Should You Use An Aquarium Gravel Cleaner

Aquarium maintenance routines with the marine aquarium are essential. A well maintained system where all the various bits and bobs are regularly and properly completed generally gives the reward of health and vitality for the occupants.

One of the eye-catching things with a marine aquarium is the décor. Fish only and reef aquariums have rocks, and these are often displayed against a sand substratum. The sand makes the display look more natural and the colour white shows off really well.

If the sand layer is for decorative purposes only it will usually consist of coarse coral sand about 1″ (circa 2.5cm) to 2″ (circa 5cm) thick. As time goes by the sand traps particles of detritus, which eventually could give it a dirty look. In addition, the dirt within the sand could give cause to the growth of unwanted algae, considerably reducing the attractiveness.

It is easy to deal with this problem and using an aquarium gravel cleaner assists the process considerably. A gravel cleaner usually consists of a bulbous open ended device at one end to go on and into the sand, and a tube to remove seawater. Often there is also a device such as a net to trap particles in case the aquarist wishes to return the seawater straight back to the aquarium. Finally, sometimes there is a device to start a siphon – some cleaners even have a small pump.

It would seem best to use the cleaner when a routine seawater change is in progress. This means that an additional operation for sand cleaning isn’t required and there isn’t any chance of removed detritus getting back into the aquarium. When the siphon has been successfully started, the business end is placed into the sand and carefully moved along with a gentle stirring motion. As the detritus is released it is sucked up and removed, as will be any algae on the surface. It may be difficult to maneuver the cleaner close to rocks – in this case use a thin wooden stick or similar to stir the sand in this area. The amount of dirt that could be released from a sand bed can sometimes be surprising. Care has to be taken that sand is not being sucked up as obviously this should stay in the aquarium. To prevent sand loss the seawater flow could be reduced though this may also reduce the effectiveness of detritus removal. Anyway, if any sand is sucked up it can easily be replaced, but may need a separate wash first if it has been caught in a net with detritus.

The sand cleaning exercise time period is governed by the amount of seawater that needs removing for the seawater change. Perhaps the whole sand bed can be completed, but if not there isn’t any rush as, say, half could be done and the other half next time. It is better to thoroughly clean the sand than aim at completion in one go. It is best to clean the sand bed every few weeks, or at least regularly enough to prevent it becoming very dirty.

If the aquarist employs a DSB (deep sand bed) or plenum (a raised DSB) then a gravel cleaner should not be used. There are two main reasons for this. First, the sand should not be disturbed or the important function could be upset reducing the efficiency of the bed. Second, the sand used for the construction of a DSB is very fine and the cleaner would no doubt remove it rapidly. Unless there is a real problem, when some research should be undertaken, leave a DSB alone. These types of sand beds often look quite scruffy on the surface and this is normal. This scruffiness is also another reason why, in my opinion, a DSB is better off in a sump rather than being placed in a display aquarium.