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This question is more for people who have actually changed out their substrate before. Please no theories:

Ok, so I currently have a tank with mixed substrate, but I wanted to make it all sand as well as change my entire setup. That being said, I have a 125 gallon tank on a canopy. What's the best way to change out this substrate (I have about 4 inches) without messing up my carpet? Also, my tank is upstairs -- so summary: what's the best way to get the substrate out of the tank after I remove the fish? How do I keep from messing up my carpet? What's the best/easier way to get it downstairs (as you all know, it's very heavy)?
 

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I've done this with a 60g tank. I just drained the whole tank and scooped out the substrate and put it into buckets. Then I washed down the tank and cleaned whatever was left then added the sand. It was a bit tedious but I couldn't think of another way to do it. My tank was also upstairs and on carpet but I ended up moving it downstairs and on marble when I put the sand in. You can put newspapers all around where you are working and if you're careful you won't spill lol
 

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After you've removed the fish to some temporary holding receptacle, simply use 3/4" to 1" plastic tubing (a hose essentially, of whatever size opening is needed to siphon up the substrate) to siphon out the substrate into say, for example, a 5 gal bucket, to be emptied ( & garbaged or whatever) when near full, repeating the process until the entire substrate has been removed. Then move the tank downstairs to it's new position, clean it up properly, and re-scape it the way you wish, before re-homing the fish.
Have done it several times - no mess on the carpet if one does it carefully. Takes but a few hours.
 

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Without messing up your carpet? I'm not sure that's possible.

Typically my method is to remove all plants and fish into 5 gallon buckets. Then I will use my water changing hose layed down onto substrate to remove all the water down to substrate level.

At this point I use a dustpan to shovel out the substrate into a bucket.

You can use a shopvac to get everything easily but I can get 98% of substrate out without it so I don't bother.

Add in new substrate, add plants, and fish and you're done.
 

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Ditto the other comments. Just gotta get in there and do it. Takes time, and is hard on the back. However, a few things I have found helpful:

Old towels over garbage bags or plastic sheeting (Careful VERY VERY slippery) will protect the floor.

Put substrate into buckets, but not very full. Only as heavy as you can carry. Think: Which gives out first? Your back or your legs?

Square storage containers such as 1 quart Tupperware gets into the corners well, and have a curve that is safer for the silicone.

I have a wood box that makes a great work platform for reaching into deep tanks. It is 8" high x 4' long x 12" wide. The 4' long aspect makes it a lot better than a ladder, if you just need a little bit more reach.

Put the bucket on a short ladder so as you are scooping substrate you can lower the scoop inside the bucket to dump it. Then it won't splash.

Do not siphon substrate into the sink. Blocks the waste line.
 

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After you've removed the fish to some temporary holding receptacle, simply use 3/4" to 1" plastic tubing (a hose essentially, of whatever size opening is needed to siphon up the substrate) to siphon out the substrate into say, for example, a 5 gal bucket, to be emptied ( & garbaged or whatever) when near full, repeating the process until the entire substrate has been removed. Then move the tank downstairs to it's new position, clean it up properly, and re-scape it the way you wish, before re-homing the fish.
Have done it several times - no mess on the carpet if one does it carefully. Takes but a few hours.
+1 ... done it couple times... extra bucket will be handy
 

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Place the fish and plants into a temporary housing (with tank water of course). Then simply drain (siphon with hose) the water out of the 125 gallon. That should take care of most of the water and carpet worries. Get a painter's drop "cloth" if you are worried (cheap one will do). Then use something to scoop (bowl, cut up plastic milk carton, etc) out the old substrate and do whatever with it (place in containers to keep, or bin to throw away). Then pretty much it's all out, now you just gotta haul the tank downstairs. A 125 gallon isn't terribly heavy with one other person to carry the other end (just make sure it's empty). I've always just carried tanks by hand, so I can't really comment about using a dolly/handtruck or lifting straps. Well once in place, just add substrate and water (might want to do some water changes if it's cloudy from new sub), then place in the plants and hardscape, add the filters, once everything is settled and the water parameters are good, add the fish in. It's a good idea to leave the lights off and let the fish settle down from the whole ordeal.

Do this all in a timely manner to keep the fish and filter bacteria in good shape.
 
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