The best (automatic) aquarium vacuum cleaner

If you’re in a hurry and eager to find out the best (automatic) aquarium vacuum cleaner. Then we would recommend the EHEIM Automatic Gravel Cleaner 

Water changes are routine practice if you plan to maintain a healthy aquatic environment for fish to thrive in. However, I wish I was told when starting, saving a load of hassle and time, the importance of an aquarium vacuum cleaner. This article will explain what that is, and recommend what we believe to be the best aquarium vacuum cleaners in the market. 

The importance of an aquarium vacuum cleaner

When owning an aquarium, it’s your responsibility to maintain a healthy clean environment for your fish. The uneaten food and fish waste will build up at the bottom of the tank, eventually forming a thick sludge that will often get stuck in the substrates. This highlights the importance of buying the correct fish tank vacuum cleaner, creating a safe and healthy habitat for your fish and aquatic plants, prolonging their life significantly.

The thick sludge that forms, over time, will break down and start to release toxic chemicals such as ammonia, which left untreated can have a devastating effect on your fish. A good aquarium cleaner will remove these hazardous elements and ensure a healthy environment for your fish.

aquarium vacuum cleaner - (needyfish)

How often would I use an aquarium cleaner? 

There are various opinions on how often you should clean your fish tank. In short, there is no set answer. It depends on a number of elements such as the volume of fish, tank maturity, and amount of food in the tank. Naturally, an established tank will be able to wait longer between changes. Whereas a new tank is not going to have a  fully operational nitrogen cycle with the beneficial bacteria completely built up. Meaning water changes will need to be carried out more frequently.  Essentially the key is to carry out continuous testing making sure the nitrate ppm level is 40 ppm (parts per million) or below. Understanding how quickly you reach this figure will help dictate the frequency of water changes. 

Considerations prior to purchase 

There are numerous aquarium vacuum cleaner brands on the market, making it quite tricky and challenging to choose the correct one, especially if you are a beginner. To help you out, I have outlined what to consider prior to purchase. 

Tank Inhabitants:

It’s important to understand the type of fish you have. Some species will be inherently messier than others; therefore, you will have to create a more regular cleaning schedule. Thinking about the size of fish and plant species is also important. For example, If you have smaller fish, go for a smaller gravel vacuum head. 

Type of Food:

Check your feed type; some commercial food particles break apart faster, which is going to create more mess. 

Tank Size

Ensure that the vacuum cleaner perfectly suits your tank size. Looking out for a brand that has a selection of vacuum heads would be wise. A smaller cleaner for a larger tank will reduce the cleaning efficiency, while a giant cleaner for a small tank will siphon out more water and potentially endanger your fish. 

Size of substrate 

As the name would suggest, aquarium gravel cleaners work by sucking the mess from the tank substrate, normally gravel. Sand substrate can therefore get sucked up and removed by a gravel vacuum. However, with practice, when hovered slightly higher above the sand, the sand can be lifted, cleaned, and then replaced without incident.

This video below will give you an idea on how best to handle a gravel vacuum. 

Types of Gravel Vacuums

There are two types of aquarium vacuum cleaners in the market today, which are either electric or manual. 

The electric model (i.e automatic) runs on batteries coming as a two in one version, containing both a filter and gravel cleaner. Since it’s electric, you don’t have to do much. Merely place it in an upright position, and it will extract the entire waste of your tank. 

The manual gravel cleaner is a cheaper alternative that contains a tube attached to a siphon. This type requires a more complicated installation effort and will need to be held in an upright position when cleaning. An extra container to drain the water will also be required.

needyfish’s top 5 aquarium vacuum cleaners. 

Below you will see what we believe to be the best aquarium vacuum cleaners in the market, including both manual and automatic. Have a look at our recommendations, which we hope will help inform your final decision. 

1.) Python Maintenance System 

Key features

  • Ready to use system
  • Available in 4 sizes 
  • Adapts easily with most faucets
  • Comes with gravel tube, brass faucet adapter, and hose connectors

If you want an effective system to fill and drain water in your aquarium, the Python No Spill Clean and Fill system is a great choice and is something we review in our single product review here. It comes as a complete system that is ready to use, causing no disturbance to fish or décor during routine maintenance.

A slight drawback that several users raised, seeing it as a waste of water was the need to keep the water running, to vacuum the gravel. However, overall, people praised it for being a very efficient cleaning system, making the water changing routine a seamless procedure. 


  • Doesn’t need batteries
  • Multiple python extensions 
  • Cleans your gravel and allows you to change the water in the tank
  • Non invasive technique for your fish
  • clear instructions
  • Easy to set up 


  • The jubilee clip for the faucet adapter can rust

2.) EHEIM Automatic Gravel Cleaner 

Key features

  • Uses batteries to operate
  • Automatic cleaner and sludge extractor
  • Features a super-fine mesh cartridge
  • Fully submersible up to 3 feet 
  • 4 hours per charge

The Eheim Quick Vac Pro cleaner is ideal for quick spot maintenance, enabling you to clean the gravel substrate with ease. Thanks in part to the power suction design capabilities that can eliminate all the dirt particles with minimal disturbance to the gravel.

One thing that stood out for many users was how efficient it is to use. You don’t require hoses and buckets to maintain the aquarium bottom like most systems. By just inserting the suction end to the gravel, the waste gets deposited into the mesh cartridge, which traps every particle while letting clear water flow back into the aquarium. The added fact of being battery powered also helps with its agile working. 


  • Reduces the number of additives needed for water maintenance
  • Extends intervals between water changes
  • Simple to remove filter compartment
  • Sufficient suction power


  • You can’t use it in tanks with a depth less than 12 inches due to a lack of submerging space

3.) NICREW Automatic Gravel Cleaner

Key features

  • Flow adjustment valve
  • Three in one unit for complete aquarium maintenance
  • Sponge filter traps
  • Sealed rotator to prevent the motor from clogging

The Automatic Nicrew gravel cleaner comes as a 3-in-1 design. It has a strong enough motor that allows you to clean your tank efficiently without grinding the gravel; and a pump, which eliminates waste and other harmful particles from the sand or gravel without disturbing the fish. Additionally, there is a sponge filter inside the system, which helps to trap debris that is simple to remove. Users liked that you have the option of a power cable to use electricity instead of always having to rely on the battery, avoiding the need for constant recharging.


  • Rechargeable batteries
  • No need for a hose or bucket
  • The siphon hose is optional when using electric power
  • Easy to assemble and use


  • When overwhelmed, it takes back the debris into the water

4.) Aqueon Gravel Cleaner 

Key features

  • Self-priming feature
  • Comes with a built-in clip
  • Four different sizes 
  • 6-foot hose

The Aqueon gravel cleaner is an excellent choice for those on a tighter budget. Users liked the ease of working and the fact it can be used for quick water replacement, with sufficient separation of the gravel from the debris even in sand-filled tanks. Some people had problems with the size and found it hard to vacuum in tight spots effectively. However, for those just wanting to do simple water changes, this should not be seen as an issue. Overall, people were very impressed with the quality of the product and matched it with a reasonable price, represents excellent value for money. 


  • Quick water replacement
  • Easy to set up
  • Suitable for a variety of size tanks


  • Strong suction
  • Lacks a filter so could (unlikely) suck up small fish

5.) LL Products Gravel Vacuum

Key features

  • BPA free
  • Long hose
  • Comes with a filter
  • Starter stopper valve

This vacuum comes with an 8 feet long clear hose, with an extra extension that can be added if necessary. Thanks to the one-way flow controller, you won’t have to worry about water spillage. The shut-off valve feature helps control the water flow as well as shutting it off after cleaning. This product also comes with an additional filter attachment that prevents the siphon from sucking up smaller fish or plants. It’s worth noting that several users had trouble assembling this product. However, we’re impressed by the speed this vacuum can siphon the water. 


  • Perfect for medium or large size tanks
  • Easy to use
  • Adjustable flow


  • The joints can leak water

Our choice 

There are a variety of factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing the correct aquarium vacuum and they’re of course going to differ depending on your needs and circumstances. However, when considering price, efficiency, and quality. Our recommendation would be the EHEIM Quick Vac Pro Automatic Gravel Cleaner. There are a host of reasons why we love this product. Unlike other models, it’s a hassle-free solution that doesn’t require a bucket or hose. You merely place it into the tank and let it do the work for you, what more could you want!


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