If you’re looking for the best gravel vacuum or aquarium siphon (if you’re confused, they’re both the same), you’re in the right place.
In this buyer’s guide, I’m going to break down, in the simplest way possible, the benefits, different types available, and my favorite product on the market for each type.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
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Quick Overview Table for Aquarium Siphons
Why You Need a Gravel Vacuum/Siphon
If you’ve gone this long without a gravel cleaner, you might be thinking that it’s an unnecessary addition to your aquarium maintenance routine.
But a gravel cleaner is essential for keeping your aquarium environment healthy for your fish – and it can make your maintenance routine easier rather than harder.
Here’s what I mean:
Clear Uneaten Food and Fish Waste
Most of the food that you put into your aquarium will eventually reach the bottom – either as uneaten food particles or as fish waste.
That waste doesn’t just sit on the top of the gravel at the bottom of your tank either. With water changes and fish poking at the gravel to feast on the leftover food, that waste works its way deeper and deeper into the gravel and gets harder for the filter alone to clean.
That’s a major problem since fish waste in particular is rich in ammonia, and bacteria naturally living on the gravel in your tank will eat away at the food and fish waste to release ammonia of their own.
All that ammonia can slowly leak back into the water in your aquarium, turning the environment in which your fish are living increasingly toxic. In fact, enough ammonia buildup in the tank water is enough to poison your fish.
Makes Water Changes Easier and Faster
Another reason to clean the gravel at the bottom of your tank is that it will make changing the water easier.
If you haven’t cleaned the gravel in a few months, chances are high that changing the water in your tank results in a flurry of gross-looking organic scum rising up from the gravel into the clean water you just added – forcing you to add even more water or to clean the filter an hour later.
A gravel cleaner not only solves this, but also gives you a tool for removing water from your tank without resorting to dipping a bucket in.
The suction and hose mechanism of a gravel cleaner streamlines the process and saves you from having to walk a water-filled bucket across your home multiple times, which presents a high likelihood of spilling dirty water.
Just be sure to siphon off no more than 15% of the water in your tank when cleaning weekly, or 25% when cleaning monthly, since removing more water can significantly alter the chemistry in the tank.
Types of Gravel Vacuum Cleaners/Siphons and Reviews
There are a variety of gravel vacuum cleaners available depending on your budget, the size of your aquarium, and how frequently you plan to use your vacuum.
To help you find the right gravel cleaner for your tank, I’ll now explain the differences between the primary types of siphons and review the best siphon in each category.
1. The Standard Siphon
The standard siphon is also the most common and consists of little more than a hose and a vacuum head. They are best for medium-sized aquariums, although they can generally be used for tanks of any size – cleaning a larger tank will just take some patience since the vacuum head is usually on the small side.
When choosing a standard siphon, make sure that the hose is long enough to reach from the bottom of your tank to your floor.
Note that these siphons require you to get the flow going by generating negative pressure in the hose, so they can take some getting used to.
In addition, the hose design does leave the possibility of spilling water on the floor since it is difficult to stop the flow of water without moving the hose from your collection bucket to back above the tank.
The Best Standard Siphon Reviewed: Fluval EDGE Gravel Cleaner
The EDGE gravel siphon from Fluval is an extremely effective and affordable tool for cleaning the gravel in moderately sized tanks.
The angled design of the vacuum head makes it easier to reach deep into the gravel in your aquarium. In addition, the siphon comes with two different head attachments – one that is designed for bulk gravel cleaning and one that is narrower to make cleaning corners of the tank simple.
The gravel guard built into the top of the hose prevents the hose from becoming clogged with gravel, which saves the headache experienced with other gravel siphons.
Another advantage is that this siphon is designed with an easy start valve, which requires only moving the vacuum head up and down to pressurize the tube and begin continuous water suction.
2. A Mini Siphon
A mini siphon functions much like a standard siphon, but is designed with a smaller-diameter hose and a slimmer vacuum head.
Mini siphons are perfect for small tanks – less than 10 gallons in volume – since they won’t rapidly suck up a huge volume of water and create a chemical imbalance in the tank.
Mini siphons are also better for tanks that contain a lot of small shrimp and snails that can be accidentally sucked up by a larger siphon vacuum.
Best Mini Siphon Reviewed: Python Pro-clean Mini
The Pro-clean Mini from Python is perfect for keeping close control on your siphoning process thanks to the small vacuum head and narrow hose.
The design is extremely simple with few frills – flow is started by submerging the entire hose to remove air and then holding the outlet end closed while transferring it to a bucket. The six-foot hose may need to be extended for tanks that are on a high shelf, although this is relatively easy to accomplish.
The narrow vacuum head makes it easy to precisely target your vacuuming so that you don’t accidentally remove any small critters from your tank, while the siphon is recommended for tanks containing up to 10 gallons of water.
3. Long Siphon
A long siphon adopts the same principle as a standard siphon, but adds an extended hose that allows you to reach the bottom of particularly deep tanks without requiring a do-it-yourself hose extension.
Long siphons are also great for running your outflow water directly into a nearby sink rather than into a bucket to minimize your chances of spilling water.
Long siphons typically have large vacuum heads, which is perfect for cleaning large tanks but can be problematic if you have many shrimp or other small bottom-dwelling creatures in your tank.
Best Long Siphon Reviewed: Python No Spill Clean and Fill
The No Spill Clean and Fill siphon from Python is both a gravel siphon and a tank filling tool.
The hose is available in 25-, 50-, 75-, and 100-foot lengths, long enough to stretch all the way from the bottom of your tank to your kitchen or bathroom sink so that you don’t have to drain water into a bucket.
Better yet, once you’re done cleaning the tank, you can add water back in by connecting the faucet adapter onto the end of the hose and turning on the tap. The vacuum head is quite large as well, which makes cleaning large tanks with this siphon system much faster compared to other siphons.
4. Self-priming Siphon
One of the trickiest aspects of using a siphon for many people is priming the siphon so that water flows continuously.
While this can be done by submerging the entire siphon, that causes a significant amount of disturbance for your fish and is almost certain to result in water getting all over your floor during the cleaning process. Self-priming siphons are designed to remove air bubbles from the hose and allow water to flow simply by bobbing the vacuum head up and down in the water.
These siphons are suitable for any type of tank, but are particularly useful for users who need to limit the amount of mess cleaning the tank creates.
Best Self-priming Siphon Reviewed: Aqueon Aquarium Siphon
This self-priming siphon from Aqueon primes readily with just a few bobs up and down in your aquarium, making it one of the most user-friendly siphons on the market.
The ease of use is perfect for frequent water changes since you can walk away from the siphon and do other things once it’s going and you won’t have a mess to clean up from dripping water like you would with a submerged siphon.
The hose is relatively short at only six feet, but you can ensure that the outflowing water drains into a bucket using the attachment clip that comes with the siphon.
In addition, the vacuum head is relatively large and cylindrical, so that it is good for covering a large tank area quickly but has trouble vacuuming in the tank corners.
5. Battery Powered Siphon
Battery-powered siphons offer more suction power than gravity-dependent siphons thanks to their integrated electric vacuum pumps.
These siphons are ideal for tank owners who prefer to clean the gravel and change the water frequently – every week or even more often – since it takes significantly less time to effectively clean the entire tank bottom with a battery-powered siphon.
However, note that battery-powered siphons may have limitations on how deep a tank they can be used in.
Best Battery Powered Siphon Reviewed: Eheim Quick Vac Pro
The Quick Vac Pro from Eheim is not only battery-powered, but also features a unique hose-less design that allows it to function more like a true vacuum than a siphon.
The two-foot long siphon is submerged in your tank, sucking up water from the bottom and filtering it through a super-fine mesh before allowing the cleaned water to recirculate into the tank. Thus, in contrast to other siphons, this vacuum will not actually remove water from the tank.
The electric vacuum itself requires four AA batteries and offers much more powerful suction compared to gravity siphons, which is ideal for large gravel particles that are difficult for other siphons to clean effectively.
Concluding the 2019 Aquarium Siphon Buyer's Guide
Using a siphon to clean the gravel in your aquarium is an important task to maintain a hospitable environment for your fish and to prevent ammonium from building up. Gravel siphons can also make water changes simpler and less messy.
There are multiple types of gravel siphons available depending on the size of your tank, so you can find a vacuum that exactly fits your needs and budget.