How to Clean a Fish Tank

syphoning aquarium

This article will explain how to clean a fish tank in a professional way

syphoning aquarium

What you are trying to achieve

You need to have 2 goals when cleaning a tank. The first is to clean up the appearance of the glass in and out, the gravel, ornaments, equipment and plants, and the other is to clean up organic pollutants in the water which might not be visible to the eye. The first is for your viewing benefit while the second is for the fish’s benefit in terms of health.

Equipment and Supplies needed

You will need :

  • Matured and dechlorinated water (20 litres. More for a bigger tank. Less for a smaller tank.) and warmed to the temperature of your aquarium
  • An algae pad for cleaning the inside glass of the aquarium.
  • A large bucket 20 litre bucket.
  • A siphon gravel vacuum with tubing
  • New filter media may be needed
  • An old credit card/store card or other similar piece of plastic to scrape off stubborn stains.
  • White vinegar
  • Old but clean towel
  • Old but clean cloth

Step by step cleaning your fish tank

Remember your fish do not like being disturbed. This method of cleaning your glass involves only a partial water change. Also you should not remove your fish while you are cleaning the aquarium. That is the best way to reduce fish stress.

Get your replacement water ready. If your tank is new you will need to prepare 20% of the volume of your aquarium in new water. To prepare the water, leave the water in a bucket for 24 hours or use a dechlorinator chemical. The use some boiled water to bring up the temperature of your replacement water to that of your aquarium.

Turn off all electrical equipment. Once you have turned off all equipment then you will have to do all your cleaning tasks without pausing because the water will start to cool and the biological bacteria in your filter will start dying after an hour of the filter being switched off. Note: do not remove your heater from the water for cleaning for at least 15 minutes because it will overheat out of the water.

Use your algae cleaner and scrub the inside of the glass to remove algae or other internal growths. Clean the front and sides, but leave the back glass. The algae is actually healthy for the fish because of its cleaning properties and the biological action of bacteria within the algae. Some fish even feed off the algae.

Take out any ornaments, rocks and equipment that have become coated with algae. Clean these objects with the algae scrubber and then replace them back in the aquarium. Remember to put all these objects back in the exact place from where they were removed, this will reduce stress to the fish in your aquarium.
Wipe down plant leaves with your algae scrubber but do not remove them from the aquarium. Plants do not like to be disturbed and might die back if you interfere with their roots.

If your filter has slowed down then you will need to take out the aquarium sponge. If you have other filter medium that has become clogged then you should change about 50% of this medium and replace with new filter medium. With a clogged sponge, you need to take the sponge to a sink and give it a good squeeze until most of the mulm comes out. Do not clean with tap water or cold water because this will kill off the essential bacteria that biologically filters the water. If the sponge has become too clogged then you will need to cut the old sponge in half and cut the new sponge in half and put the old and new sponge back into your filter.

After cleaning your filter the water may be cloudy for a while. Do not worry this cloudiness will be filtered back into the filter and some of it will drop to the aquarium floor where you can syphon it off later.
With your old credit card start scraping the inside of the aquarium above the water line. Use some water to soften the residue. Then use the sharp edge of your credit card at an angle and push firmly to scrape the glass clean. Take care not to scrape the silicone, because you may cause a leak.

Make a mark with a felt tip pen at about 20% of the way down the aquarium to use as a guide to how much water to syphon out.

Syphon through the gravel use the base of the vacuum tube to disturb the gravel or sand to release trapped pieces of dirt. Syphon out any loose algae that has been produced by your scraping the aquarium.
Your syphoning should result in about 20 litres of water being removed.

There will be some gravel or sand syphoned out with your water but don’t worry, it sinks to the bottom of the bucket.
Pour the dirty water away but take care not to pour out your gravel/sand. Then just rinse out the sand/gravel under running water until it runs clean. Then carefully pour away all the water. Replace the cleaned gravel in the aquarium.
Pour the newly mixed water into the aquarium. Turn back all the equipment.

Now you can start to clean the outside of the aquarium. Use white vinegar, which you may need to dilute depending on the concentration. Dip an old but clean cloth into the vinegar and use the cloth to wipe the outside glass. Clean it in the same manner as you would clean your windows. Do not use any soaps, detergents or any other cleaning agents, because these are usually lethal to the fish.

Once you have cleaned all your aquarium with the white vinegar you will need to rinse off any residue. You do this by rinsing out your cloth in warm water. Wipe each surface of your aquarium with the wet cloth and then dry down with the dry towel. Your aquarium should truly sparkle. Finish off the front before moving to each side in turn.

If the hood is dirty, you can also clean the hood in the same way as you cleaned the glass, but be careful that no vinegar falls into the water because it might harm the fish.

If there is still dirt at the bottom of your aquarium after this procedure then wait a few hours then syphon off this dirt and then prepare some water to replace this water. Replace the next day when the newly prepared water has matured. Make sure this water is at the same temperature as your aquarium.

Cleaning is now complete. You should have given your aquarium a new lease of life with this makeover. The preferable fish is otocinclus. Use several in the aquarium. Use more for larger aquariums.

Cleaning the tank: preventative measures

If you are getting too much algae growing or your aquarium water is becoming pea-green then you need to remove the cause. Algae feed of nitrate in the water and use excess of light, especially daylight.

To reduce the light you should first of all remove all sources of direct sunlight into the aquarium. If that is not the cause then you will need to reduce the duration of time your aquarium lights are on and perhaps reduce the strength of the bulbs. You could also try increasing the number of plants in your aquarium. The plants should eat up the nitrate before the algae in order to starve the algae.

To reduce the nitrate, feed the fish less and syphon daily any waste matter such as uneaten food, food poop and dead leaves on the aquarium floor. Also you could increase the frequency of your aquarium’s water changes. Remember to replace with dechlorinated water at the same temperature as your aquarium.

Another way to help reduce algae in the aquarium is to have fish that eat algae. These fish will continually browse on the algae thereby reducing your need to clean the algae.

And finally have two filters instead of one to double the amount of filtration in your aquarium and so improve the speed of waste removal in the aquarium.

Brown algae

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae a common problem for new tanks

What is brown algae?

Brown algae is a form of algae called diatoms that can photosynthesise as well as obtaining chemical forms of sustenance enabling them to survive even in low light levels as long as their alternative food sources are available. Silicate, phosphorus and nitrates are potential food sources for them.

Recognising brown algae.

When you see a light to dark brown blotches which appear as a slimy film covering any aquarium surface then you are highly likely to have brown algae. It is easily displaced from any surface and can be vaccuumed off glass, plants and gravel.

What causes brown algae?

It usually comes about when there is low light levels, low green algae or plant growth and when there is an abundance of silicate, nitrate or phosphorus in the aquarium. This usually happens in a new aquarium. The silicate can come from the glass of a new aquarium leaching silicate into the water or from newly used sand leaching silicate. Sometimes the rocks in the aquarium contain minerals that feed brown algae so may need removing.

Is brown algae harmful?

It can be harmful to plants or corals because it can coat them and block sunlight and nutrients to them. It the algae starts to die it can cause pollution problems. However, many algae eating fish will relish brown algae and is generally not harmful if it doesn’t overly cover plants or corals.

How can you cure brown algae?

The best way is to deprive the algae of the nutrients that the it feeds off. Correct the lighting problem, such as buying a new light if your aquarium bulb is old or buy a brighter light. The algae will take up the nutrients from the newly set up tank. Once the tank has matured the algae should run out of food. If the algae is continually removed from the aquarium, the nutrients inside the brown algae will also be removed along with it. When you scrape off the algae make sure it is removed from the water. If it is allowed to remain in the water it will simply re-attach elsewhere or it might die and leave silicate in the aquarium water. If the water you are using contains silicates and phosphorous then you will either need to put silicate/phosphorus remover in your aquarium or you could try mixing tap water with reverse osmosis water.

Removing any suspect rocks or gravel in the aquarium and replacing with safer gravels without silicates or phosphorus. Sometimes all it takes is to wait for the aquarium to cycle and mature.
Add a couple of otocinclus catfish which will devour it. In a saltwater tank fish like yellow tangs like to eat it too.

I suggest you avoid any chemical treatments to kill off the brown algae because of the side effects on your other tank inhabitants and the harmful effect on the biological filter.

Preventing brown algae.

Use good lighting. Set up fast growing plants. Use safe gravel or aged sand. Check out the mineral content of your rocks. Do not overfeed the fish. Make sure you cycle your aquarium properly. Use a silicate free source of water such as reverse osmosis water.

Brown algae in a saltwater tank

Check for silicates in your saltwater mix. Look through the list of ingredients to see if any silica based compound is in the list. Try using reverse osmosis water rather than tap water. Make sure you clean the brown algae off the corals daily. Use a phosphate/silicate-absorbing material in the filter.

Saltwater fish food

tropical marine fish feeding frenzy

Hungry saltwater fish eating

Feeding saltwater fish

Different fish have different diets

Saltwater fish food is not as easy to get right as for freshwater fish. Depending on the type of marine fish you have, they will have different feeding needs. There are the seafood eaters who will require bits of fish or seafood tidbits. Then there are the plankton feeders who need to be fed with small foods such as baby brine shrimp, frozen cyclops and mysis shrimp. plankton feeders will need to be fed many times a day. If you supplement their diet with pellets these will have to be crumbled into the tank so that they can pick up the pieces.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Then there there are fish that feed on plant life such as seaweed and will need to be fed with greens from the kitchen and algae. And finally there are the algae grazers who will need a diet that is mostly algae. All vegetarian food will try to eat throughout the day so food must be made available throughout the day for them.

Saltwater fish love marine algae
Saltwater fish love marine algae

Your first job is to find out what your particular fish eats then set about buying or obtaining the foods they need. Some fish will not readily take to dried foods so you will have to rely on live foods and plant matter.

Some fish such as blennies are bottom feeders and search for organisms through the mulm at the bottom of the aquarium. They may feed off uneaten food left by other fish. Take care to see that these types of fish get properly fed. You may need to feed them directly with sinking pellets for them to find.

The fish that eat meat and that includes carnivores and omnivores will eat most forms of seafood from your fishmongers such as sea fish, prawns, mussels. Always chop these up into bite size pieces. For fish like tangs the pieces need to be very small because they tend to eat small life forms. Always blanch the seafood in boiling water for 1 minute to kill off any potential sea borne parasite.

tropical marine fish feeding frenzy
tropical marine fish feeding frenzy

Various recommended saltwater fish foods

Algae sheets such as nori which is a japanese food available in delicatessans is a great food to feed saltwater algae eating fish. When it is placed in the aquarium you will see all the vegetarian fish go into a feeding frenzy for it. It contains many essential micro-nutrients that are not available within garden greens such as romaine lettuce and spinach. So must be provided as a supplement.

All fish in the wild eat live food or fresh vegetable matter. Many wild caught fish will not take to dried foods so must be fed live foods such as brine shrimp and algae. However, many fish can be persuaded to eat chopped vegetables such as romaine lettuce and other greens. Dip the leaves into boiling water for 1 minute so that they become soft. Seaweed in the sea is usually soft so softening greens will simulate seaweed texture.

Other foods for saltwater fish foods

frozen mysis shrimp
frozen mysis shrimp

Some saltwater fish may take dried foods or even frozen foods. You can soak the defrosted frozen foods or dried foods in a multivitamin supplement for saltwater fish. This will ensure that your fish will get any vitamins that may be lacking in the diet you provide.

Frozen saltwater fish foods are available such as krill, mysis shrimp or cyclops. These should be defrosted thoroughly before being fed to the fish. If your fish take to this then your job will be much easier. But there is no reason to not also supplement their diet with seafood scraps from the supermarket or fishmonger.

Dried foods are not really recommended because of the lack of essential micronutrients that is available in live and fresh food. On saying that some fish keepers do get away with it. As long as you soak the dried food in a good quality saltwater fish vitamin supplement and top up their diet with some seafood tidbits and algae then you should be able to get away with feeding dried food. With dried foods you need to be extra vigilant and remove any scraps of food that fall to the floor and remain uneaten at the bottom of your aquarium.

Make your own saltwater fish food

If you can set up a small saltwater algae tank on a sunny window spot then great. Your algae eating fish can eat fresh organic algae, the perfect food that they would find in the wild. When doing a water change or just removing water from the main aquarium, do not throw it away but use it to top up your algae tank. The algae will grow well from the fish manure. If you can get some small shrimps or other minute invertebrates growing in the algae aquarium then all the better. Your omnivorous fish will love the tidbits of livefood found in the algae.

Place sheet rocks in the algae aquarium so that algae can attach itself. Then move these rocks to the main aquarium for feeding. When the algae has been stripped away move the rocks back to the algae aquarium.

Growing Brine shrimp or other shrimp in a hatchery

You can hatch out and grow brine shrimp in a separate small tank. Use a sponge filter powered by an air pump. Keep the water heated up to 80F. The tank should be placed on a sunny window sill. Pour in your brine shrimp eggs and wait for them to hatch. After hatching they take a days to eat off their yolk sacs so should not be fed immediately. Feed the shrimp with yeast, wheat flour, soybean powder, or egg yolk. Do regular water changes to keep the tank clean. The salinity for brine shrimp should by at 1.018 specific gravity. If you look after the shrimp well then they should grow and breed providing you with a continuous supply of shrimps. Gut loading the brine shrimp before feeding your fish is a good idea. This is just means feeding vitamin rich nutritious food to the brine shrimp for a couple of days before you feed your fish.

 

 

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Typical beginners saltwater fish tank set up

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Marine fish such as the azure damselfish have the best colours

Buy and assemble all the equipment

Equipment you will need

  • A 120 litre 4 foot tank. This is a basic minimum size.
  • Buy a hood with a normal lighting system.
  • You will also need a protein skimmer,
  • An external power filter,
  • 300w heater,
  • A thermometer and hydrometer to measure the salinity,
  • Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish
    Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish

    A marine water test kit

  • Bag of seawater salt mix
  • Natural coral sand
  • Fish tank stand.

Inhabitants for your saltwater fish tank

  • 10 kilos of live rock
  • 1kg Live coral sand
  • 10 margarita or asteria snails
  • 2 hermit crabs blue or red-legged
  • Some hardy peaceful fish species

Find out more about live rock and live sand here.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Preparing your first saltwater fish tank

Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium
Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium

Put together your stand and aquarium. Wash the inside of the glass with warm water. Never use any chemicals or soaps. If there are any stubborn stains then use white vinegar and a razor blade to scrape the stain. Rinse any white vinegar with tap water. Remove water with a siphon hose. Paint the rear glass in black, blue or marine or apply a stick on background.

With the tank empty move the stand and tank around the room until you find a location you are happy with. You can use a spirit level to adjust the levelness of the aquarium. If the aquarium doesn’t sit level then you can use thin flat pieces of plastic or wood to raise the leg that is lower. Once the aquarium is sitting level then you can then fill with water. Once the aquarium is 95% full then again check the aquarium for levelnbess. If the aquarium is not level then you will have to remove all the water and adjust the levelness again before re-adding water.

Once the tank is 95% full of water and level then you have to wait 24 hours to see if any slow leaks occur. If there are no signs of any leaks then install the filter, heater and protein skimmer. Set the heater to 76 Fahrenheit.

Plug in all the equipment and switch on everything. Leave everything running overnight. The next day check the temperature to be 76F. If the temperature is out then you have to adjust the thermostat.

How to get the salinity right for your saltwater aquarium

Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive
Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive

Calculate the volume of your aquarium then add your sea salt mix according to the recommended amount on the bag of your mix. If you wait another 4 hours your salt will have completely dissolved in the water. You can then check the salinity of the water with your hydrometer. The reading should be between 1.022 to 1.024 when the temperature is 76F. If it is less then you can adjust by adding a little sea salt mix. If it is more then you can reduce it by adding a little fresh water. Thenm wait a further 4 hours before testing again. When you achieved your ideal density use a black marker to mark out the water level in a hidden part of the glass. This mark will be your guide to the level of water before any evaporation. Topping up back to this level should get you back to the correct salinity.

Now test the water’s ph. It should read 8.2-8.3ph or close to this. If it is far from this then you’ve done something wrong somewhere or your hydrometer or thermometer is wrong. Fix the problem by changing your hydrometer or thermometer and make adjustments. If there is still a misreading then you will have to switch everything off and remove all the water and start again with the water mix.

Adding live rock to your saltwater aquarium

golden wrasse - perfect lemon yellow fish
golden wrasse – perfect lemon yellow fish

When the water is just right you then need to start adding your pieces of live rock. Start with the larger pieces first. Move the rock about to create a pleasant aquascape. Test each piece is stable by prodding and adjusting into a settled position.

Place the bigger, heavier pieces directly on the glass. These should be arranged in a long semi circle along the sides and back. Leave gaps in between the individual pieces of live rock for your fish to swim through. Place the smaller pieces of rock in front of or even on the larger pieces again making sure that the whole setup is table. Use the live rock to hide the heater and protein skimmer behind.

Adding coral sand to your saltwater aquarium

You should clean your sand before you put it in the aquarium. All you need to do is rinse it thoroughly in a bucket of water by running the water through a bucket of some sand. Do it in small batches of sand and swirl the sand round until the water runs clear. Remove the water from the backet and put the sand into the aquarium all along the floor of the aquarium around the live rock.

Once the sand has been added the average level should be 2 inches deep. Then take your 1kg of live sand and spread it evenly over the other sand. Do not wash the live sand. It should contain beneficial bacteria and life forms which you risk killing by washing with tap water.

Check all your water measurements again such as ph, salinity and temperature. Adjust if necessary.

Adding background creatures to your saltwater aquarium

blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew
blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew

After a week add your first creatures. Remember your filter, heater and skimmer should be running continuously throughout this time. Add your snails and hermit crabs. Algae eating species are recommended to clean up any algal blooms that usually break out in new saltwater aquariums. You should not just throw your snails or crabs directly into the water but float the bags in the water for 15 minutes then add some aquarium water to the bag slowly over ten minutes before releasing them into the aquarium.

Feed the snails and crabs with tiny amounts of fish food as a top up to the algae that the snails and crabs may eat, which may be insufficient for their needs.

Adding your first fish to your saltwater aquarium

yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish
yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish

More on clownfish types

More about clownfish

More on Damselfish types

Some experts recommend adding a couple of damsel fish as your first fish because they are a tough fish and can cope with the conditions while your aquarium water is cycling. While this is true I recommend an alternative to damsels as a first fish such as tank bred clownfish because damsels can be aggressive to future fish additions. You can start off with just a couple of clown fish to add colour and interest to your tank.

During this time your aquarium filter and live rock will be cycling by developing a colony of bacteria that can digest fish and other creature waste products turning it into less harmful nitrate. This process can take anything from 4-8 weeks. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite which are harmful to your fish and other creatures.

Complete your saltwater reef aquarium set up

orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback
orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback

After your first fish have settled in and looking healthy and happy you can start adding some invertebrates and a few other fish. Add hardy species of anemone. A good choice of anemone are feather dusters.

Fish to consider at this point will be wrasses, dottybacks and banggai cardinal fish. Try wherever possible to buy tank bred fish as these are fish that have adapted to life in the aquarium and should prove better survivors in your saltwater tank. Add fish at a rate of 1 or 2 a week. When you add new fish keep a close eye on them and make sure the newly added fish start feeding within 2 or 3 days. Also check the nitrite and ammonia levels daily. Stop adding new fish if the readings rise.

Some fish and other creatures to absolutely avoid as a beginner are: seahorses, octopuses, angelfish, clams, scorpionfish, and damsels.

When you have a settled tank and have introduced all the fish and other creatures for your aquarium then you can reduce the water testing to once a week.

Now you can sit back and enjoy your own piece of the ocean in your living room. However, you still need to keep checking all your water parameters once a week at least or when something doesn’t look right with any of the inhabitants.

How to cure and prevent cloudy or green water

An aquarium blighted by algae

How to Cure and Prevent Cloudy or Green Water

How to achieve clear water here

Why your tank gets dirty

There are a number of potential causes for cloudy or green water in a fish tank or aquarium. It is important to be able to determine the cause of the cloudiness or green color in the water so you can correct any problems in the tank. For this reason, even though there are chemicals you can purchase at your local pet store, this should not be your go-to for clearing the water your tank. Yes, they will clear the water, but the underlying cause of the cloudiness or green color will persist.

Some of the reasons water becomes cloudy or green are essentially harmless or will resolve themselves over time and others are representative of an issue that needs to be dealt with. Cloudy water and green water are entirely separate issues, with different causes. Let’s first take a look at curing and preventing cloudy water and then examine how to cure and prevent green water.

Cloudy Water

Cloudy water in your aquarium is not always an indication that something is wrong. In fact, in most cases, the cause of the cloudiness will be resolved on its own or with the help of the filter and you don’t need to do anything. However, anytime the water looks cloudy, it is important to assess the situation and the environment to determine the cause. Once you know the cause, you can eliminate it if need be and get rid of the cloudy water.

If your aquarium is new and you haven’t even had any fish in it, yet the water has turned cloudy, the problem is probably due to accessories in the tank. If these accessories are new and haven’t been properly rinsed off prior to introducing them to the tank, they can cause the water to turn cloudy. If it is an accessory that is safe for use in aquariums, then the filter and/or regular water changes will remove the cloudiness. If the accessory is not intended for use in an aquarium, it may be dissolving or disintegrating in the water, which is dangerous for your fish. The object should be removed and the water completely changed.

If you have had fish in your aquarium for a few days to a couple of weeks (depending on the number of fish in the tank) and the water has turned cloudy, it is likely due to the fact that the filter hasn’t completely cycled the water yet. The filter is responsible for cleaning the water of the waste left by the fish. If the setup is new, the filter takes time to go through one full cycle. Once it does, the cloudiness will be cleared up.

Sometimes when an aquarium has only been set up for a few minutes or even hours or it has just had a large volume of water changed, it can have a gray cloudy look to it. This is due to tiny bubbles of oxygen that are suspended in the water. You may have seen something like this in a freshly poured glass of water. This is nothing to worry about; the bubbles will dissolve in the water or make their way to the surface.

If you have wooden accessories in your aquarium, they can sometimes release tannins into the water. If your aquarium water looks like weak tea and you have any wooden accessories, then this is the cause. This cloudiness and the tannins that cause it are usually for your fish. However, if this happens, be sure to monitor the PH of the water regularly because the tannins might soften the water and cause the PH to drop. If this happens, you will need to adjust the PH level of the water.

Green Water

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

If you have had an aquarium for a long time, then most likely you won’t deal with cloudy water, unless you introduce new accessories into your tank or have just change a large amount of water. More likely, with older aquariums, you will have a problem with your water turning green. Green water in your aquarium means you have an algal bloom. Yup, you read that right. Just like the algal blooms you may have read about in the news that fill up many of our lakes and oceans, your aquarium water can be filled with an algal bloom.

In general, the presence of algae in your aquarium is a good thing. It’s a sign of a healthy tank that can support life. However, you don’t want this growth of algae to get out of control and form an algal bloom. Algae on the glass is beneficial but algae in the water is unsightly. There are a few reasons why there could be too much algae growth in the water, including the following:

Overfeeding: Whenever you feed your fish, there should be no food left floating in the water within a few minutes after feeding. If there is leftover food, then you are giving your fish too much and it could cause algal blooms to form. You can easily fix this problem by reducing the amount of food you give your fish.

Infrequent Water Changes: Algal blooms can grow quickly if there is too much time between water changes. Be sure to do small water changes regularly to prevent the buildup of nitrates, something algae thrive on. If your tank hasn’t had any water changes in a while, then you need to do a few large water changes a few days apart, replacing as much as 25%-30% of the water each time, until the tank is clear.

Too Much Light: If water changes and feeding are under control, then too much light might be the culprit. Algae thrive on light, so cutting back on the amount of light your aquarium is getting might just solve the problem. Also, if direct sunlight is hitting the aquarium this can trigger an algae bloom.

Poor plant growth: Plants and algae feed off the same nutrients in the water. So if you have good plant growth, this remove the nutrients from the water that algae rely on.

Healthy Water Means Healthy Fish

Just remember to assess the situation any time the water in your aquarium doesn’t look right. While it might not amount to anything important, you probably don’t want to risk the health and safety of your beloved pets by ignoring the situation. Keep a close eye and keep the water clean to have happy fish you will enjoy for a long time to come.

 

How to stop your aquarium from getting dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

How Do I Keep My Fish Tank From Getting Dirty?

Related articles

Learn how to clean a fish tank.

Keep your water clear.

Maintain a clean aquarium long term

How to keep your aquarium clean?

various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel
various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel

Fish-keeping is enjoyable and rewarding for people of all ages. However, as with all the other pets, fish need to be cared for with a healthy environment. From harmful chemicals, various toxins to algae, and calcium deposits, they contribute to a dirty and unhealthy aquarium for fish. Thus, a regularly cleaned water tank and proper filtration system is a must to keep the fish and aquarium system healthy as well as beautiful.

Basic maintenance of a tank begins with filtering the water and removing various toxins from it at frequent intervals. As the task to scrape muck and slime from the tank, change water frequently and take other necessary actions requires time, any fish keepers find it to be one of the hardest things to do. But with the right techniques, looking after the aquarium would be a breeze for you.

The 5 essential ways to keep aquarium water clean and healthy for your fish:

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Filtration Systems: As an aquarium is a living biological system, it produces several toxins that must be removed from the tank. A proper filtration system can help in removing the toxins while housing the majority of beneficial bacteria and maintaining a happy and healthy fish aquarium. Thus, having the right filter with enough power, is a must to ensure regular cleaning of the water and keep your aquarium running properly.

From filtering out particles from water, collecting debris and bacteria, filtration systems are a must, without which it would be hard work to keep tropical fish as a pet. However, as the market is full of a variety of aquarium filtration system pumps that remove toxins and impurities in water, it has become a daunting task to choose the most suitable filter. It is a must to buy a filtration system that utilize mechanical, biological and chemical filtration processes.

Regular Siphoning: As with time, fish waste, uneaten food, plant waste, and other debris build up on the substrate, rocks, plants, etc., a siphon helps in removing the dirt from the gravel easily. Make sure to stir the siphon into the gravel to release trapped dirt. The gravel will not be sucked up. It also comes in handy to make routine water changes and ensure that the water is fresh for your fish.

Careful Feeding Regime: Fish-keepers are often confused about the feeding regime that must be followed and the most common mistakes they make is that they feed the fish too much and too often. And when there is uneaten food in water, it rots causing pollution. Therefore, you have to ensure that you do not overfeed your fish or the water quality will suffer as the uneaten food rots and creates toxic waste. You must feed fish in small amounts of food, once or twice a day. The fish must consume all the food you feed within a few minutes. As long as they eat it all within a short time then you should be fine.

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

Cleaning and Controlling Algae: Algae grows in a healthy water tank and once it begins to grow, it does so very rapidly and there is no way to prevent it or remove it completely. However, you can control it with the right techniques. It is a good practice to keep a check the water quality and reduce nitrate, phosphate and iron levels, by adding water without these chemicals, as these nutrients are a source of algae. If any algae has grown on the glass of your water tank, you can use a magnetic algae scraper to get rid of it.
One of the most effective ways to remove phosphate and other fertilising chemicals is by using a Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit or tap water filter. But do not remove all the minerals from your water because aquarium plants and fish need trace elements. Also, if your aquarium is getting too much light, you can decrease the amount of light by either reducing the amount of time for your lighting is used or exchanging the bulbs for a lower wattage.

Partial Water Changes: Regular water changes keep your fish happy and healthy. So, it is recommended to change 10 to 20 per cent of water once a week, depending on the number and type of fish, feeding schedule, volume of water and filtration system. You can change water at the same time that you vacuum the gravel, which can be done by using siphon gravel cleaner with a hose attached.

Proper aquarium maintenance will keep your water tank healthy. With the right techniques to change water and clean the tank, you should never need to completely empty the water.
Depending on the maintenance requirement of your tank, you can take some steps to clean it daily and on a weekly basis. Listed below are those steps:

Daily aquarium cleaning tasks

  • Just like any other pet, fish need to be looked after on a daily basis.
  • It is essential to feed them the right quantity of food, ensuring they the food is consumed immediately.
  • You must also ensure that the filter, lights and heater are working properly.
  • Take a few minutes every day to observe if the fish are swimming normally. Also, look at their skin and take note of sign of disease, if any.
  • Check the water and ensure that it does not have a foul odor, is clean and nothing is floating around.

Weekly aquarium cleaning tasks

Besides keeping an eye on fish and water tank at regular intervals, there are certain steps that must be taken on a weekly basis to make sure that the water tank is clean and healthy for the fish.

  • Remove Dead Leaves: Your fish tank may be a home to a number of plants. Thus, it is your responsibility to remove any dead leaves from it and trim excess growth of the plants, ensuring that the water tank is clean for your fish.
  • Clean Off Algae: You can use a algae scraper or magnet to remove algae from the sides of the aquarium.
  • Clean Aquarium Glass: Using a clean cloth and water spray, remove dirt from the water tank’s front and side glass. No soap or chemicals!
  • Water Replacement: Every week, siphon nearly 10 to 20 per cent of water by using a siphon hose and replace with dechlorinated water.

You should set up a consistent maintenance schedule every week to ensure that the aquarium stays clean and healthy for your fish to live in!

You can now sit back and enjoy your fish without being distracted by a dirty tank!

Lake Malawi biotope aquarium

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Lake Malawi biotope

See also perfect Malawi Aquarium

and Breeding Malawi

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks
Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Reasons for creating a Lake Malawi Biotope

Now more than ever, is a good time to set up a natural biotope of Lake Malawi. For instance, there is a lot of information on the behaviour and environment of most species inhabiting Lake Malawi. Which means we can recreate conditions in the aquarium, that are very close to those found in Lake Malawi.

Another reason is that with the discovery of oil in Lake Malawi, the ongoing destruction of the habitat in and around the lake is increasing. This is causing the near extinction of many species of fish and plants. How does setting up a Malawi Biotope aquarium help this, you may ask? In conservation, it is only species that people are aware of that get saved. And so if many aquarists set up a Lake Malawi biotope then what better way of showing what beauty will be destroyed by showing off their aquariums. The press can be invited to see the natural beauty of fish from Lake Malawi and told about which species are facing extinction in order to raise awareness and save the lake.

A final reason is that the fish can be observed in something that approximates their natural environment. The fish will of course be happier and you, the observer, will get to see the full range of natural behaviours and interactions between the fish and their environment. The fish will naturally try to inhabit the same niche in the biotope aquarium that they would normally inhabit in the wild, instead of being forced to lump it with other species that they would normally avoid.

How faithful a Malawian biotope can be created?

Recreating a Lake Malawi Biotope that is absolutely accurate down to the`smallest detail is an impossible task. But we can go a long way to recreating something that very closely resembles the lake. We can also very closely recreate the same water parameters, lighting, rocks and sandy base. Recreating the muddy parts of the lake would requre a very large aquarium, such as a public aquarium. So is not really feasible in the home aquarium. Luckily there are lots of sections of lake Malawi that are just rocks and sand, just rocks mostly or just sand mostly. These we can recreate in the aquarium.

Different approaches to building a Malawian biotope

There are possibly two approaches to recreating the biotope. The first way is to base it around the fish species in your possession or that you intend to buy. Then it would be a matter of researching to find out which environment your fish live in and if they are compatible. Then you would have to recreate a biotope that best accommodates your particular set of fish.

The second approach is to have a look at many pictures of lake Malawi in order to choose a scene that you particularly like. Then recreating that scene in the aquarium. Once that scene has been created then it would be a matter of finding which species would comfortably fit in your biotope and going out to buy them.

If you have species that inhabit different environments within the lake, then you need a very large aquarium to try and accommodate them all. Lake Malawi divides into two areas mostly with an open sandy region broken up with a few scattered rocks and a dense rocky area with many hiding places consisting of caves and crevices.

Aquascaping your Malawi biotope aquarium

Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium
Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium

The base is going to be a layer of sand of about 3 inches in depth. Most normal sands are fine, even crushed coral sand should be fine. However, wash well because sand creates more cloudiness than gravel.

Your rock choices are limestone and sandstone. The sand comes from the sandstone in the lake. Limestone is present in the lake also and gives the lake its ph and hardness. The sandstone can be the golden type or a grey type. Choose types of various sizes with smoothed edges. Algae will also grow quite well on these types of stone.

Arrange the stones in your aquarium so that caves, crevices and hiding places are created. Leave an open space of sand in the front of the aquarium. Scatter a few smaller rocks around the sand but separate from each other.

The rocks at the back need to be stacked up along the back so that they reach the surface and even break the surface of the water in places. To ensure the safety of your glass and fish, use silicone to glue rocks together to create a stable rock formation.

Plants and other creatures

planted rocky malawi aquarium
Atypical planted rocky malawi aquarium with sand substrate

Besides the fish there will be algae and small insects and invertebrates. Since many species from lake Malawi feed off snails then including snails in the aquarium is a good idea. Try apple snails that are native to lake Malawi or snails that are similar to those of lake Malawi such as snails of the genus bulinas. Obtain snails that look and behave similarly that can live in hard water.

Most mbuna species feed off the algae growing on the rocks and the micro organisms growing in the algae. In the sand will be worms and other insects that the Auloconara species(peacock) feed off. Trying to find suitable creatures that will live, grow and reproduce in the sand is a difficult task. You risk the creatures dying and polluting the sand and the aquarium. In the wild it would be these creatures that would dig through the sand that prevents the sand in the wild from compacting the way it does in the aquarium.

Insects found in lake Malawi include water bears, daphnia, cyclops. Create a separate culture of these and feed the fish. These will be native food for your Malawi fish.

There are few plants in lake Malawi so you do not have to have any plants in the aquarium. But valisneria and hornwort are a possibility that do occur in lake Malawi. Plant singly and sparsely.

Which fish to have in a Malawian biotope

Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums
Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums

Mbunas are perfect for the rocky parts of the biotope. One or two species will quickly set up home and create territories within the rocky structures, each fish with its own little cave or crevice. Aulonocara species like open waters above sand but not too far from rocks. One or two species will be great for the open, sandy areas. They feed off insects that they can find in the sand. The aggressive mbunas will only rarely venture out from their rocky area while the Aulonocara will avoid the rocks.

In a large enough aquaria with distinct areas the two groups of fish will approach each other and there will be aggression but the fish usually retire to their own habitat.

If your aquarium is not too large then you will have to settle for one group or the other. If you settle for auloconara then you shouldn’t have a large rocky formation. A smaller rocky set up is better for them. Aulonocara do like to swim in open spaces. However, aggression between the fish means that they too need hiding places.

Finally, it is an aquarium so run it like one

You can buy Malawi salts to recreate the exact water found in the lake. However, don’t just add it to tap water. Tap water already has some hardness and minerals which you will have to take into account. SInce you are creating a biotope you should use a reverse osmosis filter to remove all minerals from your tap water then add your Malawi salts to get the correct hardness and ph. For tap water you will obviously have to reduce the amounts of Malawi salt per litre. This is best done by testing your water after adding a half dose to tap water. If it comes out too hard reduce the amount of salt used. If not hard enough increase the amount of salts.

You need good quality lighting that will encourage rock algae without causing an algae bloom. Also, too bright a light will spook the fish. In lake Malawi the waters are not pristine and there is a little murkiness there. This is where most aquarists depart from the strict biotope by having pristine water.

The ecosystem however needs some way to operate the nitrogen cycle without plants. This means that you will have to have powerful biological filters that have a high turnover of water and a filter media with a large surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to grow on.

Water changes are also a necessity. While some may consider this as cheating, you may want to consider the real lake Malawi. There is an inflow of fresh water from the Ruhuhu river. And the lake is vast giving a lot of scope for de-nitrification.

If you have followed these guidelines, the end result should be a pleasant aquarium full of colourful fish. It should look like a piece of lake Malawi. So, sit back and enjoy your hard work.

Keeping aquarium plants healthy

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium

See also best plants for beginners

and succeed with plants

and aquascaping for beginners

healthy but overgrown aquarium plants
healthy but overgrown aquarium plants need trimming

Healthy plants AND healthy fish

Keeping aquarium plants healthy is vital. However, most aquarists put the welfare of their fish first and are not willing to promote the health of their plants, if it may affect their fish. I will explain how you can do both. And, the two are not mutually exclusive. Healthy plants can promote health in your fish.

If your planted aquarium is not regularly maintained, it can quickly become a jungle. Quick growing plants will out grow smaller and slower growing species. The larger plants will hog the light resulting in the smaller plants not getting enough light. Fish waste and plant sheddings will accumulate, polluting the water. Fortunately, maintenance is not time-consuming if carried out every week. If you do half an hour a week maintenance then your aquarium plants will be kept in tip top condition. To the right is what an otherwise healthy planted aquarium looks like when trimming and maintenance has been neglected. With a bit of trimming and relocating of plants this could look like a cracking aquarium and you could actually get to see the fish.

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium
Healthy aquarium plants can add to the look of your aquarium

But it is not just the welfare of the plants you need to also take care of the lighting, filtration, water quality and the fish. All these factors also affect the plants.
Every aquarium is different so I will give a general guideline which you will have to adapt to your specific set of plants and aquarium.

Relocating aquarium plants

Plants will naturally grow and spread with new offshoots. Some will grow so much that they crowd out other smaller or slow growing species. Also, you might do a spring clean or fancy a change of scenery. All this means that you will have to relocate some plants.
You can’t just uproot a plant and plant it somewhere else. You have to consider its root system which might be quite extensive if the plant is well established.

When removing a plant take out as much of the root system as possible, avoid ripping roots. Try to take out all the surrounding substrate with the roots intact if you can. If this is not possible, then use your fingers to gently tease out the roots without disturbing the gravel too much.

Once you have extracted the plant then knock off any attached gravel or dirt. Then, trim any long roots to just a few centimetres. Long stringy roots are not easily replanted and are easily damaged. Once replanted the plant will grow new roots and become re-established much quicker.

When you replant, create a hollow in the gravel. Put the roots into the hollow. Put a fertiliser tablet underneath or on the roots, then pack the gravel around the roots. The fertiliser tablet will speed up the plant’s recovery.

Plant diseases

It is rare for plants to actually suffer from disease such as bacterial infections or viruses. Except for crypts there are no common aquarium plant diseases. When your plants start displaying symptoms of ill-health these are almost certainly caused by environmental harm or nutritional deficiencies.

If you spot any symptoms early then the remedy is usually quite simple with the plant making a quick and complete recovery.

Cryptocoryne rot is a condition that only affects crypt plants. It looks like small holes in the leaves or the leaf edges. It is not certain what the cause is but it can be set off by a change of environment such as high nitrates, lack of water changes and lack of lighting. Crypts usually recover quickly once you have found the cause and fixed the problem. However, if left the plant can completely break down and die.

Aquarium plant poisoning

This is usually caused by adding medications to cure fish ailments. But could also come from recently added ornaments or rocks. After medicating your fish, use a chemical filter with activated carbon, for example, to remove all chemical residues to reduce any harm from the medication. Saying this, most medications are harmless or only slightly harmful.

But this is not the case with algicides which can harm plants. If at all possible it is better to cure your algae problem without using chemicals.

Another possible harmful substance is hydrogen sulphide that may form in the gravel or sand where anaerobic conditions allow food to rot to give off this poisonous gas. One last possible source of poisoning is from over use of fertiliser, which is beneficial in normal doses but can become a poison with over use.

Snail damage to aquarium plants

Snails in small numbers are unsightly and a nuisance. But, in large numbers they can take a toll on your plants by chewing away little by little every day. They are usually introduced to your aquarium as eggs attached to the under side of plant leaves. The eggs look like blobs of jelly and are difficult to see especially when the plant is in water.

Once snails get established in the aquarium it is impossible to completely eradicate them by hand. You could try adding snail eating fish or even assassin snails that chase and eat snails. This will help keep the numbers down.

You have to eradicate snails from plants before placing the plants in the aquarium by dipping the plants in an anti snail solution that will kill off the snails. Then wash off any chemicals before placing the plant in the aquarium. It is not recommended to add chemicals to the aquarium because the chemicals can harm the plants and fish.

Fish harming the plants

healthy plants and fish
healthy plants make fish feel more relaxed

Unless you keep plant eating fish then it is unlikely that your fish are causing much damage to your plants. The only exception is with cichlids and other large fish that can tug at the plants and uproot them. What may look like fish bites out of your plants is usually some other cause.

Algae

Algae occurs naturally in all aquariums that have some light and some nutrients. If you keep plants you will also get algae. Small amounts of algae growing slowly on rocks, driftwood and large plant leaves are of little consequence to your plants or your aquarium. Indeed, your fish may enjoy a nibble from time to time. And, the algae helps in the removal of fish waste products.

However, when conditions in the aquarium, such as excess light, wrong type of light or excess nutrients occur then an algae bloom is a real danger. The pea soup effect which is unsightly, will be disastrous for your plants, preventing light getting to your plants. An algae bloom can also release dangerous gases into the water.

Green water, caused by algae bloom, cannot be filtered out, and even if you used a filter with a very fine media, that filter would quickly become choked. Also if you try to remove the algae by changing the water, you will make matters worse. New tap water has dissolved nutrients that will feed the algae.

Treatment of algae in the aquarium

Reduce the lighting quantity and duration of the lighting and make sure no sunlight reaches the aquarium. Remove excess waste matter on a daily basis using a siphon. When feeding make sure that your fish eat all the food fed to them. Any uneaten food will rot and create waste products that feed algae.

The problem of blue-green algea

This is like a slime that covers just about every surface in the aquarium. Although typically bluey-green can also be greenish-brown or even black. Algae eating fish will not eat it. You can siphon off most of it using a siphon pump but it will re-occur. The solution is to reduce any fertiliser and any nutrients getting into your aquarium from fish waste and uneaten foods.

Blanket weed problems

This fibrous, hair like, algae grows on surfaces. it will cover plants and decor and is hard to remove. It is caused by an excess of light, especially sunlight, and excess of organic matter in the water. Chemicals are largely uneffective against it. The only solution is to remove as much of the algae as possible by hand. Then thoroughly clean the gravel with a siphon to remove excess organic waste.

For algae – prevention is better than cure

Although a small algae bloom is almost inevitable in a new aquarium, the problem is largely avoidable. Here is a list of preventative measures that if you follow will prevent algae ever getting a foothold.

  1. Have a few algae eating fish. Small species such as otocinclus is ideal.
  2. Avoid an excess of fertiliser. Using fertiliser tablets on a plants roots is better than pouring liquid fertiliser into the water. Ferilisers with phosphates are the worst culprit, so use a fertiliser without phosphates.
  3. Avoid direct sunlight. Even well maintained aquariums can attract algae when placed in direct sunlight.
  4. Lighting should be on for less than 12 hours per day.
  5. Make sure you use the correct type of bulb with the correct wattage for your aquarium. In other words, buy a bulb that gives off the correct wavelength of light and is of the right brightness for your size of aquarium.
  6. Clean the gravel properly and regularly by sifting through the gravel with a siphon removing accumulated fish waste. Do not remove the gravel to wash under the tap.
  7. Do regular water changes to dilute the excess of nitrates and phosphates that accumulate in the aquarium.

Finally, alleopathy can stop certain plants growing together

Certain plants release chemicals that are harmful to certain other plants. So that when one type of plant is in an aquarium, it is impossible to grow another incompatible species of plant in the same aquarium. Even, when the aquarium conditions are perfect for the incompatible plant it just will not grow until you remove the first plant. Not much is known about this process, so there isn’t a guide to tell you which plants are incompatible with other plants.