Cleaning Your Aquarium - Essential Maintenance Tasks
Updated August 12, 2019
Author: Mike - FishLore Admin
Aquarium maintenance or fish tank cleaning is something that absolutely has to be done on a regular basis to get the most out of this hobby. So you've finally got your fish tank up and running but you're noticing that it's starting to look a little dirty. Or, you notice that you need to top off some evaporated water. This is the time for some routine aquarium care or maintenance. Aquarium maintenance or fish tank maintenance can sometimes be a bother for hobbyists but it doesn't have to be that way. Develop a schedule for carrying out these aquarium maintenance tasks and it will make this hobby more enjoyable. Staying on top of those water changes should increase the health of your fish and make your tank look nicer.
It's important to note that you don't need to completely break down the tank everytime you have to "clean your tank" or perform aquarium maintenance. Most of the time you will just need to perform a partial water change (20 percent or so) with a good gravel vacuuming and maybe scrape a little algae off the front viewing panel. If you have a major algae problem then something is out of whack. You may be feeding too much, your tank may be overstocked, you're not performing frequent enough water changes, you're feeding the wrong types of foods, etc. Or, it could be a combination of the above. If you have a problem with cloudy water, please read the article on Cloudy Aquarium Water and be sure to keep up with your fish tank maintenance!
Ok, lets talk about cleaning your fish tank:Items you will need
- Aquarium Glass Cleaner
- Aquarium Vacuum
- 5-gallon bucket
- Python Aquarium Vacuum (Lee's makes an aquarium vacuum too)
STEP 1: Develop an aquarium maintenance scheduleYou will want to clean your fish tank at least once every 2 weeks. Once a week would be even better to take care of your fish tank and it will be easier each time you clean.
STEP 2: Turn off the electricity to the fish tank.This will be safer for you and it will keep the filter from clogging up with the debris you pull from the gravel. Read this article on Aquarium Electrical Safety for more information.
STEP 3: Clean your fish tankEach time you clean your aquarium you will need to replace about 20% of the water. Use your algae scrubber to scrape any algae off the front and maybe the sides of the tank. For acrylic aquariums, make sure that you won't scratch the acrylic with whatever you're using to clean the sides. Some use an old credit card for acrylic tanks.
Check out the filter media (i.e. filter floss). If it needs cleaning you can rinse it in some of the discarded tank water. This filter media will have loads of the beneficial bacteria needed for the aquarium nitrogen cycle and rinsing it in tap water with chlorine and/or chloramine can kill some of the bacteria, so use tank water.
The vacuum and bucket method
- Place the bucket below the aquarium.
- Insert the end of the vacuum hose into the bucket and the vacuum completely into the aquarium. Use an up and down motion or a 45° angled up and down motion with the vacuum until the water starts flowing into the bucket. Clean as much of the gravel as possible until 20 percent of the water is drained.
- Watch the video below for a demonstration on how to start the siphon manually.
How to Manually Siphon Your Aquarium
The Python vacuum method
- Hook up the python to the sink.
- Insert the vacuum completely into the aquarium. Turn on the faucet to begin the siphoning process. Clean as much of the gravel as possible until 20 percent of the water is drained.
STEP 4: Refill aquarium with de-chlorinated water.Before adding water to the tank you should add the proper amount of chemicals that will remove the chlorine and chloramine from the incoming water. Try to add water that is the same temperature as you tank water. High temperature swings would be very stressful for your tropical fish.
For saltwater aquariums you will want to have some saltwater mixed up and ready to go at least the day before you plan on doing water changes. Freshly mixed saltwater can be fairly toxic to fish and you need to allow a day or so to allow the salt mix to properly dissolve. Many use new and clean 5-gallon buckets or rubber trash cans for this purpose. Mix up the salt, pop in a power head and maybe a heater and you have saltwater ready for when you need it.
Once a week, clean out the skimmer collection cup, scrape off any salt creep back into the tank if possible. If you don't have saltwater snails you'll need to use an algae scrubber to remove any algae that has built up on the front and sides of the glass. See the note above if you have an acrylic tank (scratches easily!). This is also a good time to test the tank water salinity with your hydrometer. Top off any evaporated tank water with dechlorinated fresh water.
Related Aquarium Articles
Learn how to setup a freshwater aquarium, from start to finish.
Contrary to what you may have heard, setting up and running a saltwater aquarium is not difficult. Read this to find out how easy it really is to have a saltwater tank.
If you want to set up the ultimate aquarium, try your hand at setting up a reef tank!