How to Clean a Fish Tank- Step by Step Guide

To keep your fishes active and delighted, it is necessary to maintain and change the water regularly.

The upkeep of your Aquarium requires continual scrutiny. No matter how good your filter is, it is still imperative to clean the tank on your own. Leaving the Aquarium unattended can lead to a lot of toxin build-up which can allow the diseases to develop and make your fishes sick. It is always better to prevent such situation where you have to deal with diseased fishes.

Advantages of cleaning an aquarium regularly:

  • Reduction of pollutants:

The nitrogen compounds- ammonia, nitrite and nitrate can be extremely harmful to the fishes. Through the biological process, referred to as nitrogen cycle, ammonia gets converted into nitrite and eventually into nitrate. If the aquarium doesn’t have the appropriate conditions to process this nitrate, it can cause extreme stress to the fishes, making them more vulnerable to the diseases. With regular water clean up, you can effectively prevent this condition.

  • Getting rid of organic waste:

The accumulated organic waste in the tank can release nitrogenous chemicals which can deteriorate the quality of water. The decomposing waste can change the water pH too. This makes the removal of such decaying waste from the aquarium a significant part of the maintenance.

  • Better water clarity:

With regular water changes and a cleaner tank, you can ensure the water is not cloudy, and all the discolouration has been removed. Clean water makes light penetration easy which contributes to healthy coral growth.

  • Restoring the essential minerals:

In an aquarium, the vital minerals are often removed through filtration. Regular water changes can ensure that the fishes are provided with a constant source of vitamins, nutrients and minerals for proper growth and colouration.

For most of the aquariums, a regular cleanup is required every 2-4 weeks. You may think that this is a lot of work to do, but it is certainly not. It is really easy to do a water change and clean your tank.

In this post, we will let you know the most accessible ways to clean your aquarium promptly in a step-by-step guide. To begin the cleaning process, first, you have to unplug all the filters, pumps and heaters. Also, if you have artificial plants and decorations in the tank, make sure to carefully remove them without stirring up the waste and debris at the bottom. Do not remove live plants as their roots are set in the substrate and disturbing them can cause damage. Once done, follow these simple steps:

  1. Get all the cleaning supplies ready

Ensure that you have the following pieces of equipment and supplies available to clean your fish tank:

  • An algae pad or scraper
  • A large bucket
  • Replacement water
  • A siphon gravel vacuum
  • Thermometer
  • New filter media (optional)
  • Water testing kit
  • Water conditioner
  • Clean cloth or towel
  • Prepare the fresh water

An essential part of aquarium cleaning is water change. You should prepare the replacement water a night before you clean your aquarium. When you are using tap water, it is vital that you condition the water to get rid of heavy metals and chlorine.  If your aquarium is reasonably new, then it is recommended to add some living bacteria to your fresh water. The type of fresh water varies in both freshwater and saltwater tanks.

Saltwater Tank Water Preparation

While getting the water ready for a saltwater tank, you need to keep the pH, temperature and salinity of the water in check. You need to dechlorinate the water and add some salt mix. As the salt mix can be added only to warm water which is moving, you have to heat the water with a specialised heater and use a powerhead that you can easily find in a pet store. Make sure that you leave the water to condition overnight before adding it into your tank. For a saltwater tank, the ideal water temperature should be 23-28 degree Celsius.

Freshwater Tank Water Preparation

Add an ammonia detoxifier water conditioner to the water to remove all heavy metals and let it sit overnight. Make sure that there is no dramatic change in the water condition; otherwise it can harm your fishes.

  • Clean the sides of the aquarium using an algae pad

Nutrients in the water and exposure to light create algae in the aquarium. Using an algae pad or scrubber, clean the sides of the tank to get rid of the algae growth and visible grime on the glass. Do not press too hard on the glass of the tank as it can get damaged. Also, if you own an acrylic aquarium, make sure that you don’t scratch it. Once you are done cleaning the sides, ensure that the glass is algae-free.

  • Clean the decorations

For the decorations, use a new sponge or a toothbrush to scrub away the algae. Always keep in mind that you should not use any soap or other cleaning products as they can be harmful to your fishes. Make sure that you clean the decorations before siphoning the water out as later you will be able to remove the algae debris from the substrate too which will stop the algae from spreading further.

  • Siphon the old water

Take a clean bucket and place it below your aquarium. Now start siphoning the water directly into the bucket. You should direct the broader end towards the gravel and the hose end into the bucket. Make sure to use the vacuum slowly and carefully through the substrate in an up and down motion.  You will be able to see the debris and waste going through the vacuum into the bucket. You should siphon at an angle so that clogging can be prevented and substrate can easily slide back out.

You have to siphon until almost 15-20% of the tank water has been transferred into the bucket. Don’t worry if you see a bit of waste floating in the water, as most of it will be sucked into the filter later.

  • Rinse the filter media

If the filter media is excessively dirty, then it requires a thorough rinse. Do not clean the media under tap water as it will remove the beneficial bacteria. You can rinse the media in the bucket of water that you have removed from your aquarium.

You don’t need to get a new filter media as that can change the chemistry of the water by removing too much bacteria which can cause stress to the fishes. However, if you filter media is 3-6 months old, then you have to change it. You can keep both new and old media in the tank for a couple of weeks and remove the old one later which will allow the new filter media to colonise with beneficial bacteria in the aquarium.

  • Add fresh water

Before adding the clean water into the tank, check the temperature using a thermometer to make sure that it is in the ideal range. Too much change the temperature can be extremely harmful to the fishes. Once you have checked the temperature, start adding the water slowly. You can either transfer the water from the bucket directly or use a quality pump that can push water. You should avoid overfilling the tank; leave some area at the top of the tank to provide enough space for oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange for the fishes to breathe. Now, plug in the filter and heater to get the water in the same order as before and add the decorations back. Ensure that you keep the lights off for a couple of hours as cleaning can cause stress to your fishes.

  • Clean the exterior

To make the view of your aquarium a little better, you can wipe the outside of the tank with an aquarium-safe cleaning product. Do not use your household cleaner as the ammonia fumes can harm the fishes.

How often should you clean your aquarium?

The number of times you need to clean your tank and replace the water depends on the size of your tank and the number of fishes. For a saltwater aquarium, you should clean the tank every week in the first year, while for a freshwater one, a gap of 2-3 weeks between cleaning is excellent. If you have a tank which houses a lot of fishes, then it requires more frequent cleaning due to a large amount of organic waste. Similarly, in small tanks, the water becomes unstable. The parameters of sanitation and water changes also depend on the species of the fishes, so go through proper research before keeping a particular fish in your aquarium. 

Wrapping up:

A regular clean up of the tank can maintain a healthy living environment for your fishes. If you follow this guide, you’ll be successfully able to learn to clean your aquarium quickly without any hassles.

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