Aquarium Siphons and Gravel Cleaners

Freshwater Aquarium
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Most aquarium owners have seen or heard of an aquarium siphon, but quite a few do not consider it a necessary accessory. A common reason some do not own a siphon is that they don't perform regular water changes. Instead, they simply top off the aquarium when water evaporates, and assume the filter takes care of the rest of the water maintenance. Even if that were true, which it isn't, there is still the matter of the overall tank maintenance to consider, and a siphon can be a great tool to keep the gravel free from sediment and debris.
Over time uneaten food, fish waste, plant waste, and other debris will build up on the substrate, plants, rocks, and other decor. The best way to remove all that debris is with a siphon. An aquarium siphon is also useful for performing routine water changes. There are a variety of styles and sizes of aquarium siphons, each suited to a slightly different aquarium application. Check out the different styles before purchasing one, to find one that best suits your tank and preferences.

  • 01 of 07

    Standard Siphon

    Standard Gravel Siphon

    The standard siphon, or gravel vacuum, is gravity based and comes in a variety of tube diameters and lengths to match the aquarium size. Gravel vacuum tube sizes typically range from 8 to 12 inches long. Some have a slanted end, while others are flat. I personally prefer the slanted end, as I've found it works better for getting into tight spots and corners. However, it's truly a matter of personal preference, as both end styles work the same. The key is that the tube diameter that is placed into the tank is very large diameter compared to the hose that extends out of the aquarium into the bucket. This allows the suction to lift the gravel into the large diameter tube to remove trapped debris, but not high enough to get sucked into the smaller diameter hose. The water flows out the narrower tubing into a bucket or drain.

  • 02 of 07

    Mini Siphon

    Mini Siphon

    Mini siphons work exactly the same as standard siphons but are designed for mini tanks, fish bowls, and nano tanks. Typically they have a tube that is approximately 5 inches in length. The hose is also shorter than standard siphons. They are sometimes sold in packs of three, so they can be dedicated to a specific tank, thus avoiding the transfer of pathogens from one tank to another. However, if your tanks are properly maintained, this should not be an issue.

  • 03 of 07

    Long Siphon

    Long Siphon

    Longer than average siphons are designed for large, deep tanks. The tubes are usually 15 to 18 inches in length and have a much longer hose than standard siphons, often 25 feet or more in length. The reason for the extra hose length is to accommodate the tank depth. A longer hose helps with managing the volume of water removed from a larger tank. If a bucket were used when removing water from a large tank, it would be necessary to frequently stop and empty the buckets. A long hose allows it to be run to a floor drain, or even outside to drain.

  • 04 of 07

    Self Priming Siphon

    Self Priming Siphon

    This is a feature that can be present on a standard style of siphon, and one that I highly recommend. Instead of struggling to prime the siphon but sucking on the end of the hose, often resulting in a mouthful of water, the self-priming siphon merely has to be pumped to get the water flow started. It may add a bit to the price, but is worth it.

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  • 05 of 07

    Water Driven Siphon


    One of the more popular styles of aquarium siphon is the type that is attached to a faucet, using the stream of water to create a suction that pulls the water through the siphon. The water then goes directly into the sink and down the drain, eliminating the need for dragging buckets around. This style also can be switched to work in reverse, pushing water into the tank to refill it, so water doesn't have to be replaced into the aquarium with buckets, either. Be sure to add a water conditioning product to remove chlorine from the tap water when refilling the aquarium.

    The well known "Python" brand is the most commonly seen product of this type, and is marketed with different hose lengths, some as long as 75 feet. This type of siphon is pricey, but if you have large tanks, it is well worth the investment.

  • 06 of 07

    Filter Driven Siphon

    Magnum HOT
    Magnum HOT PriceGrabber

    Another style of power-driven siphon is one driven by a filter, either a hang on the side filter or canister filter. The hose is attached to the inlet tube of the filter, and the siphon tube used to suction debris in the usual fashion. The debris-laden water passes through the filter, and clean water is returned to the tank through the filter outlet. Obviously, this requires a fairly strong filter, and the filter will need to be cleaned after vacuuming the tank gravel, due to the extra debris being collected by the filter media. However, it makes tank cleaning quicker and cleaner than using buckets or stringing hoses through the house.

  • 07 of 07

    Battery Powered Siphon

    Battery Operated Siphon

    Still another style of power drive siphon is battery operated ones. These siphons suck water out of the tank, capturing debris in a filter media or sock, then return the clean water into the tank. They are useful for light cleanings, such as after feeding time. Some models having a filter completely contained in the siphon, while others have a filter sock that fits over the outlet. Some lower priced models allow fine particulate matter to pass through the filter sock, but creative owners have found ways to improve the filtering by using nylon hosiery to better filter the fine debris.