How to Clean a Fish Tank Quickly and Correctly
Author Aubree Rose Reading 1 min Published by
Both freshwater and saltwater aquariums require regular cleaning. Fish can’t survive in dirty water, that is why it is crucial to monitor the water quality. While cleaning fish tanks is pretty easy, most beginners just don’t know what to start with. Our detailed step-by-step instructions contain all the necessary information.
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Before you start cleaning any aquarium, you need to make sure you have prepared proper tools for this. That is why we recommend to begin with compiling a list of supplies. Keep in mind that some of them need to be bought in specialized pet shops.
To clean one freshwater aquarium from A to Z you will the following:
Optionally, you may prepare some extra tools and products, for example:
Use a clean algae pad or a scraper to purge the inner surface of the walls of algae and other types of bio contaminations. Gently scrub the walls to remove the organic dirt from the glass. If necessary, use a razor blade to get rid of stubborn patches. At this stage, you may want to wear aquarium gloves, which protect your hands and arms from water and dirt.
Never use your kitchen sponges for cleaning an aquarium! If you use a scrubber for cleaning a sink, it contains harmful detergents, which are toxic and extremely dangerous for fish. Buy a new sponge specially for an aquarium.
Approximately 25-50% of aquarium water per week needs to be replaced. The volume of the water depends on how fast the nutrients are accumulated in it (it is called the biological load). If you don’t want to replace water too often, you can choose to change a larger volume at a time (around 50%). On the other hand, more frequent water replacing helps to keep the content of nitrates and phosphates on a lower level.
Use a syphon to remove the old water from the fish tank to a bucket. Syphons are easy to use; moreover, they usually come with a manual. Some of them can be hooked on a sink, which adds convenience.
Vacuuming is needed to clean the aquarium bottom from waste, food remains, and other kinds of organic debris. Make sure you are pushing the vacuum through the gravel deep enough to collect small fractions of debris from the very bottom.
Aquariums with a sand substrate can also be vacuumed. To prevent sucking in the sand, keep the end of the vacuum at least one inch away from the substrate. Also, you can regulate the flow by closing the hole on the syphon end with a finger.
Over time, all the aquarium decorations get covered with algae and organic waste. That is why they require regular cleaning as well. If you do it on a regular basis, the algae is easy to remove with a sponge or a special algae pad. To remove stubborn stains you can use a new clean toothbrush.
Now, it’s time to add some fresh water. Measure the temperature of the prepared purified water with an infrared thermometer and make sure it is similar to the temperature of the water in your aquarium. Keep in one that the difference in 1-2 degrees can be critical for fish. Try not to overfill the tank when adding the water, or your fish can be accidentally spilled over together with extra water.
If you use purified tap water, you need to prepare it in advance. Add a recommended dose of water conditioner to the bucket with tap water one day before cleaning the aquarium.
Just after the tank refilling, the water can seem cloudy. Usually, there is nothing to worry about. It takes several hours for the water to become clear and transparent. If it remains cloudy longer, there is a problem with its quality or the quality of the substrate. You may buy a special cleaning agent, but in most cases, they are useless, as they just mask the problem, instead of neutralizing the real cause of the cloudiness.
The outer surface of the tank is also to be cleaned. Use a clean wet cloth or sponge to clean fish tank glass. For the aquariums with glass walls, a usual glass spray cleaner can be used. That said, it is unsuitable for acrylic and ceramic tanks.
The only important difference of saltwater aquariums from their freshwater analogs is water. To clean a fish tank of this type you will need some additional tools. Also, you’ll have to prepare the water itself in advance. Here is a step-by-step instruction on how to clean a fish tank with salt water.
The water should be prepared at least a day before cleaning the aquarium. Use purified (distilled or reverse osmosis) water only. Pour the water in a clean bucket and warm it up with the help of a special heater. After that, add some salt mix (both salt mix and a heater are available at pet shops). Follow the instruction supplied to find the right sale/water ratio: usually, it is around 0.5 cup of salt mix per gallon of water.
On the next day, test the salinity. For this purpose, you can use a special salinity probe, a hygrometer or a refractometer. Depending on the species inhabiting the tank, you may need a salinity of 30 or 35 grams per liter.
Finally, measure the water temperature. Most saltwater fish require a temperature of 73 through 82 degrees F.
The list of basic supplies for cleaning saltwater tanks includes the same items as those required for freshwater aquariums. These are an algae pad, a separate 5-gal bucket, a gravel vacuum, and a glass cleaner. Additionally, you will need pH strips, a salinity probe (or a hygrometer/refractometer), and a thermometer. Optionally, you may want to use bleach and replace filtering media.
Use an algae pad or sponge to clean the inner surface of the tank’s walls from algae and organic residues. Additionally, you may use a razor blade to remove stubborn stains.
For saltwater tanks, it is recommended to change approximately 10% of the water twice a month. By doing so, you reduce the level of nitrates and improve water quality. Removing extra water is pretty simple: all you need is a usual syphon.
Vacuuming of a saltwater aquarium is similar to the vacuuming of a freshwater tank. Use a syphon-type vacuum cleaner to gather the organic waste from the tank’s bottom and clean fish tank gravel. If you have a gravel substrate, push the end of the vacuum through it to reach the bottom. If you have a sand substrate, keep the vacuum end at a distance of 1 inch away from it and mix the sand with your finger. The owners of very small aquarium habitats may use a fish net wrapped around the vacuum end.
If the decorations are moderately contaminated, you may clean them without taking out of the tank. Just wipe them with a pad or scrub with a new toothbrush to remove the algae. If you need to clean fish tank rocks that are very dirty, you need to take them out and put in a bucket or a container with a 10% bleach solution. After that, rinse them in pure water (distilled or purified with water conditioner), let them dry, and place back to the tank.
Salt creep is a hard salt residue, which is formed on the aquarium walls when marine water evaporates. You can remove it with a pad or a sponge. After that, you can put it back into the water and mix it.
Now, it’s time to add some water. If you have taken out 10% of the old water, you need to add exactly the same amount of new water. Make sure the temperature and salinity meet the requirements. Pour the water into the tank but try not to overfill it.
Use a high-quality aquarium thermometer to measure the temperature of the water every day. Most saltwater fish are pretty delicate. They can’t survive if the water temperature is slightly lower or higher than they need.