How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel? (Step by Step Guide)

Fish are very gentle animal and that is the reason why so many people fall in love with them. Their bright colors and tender attitude make them an instant favorite with both kids and adults alike. No wonder that so many people have a habit of rearing fish as pets! Not only that the sparkling shades emitting from an aquarium can really liven up any room. This is the also reason why so many restaurants and hotels also use fish as decoration pieces to adorn their seating areas and shelves.

Just like every other pet owner, a fish owner has a few responsibilities as well, apart from the obvious ‘taking care of their feed’ stuff. A cat or a dog needs to be groomed every other week or so. Similarly, a fish tank needs to be taken care of, in order to provide the fish with an artificial habitat as close to a natural one as possible!

In this article, I will guide you on how to clean fish tank gravel and not harm the fish in the process! So let’s get started!

Is Gravel Necessary For A Fish Tank?

First thing first, you might be thinking, ‘Is gravel necessary for a fish tank?’ The answer is, yes it is. Gravel is used to mimic the texture of the sea bed. This way, fish don’t feel out place.

Gravel also provides a home to a large number of beneficial bacteria that help in stabilizing the environment of the tank. And by the way, using gravel also reflects that you are a caring pet lover, who likes to keep things nice and clean! So if you don’t have gravel in your fish tank, you should get one soon!

Things To Keep In Mind While Cleaning Fish Tank Gravel

  1. Do not change the environment drastically by moving fish directly to a freshwater bowl. This can have a devastating effect on the health of your pet!
  2. To overcome this difficulty, use some of the dirty water from the tank and mix it with fresh tap water half/half.
  3. Make sure that the temperature of the mixture is at room temperature. Fish are cold-blooded animals, which means their body temperature adjusts to their surroundings. This makes them extremely vulnerable to sudden temperature changes!
  4. Double check aquarium electrical connections. Electric hazards are very common while removing/replacing gravel because pet owners usually neglect the fact that the fish tank might still be connected to the main supply!

On towards the business end then!

How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel? Follow These Easy Steps!

Step 1: Disconnect the main power supply:

The first step of cleaning your fish tank gravel is to disconnect the main power supply. This does not mean only to turn off the switch. Disconnecting the main power supply means you should unplug the fish tank and make sure no connections remain unsevered. Like mentioned before, it is extremely important to carry out this step first and foremost, because the electrical resistance of the human body is reduced to a few hundred ohms when wet. Normally, it is hundreds of thousand ohms!

Step 2: Transferring fish to a bowl/bucket temporarily:

Mix tap water and tank water. Gently transfer fish from the aquarium to the safety of the bowl/bucket using a sieve or a cup or whatever pot you can easily get your hands on. Be extremely careful because are fish are energetic animals. They tend to move around a lot, and you don’t want to spill the contents of the pot. It will add a whole new level of complexity to an already complex procedure. It is advised that whoever performs this transfer, is well-renowned to have extremely steady hands 😊

Step 3: Drain the tank:

Open the drain of the tank and allow it to be drained completely. The instructions in this step are pretty straight forward, and I don’t think anyone should have any trouble here. On to the next step then!

Step 4: Set aside some gravel:

As mentioned already, gravel is home to a large diversity of beneficial bacteria and is a key part of the aquarium ecosystem. These bacteria develop symbiotic relationships with the fish, not only refining the atmosphere of the fish tank but also breaking down excess nutrition that may result in algal blooms spoiling the look of the aquarium, leading to discoloration of the skin of the fish.

It is, therefore, imperative that you set aside at least two cupfuls of gravel to help these bacteria regrow in no time. If you don’t do this, it may take weeks before these bacterial colonies reappear!

Step 5: Remove/Replace the gravel:

If you want to remove the gravel, simply put it in a garbage bag and dump it. If on the other hand, you want to recuse the same gravel, place it in a bucket and thoroughly rinse it with a jet of water (using a garden hose or similar equipment)

Caution: Do not use detergent or soap to clean gravel or wash the inside of the tank. Detergent and soaps have a really harmful effect on the fish! Use slightly chlorinated tap water only. Again, chlorinated water will destroy bacterial colonies and it is important that you follow step 4 to the letter! Alternatively, you can use warm water to wash the insides of the tank as well.

 Step 6: Cleaning the tank itself:

You have cleaned your fish tank gravel successfully. It is now time to clean the tank itself. Move the tank away from any furniture, books, electronics, stuff that might be damaged if it gets wet. Use warm water, or chlorinated water to thoroughly rinse everything.

Don’t leave any stone unturned. Rinse the filter, tubes, aerator, thermostat, in short, rinse everything. Gently rub your hand as you do this to remove any slime that may have accumulated. This step shouldn’t take more that 8-10 minutes.

If your motive was to remove the gravel, then you can simply go on and put water back in. Remember to add a de-chlorinating agent to the tank. Replace the fish and you’re good to go!

If on the other hand, you want to keep the gravel in, then continue reading.

Step 7: Putting the gravel back in:

Gently lower both sets of gravel back in. Mind the glass walls. Gravel might bounce off the base and damage the structural stability of the flimsy glass casing, which isn’t a healthy scenario in the long run. In worst cases, it might break the glass which can even lead to minor injury as well.

Mix both sets so that the old bacteria-rich gravel is thoroughly distributed throughout the tank.

 Step 8: Refilling the tank:

This should be a simple step. Fill the tank with slightly cold, or lukewarm water, depending on the temperature outside. Add a de-chlorination agent, so as not to expose fish to the harmful effects of chlorine, which is very reactive.

Step 9: Returning the fish to the tank:

If you were able to carry out step 2 without much happening, this step should be fairly simple as well. Use a sieve or a strainer to lift the fish out of the dirty water, and run them through flowing tap water for 10-15 seconds. Immediately transfer the fish to the tank that we have spent so much time on renovating.

Step 10: Plug in the electric supply:

Connect the aquarium to the main supply. Turn on the switch and believe me, you are now the owner of a very happy and grateful li’l aquarium!

If you have followed the steps, you should be able to clean your fish tank gravel properly.

If you decided to dump the gravel, the next part of the article might come in handy!

Things to Keep in Mind while buying Fish Tank Gravel

Here are a few suggestions that we were able to dig out after extensive research. Here are some of the tips that you should keep in mind if you are going out to buy gravel:

  1. Not all types of gravel are suitable for all types of fish. Carefully read the composition of the pebbles, and carry out research if it is good for the fish you have in your tank or not!
  2. Some gravel is coated with paint that starts chipping off once dropped in the water. This can be dangerous for fish since they can swallow these chippings. Once swallowed, the chipping might get stuck in their throat!
  3. Size of the pebbles is extremely vital. The bigger the fish, the bigger the pebbles should be, so that the fish don’t accidentally swallow them.
  4. Keep the aerator and the filter clear of gravel. It can get stuck in there resulting in extra costs for you.
  5. Before choosing the color of gravel, keep the surroundings of your fish tank in mind. Not every color goes together well with every other color. Choose the color that will blend well with the color of the walls, furniture, décor…
  6. pH level is also vital. Some gravel affects the pH level driving it up or down from the standard 6-7 range. This can literally kill your fish. If you are new to the hobby of fishkeeping, you must keep this in mind as well.


Here are a few suggestions for choosing the right gravel that we were able to find on Amazon:

Best Gravel For Your Fish Tank:

GloFish Aquarium Gravel

  • Extremely positive customer reviews
  • Amazing colors, Available in a variety of shades
  • Looks amazing with succulent growers.
  • Paint start chipping easily which might be harmful

Buy Now on Amazon!

Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate:

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  • Contains major and minor trace elements to supplement the growth of the plants in the aquarium
  • The substrate also provides something for the plant roots to hold on to.
  • Slightly raises the pH which isn’t exactly good for shrimps

Buy Now on Amazon!

SACKORANGE 2 LB Aquarium Gravel River Rock:

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  • Bigger size, thus eliminating the danger of swallowing by fish.
  • Great value for the money spent.
  • Easy to clean, replace and remove.
  • Great sheen and texture.
  • You’ll like everything about these if you are looking for some really large pebbles. The only disadvantage is, mud and sand get stuck in the crevices, but it shouldn’t be a problem either because we’ve just taught you how to clean, remove, and replace gravel!

Buy Now on Amazon!

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel (Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate):

  • Best suited for aquariums with natural plantation.
  • Porous clay is ideal for underwater plants.
  • Not black sand, but CLAY gravel. Clay requires thorough rinsing before use, so keep that in mind as well. A few customers have reported that it clouds the water a little also.

Buy Now on Amazon!

Imagitarium Blue Jean Aquarium Gravel:

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  • Bluish hue looks amazing.
  • Unlike most colored pebbles, the paint on this one doesn’t chip off, meaning the water stays crystal clear, allowing observers to see through.
  • Customer reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
  • Nothing that specifically wrong, except that just like most gravel, it accumulates dirt over. This means it will require cleansing from time, but since the procedure for that has been explained above, it shouldn’t be a major problem either.

Buy Now on Amazon!

Ending Note:

We hope now you know how you can clean your fish tank gravel. If you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below!

Also, We just want what you want, and that is, the wellbeing of your pet. We, therefore, encourage you to carry out your own research as well, and inform us of your findings! And in case you decide to go out and buy one of the above-mentioned gravel, kindly don’t forget to leave a feedback here as well, so that we can update our list!

We can’t wait to hear from you!

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