Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
How to Properly Gravel Vacuum and Clean a Sponge Filter.

How to Properly Gravel Vacuum and Clean a Sponge Filter.


Hey, everyone. Cory from Aquarium Co-Op. And today I’m gonna teach you how to gravel vac an aquarium and clean the sponge filter. It’s one of the few questions I get over and over and over again, and so I know when I demonstrate it in the store, people can learn quite a bit, and so I thought, “Let’s do a video and, you know, (just) it’s gonna be quick, short and sweet. But let’s get into it. So, first you’re gonna need a gravel vacuum. This is, I think it’s a Lee’s Kit, but the Python ones work all the same; Aqueon–they’re all pretty similar–and then you’re gonna need a bucket or, as I’m using today, I’m using a trash can on wheels so–I do a lot of tanks and so being able to wheel around works nice–and so let me get the camera set up and we’ll start showing you some tips. All right, so the first tip I have for you is probably getting it so that all your decor–which I don’t have much the decor in this tank; that’s gonna be another video we’re gonna shoot after this on, getting this thing ready–but moving as many things as you can out of the way so that you don’t have to stop your siphon. So I’ve moved this sponge filter all the way to the side there. Usually I would scrub the sides for algae if I have any; in this tank, which I don’t. I do that first and then all the objects in the water is gonna when it starts gravel vaccing. So first what I want to teach you is how to start a siphon. This is a relatively simple thing once you know how to do it. The goal here is gonna be to put this tube in the water–it fills up with water–and then when the blue part, or green part, whichever kit you have, goes above the rim, the water will start flowing downward and we’re gonna to put the tube back into the water at an angle just like this so that we don’t trap air. If I come back in like this, it’s gonna get an air bubble and stop. So, we’re gonna demonstrate that a couple of times. Got the water full all the way in here. We’re gonna lift it up–water starting to flow–we put it back down and at the same angle, we have a siphon going. Okay? We’re gonna do that one more time. So, tube is completely empty air of water. All we got is air. We’re starting it brand new. Put it in an angle, goes in, filled up with water. Nothing will happen if it just stays like this. Once I lift it up is when the siphon will start going, and we put it right back down in, we got our siphon going going, okay? The next thing I want to teach you guys is when you are gravel vaccing, do it in a systematic row. So, I can’t really do that at this point just because i need to be close to the camera, but let me re-position it a little bit and I’m gonna move back that sponge filter to the other side so I can get a better position for you. All right, so what you wanna do is you wanna go back and forth through your aquarium in rows like you’re mowing the yard. You don’t want to kind of just hunt and peck–that’s gonna miss a ton of stuff. You also have to move your decor because that’s where all the debris settles, and so I’ve got the hose crimped right now and you should learn how to use this technique so water can flow. And now I crimp, water can’t flow, and what you’ll see, I’m gonna do a spot over here so you guys can watch. I’m picking up this coarse sand right now and once the debris lifts away from it, I can crimp the hose and move on. So that’s the technique we’re gonna use, and we’re gonna go to the corner here and, like, right now I got the hose crimped and there was a baby guppy in there but we’ve got a snail there, we’re gonna separate the waste, and we’re crimping the hose and that’s what drops the waste back down, if you can see that. And then we move on. and you don’t want to let any of this waste into the aquarium. Kind of think of this as like a chimney: you want all the smoke to go up out of the house, not inside. So what happens is, with gravel and sand and stuff like that, if you don’t crimp the hose and you’re waiting for it to come out, it takes a long time. We’re gonna to take out all this water. So the goal would be: we do all the gravel and the sponge and take out about one-third of the water in this aquarium. So I’m gonna go ahead and finish this up and we’ll get on to the sponge filter. All right, and lastly, when you’re finally done and you want to take the hose out, put your hand over the end of it and release this, it’ll suction cup your hand so that way nothing falls back into the tank when you take it out. It’ll hold it, and you can release it into your bucket or your tote or whatever you’re using. So, now we need a fish bag and we’re gonna clean the sponge filter here. So now I’ve got a fish bag, you know, just reuse one you get from your fish store, that type of thing, and the goal is to do this: the goal is to get the bag in there, get it all the way around that sponge filter and then pull it up the top, disconnect the hose so all the gunk stays inside. If I just go in there and grab it, it’s gonna release a whole bunch of gunk. So, that’s what we’re trying to do, and, yeah, so we’ll show you step-by-step. Get in there, get some water in the bag, and (then) go from the bottom and just try to barely move it as you’re walking it in. All right, so now I can remove the top of the sponge filter that’s in the bag, just like that. You can lift this up and out. And so you can see in the aquarium very little disturbance at all, and we just removed the filter. So now I wanna get the bottom piece out–that’s this right here– and give it quick rinse, kinda in the bucket where we took gunk out, and now we’re gonna wring this sponge in here and make really brown water and keep pouring it out ’till it comes clean. So, that’s what we do right now. And let me get on the ladder–that’ll be easier to show if I’m on the ladder. So you just start wringing it out. And we’re getting some of the algae off and things like that all at the same time, and we want to use the tank water is because when we use the tank water, it doesn’t have chlorine in it, we’re not killing any of the bacteria, we’re not gonna put it into shock from a different pH, a different temperature–that type of thing–so, you know, you get it as clean as you can the first pass and we’ve made lots of chocolate milk, like that’s brown water for sure. Pour that into your bucket. You can save this water and use it on your houseplants, stuff like that, it’s full of nitrogen. You know, you don’t want to let this sponge sit out for too long. After a couple of minutes a lot of the bacteria will have died, so you wanna keep it wet. So we’re gonna grab some more water and I don’t recommend taking it to the sink. One, it wastes water, and two, you could kill your bacterial colony doing that, you know, it’s not a high risk but it is a risk, and I’d much rather put the freshwater back into my aquarium here while I’m taking out old water. So you can see this one, not nearly as dark. It’s telling, you know, much cleaner if that passed. And usually, unless you’ve neglected it for a long time, you can get it in about three passes and then it’s never gonna be a hundred percent clean which, that’s actually fine, you don’t need it to be a hundred percent clean– we just need it to be operational. All right. And now we when I squeeze it out, you can see here very little of any thing’s coming out. I’d say we’re done. Let that go into the tote or the bucket, give it one last squeeze, and, yeah, there’s gonna be a little castoff as we put it back in the water. You grab the bottom here. But it will clear itself back up. It’s a nice, healthy sponge filter ready to do, you know, another, at least a month of work, and this is what I recommend to my customers and stuff like that. Unless you have a reason to do a different schedule, I start out with once a month and about one-third of the water gravel vaccing and servicing your filtration. Now, if this was all planted– which I’m gonna do a video on; I’m about to plant this whole tank up that’s why I’m doing this–you wouldn’t gravel vac, you wouldn’t go down into the gravel where the plant roots are; you would hover over the top just to pick up any loose debris. And, so yeah, it’s, you know, real quick there; (didn’t) it took me, you know, if I was not to time-lapse this video I think it took about 12 minutes, and so 40 gallon aquarium, 12 minutes, everyone can do that I think. That’s a very light load, (to) keep a very healthy aquarium. I used a little bit more than thirty percent here– I was doing a little bit of demoing. Plus, I don’t run the water level all the way up on this aquarium because I want to breed these mystery snails, so, that’s a whole different video though. So, thanks for hanging out guys. Hope that helps. I know when you’re getting into it, that can be one of the hardest things to understand: a good gravel back and a good service of this sponge (or) filtration you’re using, but it really helps and it’s one of the best things you can do to keep your aquarium healthy. So, if you enjoyed the video, “like” it. If you found it useful or you’re part of a group where someone doesn’t know what they’re doing yet, link this video to them and help them out. And, you know, thanks for hanging out with me and we’ll see you in the next video.

86 comments on “How to Properly Gravel Vacuum and Clean a Sponge Filter.

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  2. Hi Btw hehe! Bunny here! Ok so first of all thank you for the tips on the dustbin that really got my attention I love the idea I've always been struggling so never mind the cleaning of the tank, great video though but the dustbin? excellent!

    I've just been wondering why is it that you clean your gravel and your filter as well ..as I understand over the years of experience you supposed to clean gravel and then at least three days after you clean your filter.. just my experience though but thanks cool video you have a lot of experience and you also helped Me Understand the nitrites and nitrates I'm really impressed with that video!

    Keep it up!!!!! Bunny out!🐰💙

  3. Is that how you also clean the sponges in say a Hang Outside Aquarium filter? Just pull the sponges out and squeeze them in a bag of tank water a few times and put them back in the filter? This is so you don't upset the bacteria levels too badly, right?

  4. I love you idk you but I love you. I’ve looked at so many videos and could not get the hand of this. After 2 adult tantrums I gave it one more shot and watched your video and it worked! Lmao thanks!

  5. I just received my sponge filter's…Now I know the right way to clean them…Cory your great love the information..thank you ❤️

  6. MYSTERY SNAILS! They're my favorite! I don't see enough of them in your videos. I wish I lived closer to your store I'd buy them from you 🙂 — Great video, thank you so much for this! I understood the basic concept before I watched this, but seeing the visual demonstration made things so clear letting me know exactly what to expect, as well as a lot of helpful tips along the way!

  7. Fantastic technique. Love it…
    Watched many vids including the one from Aquarium Gardens, using the turkey baster…..
    Always had the problem of filling up my bucket before getting a fraction of the waste in…. hi-five bruv

  8. Hey, thanks for this video.
    I was sucking to start the siphon. Failing multiple times, was using my thumb as a stopper at the bottom.
    This method worked amazingly. Thanks.

  9. I love all your videos! They are super useful and fun! I looked up your shop location and you're on my must visit list if I ever end up in Washington <3 Thanks for all the tips!

  10. AWESOME!! Many thanks for this, I've been trying to get my vac to work right, but as usual it was 'operator error'. I'm going to go and clean now. Thanks again, new sub!

  11. I bend a fish net 90 degrees and scoop up the filter with the fish net. All the particles get caught in the net.

  12. Should i leave some of that stuff on the ground if I have plecos? Or is the dusty stuff on the bottom hella bad

  13. THANK YOU! I’m a brand new aquarium owner and was so frustrated with how long it was taking to sift the sand! I will try this method today!

  14. Back in the day is how aquarist use to quench their thirst on hot days lol. Thanks Cory. btw i liked the Cory gang t-shirt you were wearing in other video.

  15. I have been vacuuming inefficiently for so long, thanks for the video Cory! Now I can vacuum out the gunk without taking out too much water.😁

  16. I realize this is a old video but I was wondering if this is still the maintenance schedule you recommend to your customers? Or do you recommend additional water changes when you are not gravel vaccing?

  17. Hi Cory, I want to THANK YOU for teaching me how to vacuum! I am brand new to the hobby because I had to rescue a bunch of fish from a crappy tenant that I evicted. Long story short, I re-homed the big guys and kept the dwarf Gourami. I've almost got my 10 gal tank cycled (yay!) but it was sooo cloudy and I thought it was the substrate being full of silt. Turns out I didn't know the simple and CORRECT way to vacuum! My water is so beautiful now and my little guy, "Gill" is so happy! THANK YOU, you are my aqua hero!! Cheers, Sondra

  18. mine has a hand pump starter, most siphons I see have them , of course you can suck the tube… if you've ever done gasoline, fish tank water is a breeze

  19. Thanks so much! I've been vacuuming mine wrong for years! Now I'll crimp the hose and save water and time. Hooray!!

  20. What if the tank is close to the ground?… my tank is filthy and I’ve watched 9 videos and nothing is working I’m afraid all my fish is gonna die because my tank is in a crappy place and I can’t clean my gravel.. I’ve had my 10 gallon for 4 years.. and the gravel is just..

  21. Question. Can Dwarf Gourami, Black Molly, SunBurst platy, serpae tetra live together? I would love an answer before tomorrow afternoon.
    Thanks!

  22. WOW. I've been doing it wrong. Thanks Cory, and you always make me laugh with your subtle comments. I'll bet you are an amazing Dad. 🙂

  23. Great video, I just bought one! I also had a question, I have 2 male guppies and 2 female guppies. One of my male guppies fin was nipped and part of his scales look they fell off too. I think my other male is fighting with him but not sure. What can I do? I added aquarium salt to see if it will help will healing.

  24. Cory, I just started following your advice of adding more filter media to my filters extra space, but until the bacteria have time to colonize, is it safe to clean my entire gravel floor all at once, or am I risking a temporary cycle crash? I thought gravel cleaning was best done in stages. But I guess, if your filters are packed with media that harbor the good bacteria, you're safe? Thanks in advance.

  25. I see a lot of old school fish keepers using no externals with just 4 to 6 large sponges is that a good way as long as u water change regular

  26. kinda funny. I have a black mystery that will occasionally haul ass at about the same speed as yours during the sped up portions of this video. (typically only when a female is involved though) its pretty fucking funny to watch a big snail do dirtbike-esq jumps across the decor at the bottom of my tank. It's not common but its fun to watch when he gets a hair up his ass.

  27. Great video. Although I use a similar gravel vacuumer there are a whole lot of tips on method in the video I hadn't seen before and realise would make cleaning much easier – grateful for that.

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