Best Aquarium Vacuum Cleaners Unboxed & Tested (2021 Review)

To find out which is the best aquarium vacuum cleaner, I bought 6 of the most popular choices and tested them out across my 5 tanks by doing my weekly water changes.

What was interesting is that there wasn’t one clear winner here. Rather, all these gravel vacuums I tested are very good depending on what type of tank you’re running.

This guide will walk you through which is best for different tanks, as well as how I tested them and how to properly use them.

1. Aqueon Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, Large (Best For Tanks 40 Gallons+)

Aqueon aquarium gravel cleaner

Features:

  • Priming ball – yes
  • Bucket clip – yes
  • Flow control – no

This gravel vac is best suited to larger tanks, I’d say 30 gallons (113 liters) or larger. Aqueon makes bigger and smaller gravel vacs for other tank sizes.

It was super easy to get this vacuum started. One or two squeezes of the priming ball and water will come rushing out of this thing. 

Out of all the vacs I tested for this article, this one drained the fastest.

This large size Aqueon is more of a blunt object rather than a precision tool. If you want to drain a tank quickly, this is definitely the one that I would pick. 

But, if you’re trying to carefully clean in between tightly packed plants, this vacuum might be a bit much.

There’s no valves or clamps to use as flow control. It’s full bore or nothing with this one; the only way to slow things down would be to kink the hose.

The bucket clip on the Aqueon was only so, so. It holds onto the hose really well, but it very easily came off of the side of the bucket if the hose moved.

Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch
Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch

    Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

    2. Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner (Best For 30 Gallon+ Planted Tanks)

    Fluval Easy Vac gravel cleaner

    Features:

    • Priming ball – no
    • Bucket clip – yes
    • Flow control – yes

    I would recommend this vacuum for tanks 30 gallons and up (There are models that are larger or smaller for different tank sizes).

    The Fluval Easy Vac looks a bit different from the other vacs on this list. 

    The actual gravel tube is oval shaped instead of being round. This is great for getting into tight corners in the aquarium without giving up fast water flow that can drain more quickly. 

    I found it particularly useful when I was cleaning the gravel right up against the tank walls.

    At the top of the gravel tube, there’s a length of corrugated plastic hose about a foot long that he  attaches at the other end to the vinyl siphon hose. 

    Vinyl hoses tend to pinch and kink where they lay over the side of the tank, especially as the water level in the aquarium gets lower and lower.

    The corrugated hose is meant to fix this problem since it just bends like a Slinky instead of getting pinched and kinked.

    I thought this was a pretty cool and thoughtful feature.

    The bucket clip is also pretty nifty. There’s a hook that you can clip onto the side of the bucket, and it holds on rather well. 

    The thing that makes this bucket clip stand out is that it doubles as a flow controller. The part that holds onto the hose can be clamped down tightly to slow the flow coming through the hose.

    My big gripe with this is that it doesn’t have a priming bulb. 

    Getting the siphon started can be a bit of a pain sometimes. I tried the old “plunge the tube up and down” trick but the results were mixed at best. Most times, I couldn’t get the suction started.

    My solution was to pinch off the hose completely with the bucket clip/flow control thingy and fill the hose with water. I then put the gravel tube back in the tank and made sure there was no air in it. Then I opened the clamp so water could flow through and this got the siphon started. 

    So, there’s totally a workaround, but I really wish Fluval would just include a priming ball.

    Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner, Medium
    Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner, Medium

      Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

      3. Hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner (Best for Heavily Planted Tank)

      Hygger gravel vacuum cleaner

      Features:

      • Priming ball – no. The gravel tube is attached to a gun-like device. You pull the trigger several times and it starts the siphon for you.
      • Bucket clip – yes
      • Flow control – yes

      This vacuum is best suited to smaller aquariums. I’ve used it with great success on tanks as small as 5 gallons (19 liters). It also does great on my 40 gallon shrimp tank, but I’m only trying to take out about 3 gallons (11 liters) at a time.

      I think this would be way too slow if you have something like a big 55 gallon (208 liter) that you’re trying to drain 30 gallons (113 liters) out of.

      I’d recommend this for tanks that are 5-40 gallons (19-151 liters).

      OK there are a lot of things that I love about this gravel vac, and there are some things that I really, really don’t. 

      First off, it has a unique design. The “gun” that’s attached to the gravel tube is pretty awesome. You just pull the trigger a few times and the siphon starts.

      Hygger aquarium gravel vacuum cleaner

      This feature works well, even if the water in the aquarium is getting pretty low. It’s different from a priming ball, but it works just as well.

      One of the things that I don’t like about this gravel vac is the gravel tube extension. 

      Two lengths of gravel tube are provided with the kit. There’s a short tube made of tough orange plastic that you can use to attach the two pieces of gravel tube together, making the tube over 2.5 feet (76 centimeters) long. It’s meant to make it easier to vacuum really deep tanks. 

      But, I have some issues with this. When you add on the second piece of tube, it’s really not that stable. It makes the gravel tube have the tendency to pop off the gun part fairly easily.

      Also, adding the extra length takes away from my favorite part of this gravel vacuum: precise  control. 

      The more narrow tube and the stable gun handle make this gravel vac my top choice if you have a thickly planted tank. 

      I use this on my shrimp tank that is heavily planted and it makes things so much easier. I can get in all the little nooks and crannies to clean the gravel and I have the control so that I don’t accidentally suck up any shrimp.

      But, if you add on that second piece of tube, it becomes much more unwieldy. So, even if you have a deep tank, I’d advise skipping the second piece of tube and just accept getting a little wet.

      The kit also comes with a nozzle tip to put on the end of the gravel tube. This makes getting in between plants even more precise, but I ended up taking mine off. Gravel would work its way up into the tube and the nozzle prevented the gravel from falling back out.

      The nozzle would be great for a bare bottom tank, or if you don’t really need to get down into the gravel much, but I don’t recommend using it if you need to really get down and dirty with the mulm in the substrate.

      However, without the nozzle, the regular gravel tube was great for getting down deep and cleaning up all the shrimp poop in my tank.

      Also included is a water flow clamp that you can slide onto your siphon hose. The farther you slide it on, the more it restricts the flow.

      I really like this feature. I need precision and a slow flow to safely clean my shrimp tank, and this Hygger gravel vac really delivers.

      It’s hit or miss with this gravel vac when it comes to optional features, but overall, I really love it for my densely planted tanks.

      Sale
      hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, New Quick Water Changer with Air-Pressing Button Fish Tank Sand Cleaner Kit Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner with Water Hose Controller Clamp
      hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, New Quick Water Changer with Air-Pressing Button Fish Tank Sand Cleaner Kit Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner with Water Hose Controller Clamp

        Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

        4. LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium

        LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium

        Features:

        • Priming ball – yes
        • Bucket clip – no
        • Flow control – yes

        The LL Products gravel vacuum is a great choice for smaller and medium sized tanks. I’d recommend it for aquariums from 10-40 gallons (38-151 liters).

        This gravel vac is designed a little differently. The gravel tube itself is fairly short and it connects to a thinner rigid tube that then connects to the siphon hose. 

        The thinner tube acts as a handle so you don’t have to stick your hand as far down into the water. I like this design because you have more control from the smaller gravel tube but still have the benefits of not having to reach as far into the tank.

        It has a nice gravel guard that will prevent substrate from going into the siphon hose. I usually don’t like these because I think they’re unnecessary and can easily get clogged. But this one has nice big slots that shouldn’t easily get blocked up.

        Also, this gravel vac setup has a unique flow control device. It has a plastic ball valve that you can install at the end of the siphon hose. This lets you easily adjust how much flow is coming through the hose.

        So, the siphon starts easily with the priming bulb and you can precisely control the flow with the ball valve, pretty cool.

        Sale
        LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium - Fish Tank Gravel Cleaner- Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner -Aquarium Siphon - 8 FT Long Aquarium Gravel Cleaner with Minnow Net
        LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium - Fish Tank Gravel Cleaner- Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner -Aquarium Siphon - 8 FT Long Aquarium Gravel Cleaner with Minnow Net

          Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

          5. Python Pro-Clean Gravel Siphon Kit with Siphon Squeeze (Best Durable/Heavy Duty Option)

          Pyhton Pro-clean gravel vacuum

          Features:

          • Priming ball – yes
          • Bucket clip – no
          • Flow control – no

          Python puts a lot more emphasis on their big water changer system, so this gravel vacuum seems to be just an afterthought.

          It does include a really high quality priming bulb, but there’s no flow control or bucket clip. 

          However, one thing that I have to say about a Python gravel vac: the parts are tough and durable.

          A lot of priming bulbs work great at first and then start falling apart after a few months. The same thing goes for the gravel tube. A few months of use in my house, and they start to get cracks or even just fall apart completely.

          But not Python. You can beat the crap out of these things and they just keep going.

          I do wish that you could attach another piece of ½ inch tubing on the outflow side of the priming bulb, but the outflow is a weird size and shape that doesn’t fit onto anything I’ve got.

          Python Pro-Clean Aquarium Gravel Washer/Siphon Kit, Medium with Siphon Squeeze
          Python Pro-Clean Aquarium Gravel Washer/Siphon Kit, Medium with Siphon Squeeze

            Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

            6. Lee’s Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum (Best Budget Option)

            Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum

            Features:

            • Priming ball – no
            • Bucket clip – no
            • Flow control – no

            All right, this is just a simple, old school gravel vacuum that consists of a gravel tube and a siphon hose. 

            No frills, no fuss, no muss. 

            But, that also means no priming bulb, no flow control and no bucket clip.

            However, if you’re someone who doesn’t care about all that, and you just want a simple little workhorse of a gravel vac, look no further.

            It can be difficult to get the siphon started on this one, but if you know some tricks, it’s not too bad to get it flowing.

            Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum
            Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum

              Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

              Which Gravel Vacuum Is Best?

              Aquarium gravel vacuums

              There are a lot of different tanks out there, so it makes sense that there’s a lot of different gravel vacuums on the market.

              I can’t really pick one overall winner for this because it all depends on what kind of tank you have, what size, what substrate you’re using and how heavily planted the tank is. That’s way too many variables for me to say, “This one is the best out of all of them.”

              For a heavily planted tank where space is tight, I’d really recommend the Hygger gravel vac kit, just skip adding the second piece of gravel tube. 

              This thing has made maintaining my shrimp tank so much easier! I really love it.

              If you’ve got a big tank that you’re trying to drain quickly, go with the Aqueon. That thing can seriously move some water.

              For bigger planted tanks, the Fluval’s unique shape makes it a good choice and it’s precise flow control can help slow the flow to make sure you have plenty of time to clean out all the tight corners.

              If you’re rough on stuff (like me and my entire family), the Python can handle cruel and unusual punishment like a champ. It’s durable and heavy duty.

              And then, if you just don’t much care for fancy stuff and want an old school gravel vac, look no further than the Lee’s Economy vac.

              I had fun testing out all these different gravel vacuums, it was pretty cool.

              Preview Product
              Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch
              Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner, Medium Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner, Medium
              hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, New Quick Water Changer with Air-Pressing Button Fish Tank Sand Cleaner Kit Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner with Water Hose Controller Clamp hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, New Quick Water Changer with Air-Pressing Button Fish Tank Sand...
              LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium - Fish Tank Gravel Cleaner- Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner -Aquarium Siphon - 8 FT Long Aquarium Gravel Cleaner with Minnow Net LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium - Fish Tank Gravel Cleaner- Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner -Aquarium...
              Python Pro-Clean Aquarium Gravel Washer/Siphon Kit, Medium with Siphon Squeeze Python Pro-Clean Aquarium Gravel Washer/Siphon Kit, Medium with Siphon Squeeze
              Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum

              Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

              How Were the Gravel Vacuums Tested?

              I bought six different gravel vacuums and used them to do water changes on my tanks.

              I’m currently running five different tanks, all over 30 gallons, so there’s a whole lot of water changing going on at my place on Saturday afternoon.

              Using gravel vacuum on aquarium

              So, I unboxed each vacuum, took note of what was and wasn’t in the box, put them through their paces and made sure to take lots of pictures.

              Gravel vacuum testing via water change

              I particularly took note of these three optional features:

              • Priming ball – a rubber ball that you can install inline on the drain hose. You can squeeze it and it will quickly start the siphon going with no hassles.
              • Bucket clip – a plastic device that you hook on the bucket and it holds onto the siphon hose so it doesn’t accidentally come out of the bucken and spill water everywhere. Gravel vac hoses are notorious for going walkabout while you’re trying to drain your tank.
              • Flow control – some sort of device, like a hose clamp or a valve that lets you slow down the flow for more precise control over the whole process.

              Do You Really Need a Gravel Vacuum?

              Absolutely!

              I consider gravel vacuums to be an absolutely essential piece of aquarium equipment.

              Fish constantly put out waste in the form of urine and feces. These wastes sink to the bottom of the tank where they accumulate. 

              The wastes break down and put off ammonia (NH3). Now, in a fully cycled tank, this ammonia is quickly broken down by beneficial bacteria and transformed to nitrite (NO2 -1) and then nitrate (NO3-). So, there shouldn’t be any sort of immediate danger.

              For more information about this process, the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle, please see this article.

              But, nitrate can build and build to the point that it becomes toxic. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of nitrate toxicity in a friend’s tank, it was not pretty.

              The best way to guard against this is to routinely perform water changes. I usually recommend changing out at least 25%-50% each week, depending on your stocking levels.

              However, you don’t just want to drain out water. Using a gravel vacuum lets you suck up wastes out of the substrate so they stop putting out more nitrate.

              I highly recommend cleaning out as much of your substrate as possible every time you do a water change. 

              Parts of a Gravel Vacuum

              There are two basic parts of any gravel vacuum: the gravel tube and the siphon hose. 

              Some gravel vacs might include other fancy parts, but the tube and hose combo is pretty much what defines a gravel vac.

              Gravel tubes come in many sizes and lengths. I usually go with one that’s at least half as tall as the tank just to make it easier to get down to the substrate. And the bigger around the gravel tube, the faster it will drain the tank.

              The siphon hose might only be long enough to reach a bucket sitting at the foot of the tank stand, or it might be long enough to be run out a door or window so it can drain outside. 

              I prefer a super long siphon hose. Fish poop is a great fertilizer so I run the hose out into the garden, my flowers and banana trees love it. Plus, I don’t have to fool with buckets that way (I attach a hose to my kitchen faucet for refilling).

              How To Use a Gravel Vacuum?

              It’s best to get your siphon going and then press the open end of the gravel tube down into the substrate a few inches to get any wastes that have worked their way below the surface. If there’s fish poop down in the gravel, you’ll see a plume of yucky brown stuff that billows up out of the gravel.

              Once that plume stops, pick up the tube so the gravel can fall back out and push it down into another area. Just keep repeating this process until you’ve got most of the gravel clean.

              Do You Need a Gravel Vacuum if You Don’t Have a Gravel Substrate?

              OK I know that it’s called a “gravel vacuum,” but they can be useful for lots of different types of substrate.

              If you use a plant substrate, you can carefully place the gravel tube on the very top of the substrate and suck up wastes that have settled on the surface.

              If you have sand, you can wave the gravel tube just above the surface of the substrate to stir up wastes on the surface and then suction them out.

              I also kink the gravel vac hose to slow down the flow so I can suction down into the sand but keep it from getting sucked out of the tank.

              And, if you’ve got a bare bottom tank, it’s super easy to just use a gravel vac to go along the bottom and get up whatever wastes have accumulated there. 

              So, no matter what kind of substrate you do or do not have, a gravel vacuum will come in handy.

              Preview Product
              Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch Aqueon Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Aquarium Gravel Cleaner Large with Bulb, 10-Inch
              Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner, Medium Fluval Easy Vac Gravel Cleaner, Medium
              hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, New Quick Water Changer with Air-Pressing Button Fish Tank Sand Cleaner Kit Aquarium Siphon Vacuum Cleaner with Water Hose Controller Clamp hygger Aquarium Gravel Cleaner, New Quick Water Changer with Air-Pressing Button Fish Tank Sand...
              LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium - Fish Tank Gravel Cleaner- Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner -Aquarium Siphon - 8 FT Long Aquarium Gravel Cleaner with Minnow Net LL Products Gravel Vacuum for Aquarium - Fish Tank Gravel Cleaner- Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner -Aquarium...
              Python Pro-Clean Aquarium Gravel Washer/Siphon Kit, Medium with Siphon Squeeze Python Pro-Clean Aquarium Gravel Washer/Siphon Kit, Medium with Siphon Squeeze
              Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum Lee's Regular Economy Gravel Vacuum

              Last update on 2021-10-01 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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              Katherine Morgan
              Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. A nunchuck specialist, I've kept aquariums for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast. If You'd like to see more of my tanks, check out my Instagram

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