Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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FluffyWolf2 07-12-2012 08:18 AM

Gravel Cleaning Question
My question is for when you do a water change and are vacuuming the gravel the water in the tube will be clear and then you begin sucking up all the nasty garbage. I wanted to ask is there any way to reduce the amount of garbage that is being put there in the first place? I'm starting to do more and more frequent gravel cleanings because of it. Also, when you move fake plants around and other decoration so that you can get to all the nooks and crannies without fault when placing some of these back or stirring gravel after the water change debris will always become loose and float around then resettle.

What are some recommendations on getting the tank cleaner/healthier for the fish? Are there items I can buy that will filter this out better, just more vacuuming sessions, a species of plant/animal that will decay/eat/dissolve this material?


Substrate: Gravel
Tank: Freshwater Tropical
Fish: 3 Adult Mollies
Typical Water Change/Vacuum every 3-5th day
ph: 7.5 - 8.25
gh: I believe it was like 11 - 17 (Hard water)
kh: I want to say 8 - 9, but I would have to check. I posted it somewhere here, should have put it in my signature :)

Geomancer 07-12-2012 09:07 AM

Feed less. All food that you put in the tank should be gone in a couple minutes (2-3 minutes). If any food is left over after that time, you've put too much in. You can also reduce feedings to once a day, they'll do perfectly fine. Most people over feed their fish because they can put 'puppy dog eyes' to shame with how much they beg

But really, there is no reason to have it '100% clean' all the time, the gravel is packed full of bacteria that happily eat all the waste. The reason for the vacumming is to prevent a Nitrate factory from forming, but you don't have to be so complete with moving decorations out of the way to get every nook and cranny.

There isn't anything magical you can put in to take care of it. Snails will eat waste, but they still produce waste themself. Their waste is less complex though (they eat stuff, use some of it, poop out what they don't) and thus will be broken down by bacteria faster.

Live plants will eliminate your problem. If you fully plant your tank, you will never again have to vaccum the gravel, the waste is just broken down into plant food. If you only put a couple plants in, you'd still have to vaccum in the areas without any plants. Just avoid disturbing the roots of the plants.

AbbeysDad 07-12-2012 01:57 PM

Geo is correct - if you're seeing a lot of excess waste in the gravel, you're likely feeding too much. In addition to uneaten food, fish will over eat and more intake means more output. You can likely cut back.
Also, there are different schools of thought on gravel vacuuming. I'm convinced that it's totally unnecessary and counter productive in a planted tank and may not even be desired in any tank so long as normal tank care and maintenance is observed. Detritus that settles on the substrate surface slowly decomposes and feeds the beneficial substrate creatures. In many ways this is actually better than detritus in the filter which much too quickly converts waste into dissolved organic solids. A layer of mulm is actually a healthy thing and I think many, if not most, fishkeepers fret way too much over this.
Want to learn more? some research on deep sand beds where the undisturbed substrate is a micro climate of beneficial organisms.


FluffyWolf2 07-12-2012 07:44 PM

Thank you for the information. I guess I don't want it to be spotless as I know there is bacteria it just seem like excess of what it should be. I'll be sure to watch feeding more and maybe get some more plants to help :)

Byron 07-13-2012 03:55 PM

I'm just reiterating what Geo and AD have mentioned. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that an aquarium is a natural system, and to be healthy it has many interactive biological processes. The substrate is probably the most important area of the aquarium, even more than the filter. I won't go into all that here, but refer you to an article I wrote on bacteria that should put it all in perspective. You will then see why some dirt down there is actually necessary.:-)


AbbeysDad 07-14-2012 12:23 AM

I'll just add one more thought on this subject. When using a gravel siphon, folks see the cloud of material that comes out and believe they are removing decaying material that would otherwise cause harm. In reality materials decompose on the surface and what sifts down under is most often inert solids that do no harm.
In the planted aquarium, decomposing waste becomes organic fertilizer for rooted plants so the gravel siphon is best used only to hover over the surface and not disturb the substrate.

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