How to Use a Shop Vac to Clean a Pond

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Shop vacs are great at many things, but can you use it to clean your garden pond? While garden ponds are relatively low-maintenance, they do require an annual cleanup to remove debris and algae. You could either buy or rent a pond vacuum intended for cleaning your garden pond, but your shop vac might as well do the trick. So as you know how to do it, that is.

For this purpose you’re obviously going to need a wet-dry vacuum, which you can then safely use to clean your pond. In most cases it gets the job done to perfection, saving you the extra cost of buying or renting a pond vacuum.

Things you’ll need

  • Inflatable pool (useful if you want to keep some of the pond water)
  • Pond net (for fish and plants)
  • Bucket (or a water pump)
  • Garden hose and a spray nozzle
  • Scrub brush (for the sides)
  • Wet-dry shop vac

How to use the shop vac for pond cleaning

Once you’ve gathered the few things needed for cleaning your pond, you can get started. Below is an easy step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Remove nets/covers and prepare for draining

If you’ve kept your pond covered over the winter, you’ll have to wait until after the last frost before removing nets and/or covers from your pond.

Prepare for draining by setting up the pump. Set up an inflatable pool next to the pond, if you want to collect the pond water there. Otherwise you could let the water run out onto your lawn and/or into your flower beds.

Step 2: Drain the pond until 1-2 inches above the pump

Now that your pump is set up, you can turn it on and wait while the water is draining. Keep an eye on the process, especially when the water level starts to sink and get close to the pump.

Make sure the water level doesn’t drop below the level of the pump while activated, as it could ruin the pump. We recommend that you keep at least 1-2 inches of water above the pump.

Step 3: Remove plants, stones, and fish

Now it’s time to remove plants, stones, and fish from your pond. We recommend that you remove the fish first, so you can safely remove everything else afterwards. If you’re in doubt how to handle your fish, we strongly suggest that you consult a professional first. Some fish could be very sensitive and may require special care during pond maintenance. Same applies to plants, if you’re in doubt we advise that you consult with a professional first.

Once the fish and plants are removed, you can easily pick up the stones and other elements.

Step 4: Rinse the sides of your pond

Now that you’ve brought down the water level and there’s only a puddle of water left at the bottom, it’s time to rinse the sides of your pond.

This is a crucial step. You don’t want to overdo it, but you want to do it just enough to rinse off any debris and perhaps some algae. You could use a brush to gently scrub the surface, but if you overdo it you may end up removing beneficial bacteria that would otherwise coat the sides. Beneficial bacteria herds are commonly present in your garden pond, and they’ll help purify the water by consuming any organic matter and keep the level of algae at a minimum.

For this reason we simply recommend that you hose down the sides and leave everything else as is.

Step 5: Drain the rest of the water

Once you’ve rinsed the sides, you can drain the rest of the water. The fastest method is probably to scoop it out with a bucket, until you reach the bottom layer of accumulated sludge and debris.

Step 6: Scoop out leaves and debris

Before you can use your shop vac to clean the pond, you have to remove leaves and debris from the bottom of your pond.

Use the bucket to do so, and remove as much as you feel like before utilizing the shop vac. The more you can scoop up like this, the easier it gets to remove the rest with your shop vac.

Step 7: Vacuum the sludge at the bottom

Now that you’ve removed everything besides the accumulated sludge at the bottom of your pond, it’s time to bring out the wet-dry shop vac. Plug it in, remove the bag (if any), and start sucking up the sludge.

This may take some time, but with a little patience you’ll get the job done in a matter of minutes (or hours if it’s a big pond).

Step 8: Rinse the bottom of your pond

After the shop vac did its job in the pond, we recommend rinsing the bottom of your pond with a hose and a spray nozzle. You can leave out this step if you think it’s properly clean already, but if you want clear waters instantly you’ll have to rinse the bottom as well.

Once you’ve rinsed the bottom of your pond and whirled up any remaining sludge, you can bring in the bucket and scoop out the water.

Step 9: Fill the pond with water and return plants, stones, and fish

Now it’s time to restore the pond. Put your shop vac back in place and fill some water into the pond first. You can fill it with new water, or reuse some of the old water in order to keep some of the bacteria and other beneficial microorganisms.

Return plants and stones to the pond, and fill it up completely. Now it’s time to carefully return the fish to the pond. Again, we recommend that you ask a professional for advice, because different fish and plants may require special care and treatment.

Pros and cons of using a shop vac to clean a pond


  • Less expensive than pond vacuums.
  • Can be used for wet and dry vacuuming inside and outside.
  • Very easy handle and great for a small pond.
  • Quickly sucks up any muck at the bottom of your pond.
  • Relatively lightweight. They don’t weigh as much as most pond vacuums, and they can easily be tucked away in your garage.


  • Works best if your pond is drained beforehand, otherwise it will fill up quickly.
  • Not all shop vacs are powerful enough to suck up the accumulated sludge at the bottom of your pond.
  • Not the best choice for large garden ponds, as they’ll reach capacity and need emptying many times before the job is done.