want a little extra help keeping their tanks clean, snails are usually the most popular choice. Snails also tend to breed quickly, especially when they have plenty to eat.

Ramshorn snail is common, and they’ll eat anything, ranging from extra fish food to dead plant and animal matter. They’re colorful, excellent at keeping algae at bay, and they breed very quickly.

Malaysian trumpet snails are also a popular option. Not only do they eat excess food and other debris, but they’ll help keep your sand churned so that those nasty gas pockets don’t form.

Nerite snails stay on the bottom of the tank, making them an excellent option for keeping your sand clean. They’re great for smaller tanks.

Final Thoughts

Wondering how to clean aquarium sand may feel overwhelming at first, but it’s really simple if you stay on top of it. Sand is the most natural option for creating an underwater environment that most resembles a lake, ocean, or river, and when kept clean, it can be quite beautiful.

All you need is a siphon, a few extra minutes each week, and a love for your aquarium. Following these tips and tricks will help ensure that your fish are healthy, and you have created a safe, attractive space where they can live for years to come.

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