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FAQs on Freshwater Substrates: Cleaning

Related Articles: Freshwater Substrates, Nice bottoms; Choosing the right substrate for your aquarium by Neale Monks, Freshwater Deep Sand Beds Work by Deirdre Kylie, Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium, Tips for Beginners

Related FAQs: Freshwater Substrates 1, FW Substrates 2,
FAQs on: FW Substrate Selection, FW Substrate Physical Properties, FW Substrate Chemical Properties, FW Substrate Amounts & Placement, FW Substrate Changing, Moving, Adding To, FW Substrate Cleaning, FW Substrate Issues,

Even "very clean" appearing new sand/gravel should be thoroughly rinsed ahead of placement. Periodic, regular vacuuming of in-tank substrates is part of ongoing maintenance

Bubbles from sand      7/17/12
Hi team
I have a one inch deep substrate of very fine sand on a 6 footer cichlid tank.  Every couple of days or so, disturbing the gravel gives off hundreds of bubbles.  Is the substrate acting like a DSB?
<More likely the reaction series in the other direction... Nitrification... but could be other gas-producing series>
 If so, would the gas be nitrogen?
<Could be>
 In places where sand is a bit deeper, it has turned a dark gray
<More indicative of anaerobiosis... Methionine to sulfur>

inside and i am assuming that could release h2s.
<Possibly... if enough there you should be able to smell it>
 How should I deal with this?
<I'd stir the sand while doing more frequent partial water changes (okay to do a few times per week), and look into alternate foods>
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Cleaning gravel with bleach? Mmmm, rather you didn't. 12/3/2010
<Hi Judy.>
My husband and I are re-setting up a 20 gallon tank.
<Welcome back to the hobby.>
We used tank before and kept the gravel. The gravel was in a bucket in the backyard for a few months, so my husband says to rinse with a little bleach and a lot of water. Would this be safe for a tank?
<Depends on the gravel. If it is the colored gravel that you find in most pet stores, it would probably be ok, as that is pretty inert. If it is a real gravel, I would not recommend it.>
Wouldn't you need to rinse for a long time to get all the bleach.
<Yes, as well as dechlorinator to make sure it is really gone. Also, bleach and water may not get rid of any pesticides that may have been introduced by sitting outside.>
I told him it would be better to just buy another bag of gravel and never mind cleaning the gravel. What do you think is best??
<Gravel is pretty inexpensive, for a 20 gallon I would just buy new gravel, your time is worth more than that.>
Thank you!!!
<My pleasure.>

Hi again! FW subst., sel., cleaning    2/25/10
Hi again!
My band concert went too long and my Local PetSmart was closed so tomorrow I will go and get it then Tell
you the results oh and I have another question :) I have a Sand substrate and all this stuff I don't even know what it is and when the catfish swim on the bottom it makes it float And makes it look even worse ( on top of the cloudy water.) yes that's it I will go to PetSmart tomorrow have a nice night!
<Is this sand you bought from a store? What kind of sand is it? Did you rinse the sand prior to putting it in? Once sand is rinsed, and it's been in the tank for a while, the fishes' movement may stir it up, but the particles sink quickly back to the bottom. If there are particles of sand suspended in the water, then that sort of brings me back to the filtration question, because any type of fine-grade filter floss can catch those particles, and then you'd wash it out, put it back in, and let it collect more. However, sand in the tank can cause problems with the filter's impeller, so it's a good idea to take the filter apart, if possible, and clean the impeller regularly during this process, as well. Overall, when you purchase sand, even if it's from the pet store, it's a good idea to put it in a five gallon bucket, stick a water hose down in the sand, and let the water run for a while until it runs clear out of top of the bucket in order to rinse the sand. In addition, you've got bottom-dwellers in this tank, so it's important to verify that this sand is safe for those fish.
Some sands are too sharp, and scratch the tummies of soft-bellied bottom dwellers. I hope this helps. Talk to you soon!
<Hi, Jordan!>
I just re-read one of the answers from before and I need to answer some questions about placement lights and etc. . My tank is placed in my room and no sunlight reaches it ( I have curtains and it's on the other side of the room)
<I don't think this is an algae bloom -- I do believe this is as a result of the system being not yet ready for fish.>
and .how do I siphon sand?
<I like to stir the sand up a bit and siphon out what floats up. Fish waste sits on top of sand, rather than falling into the cracks, as it does with gravel, so it's actually (in my opinion) easier to clean.
Thank you!
Sand, Siluriiform facultative aerial respirators
<Hi Jordan>
Te type of sand I ordered online and it has Already been washed and I got it because it had some Important bacteria and it was made for catfish actually.
<Okay, so there are a couple of different companies who are producing this live sand they claim has beneficial bacteria already in it. I have not used this sand, as I am cheap and have large aquariums to fill, and always end up using cheap sand from the Ace Hardware! I'm glad that you made sure it was fine for catfish, since that's all you seem to be collecting -- and it's certainly understandable, as I enjoy all of my catfishes thoroughly.>
I also have another question I just noticed my fish have been getting air from the top of the tank and I have a bubbled but I don't want to put it in :) should I put it in ( I know the Hoplos are air breathers to make bubble nests)
<Yes, your Corys are air breathers, as well. This only leaves the Raphael, who shouldn't be making a lot of trips to the surface, like the others. There's more dissolved oxygen at the top of your tank, because oxygen comes into the water at the surface. This means that there may not be enough oxygen at the bottom of the tank for the Raphael, if he's one of the ones struggling to get air. This is where filtration comes in... we'll discuss that in a sec!>
and the filtration I have is a tetra 30g filter I don't think it's a good quality though.
<This filter claims to move 150 gallons per hour (I checked PetSmart's website), so it's turning over your tank 7.5 times per hour. This should be enough to provide oxygen to all areas of the tank, so I'm wondering if by "all the fish" you mean just he Hoplos and the Corys, you're doing okay, but if it's the Raphael, as well, then I worry. If this catfish breathes air, I am not aware of it (Bob or Neale, please correct me if I am wrong!). So, it could be considered "abnormal behavior" for him, which means something's going on. In any case, I look forward to the test results tomorrow, and am hoping that, though I am not trusting of any product which is left on a store shelf for an indeterminate amount of time and claims to still have live bacteria still in it (!) the Seachem product and the sand you've purchased have cycled this tank, for the fishes' sakes.
I've tried a lot of products in my time fishkeeping, and very few have impressed me. Though others may feel differently, "Stability" was not one of them, and as I said, I have never used this freshwater "live" sand.
I'll speak to you soon!>
Thank you! Have a nice night!
<I'm getting back to you rather late... so I can affirm that it was a nice night!
<I'm going to combine these two e-mails...>, more re filtr...
Sorry I am sending so much, but I said the wrong name of the filter I have a TOPFIN 30g filter have a nice night Melinda and again sorry for sending so many emails!
<No problem, because I like to help. Otherwise I wouldn't be here! You seem to be extremely motivated to do things right, and I want to help you achieve what you've got in mind. I've discussed this filter above. I've been able to identify some filters as wonderful, and others as useless, during the time I've kept fish. I don't care for hang-on-back filters with these carbon-laden cartridges at all. You have carbon, which becomes spent after three weeks to a month. Then you have some meshy material on the outside of the cartridge. During the time this cartridge is in the system, the mesh and the carbon inside begin to become biological media. That is, bacteria grows on it. When your replace that cartridge, you're essentially removing the majority of your beneficial bacteria, and leaving your system at risk for a mini-cycle (think serious ammonia spike). In addition, as I said earlier, carbon "wears out" and stops absorbing chemicals fairly quickly, and you don't even need it at all in most systems. I only use it to remove medication from the water if I've had to use it. So, these aren't my favorite. Please read here:
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwfiltrmedart.htm. You want a filter which will provide biological and mechanical filtration, and still have room for chemical filtration (like carbon, phosphate-removing pads, etc.) if you happen to need them. One of the reasons I'm mentioning this is that you stated earlier that you do plan on a 55 in the future. If you choose to upgrade, I'd go with a 75 -- not much more room, way better footprint, more gallons. In any case, I'm rambling, but there are some nuances to filtration not often understood by beginners, and not understanding ends up costing money in the long run -- I figured I'd broach the subject now!

Crushed coral... washing for African Cichlid system  - 2/21/2006 Hello, After many years without a tank, my son decides he would like to get one. As the story goes, I now have myself a new 125G. This will be used for African Cichlids (Malawi) and was looking for information on the crushed coral. I did a quick search through the FAQ and without spending 10 days reading and getting bug eyed - thought I would just ask this question that has no doubt been answered a million times. Does the crushed coral need to be rinsed before using and if so, how much? <Do rinse (otherwise, snow machine!) in a bucket... plastic... the "pickle" type that has not had toxins in it... in five, ten pound batches... with a running garden hose... till it runs pretty much clear> Thanks for a great site - wish I had this info last time I had a tank. Len <I'll bet! Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Cleaning fine substrate ... marine... FW?  2/8/06 I am just starting a 55 gallon tank and would like to use fine sand as the substrate rather than coral.  First question: How do I clean the  sand?  I have a Python vacuum, but I think it is mainly for gravel and not  fine sand.  <Mmm, can be used... by pinching the syphon tube... so the water flow is lessened... and not so much that the sand is sucked out... Or you can elect to simply "stir" the sand occasionally... half a side per routine...> Second question: Should I use an undergravel filter?  Or  is this even necessary? <... posted on WWM: http://www.google.com/custom?q=undergravel+filter+marine&sa=Google+Search&sitesearch=wetwebmedia.com> I will be placing fresh water fish in the tank  probably without the help of tank cleaners like clams, shrimp, lobsters or  crabs, as I am new to this and really don't know what I am doing yet. Thanks, Michele <Oh... freshwater? Please read here: http://www.google.com/custom?q=freshwater+substrates%2C+sand&sitesearch=wetwebmedia.com Learn to/use the WWM indices, search tool. Bob Fenner>

Setting up a 90 gallon freshwater 7/31/05 Dear Bob,         I have recently been given a 90 gallon fish tank which I plan to set up with freshwater fish. My father and I used to have several tanks when I was younger but that was several years ago. This is my first go-around in some time. My question is about gravel.         I bought "Filpro Sands and Gravel", which is not quite sand, yet not quite big stones. A little of a mixture. Before putting it in the tank I rinsed it with warm water in a bucket. There was a ton of brown, dirty debris that came out of the gravel. Should I be worried that this dirt will be present in my tank? <Mmm, not really... if most all rinsed out> Will it harm anything if not all of it was rinsed out? <Likely not... most all should settle out, be filtered, w/o livestock for a week or two>          Thank you for your insight and I look forward to your response.                                                                                                            Dan <Enjoy that new system! Bob Fenner>

Gravel, UG Filters Hi There, Another question from an eager listener....  ;) With my current set-up:  125 gallon tank, 2 baby Arowanas (jardinii and yellow tail), and 2 Emperor 400 power filters......I am wondering if I can put gravel to cover the bottom of my fish tank???   I usually just scoop up every morning and night the "poops" of the fishes and 20% water change every week to avoid ammonia and toxic build up. <<Hi there. First, you should buy extensions for your Emperor intakes, that will help a bit with circulation, the filters will be able to suck up waste from a lower level.>> What are the disadvantages of putting gravel in my tank?  How will I be able to clean it and remove the "poops"? <<You can buy a gravel siphon at any decent Local Fish Store. (LFS).>> Will just stirring the gravel and using a vacuum do the trick to clean them? <<Gravel vacuuming will do the trick. Vacuuming with your siphon should be done weekly, when you do a water change. Not only does a siphon remove detritus from the gravel, it removes water at the same time. Use a good thermometer, take it to the sink with you when you start filling buckets to re-fill the tank with...the water should be the same temp! Add dechlorinator to each bucket as you re-fill. Better yet, buy yourself a Python. Ask for these handy hose kits at your LFS.>> Will I be needing an undergravel filter for this set-up?  Or will my 2 Emperor 400 power filters be enough?  What if I make it 3 Emperor 400's? <<Undergravel filters are more trouble than they are worth, IME. Your two Emperors should be sufficient for the time being, you only have two small arows in this tank. You should keep in mind that with a larger bio-load, you may need to add filtration later. In other words, if you add more fish, or when your arrows are about 6-8 inches or so you may need to upgrade. You should keep an eye on their growth and on the tank, an overly dirty aquarium means insufficient filtration, not enough water changes, and/or inadequate maintenance is being done. You will realize it IF the time comes.>> It is just a laborious duty to have an undergravel filter.....plus in time, a build up of wastes...will lower the ph of the tank......are some of the reasons why I am hesitant using undergravel filter. <<I agree. There are many filters out there that are much easier to maintain, and do a great job. No need for UGF's at all.>> Thanks, Antonio -Gwen>> 

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