As any aquarium owner knows, a gravel vacuum is an absolute must for keeping your tank looking nice and your fish happy and healthy. While there are a lot of options on the market, choosing the right one for your tank can be difficult. In this article, we will review several of the best aquarium vacuums on the market. In addition, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about aquarium vacuums.
Python is one of the most well known and popular brands for aquarium vacuums, and for good reason. Their vacuums range in size, style, and price, making them a good bet to find what you’re looking for. The No Spill is offered in 25 ft, 50 ft, Large, and X-Large, offering an option for every tank setup.
What’s unique about the Python is its lack of syphon: instead, it utilizes a pump system that runs using the water pressure from your faucet or hose, allowing for minimal effort and mess. The long tube offers aquarium owners a chance to empty dirty water directly into a sink or tub, and it comes with an attachment that can be hooked up to most faucets, allowing for easy tank refill. Python has also helpfully created several videos explaining how to properly use the No Spill, which can be found on YouTube.
- Faucet pump for immediate, syphon-free suction
- Faucet adaptor allows for easy tank refill
- User friendly
- Variety of sizes to fit all tanks
- Attachment does not fit all faucet heads
- Some reviewers say suction needs to be stronger
- Wastes a lot of water
- Requires fairly extensive setup
Listed as a top choice by Amazon, the Terapump is a simple, inexpensive hand pump aquarium vacuum with great reviews. This pump comes with a detachable filter and two different-sized nozzles, making it easily customizeable. Like most hand syphons, the Terapump is user friendly and creates little to no mess when cleaning.
Two unique features of this pump are its Water Flow Controller, which allows for easy adjustment of suction, and a suction cup. Once attached to the aquarium wall, the suction cup allows for one-hand operating. Please note the suction cup should be used only for syphoning water; gravel vacuuming still needs to be done manually. In addition, if the pump gets clogged, the bulb at the end can be squeezed to clear the filter. The Terapump is best for medium sized aquariums of 5 to 25 gallons (the suction is too strong for smaller tanks, and the tubing is too short for larger tanks).
- Suction cup for easy cleaning
- 2 nozzles which allow for easy gravel or sand cleaning
- Water Flow Controller
- Fast and efficient for cleaning with minimal effort
- Shorter tube, requiring a bucket for emptying water
- Can be easily clogged with substrate
While Dora’s Corner Store is a less well known brand (it is Amazon exclusive), popularity is not always an indicator of capability. (In fact, several Amazon reviewers mention that Dora’s has great customer service.) This great aquarium gravel vacuum is ideal for tanks 10 to 20 gallons in size. It comes with three parts that are easily assembled and disassembled for quick and painless cleaning. This vacuum is made of BPA free, harmless plastic that brags durability superior to other hand syphons, making it a low cost, long lasting option. My hand syphon is designed very similarly to this one, and I have been consistently satisfied with it.
The drain hose of this product is only 56”, so buyers will need a bucket on hand for emptying water into. The suction on this hose is strong, allowing for quick water changes and effective gravel cleaning.
- Strong suction removes dirty water and debris fast
- 3 piece system makes vacuum easy to clean
- Fish-safe plastic is strong and long lasting
- Very user friendly, simple design
- Hose is shorter than in some other models
- Does not work for tanks with sand substrate
- Some reviewers had difficulty getting syphon to work
Another Amazon exclusive brand, KEDSUM earns its place on this list as a best seller with a unique design and the ability to control water flow with the turn of a knob. This gravel vacuum is ideal for most aquariums, but is specifically designed for aquariums with sand substrate. Its special filter system cleans sand and syphons water without getting clogged.
Designed for aquariums ranging from 25 to 50 gallons (although some users claim it works for tanks up to 100 gallons), the KEDSUM uses a simple hand syphon design with full flow adjustability and no backflow. The long tube allows for easy reach to the bottom of large aquariums, and the hose is flexible and durable.
- Long nozzle for easy reach
- Adjuster knob to easily change flow rate
- Perfect for sand substrate
- Easy to use hand syphon
- Tubing is so flexible that kinks and bends form during use
- Valve occasionally lets air into tube, breaking syphon
- Does not filter debris as effectively as other vacuums
- Less intuitive than Terapump or Dora’s Corner vacuums
EHEIM, popular manufacturer of aquarium supplies, has created a uniquely designed aquarium vacuum unlike any other on this list. The Quick Vac Pro is battery operated and cleans out debris from tanks without the need for a bucket. This vacuum comes with 4 AA batteries for use, which can last for up to 4 hours of continuous use.
This vacuum is best for aquariums ranging from 12 inches to 3 feet deep, and comes with an easily removable mesh filter that catches even tiny particles and can be cleaned quickly. The Quick Vac Pro does not work for sand or fine gravel. It is designed to increase the time between water changes; it does not remove water from the tank like the other products on this list.
- Battery operated, one-hand use
- Easy and quick to clean
- Successfully removes all debris from tank
- Fixes cloudy water
- Cannot remove water from the tank
- Relatively weak suction
- Does not work for sand or fine gravel
- Several users report the vacuum dying after a few months
Common Questions Answered
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about aquarium vacuums:
So…which is really the best?
The right gravel vacuum really comes down to personal preference and the individual needs of different people. Ultimately, any of these choices will do a decent job of getting your aquarium clean. My personal pick is the Terapump. It’s inexpensive, long lasting, and does the job it’s designed to do with little hassle and mess. The hand syphon technology not only makes water changes easy, it is also fairly simple to clean and you don’t need any special equipment. It’s also far more environmentally friendly than the Python, which requires a constant flow of water down the drain to run, wasting a lot of water and electricity. The option to change the flow speed is nice too, allowing you to clean the tank without disturbing its inhabitants.
Do I really need a gravel vacuum?
The short answer is yes, you do! When I first started aquarium keeping, I used a measuring cup to scoop out water during my weekly water changes because I was still learning about how to care for an aquatic pet. Scooping out water does remove a little floating debris and allow for new water to keep the environment balances (especially if the tank is still cycling, which makes frequent water changes necessary for the survival of your fishy friends).
But as anyone who owns aquatic pets knows, old food and fish poop, the two main contributors to ammonia in the tank, sink to the bottom. Even if your tank is cycled, these substances can make the water cloudy and gross. The best way to combat this is with a gravel vacuum, which can suck all of the debris from the bottom
How exactly does an aquarium gravel vacuum work?
When people think of syphoning water from a tank, a lot of people think of the old mouth suction method. While this method does work and really only requires a bit of airline tubing to be effective, I’m guessing no one reading this article really wants dirty fish tank water in their mouth. Don’t worry; none of the above options require you to do that! Besides the Python, which works by using water pressure to create a syphon, and the battery-operated EHEIM, all the other products on this list utilize a hand syphon.
The hand syphon works by forcing water into the tube by pumping the nozzle of the syphon up and down a few times in the water. Provided the bucket you are using to empty water into is positioned below the tank, you can start the syphon manually and gravity will do the rest, suctioning water from the tank and into the bucket. Once the bucket is full or you have removed your desired amount of water from the tank, simply pull the nozzle of the vacuum up and out of the water, breaking the syphon.
What do I do to clean the gravel itself?
Once your syphon is created, you will notice there is relatively strong suction pulling the water out of the tank. While the syphon is going, put the nozzle of the vacuum down into the gravel or substrate you are using and do this in places all over the bottom of the tank. This will pull debris out of the substrate and into the bucket you’re using to collect the dirty water. You may notice that gravel is being pulled into the bucket too. This is ok, and you can simply lift the gravel out of the bucket, rinse it, and replace it in your aquarium.
How do I clean my aquarium vacuum?
Your vacuum should be cleaned, ideally, after every use. This will not only prolong its life, but also keep it from developing mold, which is not something you want to accidentally add to your fish tank. For the EHEIM, cleaning is pretty simple. The filter can be removed, rinsed, let to dry, and replaced.
For vacuums with tubing, the best strategy I have found is to rinse it in a sink or tub by putting the nozzle up to a faucet head and the end down in the sink or tub. Turning on the water will force water through the vacuum, removing and debris or substrate that is caught. Most gravel vacuums can also be easily taken apart and put back together, which is ideal for when something becomes stuck in part of it. When I’m done cleaning mine, I hang it up gently to allow it to dry. If you can, I recommend storing it like this so that all the water can drip out.
Can I use a vacuum to refill my tank too?
Some gravel vacuums, like the Python, are specifically designed to refill your aquarium during regular water changes. However, any of these can be used for that purpose except for the EHEIM Quick Vac Pro. In order to refill using the syphon technique, you will need a bucket of clean water. Find a way to elevate the bucket so that it is above the tank, allowing gravity to once again do the work for you. Using this method, you can syphon water from the bucket and into the tank. However, because elevating your bucket is difficult, it’s often easiest to simply fill a container (I use an old plastic gallon water bottle) and dump it into the tank.
How often should I vacuum my tank?
The answer to this question depends on several factors including: your tank inhabitants, your filter system, the size of your tank, and whether it is a freshwater or saltwater aquarium. In general, vacuuming and performing a 15 to 20% water change should happen weekly for the health and safety of your fish. However, tanks less than 5 gallons may need to be vacuumed and syphoned daily and large, well established aquariums may be cleaned once every two weeks provided the environment is stable and healthy. Products like the EHEIM shown above can make water changes a less frequent necessity; if debris is removed from the bottom of a medium or large sized tank with a working filter on a weekly basis, water changes may be able to happen every other week.
If you have many tank inhabitants that generate a lot of waste, investing in the EHEIM may be a good bet to help maintain a safe environment. It is also worth noting that tanks that have been cycled can have weekly water changes while tanks that are still cycling may need more frequent changes. (Cycling tip: Tetra SafeStart does wonders for making cycling easy and painless; I highly recommend it.)
It is suggested that if you are cycling a tank with fish in it that you do a water change and gravel clean a few times a week to keep your fish safe from ammonia and nitrites. Another product worth investing in is a test kit, which will help you know if water conditions are safe or not. Water changes are the best way to cut down on ammonia levels in a tank, but don’t forget to condition and temperature adjust your water so you don’t shock your tank residents!
A Note on Water Conditioners…
Use them!!! When refilling your tank with water, it is NECESSARY that you add a water conditioner that removes chlorine and other chemicals. Without this necessary addition, your beautiful marine pets could get sick or die so please use them. Also, many include added nutrients specific to the type of fish you keep, making the water ideal for them to thrive. Water conditioners can be found on Amazon as well as in almost any pet store that sells aquarium supplies.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this review and we’ve answered any questions you might have. A gravel vacuum is a wonderful and necessary addition to a household aquarium and will make cleanings quick and painless. In terms of price, they range from $10 to about $60, so you can easily find one that fits your budget and lifestyle.