Aquarium vacuum cleaning gravel in fish tank

8 Best Aquarium Vacuum Options (Reviews & Buyer’s Guide)

Owning and caring for fish is enjoyable and therapeutic, but tank cleaning can be quite the opposite. Most people who keep aquariums dread having to sift through gravel to remove excrement and food particles. Even worse is the potential harm you can do to your animals if their tanks aren’t cleaned adequately. An Aquarium vacuum or siphon is designed to make the process significantly more manageable by doing most of the time-consuming and tedious work for you.

They use natural water flow to remove harmful material that falls between fine pieces of gravel. There are hundreds of aquarium vacuums and siphons available, but not all are created equal.

We’ve reviewed countless options and used them in our own aquariums, and we’ve put together these reviews and a comprehensive buyer’s guide to help you choose the one that’s best suited for you. Let’s get started.

Best Aquarium Vacuums:

What is the Best Aquarium Vacuum?

The best aquarium gravel vacuum is the one that works best with your tank size and setup. Different siphons excel in different tank volumes and with varying decoration placements, so we’ll break down our top picks based on gallons and configuration.

Other Good Alternatives:

Our Pick for <10 Gallon Tanks
Python Pro Clean-Mini 1" x 6" Tube with 6 ft. Hose

What we like

  • Easy to maneuver around the substrate
  • Removes material quickly
  • Flexible hose for added control
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Python Pro-Clean, Mini – Best Aquarium Vacuum for Tanks Under 10 Gallons

The Python Pro-Clean Mini has a 1-inch vacuum tube that excels in small tanks. It’s large enough to make cleaning quick and painless but small enough to maneuver around even the most miniature tanks.

It has a 6-foot hose for easy routing to a disposal bucket. The hose flexes easily, so you can stop and start water flow by merely pinching the hose to cut off the supply.

We do wish the tube was a bit longer to make it suitable for use in deeper tanks, but it’s still an excellent option for most tanks around 10-gallons.

Features

  • Small tube perfect for low-gallon tanks
  • Long hose to make cleaning simple

What we like

  • Easy to maneuver around the substrate
  • Removes material quickly
  • Flexible hose for added control

What we don’t like

  • The tube is a bit short
  • Not suitable for deep tanks
Our Pick - Tanks up to 20 galloons
Python Pro Clean - Medium (For Tanks To 20 Gallons)

What we like

  • Very fast at removing debris
  • The long tube is suitable for deep tanks
  • The flexible hose can be pinched to stop water flow
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Python Pro-Clean, Medium – Best Aquarium Vacuum for 20 Gallon Tanks

Python Pro-Clean impressed us once again with their medium-sized vacuum. This siphon features a wider 2-inch tube that is excellent at removing waste from large sections of substrate.

The broad tube is a bit large for easy maneuverability, especially if you have a lot of decorations. However, it saves enough time on the cleaning process to make it worth it.

The tube is 10-inches long, making it better suited for deeper tanks and giving you some more room to locate debris. It’s connected to a 6-foot hose that you can easily route into a separate container for disposal.

Features

  • Wide tube for rapid cleaning
  • Long hose to route to disposal bucket

What we like

  • Very fast at removing debris
  • The long tube is suitable for deep tanks
  • The flexible hose can be pinched to stop water flow

What we don’t like

  • It can be challenging to move around tank decorations
  • Not as precise as a vacuum with a thinner tube
Our Pick - Tanks 20-55 gallons
Python Pro-Clean Gravel Washer and Siphon Kit - Large

What we like

  • Cleans large areas of gravel rapidly
  • Offers good precision in larger tanks
  • Allows for manual control over water flow
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Python Pro-Clean, Large – Best Gravel Vacuum for Tanks 20-55 Gallons

This aquarium vacuum from Python Pro-Clean is designed with a wide, 2-inch tube opening for precise and fast cleaning in a larger fish tank. The tube is 16-inches long, and while it’s sufficient for most tanks, it may not be suitable for very deep tanks.

The attached hose is 6-feet long and can be easily strung over the side of your tank and into a waste bucket.

The hose can also be cinched easily to stop the water flow and will quickly snap back into place once released. You’ll have manual control over the cleaning process for quick stopping and starting.

Features

  • Wide tube for fast cleaning
  • Sizeable hose to route to a waste bucket

What we like

  • Cleans large areas of gravel rapidly
  • Offers good precision in larger tanks
  • Allows for manual control over water flow

What we don’t like

  • The tube is relatively short
  • It may not be suitable for deeper tanks
Our Pick - Tanks 55+ gallons
Python Pro Clean- XL (Tanks to 55 Gallons)

What we like

  • Cleaning tube is easy to maneuver around larger tanks
  • The tube is wide enough to allow for fast cleaning
  • It gives you manual control over the flow of water
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Python Pro-Clean, Extra Large – Best Gravel Vacuum for Tanks 55+ Gallons

This extra-large siphon from Python Pro-Clean is designed with a 2-inch tube as well for easy maneuverability. It allows for precise cleaning around decor but is wide enough to get the job done quickly.

The long, 6-foot hose is easy to route over the edge and into a waste bucket, and it’s flexible enough to allow for control over the water flow by pinching or cinching. It will return to its natural shape once released.

The tube may not be suitable for deeper tanks, but it can also be a bit clunky for shallow tanks.

Features

  • Wide tube for fast cleaning
  • Flexible hose to allow for control over water flow

What we like

  • Cleaning tube is easy to maneuver around larger tanks
  • The tube is wide enough to allow for fast cleaning
  • It gives you manual control over the flow of water

What we don’t like

  • Not suitable for very deep tanks
  • It can be frustrating to use with shallow aquariums
Excellent Alternative
Aqueon Siphon Vacuum - Medium

What we like

  • Excels in medium tanks
  • Includes convenient bucket clip
  • Effortless to start using
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Aqueon Medium Siphon Vacuum – Excellent Alternative

Our favorite alternative to our top picks is the Aqueon Siphon Vacuum. It includes a tube that is 1.5-inches in diameter, so it’s a good option for medium-sized tanks. It may clean too slowly for larger aquariums and can be challenging to maneuver around smaller ones.

It includes a convenient clip to keep the long, 6-foot hose attached to your disposal bucket, so you won’t need to worry about holding the hose in place while you clean.

The hose is wide to allow for fast cleaning, and it enables auto-siphoning, so it’s effortless to start the vacuuming process.

Features

  • Allows for fast cleaning
  • Auto-siphoning feature

What we like

  • Excels in medium tanks
  • Includes convenient bucket clip
  • Effortless to start using

What we don’t like

  • Not suitable for deep tanks
  • Not ideal for very small or large tanks
Best Long Vacuum System
Python No Spill Aquarium Maintenance System - 25 feet

What we like

  • The broad tube allows for rapid cleaning
  • Removes the need for a disposal bucket
  • Makes refilling straightforward
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Python No-Spill Clean and Fill System – Best Long Aquarium Vacuum

This extra long aquarium vacuum is ideal for avoiding the use of a waste bucket and potentially spilling water as you transport it for disposal. It’s long enough to route directly to your sink for easy removal of waste.

This siphon also connects to your faucet, which makes refilling after cleaning effortless.

The tube is 2-inches wide, which is great for cleaning larger tanks quickly but can be tough to move around smaller or heavily decorated aquariums.

The tube offers a 10-inch reach below the water’s surface, so it’s not ideal for use in deep tanks.

Features

  • Includes an extra-long hose for routing directly to a sink
  • Attaches to a faucet for effortless tank refilling

What we like

  • The broad tube allows for rapid cleaning
  • Removes the need for a disposal bucket
  • Makes refilling straightforward

What we don’t like

  • Not ideal for small tanks
  • Not suitable for aquariums with many decorations
  • It doesn’t work well with deep tanks
Best Electric Aquarium Vacuum
EHEIM Quick Vac Pro Automatic Gravel Cleaner and Sludge Extractor

What we like

  • No need for hoses or disposal buckets
  • Doesn’t interrupt the balance of your tank
  • No need to refill after cleaning
  • Reusable and effective filter
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Eheim Quick Vac Pro Automatic Gravel Cleaner – Best Battery-Powered Aquarium Vacuum

If you’re looking for a battery-powered vacuum, we recommend the Eheim Quick Vac Pro. It avoids the need for hoses altogether by providing a fine physical filter to trap excrement and food particles from the gravel.

It lasts quite a while without replacing batteries, and it’s fully submersible, so you can maneuver it around your entire tank easily.

You won’t need to disrupt the balance of your tank, as no water will be removed during cleaning.

It only works if you have at least 12-inches of water in your aquarium, so it’s not ideal for tiny tanks.

Features

  • Hose-free cleaning
  • Replaces filtered water into your tank
  • Long battery life

What we like

  • No need for hoses or disposal buckets
  • Doesn’t interrupt the balance of your tank
  • No need to refill after cleaning
  • Reusable and effective filter

What we don’t like

  • Not suitable for shallow or small tanks
  • Requires added cost of disposable batteries
Best Electric Aquarium Vacuum
Boxtech Electric Aquarium Cleaner

What we like

  • Powerful and versatile for all cleaning applications
  • Can be used for easy tank refilling
  • Fully submersible and straightforward to use
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BoxTech Electric Aquarium Cleaner – Best Electric Aquarium Vacuum

The Boxtech Gravel Cleaning Kit is our favorite electric aquarium vacuum. It includes a submersible pump that provides excellent power and filtering, and it can control water flow in both directions to allow for refilling after cleaning.

It comes with multiple heads, making it adaptable for gravel vacuuming, brush-cleaning the sides of your tank, and low-flow filling for shallow tanks. It can also be adapted to act as an in-tank filter for constant cleaning.

The water pump is a bit large and may not be suitable for smaller tanks, but it’s excellent at cleaning large tanks.

Features

  • It can be used as a filter or a vacuum
  • Multiple heads for different cleaning capabilities

What we like

  • Powerful and versatile for all cleaning applications
  • Can be used for easy tank refilling
  • Fully submersible and straightforward to use

What we don’t like

  • Not ideal for smaller tanks
  • It can be a bit difficult to maneuver around decorations

What is an Aquarium Vacuum?

An aquarium vacuum is either a manual siphon or an electrical water pump for home aquariums. It disrupts gravel or other substrates in your fish tank and removes excrement and food debris that settles at the bottom of your tank.

They’re handy for maintaining a balanced tank because they remove waste before it creates dangerous ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate spikes in your aquarium.

What Does a Gravel Vacuum Help With?

A gravel vacuum is one of the most versatile and useful tools for aquarium owners. They serve three main functions when it comes to tank cleaning.

First, they make water changes significantly more straightforward. You can use your aquarium vacuum to pump large volumes of water out of your tank and into a disposal bucket or directly to a sink, depending on what type you purchase.

Second, they’re perfect for cleaning the substrate on the bottom of your tank. Fish excrement quickly deteriorates and can release ammonia and other harmful chemicals into your tank’s water. An aquarium vacuum disturbs the substrate and pulls light pieces of debris out without removing your gravel or rocks.

Lastly, they remove bits of uneaten food that get trapped between your pieces of substrate. Food scraps can also break down into harmful chemicals that bring your aquarium out of balance, so removing them with a vacuum will help maintain a healthy environment for your animals.

Aquarium vacuum cleaning gravel

The Different Types of Aquarium Vacuums

There are several different kinds of aquarium vacuums from which you’ll need to choose. Each has its pros and cons, so we’ll review them below and discuss the best situation for each.

Siphon-Style Gravel Vacuum

Siphon-style vacuums like this one from Python Pro-Clean are very affordable and come in various sizes to fit your specific tank. They include a tube to focus the suction on a particular area in your aquarium. They also have a hose to route wastewater into a bucket for disposal.

You will need to transport water in your bucket to a sink or toilet, and your tank will need refilling afterward.

Mini-Siphons

Mini siphons like this small Python model are the same as siphon-style vacuums, but they usually have tubes with a smaller diameter to make maneuvering around small tanks easier. They often have a slower flow rate than larger models to prevent too much water from being removed from tanks that are less than 10 gallons.

Mini siphons will also require you to carry a waste bucket through your home and refill your tank after cleaning.

Long Siphons

Long siphons use the same mechanism as other siphon vacuums to move water to a disposal site. However, their hoses are extra long, allowing you to route the wastewater directly to a sink. You won’t need to carry a bucket full of water through your house during cleaning.

Our favorite example of a long siphon is this 25-foot vacuum from Python because it also attaches to your faucet and allows you to refill your tank without a bucket as well.

These can be tricky to get suction started, given how long the hose is. You’ll need to position it properly to maintain a steady flow of water.

Self-Priming Siphons

Self-priming options are another subcategory under siphon vacuums. They use the same siphoning action to remove water and waste from your tank, but they include a wide hose that allows you to begin siphoning more easily.

Self-priming siphons, like this one from Aqueon, are straightforward to use and create their own suction.

They remove water along with the waste from your substrate, so you’ll need to use a bucket to dispose of water and refill your tank.

Battery-Powered Siphons

Lastly, you can choose a battery-powered siphon, which takes batteries to operate a submersible water pump. This type removes the need for disposal buckets altogether, making tank cleaning simpler.

Some battery-powered vacuums pump water out of your tank like manual siphons. Others, like this one from Eheim, include a reusable filter bag to trap debris while returning clean water to your tank. These can help maintain your tank’s balance and remove the need to refill and treat after cleaning.

Replacement batteries for these siphons will increase ongoing cleaning cost, but they offer convenience and ease of use in exchange.

Benefits Of Using an Aquarium Vacuum

Aquarium vacuums are an essential tool for anyone who owns a fish tank. We’ll discuss the benefits of using one and how they can help maintain a healthy environment for your marine animals:

1. They make cleaning your substrate effortless. Gravel, sand, and other substrates provide a healthy and visually appealing floor for your tank, but the gaps between pieces of substrate easily catch and hold fish excrement and uneaten bits of food.

Cleaning between bits of the substrate can be extremely challenging, but an aquarium vacuum makes the job much more straightforward.

2. They help limit ammonia spikes in your tank. Waste left behind from your marine animals breaks down over time and releases ammonia into your tank water. Some ammonia is healthy and can promote healthy bacteria growth, but ammonia spikes can be hazardous and even deadly to most marine animals.

An aquarium vacuum helps remove fish waste before it breaks down and becomes dangerous. Bio balls can also help remove ammonia if you’re looking for more ideas.

3. They remove nitrites and nitrates from your water. Uneaten food particles in your aquarium sink to the bottom and settle into the substrate. Over time, these degrade and release nitrites and nitrates into your tank. These compounds can have adverse effects on most marine animals, and they can be deadly if they build up too much in your water.

Aquarium vacuums excel at removing bits of uneaten food from the bottom of your tank before they break down into harmful byproducts. Bio balls are another good option for nitrate / nitrite support.

4. They can help keep your tank water clear. In addition to removing debris before it degrades and throws your water out of balance, aquarium vacuums remove small particles that can make your water cloudy. Routine cleaning is effortless with a siphon or vacuum and can keep your water crystal clear.

5. They can reduce strain on your expensive filter system. Your tank’s filter works tirelessly to remove debris from your aquarium. The more debris that gets suspended in your water, the more strain you place on your filter. Regular vacuuming removes waste from your tank and helps keep your filter running efficiently and without clogging.

6. They can make tank cleaning faster and more straightforward. Cleaning fish tanks is laborious and time-consuming, but an aquarium vacuum makes the process much more comfortable. Some won’t require you to carry a waste bucket through your house, while others can be hooked up directly to a faucet for easy refilling after cleaning.

Things To Look For In a Good Aquarium Vacuum

As you can see from our top picks above, there is no such thing as an aquarium vacuum that’s best for all tanks and setups. Whether you choose one of our favorites or continue searching, make sure you consider the below factors that will have the most significant effect on your cleaning experience.

Tube Diameter

Most aquarium vacuums include a rigid tube that you can manipulate easily to reach different sections of your substrate. Vacuums come with tubes of varying diameters, generally ranging from around 1 to 2 inches.

Thinner tubes are ideal for smaller tanks because they’re easier to move in more limited spaces. They can be maneuvered more readily around decorations as well, so they can be useful for medium tanks too.

Small tubes also limit the flow of water out of your tank to prevent too much from getting removed while you’re cleaning the substrate.

Thicker tubes have a higher flow rate and can make quick work of large tanks by targeting larger areas at a time. However, they’re bulkier and can be challenging to use in tight spaces.

You’ll want to choose an aquarium vacuum with a tube diameter that suits your tank size and decoration setup.

Tube Length

You’ll also want to consider the length of the tube on your siphon. Those that are made for higher-volume tanks typically have longer tubes to help maintain control from above the water’s surface. However, not all tanks of a given volume have the same dimensions, so you should choose an appropriate tube length for your aquarium vacuum.

Longer tubes can help make cleaning a deep tank straightforward but can be bulky and hard to maneuver inside a shallow tank. Choose a tube length and diameter combination that matches both your tank’s volume and depth.

Hose Length

You’ll find that many aquarium vacuums include a 6-foot hose attached to the rigid tube to route the wastewater to a bucket for disposal. These shorter hoses will improve the efficiency of your water-changing process greatly and can help reduce spilling that often occurs when scooping water out instead.

Some vacuums include significantly longer hoses – some up to 25 feet – that let you route the wastewater directly into your sink. These are more expensive, but you won’t need to carry a heavy waste bucket back and forth between your tank and your sink during cleaning.

Cleaning and Emptying Method

Next, you should consider how the siphon cleans your tank and empties water for water changes.

Some aquarium vacuums, like siphons, remove water along with debris from the bottom of your tank. They provide an effective way to clean out harmful material and do water changes, but they will require you to refill your tank.

Some vacuums work by using a water pump to suck up water and debris and then filter out waste particles before returning clean, filtered water to your tank. These aren’t suitable for doing water changes, but they can remove potentially dangerous excrement and food particles from your aquarium and can extend the time between water changes significantly.

You’ll need to choose between siphons and battery-powered or electric vacuums based on how you want to clean and if you desire to do regular water changes.

Refill Capability

If you do choose a siphon that aids in water changes, you’ll need to consider the refill capability of the one you choose.

Most of the more affordable siphons have a shorter hose that isn’t designed to help refill your tank after cleaning. With these, you’ll need to carry new water to your tank with a bucket and carefully add water without disrupting your substrate or animals.

Other siphons have very long hoses that allow you to dispose of water directly in your sink and can also hook up to a faucet. Reverse flow from your tap can be routed into your tank for straightforward refilling after your cleaning process is completed.

Some electric aquarium vacuums have the ability to reverse flow as well. You’ll still need to carry water in a bucket to pump into your tank, but you won’t need to lift the heavy bucket and carefully dump water in, as it will pump it up into your aquarium for you at a safe rate.

Siphoning Mechanism

Next, you’ll want to consider the siphoning mechanism that drives your aquarium vacuum. Electric and battery-powered vacuums include a water pump that does the work for you.

However, manual options can have one of three main mechanisms for developing suction. The first is a standard tube and hose that requires you to fill and lift the tube out of the water to get the water moving down to your waste bucket.

You’ll then need to replace the tube quickly to maintain the flow of water out of your tank. These can be a bit challenging to use, especially in low-volume or shallow tanks.

Other options include a small hand pump on the hose that helps pump water up through the tube and into the hose. These are straightforward to use but are often a bit pricier.

Lastly, auto-siphoning vacuums have a wider hose to allow for a faster water flow. You simply move the tube up and down in the water to create suction. These are effortless to use but often have a higher flow rate that isn’t suitable for smaller tanks.

Versatility

Lastly, you should consider the versatility of the vacuum you’re considering. The most affordable siphon pumps are useful for cleaning and water changes, while electric vacuums can often be more versatile.

Some electric vacuums, like the one we reviewed above from Boxtech, include attachments like brush heads that can help remove algae from the sides of your tank and water replacement heads that make refilling your tank straightforward. Some can also double as standalone, permanent filters to use between regular cleanings.

You should consider how useful your aquarium vacuum will be for different purposes and choose one that best suits your needs.

Aquarium Vacuum FAQs 

How Do I Vacuum My Fish Tank?

To vacuum your fish tank with the best results, begin suction by engaging the pump on your vacuum or diverting water from your tank through the rigid tube and into your waste bucket. Once suction begins, plunge the end of the tube into your aquarium’s floor to disturb the substrate.

Once you see the substrate and debris floating inside your tube, lift the tube a half-inch or so to let the heavier substrate fall back down. You should see the debris that was trapped below get sucked up by the flow of water. Repeat this process on all portions of your aquarium floor.

You should be careful not to remove more than 50% of the water from your tank during the vacuuming process. We generally recommend aiming for around 25%, but you can safely remove up to 50% if there is excessive debris to remove from your substrate.

How Often Should I Clean Gravel in My Fish Tank?

As long as your tank isn’t overcrowded and you don’t overfeed your fish, excrement and leftover food particles won’t build up too quickly. In a well-balanced tank, we recommend cleaning your gravel with an aquarium vacuum every 3 to 4 weeks.

Many aquarium owners clean their gravel more often, but the beneficial bacteria in your gravel thrive on fish excrement and food particles, so over-vacuuming is detrimental to your tank.

Does Vacuuming Gravel Remove Beneficial Bacteria?

Removing some of the beneficial bacteria from your substrate is unavoidable when vacuuming your aquarium. However, much of the bacteria will remain as it clings to gravel, decorations, and other surfaces in your aquarium.

One of the main goals when vacuuming your gravel is to remove excess particles that will deteriorate and give off harmful compounds to your water, so it’s an essential process. It also allows for better water and oxygen flow throughout the substrate, so removing some of the beneficial bacteria along with the debris will make a healthier environment for the bacteria that remains.

Removing helpful bacteria shouldn’t deter you from vacuuming!

Should I Vacuum My Gravel While Cycling My Tank?

If you’re cycling with fish in your tank, vacuuming is necessary to keep ammonia levels at a minimum.

Since cycling is strongly recommended without fish living in your tank, most aquarium owners will be cycling without the potential for ammonia build-up.

Light vacuuming during empty-tank cycling can help keep your water clear, but it can significantly reduce the growth of beneficial bacteria colonies. We recommend adding fish food to your water and refraining from vacuuming during cycling altogether.

Once fish are added to your tank, begin vacuuming regularly to keep ammonia levels down.

Conclusion

Aquarium vacuums are crucial tools that every fish tank owner should have. They help reduce the harmful build-up of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, and they can keep your water clean and contribute to the growth of healthy bacteria.

Our top choice for siphon vacuums is the Python Pro-Clean series. They come in various sizes and lengths to match your tank size, and they provide easy maneuverability and ample suction to remove debris from the substrate.

Our favorite long-hose aquarium vacuum that routes directly to your sink for mess-free cleaning and refilling is the Python No-Spill Maintenance System.

The best battery-powered vacuum we reviewed is the Eheim Quick Vac Pro. It’s easy to maneuver and cleans your tank without removing water, allowing you to maintain balance more easily.

Lastly, we recommend the BoxTech Electric Aquarium Cleaner if you’re looking for an electric vacuum for your tank. It includes multiple attachments for great versatility and makes water changes effortless.

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