How to Clean Old Sand for Reuse

You feel like starting over…You feel all hope is lost…


There are a few¬†times when an aquarium will hit a disastrous¬†level. Maybe it was due to a power failure beyond our control. Maybe an equipment failure was to blame. Maybe a storm hit and there was no way to save your tank babies. We put so much time, energy AND MONEY into our tanks that if something drastic happens, it is often thought…to quit!

DON’T! If you are anything like me, you love this hobby way too much to throw in the towel!

I had a reader reach out to me explaining that her tank took a nose dive after a power failure over the summer. Her entire saltwater tank crashed and she was unable to save any of her livestock. The tank started to smell really bad and she thought everything was dead and gone.


Quick Story: I had a similar situation a few months back with a new project tank I was working on. When I picked the tank up, the sand smelled horrible as it had been sitting for quite some time. Now anyone who owns a saltwater aquarium knows, the sand holds all of the filter feeders…and what do the filter feeders eat?…POOP (and other dead stuff)! Ha! So just imagine that foul smell sitting for months undisturbed! And here you go…disturbing it! Yuck! It’s enough to clear a house let me assure you. But after filling the tank up with salt water to clean the tank, I got lazy, and it sat over the weekend. Who would’ve thought that on Sunday morning, I would have little snails and crabs crawling around. HEY! Where did you guys come from and where were you hiding? It was insane!


Back to our reader (I haven’t forgotten about you…I get side tracked sometimes)..

When cleaning the sand, the easiest, and I do mean easiest way to do so is:

  1. Get a five gallon bucket (you may need a few of them)
  2. Fill the bucket about 3/4’s of the way with your nasty dirty sand
  3. Run clean water through it until the water runs clear
  • You will need to stir the sand every now and then to get the large debris.

I recommend some heavy duty gloves to do the stirring…

I use the ones below – I got them from Amazon –> Click Here


This is called “rinsing the sand”. It will take a few times…and your arms will be tired (I warned you).

You do not necessarily have to let the sand dry completely before reuse. Some recommend it to kill off any additional bacteria. I personally do not follow that method. The reality of it is, you will have to cycle your tank again (for about 6 weeks) regardless when you start over, so fear not.


Another method I have also used is a little more time consuming. You fill the tank up with RODI Salt Water and siphon the water out as you stir the sand bringing all the debris to the top of the tank. This one is a little more time consuming and also takes a lot more water. I have used both methods listed personally.


DO NOT, and I do repeat DO NOT use any type of soaps, detergents, cleaners (including peroxide solutions) to clean your sand. Clean running water will do the trick. Those types of solvents get absorbed into the sand and will later harm your livestock.

After cleaning your sand and reintroducing it into your tank… I recommend starting off with crabs and snails when you begin your tank cycle. They will get anything that you missed.

I hope this helps!


Comment below on your thoughts, questions or methods you have used to clean your aquarium sand for reuse…