How to Get Rid of Fish Waste (Poop) From Aquarium Sand

How to Get Rid of Fish Waste (Poop) From Aquarium Sand

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Like all living things, fish do produce waste in the form of ammonia in urine and poop, which can accumulate in your tank if not cleared on time. Moreover, the poop is quite visible when you have a light substrate like white sand, so it’s not unusual to wonder how to clean such debris.

In my experience, most fish keepers vacuum their sand, which works quite well if it’s done regularly. The poop can also be cleared by scooping it out of the tank, though it will take you a long minute.

Another brilliant solution is to get an airstone or powerhead to blow and stir the sand in areas where most poop accumulates. The current will keep the waste particles floating and easy for the filter to suck it up.

For more insight, please read on.

What Will Eat Fish Waste in A Fish Tank?

Just in case you were wondering, there is no such thing as ‘fish poop eaters’ know to the hobby. In other words, there is no species of fish that will eat poop from your sand, even the so-called cleaner crew like cories, and bristlenose plecos.

Shrimp and snails will also not eat fish waste. On rare occasions, they will sift through the sand and might grab some fish poop from the substrate, but I really don’t think it will be of any help towards reducing the amounts in your tank.

Besides, snails and shrimp produce their own waste, so you might just be moving from one menace to another.

Therefore, I suggest you stick to vacuuming your substrate. In case you are not satisfied with the outcome, try increasing the number of times you do the cleaning per week.

Below is a quick how-to guide for vacuuming fish waste (poop) from your fish tank.

A Quick 5-Step For Cleaning Fish Waste (Poop) in A Fish Tank

Please note there will be two types of fish waste in your fish tank, organic and inorganic.

The type that decay and dissolve into the water or substrate is organic, which you do not require manual labor to remove, you filter will take care of that.

In organic waste, on the other hand, do not dissolve, which is what you are most likely to see sitting on your sand with other debris. Even so, while fish poop is organic, it might stay on gravel or sand for a minute before it decays.

Normally, most fish produce poop that’s brownish in color, though fishes with an intestinal infection might produce whitish waste.

The color of your fishes’ poop might also change depending on what you feed them, but either way, the process below will help you remove it regardless of the color.

  1. The first thing you need to consider is whether you want to move your fish to a holding tank while you clean the tank or not. It is perfectly ok to vacuum with the fishes inside, which I would actually recommend, just don’t introduce any harmful chemical into the aquarium.
  2. Assuming you decide to move your fish, place them in a fish tank with the water condition akin to those the fish are used to. Especially make sure ammonia and nitrates level stay at 0ppm and consider the temperature and ph settings as well.
  3. Before moving your fish, also unplug and remove all equipment and decor form the tank. You can clean them separately, but be careful when you clean the filter as you don’t want to lose the healthy bacteria.
  4. Then its time to vacuum your substrate. Most fish keepers just use a normal gravel siphon kit to remove the fish waste together with other debris in the tank. But if you have sand in your fish tank, you may find a hose or turkey buster more effective.
  5. I prefer to gently rake the sand with my fingers allowing the muck to lift and drop back down to the surface. Then using the siphon hose, I skim above the surface removing any deposits like fish poop and plant debris.
  6. After your sand is perfectly clean, make sure you check your water parameters are right before putting your equipment and fish back into the tank.

Please note that with white sand in your fish tank, you may need to repeat this process almost daily, but with dull substrates like gravel, the poop is not as visible, and most of it will dissolve before its obvious, meaning you only need to clean your tank occasionally.

Is Fish Poop Good For Aquarium Plants?

It is quite common to expect that the poop left on your substrate once you siphon your sand will become fertilizer for your plants. Which is a realistic expectation, but is it true?

Well, let’s just say it is not exactly true, but it’s not false either.

Decayed fish poop in the substrate might help a few of your aquarium plants grow better, but it most definitely cannot be a substitute to fertilizer, and your plants won’t do much to solve your fish waste problem.

Therefore, I would recommend you stick to the normal substrate cleaning routine, but do not break an arm and a leg trying to get all the waste out. If you have a well set up tank, with plants, CO2, and lighting, the remaining fish might just be helpful.

You may also want to be sure there is a well-developed colony of beneficial bacteria in your substrate to break down the fish poop. Plus rake your sand regularly to break up compact pockets that help anaerobic bacteria establish in your tank, which you do not want.

That said, please note that anaerobic bacteria are not always harmful in a fish tank, they can play a useful role in your tank, but they need to handled carefully.

Why Is There So Much Poop in Your Fish Tank?

Cliche as it sounds, prevention is always better than cure. Meaning before you try removing the excess poop from the substrate in your tank, you may want to establish why that is to begin with.

The first and the most common reason could be you are overfeeding your fish. So, try to reduce the amounts of food you place in the tank or reduce the frequency at which you feed the fish.

Ideally, smaller species only need to be fed once a day with an amount they can devour in less than five (5) minutes, or less if they are still excreating too much waste.

For larger tropical fish with a bigger appetite, it is ok to feed them two (2) times a day, but only offer them food they will finish in three (3) minutes (or less) on every feeding.

It is also advisable to give your fish some time off, rest they start developing weight issues and digestive problems. I recommend fasting them for a day or two every once in a while.

The other reason why there is so much poop in your fish tank could be the type of food you are feeding your fish. See, most gastrointestinal systems work very similarly, human and other pets included.

This means some food is more easily digested than others, and as you would expect, the easily digestible fish feeds will go through the system faster and result in much more waste.

Moreover, your fish will eat more of their favorite meal than foods they do not prefer. For instance, bottom feeders might eat a lot if you feed them plant-based foods as opposed to flake or meaty eats.

Whereas, fish that prefer animal products like bloodworms will feed more if such foods are offered more often.

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that not always will debris on your sand be fish waste (poop), sometimes the dirt might be from foreign bodies from outside the tank, that you definitely don’t want in there.

Some of the muck might not even be visible to the naked eye, so make a reliable cleaning schedule to ensure no dirt remains in your aquarium longer than it should.

Eddie Waithaka

Resident Content Creator and Marketer at AquariaWise who talks about aquariums and fish and aquascapes a lot.

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