Aquarium Gravel

Choosing the Right Aquarium Substrate: Keeping Your Gravel Clean

Aquarium Substrate

It should be clear by now that keeping an aquarium is a serious hobby. Some would even call it a vocation. Other than choosing the type of fish you will raise and the size of the aquarium, you will also need to decide on the type of aquarium substrate you’re going to use. One fairly common option is gravel.

The type of gravel you’re going to put at the bottom of your aquarium will have an immediate effect on how your set-up would look like. Pick the right ones and you will enhance the visual appeal of your tank. Not only that, it will also have a direct effect on the overall health of the fish you’re going to take care of.

How Much Gravel Do You Need?

This is actually one of the first things that come to mind when you set up your aquarium with tropical fish. The answer of course will vary depending on the size of your tank. You should find out the total capacity of your aquarium (i.e. the total volume of water it can hold).

Aquarium Gravel
It is recommended that fish tanks that have a capacity of 55 gallons and below should be provided with a layer of gravel that is about 2 inches deep. In case you intend to grow aquatic plants in the tank so your fish can have something to nibble on from time to time (well, they also make your aquarium look pretty and really natural) then you may add a 1 inch nutrient layer underneath the layer of gravel.

Spread the nutrient layer first (about an inch deep). After that, cover that initial layer with a layer of gravel (about two inches in depth). In case your aquarium is bigger, (i.e. it has a capacity of more than 55 gallons) then you can keep the gravel layer up to 3 inches in depth.

What Size of Gravel Do I Use?

Now this is another important decision that you have to make. Most likely you will end up choosing between large gravel and fine gravel. Each of which will have a different aesthetic effect on your aquarium. Larger gravel will come in a variety of colours. On the other hand, fine gravel will look more natural, thus mimicking the natural habitat of your fish.

Having said all of that, both of these gravel types have their own downsides. Large gravel has lots of space in between them. The gaps in between these gravel pieces are also big enough to allow food particles through. After a while, all that unconsumed fish food will accumulate and become toxic for the fish. That means you really have to take the time to clean larger pieces of gravel in case you opt for them.

Now, smaller pieces of gravel may not have those gaps. However, they tend to compress together. These compressed patches will then create small areas in your fish tank where there is little oxygen. That means that you will have to loosen them up from time to time or spread them during tank clean up time.

What Colour of Gravel Should I Use?

The colour of the gravel of course is all up to you. It’s a personal choice. The only reminder that you should be aware of is that you shouldn’t get the gravel that has colours painted on them. We would however recommend that you choose a natural looking gravel as this will benefit your fish! The paint of course will eventually peel off and may get eaten by your fish.

Other than the colour, you should also inspect the quality of the gravel. The large pieces shouldn’t have any shards or sharp edges to them. Those things can injure your pet fish. You don’t have to inspect every small piece but you can at least run your hands on a sample and feel the gravel if they’re smooth or not.

Keeping Your Substrate Clean

To prevent toxic build-up in the aquarium and to avoid health problems for your fish, you should make it a point to clean the tank regularly. On average, you will need to clean your tank once a week. The huge determining factor here is the population of the aquarium occupants.

If there are more fish in the tank then expect the water to get dirty a lot faster. If you are raising larger fish then you should also expect the same. The volume of biological waste and the amount of unconsumed fish food should be monitored.

The next question is how do you keep your substrate clean?

Unconsumed fish food tends to stick to larger pieces of gravel. They also seep in between the spaces too. The best way to clean your gravel or substrate is by using a gravel vacuum.

Now you don’t have to vacuum all of the gravel inside your tank. You only need to vacuum about 40 percent of the substrate for your each weekly clean-up. Another thing you should remember is to replace 30 to 40 percent of the aquarium with a fresh batch of water.

If you use live plants in your aquarium you should inspect them from time to time. Some of these plants tend to wither away without you noticing them. Uproot any withered plant and remove all dead plant matter when you spot them.

How to Use a Gravel Cleaner?

A gravel cleaner for your aquarium doesn’t exactly work like the regular vacuum you use in the house for the floor and other surfaces. An aquarium vac creates a column of moving water which loosens any dirt and debris trapped in between the gravel.

Gravel Cleaning

It will then siphon the dirt out of the water and cycle clean water into the tank. The process usually begins when a syphon is created inside its tube. The gravel vacuum should be in the tank water and it should be digging into the gravel as deep as it can. The end of the tube should go into a bucket where all the dirty water and debris will be collected.

The old school way to get a syphon started is to suck the tube end and let the water flow. Nowadays there are battery operated gravel siphon vacuums that automatically draw the dirty water and debris out of the tank for you. They usually come with easy to follow instructions.

And that’s basically how to choose and clean your aquarium substrate. Keep these tips in mind and you will keep your tropical fish happy and healthy.


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