Automatic. No water change. Simple.
- Problems with algae?
- Regular water changes?
- Of course not! Well, maybe a little bit.
- Gravel cleaning?
- Uhmm, what?
- How often do you vacuum your gravel?
- Am I supose to even do that?
Since I established my early (still growing) setup, I had a problem figuring out how to efficently and more conviniently clean the gravel from food and other debris, independently from regular water changes. No matter how many Plecos, Amano shrimps, Snails, Ancistrus and Siamensis Algae eaters with Plants as their compagnion you may have, you can never replace a good vacuum cleaning device from time to time. Very much like our homes that need regular fresh air and vacuuming.
I did use regular syphoning to do 2 jobs in 1 - while changing water I cleaned as much gravel surface as could, but soon realised that syphon drains water way too fast for such task, so either I had to re-pump portion of water back (slow) or invent something smarter.
Currently, there are many commercial solutions, but to tell you the truth I got a little bit tired testing (by which I mean buying) every possible gadget of this kind just to see it is a complete failure or over-priced product. Very time-consuming and expencive process.
So, it is time for yet another Do-It-Yourself. Inspiration for this device is obvious: SERA Gravel Cleaner which uses an air-pump (not included) to drive dirt above water surface level and gravity (free fall) to pass it through the filtering media and let the clean water return back into aquarium. Technical explanation can be found in physics, under section that covers fluid mechanics. In concept, it is the same principle as EHEIM Automatic Gravel Cleaner, but that model is a bit more advanced (and thus is the price) since it uses battery operated pump integrated into cleaner's body. SERA model is not expensive at all, it really works and if you want to save yourself any trouble, then by all means go ahead and buy it. On the other hand, since this device is essentially so simple, you can save a couple of bucks and spent it elswhere. It would be petty not to try to build it at least.
I used a cheap syphon (2$) I already had. I was very dissapointed at first when I bought it because it was almost usless for gravel syphoning, but later unscrewed few parts and figured it works better without them and can acctually be a very valuable tool with minor tweakings. From the video you can see a detailed process to make automatic gravel cleaner.
At the end, things to consider: wider sucking pipe requires stronger air-pump, but it will give you a wider cleaning area. Also, if you get a strong suction force that overfills your filtering section on the top try lowering air-pump position (e.g. put it down on the floor) or use cheap regulating valve to limit amount of air being pumped. On the other side, watchout for the fish and little organisms like snails and shrimps!
Now you can do your regular gravel maintenance. Happy vacuuming!