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.

Cycling your aquarium

mature cycled aquarium

The first thing you should learn about keeping fish is cycling your aquarium. Once you understand the basic idea it will be the single most important piece of knowledge that helps you keep your fish alive.

Most newbie fish keepers learn about cycling after they have set up an aquarium with fish that have died. Only then will they pick up a book to see why their fish died. That is a lesson they will not make again when they read about cycling.

mature cycled aquarium
mature cycled aquarium

1. What every new fish keeper must learn

Fish live and breathe in water. They urinate and poop in the water they breathe. Only one thing can stop them polluting themselves and that is bacteria that eats fish waste and converts it to the relatively harmless fertiliser, nitrate.

Your job as a fish keeper is to grow and keep alive a colony of bacteria that will clean the fish’s water. That is the secret to keeping fish alive for any length of time.
When you add fish to a new fish tank the water is clean. But day by day the fish’s waste product will build up because there is no colony of bacteria to digest the fish waste.

2. Emergency cycling

This is where there is fish in an aquarium and there isn’t a colony of bacteria that can convert the fish’s waste product into nitrate.
This usually occurs when a new tank has been set up and stocked with fish. It can also happen when chemicals or medications have been added to the aquarium which kill off the beneficial bacteria in the filter. It can also occur when the filter stops working, such as when the pump stops working or the filter gets clogged up with gunge. In these situations the bacteria die off and stop converting the fish waste.
Sometimes even when there is a bacterial colony in your filter, there can be an overload of fish waste or a source of decay such as rotting food or a dead fish. Or you might have an overstocked tank, such as when you have just bought some new additional fish or your fish have outgrown the tank or even when your fish have bred with many new baby fish overcrowding the tank.

The question is: How do you deal with this situation?

You need a nitrite and ammonia kit that measures these chemicals coming from fish waste decay. When the reading for ammonia is above 0.25ppm or nitrite above .5ppm then you will need to do a water change with water that has been dechlorinated with a chemical you can buy from the aquarium shop. The closer this reading is to 0ppm the safer it is for your fish but the longer it will take for your filter to develop enough beneficial bacteria. To reduce the amount of ammonia produced by your fish, you need to reduce how much you feed your fish and even stop feeding them for a day or two.

Adding aquarium plants can also help this process because they can actually eat up the ammonia. And usually plants have beneficial bacteria around their roots that will help speed up the the colony in the filter becoming established.

If you have a fully stocked tank with high ammonia levels then you could also try moving some of the fish to a second aquarium.

If you have another aquarium or a friend with an established aquarium then you can squeeze off the sponge (which is full of the beneficial bacteria) from that filter into the new tank. This will make the water cloudy but the filter will draw in the cloudy water with the beneficial bacteria. You will see clean water after a few hours. And with good luck the filter may mature within a couple of days.

3. What is cycling

Cycling is the process where an aquarium develops beneficial bacteria (unsually inside the filter) that breaks down the fish urine and poop into a fertiliser called nitrate. Fish waste products break down into ammonia. The beneficial bacteria eat the ammonia and convert into nitrite and then nitrate. In a new aquarium there is very little bacteria. When ammonia is created by the fish the bacteria eat it and begin to muliply. This takes a while. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite. When the bacteria culture is mature, it will completely eat all of the fish waste. At that point the aquarium is declared ‘cycled’.

4. Fish in cycling

Easiest way to cycle your aquarium is by having a few hardy fish in the aquarium while the bacteria colony in the filter is maturing. The fish do suffer stress during this process which is why many advanced aquarists have turned to fishless cycling.
Recommended fish for a tropical aquarium are zebra danios, barbs, platys, or some of the hardier tetras. For coldwater the common goldfish is a tough cookie. For a marine tank blennies, gobies and perhaps damsels are possible candidates. Even though these fish are quite tough don’t be surprised if you have some fish deaths on the way to getting your filter matured.

You will need to do large daily water changes keeping the ammonia under 0.25ppm and the nitrites under 0.5ppm

A way to by-pass or reduce the risk of fish deaths during cycling is by priming the filter by squeezing the sponge from a mature filter into your new aquarium. The cloudy bacteria laden water will be filtered allowing the filter to have an instant colony of beneficial bacteria. You could also cut the sponge from an established tank in half and placing that in the new tank’s filter. You must also cut the new tank’s sponge in half and put that in the old tank’s filter.

Ideally you should have a low stocking level of fish. You will need to monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels daily. When the ammonia and nitrites levels start to drop off then you should be safe to add a fish or two. Then carry on the water changes and water tests. And when the levels drop off again then add one or two fish again. Repeat this process until the aquarium is cycled and the tank is stocked to your satisfaction.

5. Fishless cycling

This is the best way to cycle your aquarium but few aquarists bother with the extra wait before buying fish and with the hassle of buying ammonia and dosing their aquarium with ammonia every day.

Fishless cycling is a safe way to mature an aquarium without risking any fish deaths. And once the tank is fully cycled you can fully stock the aquarium.

Fishless cycling is also faster the fish in cycling because you can increase the amount of ammonia present in the aquarium which will encourage the beneficial bacteria to grow much faster. You can also have the water temperature higher in the mid 80s Fahrenheit. The higher temperature speeds up the life-cycle of the bacteria giving you a full colony of bacteria much quicker. The ideal level of ammonia is about 4ppm in a fishless tank. Higher levels of ammonia much above 4ppm will actually kill off the bacteria in the filter.

How to do fishless cycling

To do fishless cycling you will need to buy a bottle of pure ammonia without any scents or other additives. You will also need to buy an ammonia, nitrate and nitrite test kit. A few drops of ammonia need to be added every day with the aim of getting the ammonia level to 4ppm by using the test kit. If the reading is too high then reduce the dose and if the reading is too low then increase the amount. Always test after you add the ammonia. If the ammonia level is very high then do a water change to get the level down to close to 4ppm.

As with fish in cycling you can also speed up the process by adding bacteria from a mature filter. You can also add plants to help the process. You will have to do the occasional water change to keep the nitrate levels below 40ppm. And you will have to do a final water change to get the nitrate levels below 20ppm when you add all your fish.

When the bacteria is eliminating the ammonia and nitrite very quickly after you dose your tank with ammonia then you know your tank is mature and ready to cope with fish.

6. Recognising ammonia poisoning

If your fish are gasping at the surface or lethargic or have red blotches or have ragged fins or have laboured breathing or they are not moving much then it is likely they are suffering form ammonia poisoning. This usually happens several days after a tank is newly set up. At first the new tank will be fine but as the fish continue to poop and urinate in their own water, the ammonia from their waste is building up. The fish can cope with small amounts of waste but as it builds up it becomes lethal.

You must take immediate action to save your fish. You need to stop feeding your fish. You need to change 50% of the water with water of the same temperature and with the chlorine removed using a dechlorinator. Then you will need to test the water again. You need to get the ammonia level below .25ppm and the nitrite level below .5ppm. You should also consider spreading out your fish by putting some of them into other aquariums.

How to maintain a clean tank

How to clean your tank

How to keep your water clear

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

aquarium-vacuum

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

List of recommended Saltwater fish for beginners.

Setting up a saltwater tank step by step guide.

The importance of live rock and live sand in maintaining a healthy saltwater aquarium.

Daily tasks in saltwater aquarium maintenance

Once your saltwater aquarium has become properly established with all the fish, corals and invertebrates that you want and the liverock has developed a healthy colony of de-nitrifying bacteria and other micro-organisms then your job should start to get easier. This process may take a few months.

Your daily routines now should include checking the temperature and checking the evaporation level against a pre-marked line against the water surface. Also check to see if all your fish and invertebrates are present. This can be done while feeding, when all the fish will come to eat. But don’t just check to see if they are present but also check to see if they are behaving normally and do not show any signs of injury or illness.

If any of the fish or invertebrates has died then remove it immediately. A dead corpse will quickly rot in the water and start to pollute the water and will eventually cause illness to other fish and invertebrates. After you have removed the corpse then your next job is to investigate the cause.

First check your water parameters, especially ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. Any unusual readings spells trouble and will require an immediate water change. Syphon off 25% of the water in the aquarium. Syphon in or near the sand where there might be some decaying organic matter. Then replace with clean saltwater to top up your aquarium. Try to maintain pre-mixed saltwater that has been allowed to settle that can be used immediately. If there are no unusual readings then check all the fish for any symptoms of illness. Look for laboured breathing, split or frayed fins, white/grey/brown spots, any slime or fluffy grey/white patches, any red sores. If you see any of these signs or anything similar then your fish have an illness and you will have to diagnose the illness using a checklist.

Once you have determined the illness of your fish then you can obtain the medication or treatment and start medicating your whole aquarium. But be careful in the choice of medications because some corals and invertebrates are susceptible to them. And be careful not to overdose with medication as invertebrates may survive normal doses but high doses may kill them.

However, if you cannot determine the cause of your lone fish death then it may remain a mystery. The cause may be a hidden illness of the dead fish, perhaps an attack from another fish or invertebrate or perhaps from an overcrowded aquarium. When a fish dies from an overcrowded aquarium then the death actually gives breathing space to the rest of the fish.

Invertebrates usually rely on scraps of food that are left over remains of uneaten fish food. If the fish do not leave enough scraps for them they can go hungry. Make sure you feed the invertebrates directly. remove any uneaten food after 15 minutes.

Weekly tasks for saltwater aquarium maintenance

Weekly tasks include checking ph is between 8.1-8.3. If it falls below 8.1 then you may have decaying organic matter in the tank. This causes a drop in ph. If there is a ph drop then check your ammonia and nitrite levels as well. Then syphon around the sand, looking for any decaying bits of food. Open up the filter and remove excess mulm by rinsing in a bucket full of aquarium water.

Another weekly task is to check the salinity level. First off, check the water against the original line you marked on the side of your aquarium when you first filled it. If the water level has fallen then you will have to top up with fresh saltwater (preferably reverse osmosis water) Make sure the water is the same temperature. Check your phosphate levels and calcium levels as well.

After this check the salinity with a hygrometer. Your reading should be 1.025. If the reading is less than this then you will need to do adjust the salinity slowly over many days. Everyday change 5% of the water with a freshly mad batch of seawater with a reading of 1.026. Repeat daily until the aquarium gets back to 1.025. Likewise if the reading was higher than 1.025 then you will need to change 5% water daily and replace with a mix of 1.024. Again repeat until you get the 1.025 reading again. If the reading was correct at 1.025 you should still do a 15% water change with water at 1.025.

Check the output flow from your filters. If the flow feels less than normal then you will have to take apart the filter. Place the filter material in a bucket of aquarium saltwater and rinse out any excess mulm before putting back the filter material into the filter and putting back the filter. Do not use tapwater or cold water to rinse the filter material because you might kill of healthy bacteria in the filter which you must preserve at all costs.

Scrape off any algae that has grown along the front glass. Do not remove any algae off other parts of the aquarium because algae is a natural biological filter that removes nitrates from the water.

Clean out the protein skimmer cup. If there is a lot of waste skimmed out then you might need to do this more often. You also may be feeding your fish too much. So consider reducing your feeding a little.

Lastly do a thorough inspection of all your corals. Check for any infections or lack of growth or bleaching of the corals. If there is excess growth then you need to trim them back. If the corals have become ill then you might be able to frag off a healthy piece to save your coral because ilness usually spreads to the whole coral. Fragging may be the only way to save it. Sick corals are best left undisturbed. The best way to treat them is by fixing water parameters. Usually high phosphates, high nitrates and change of lighting or water flow can be the cause. Sometimes invertebrates or fish may take chunks out of them.

Finally, if you don’t see any of the listed problems then well done! You are doing a good job and everything is running smoothly.

 

Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

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!

Setting up an aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

A guide to setting your own aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up
Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

Intrepid aquarists that want to do something special with their tanks will be glad to know that turning an aquarium into a small-scale aquaponics system is not quite as hard as it looks. It may seem complicated, but the underlying science of the matter is stuff that any aquarist should already be comfortable with: the nitrogen cycle, the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants, and the health benefits they offer one another.

If you have kept a planted aquarium before, you already know that the nutrient-rich water of the tank is perfect for plant growth. Aquaponics is just a system by which you can maximise that growth and raise some terrestrial plants while you’re at it. A successful mini aquaponics system can provide you with delicious fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices while giving your fish excellent quality water.

Making your aquaponics system self-sufficient

There are several different ways to construct an aquaponics system, but this article will focus on ways to make it as self-sufficient as possible. Self-sufficiency will cut down on maintenance, but may also deliver smaller yields in return. If you would like to grow large quantities of vegetables, you will need to invest in a more robust set up.

The system described below is a perfectly suitable beginning aquaponics setup that focuses on minimising the need for strict maintenance. If you would like to improve it once you get it up and running, you can invest more time and effort into producing larger yields.

An aquaponics syste has all the hallmarks of a Walstad aquarium. With the closed ecosystem and natural substrate of the growbed. The fish providing nutrient manure for the plants and the plants filtering out toxic waste products from the fish, ie nitrogen recycling. However, where the system differs is that there is a nutrient export. The plants when they get harvested do not recycle back into the system. In the medium to long term there will be a deficiency of minerals that the plants are taking from the water. You will have to occasionally replenish these nutrients.

What you need to build your aquaponics system

  • components of aquarium aquaponics system
    Diagram of basic components of aquarium aquaponics system

    Your aquarium tank, of course

  • A gravel substrate, 1 kg for every 20 litres of water in the tank
  • A small circulation water pump
  • 1 metre length of plastic tubing, that will fit on the outlet of your pump
  • An air stone
  • An air pump matched to your tank’s size + (optional sponge filter)
  • Another 1 metre length of plastic tubing, sized for the air pump outlet
  • A growing medium, pea gravel, perlite, and peat moss work well
  • A plastic grow bed, ideally the same size as your tank and sitting on top of it with a depth of 7 – 20 cm
  • actinic lights for your plants
  • Ordinary aquarium lighting for your fish
  • A pH testing kit
  • A drill
  • A heater for the fish
  • And some fish

How to setup your aquaponics system

One thing you must bear in mind is the height and weight of the whole system when it is all put together. The height will be the height of the aquarium plus the height of the grow bed plus the height of the lighting system above the grow bed. So either obtain a shallow aquarium of make sure there is plenty of room above the aquarium for access.

The first thing you will need to do thoroughly wash your gravel substrate and line it along the bottom of your tank. Then drill tiny holes (3–5 mm) into the bottom of your grow bed with an even distribution, every 5 cm or so. This will let the water drain into the aquarium. Drill a larger (10–12 mm) hole into one of the corners of the bed so that the water pump tubing can pass through.

Now you can place the water pump inside the tank and cap the top with your grow bed. Insert the water pump tubing through the hole you made in the grow bed—leave a little bit of extra tubing to loop around inside the grow bed and cut of the rest. Fold the end of the tub over and seal the folded tube with tape.

Once you have this done, puncture tiny holes every 5 cm in the looped section of tubing in the grow bed. You may now fill your grow bed with your peat moss or pea gravel up until you cover the tube. This is the basic form of your aquaponics system.

Now you can focus on the aquarium: fill it with water and plug in the pump. You should see the water pumping into the grow bed and trickling down through the peat moss and back into the tank. Now is a good time to adjust the flow to make it run smoothly and gently.

Connect your air pump to your air stone using the other tubing, and place the stone in your tank. Attach a sponge filter for added filtration for your fish. Plug the pump in and you should see oxygenating bubbles rising through the water—your system is almost ready.

Check the pH level of your water. It is best somewhere between ph6.8–ph7.2, with ph7.0 being the ideal. If you have to adjust the pH level, now is a good time to do so. If your water is clear from chlorine and chloramine you can add your fish immediately—otherwise, let the water sit for 24 hours or treat it with a water conditioner before you begin.

Since your tank is not yet cycled, you will need to add your fish very slowly, gradually introducing additional fish to the tank while the bacterial colony in your grow bed grows to support them. You may need to perform daily water changes at first, in order to clean the water for your fish before the plants have a chance to do it for you.

If you take good care of your aquaponics system in this period, you should be ready to add plants within 4 weeks when the system is completely established. Introducing them slowly will make sure that you do not upset the careful balance between your fish population and plant population. Leave your actinic light on once you plant the seeds and wait for results to bloom.

Fish selection and care

For your first attempt at an aquaponics setup, avoid selecting fish that are too delicate to survive any water quality issues. Hardy species that can tolerate the varying water conditions that will be present in the beginning are highly recommended. platies, catfish, kribensis, danios, tiger barbs, dwarf gouramis or goldfish can all be used with success.

The notoriously messy nature of the goldfish is actually a benefit in this circumstance, since increased levels of fish waste mean more food for your plants. So long as you do not overwhelm the balance in nutrients between the plants and fish, you will enjoy success.

Plant selection and care

While you can grow just about any plant in an aquaponics system, you will find that fruit-bearing plants and spices may not grow to their full potential from this kind of setup—they will need a more robust, higher maintenance system. With the system described in this article, however, you can grow spinach, lettuce, basil, parsley and many other leafy green herbs.

If you decide to transplant your plants from soil, take very special care to thoroughly wash away all of the dirt surrounding the roots and to clear the plant’s entire surface of insects or other pests. Transplanting is an easy way to introduce an invasive species to your system without knowing it.

Maintaining your aquaponics system

A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop
A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop

The system described in this article has two major inputs: fish food and electricity. You will want to make sure you do not overfeed your fish—a single feeding should consist of enough food for your fish to consume in 5 minutes and no more. Your tank may also gradually lose water over time to absorption and evaporation, so you should perform a monthly 10–15% water change and refill that keeps it topped up.

Your plants’ mineral needs may need to be considered as well: Flowering plants and vegetables may benefit from having additional minerals added to the water at the start. Also as time goes on, the nutrient export must be replenished. If you notice that your plants are struggling, you may be able to find help in the form of liquid fertilisers designed for aquaponics systems. They contain soil components like phosphorous and potassium that your plants may be missing.

If your plants are growing nicely and your fish are active and healthy, then you’ve done it! Good job on creating your first mini aquaponics system. Cosmetic improvements can be made to the aquaponics system by boxing in the growbed to hide the tubing and wires. Now you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labours: healthy fish and fresh home grown herb and spices. You can nibble on some lettuce while admiring your fish.

Adjustments to your aquarium aquaponics system

If there is too much fish waste in the system, instead of reducing the fish, add more sponge filtration. If the plants are not growing then try different plants. If the plants are growing long and stringy then they are not getting enough light. Increase the lighting. Keep checking the ph. If it keeps rising then add more peat. If it keeps falling then add some coral sand.

You should experiment with growing different plants. You can also try increasing and decreasing the pump flow rate, thereby increasing or decreasing the water around the plant roots.

If you get bored of your aquaponics system or it is not working out, you can always remove the plastic growbed and have just an ordinary aquarium. Or you can do more research to do it more professionally.

The nano marine aquarium

The fascination of the nano marine aquarium

Larger aquariums are better than nano marine aquariums if you have the money

If you are a newbie marine aquarist, then you may be tempted by the lower cost of buying a smaller aquarium. Or you don’t want to commit to a larger aquarium until you know you can look after aquarium fish. So you might buy a smaller tank as a trial. This can be a mistake. If your dealer is persuading you to buy a larger tank then listen to him, if you can.

A small aquarium, especially a marine aquarium, is more difficult to cope with because of sudden water quality problems. In a bigger aquarium these problems are diluted by the larger quantity of water. Any rise or fall in salinity, pollution or other water parameter will be much slower in a large aquarium than a small aquarium. It is a falsity to believe a small aquarium is easier to maintain than a bigger aquarium. The opposite is true.

A freshwater nano aquarium is certainly much easier

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Comparison of large aquariums with nano marine aquariums

You will still need to buy all the same equipment for a nano aquarium as a large reef aquarium. For example hygrometer and water test kits. Some of the equipment is just miniaturised versions of the ones available for large aquariums, but the price is not miniaturised being about the same price. Savings in costs are usually made in the price of the aquarium, stand or cabinet, price of lighting, costs of live rock, cost of live stock because you will only be able to keep a small number of fish and invertebrates. Smaller heaters are a little cheaper. But the rest of the equipment is about the same, including on going costs.

Your first foray into keeping a marine aquarium will have a greater chance of success if your choice of tank size is at least 160 litres. With a tank of less than 160 litres, monitoring and maintenance work doubles. You will have to buy a good quality test kit that is easy to use and you will have to keep using it daily or even twice a day. The water has to be checked daily for salinity levels, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. Adjustments and interventions will almost certainly have to be made more often. Things change so fast in such a small aquarium that salinity levels due to evaporation or pollution levels may change quickly and kill your fish or invertebrates in a day. In a larger aquarium these changes are slower and your fish have more time to adapt. And there is more opportunity for you to catch these dangers and correct them in time.

Beginners saltwater aquarium here

First Saltwater aquarium here

Stocking the nano marine aquarium

For many aquarists the prohibited costs of the larger aquariums leave them with no option but to start with a smaller aquarium. To be successful in a smaller aquarium your choice of fish and invertebrates must be made with more care. Corals from shallower waters are more tolerant of changes to water conditions than their deeper water counterparts. Also, your choice of fish is limited to the smaller and hardier species. Common clownfish, pyjama cardinalfish, dwarf angelfish and neon gobies make the best choices for the smaller aquarium and are great beginner fish anyway.

Once you have fish in a smaller marine aquarium then your options for invertebrates becomes limited both in the number and range of invertebrates you can successfully keep together with your fish. Shrimps and small hermit crabs are the hardiest invertebrates that might survive with fish present.

It is better to understock and overfilter for the first few months. It will take this long for your filters, live rock and live sand to fully mature. In this period you will get practice and experience of running your aquarium.

Maintenance of your nano marine aquarium

More careful attention to the diet and especially the feeding has to be made to make sure that the fish are well fed without allowing waste food to occur that will pollute the aquarium. If you good have experience in keeping fish then you will know what to do. For the less experienced, great attention has to be made to uneaten bits of food.

In a smaller aquarium it is better to have a protein skimmer and a uv filter. But don’t overdo it. The protein skimmer will remove essential nutrients while the UV filter may kill off helpful plankton. You must have live rock and live sand which will provide biological filtration. Once established this will greatly enhance your chance of succeeding.

You will have to buy the live rock. Cured live rock is better but more expensive than uncured live rock. Uncured live rock will cure in your aquarium. The effect of this is that pollutants from dying organisms will seep into your aquarium water for weeks until the rock cures. The live sand will develop by the migration of microscopic lifeforms and bacteria from the live rock into your sand. Also have a good external filter to perform additional biological filtration. Remove excess waste from the filter media by squeezing out once a week. Do not rinse out or you will lose the nitrifying bacteria.

Buying several small pieces of live rock and plenty of ocean rock is one way to create enough live rock in your aquarium but you will have to wait while the life from the live rock migrates to the ocean rock. This process takes time. if you have the patience then you can save money this way. Remember live rock will start to die when not submerged in sea water. Newly bought live rock from your dealer needs to be kept in seawater on the way back home. Make sure you buy solid live rock and ocean that is not prone to crumbling.

It is highly recommended to do many small partial water changes to the nano aquarium. Have a large container of pre-mixed saltwater. This will reduce the amount of times you have to mix water and sea salt to create seawater. The use of reverse osmosis water is highly recommended. Buy a RO water kit that will convert your tap water into pure water. Otherwise you will be spending a small fortune on continually buying RO water from your dealer.

Self contained nano marine aquariums

There are many self contained nano aquariums. These have advantages and disadvantages. Some are enclosed systems that reduce the water evaporation. The downside to this is that they tend to overheat, because of the enclosed lighting, especially in summer. The open top varieties are better in this regard but will require topping up with water daily to maintain the required salinity. Because of their all in one nature, these aquarium set ups work out cheaper. But invariably modifications will be necessary to these set ups to make them work.

Conclusions

Today, you have a better chance than ever before of having a successful nano aquarium because of
1. Advances in technology of filtration, monitoring and maintenance equipment
2. The wider availability of aquarium bred fish
3. Wide availability of good knowledge of the marine aquarium environment
4. The price of marine fish and live rock is falling because of the success of home produced sources
So, why not give it a try and start enjoying the colourful world of marine fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can buy clownfish and dwarf angelfish online with home delivery in the US.


Featuring Angelfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean and clear aquarium water

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Clean and clear aquarium water: A guide to water quality and management

Also see: Cure and prevent cloudy or green water

and Why does my aquarium get dirty

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

Water may appear clean and clear but, actually, be absolutely toxic to your fish. You need to be able to create water that is clean and healthy for your fish. Below I will explain how to create clean and clear water and how to maintain this indefinitely by establishing a balanced ecosystem. It can be said that you are not taking care of your fish but rather you are taking care of the water the fish live eat and breathe in.
 
A fully-functioning aquarium is a balanced ecosystem that needs to remain balanced in order to let your fish thrive. Setting up and maintaining this ecosytem is the first and most important step towards taking good care of your fish.

Water composition

In order to understand how to successfully manage your aquarium water, you need to become familiar with the various attributes of water that aquarists generally deal with. The water in your tank will have more in it than simple H20, and frequent testing is the best way to keep all of those additional elements in check. Some of the attributes and chemicals worth paying attention to follow:

  • Temperature – your water needs to have a controlled temperature for your fish to survive. Tropical aquariums are typically heated to a temperature between 23–28° C (74–82° F).
  • pH level – This is the measure of your waters acidity, and is affected by its hardness. Certain fish have pH requirements determined by their natural habitat, but a range somewhere between 6.5–8.2 is the norm.
  • Hardness – The amount of dissolved minerals in your water contribute to its hardness. Soft water generally carries a lower pH level. Most fish are tolerant of moderate hardness between 100–250 mg/l.
  • Chlorine and chloramine – These chemicals are added to municipal reservoirs to keep your tap water clean and safe to drink. They are toxic to fish, however, so you will need to remove them from your water. Chlorine will evaporate on its own if left to sit for a few days, but chloramine requires the use of a water conditioning product to successfully remove.
  • Phosphate and other minerals – These are substances that are usually ignored by most aquarists. But there are times when it is necessary to test for other substances. Such as when algae becomes a persistent problem or plants are not growing.
  • Ammonia – Ammonia is toxic to fish and is caused by decomposing waste, and the point of your aquarium filtration system is to remove harmful ammonia by converting it into nitrite and then nitrate. That takes place during the nitrogen cycle, which will be covered in more detail below. The optimal level of ammonia in your water is zero. Anything above .25 mg/l of ammonia means you need to perform a water change.
  • Nitrite – A secondary element of the nitrogen cycle, nitrite is not as toxic as ammonia, but it reduces the ability of your fish to oxygenate their bloodstream. A normal tank should not have more than .5 mg/l of nitrite. If it does, it is time for a water change.
  • Nitrate – The end product of the nitrogen cycle’s chemical conversion. Not as harmful as nitrite or ammonia but still harmful in high doses. Nitrate can be tolerated at levels up to 40 mg/l.

Cycling your aquarium water

See cycling for more info

Since substances like ammonia and nitrite are toxic for your fish, you need to remove them from your water on a continually. Fortunately, once matured, your filter will automatically remove them for you. Your aquarium’s filtration system is designed to host a range of beneficial bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrite, and nitrite into nitrate; a process called the nitrogen cycle. In order for that to happen, however, you need to set up your aquarium for cycling.

Since fish produce ammonia, they are typically used as the beginning point of the nitrogen cycle. After being added to a tank, very frequent water changes are needed to keep the fish healthy until the bacterial colony which feeds off the ammonia has developed sufficiently. Fishless tank cycling can be achieved using pure ammonia, as well.

Once ammonia is in the tank, bacteria will naturally show up to begin consuming it and converting it into nitrite. This can be speeded up by introducing a working filter from another aquarium, since a colony of bacteria should already be present established there. If this is not an option, then they will develop, on a new filter, slowly over 30-60 days. A secondary layer of bacteria will also appear that will convert the newly created nitrite into nitrate.

The end result of growing these bacterial colonies in your aquarium filter is that your water will essentially be recycling its own waste. However, nitrate still needs to be reduced through partial water changes. Luckily, that is only a weekly task. If you are keeping fish in your tank while cycling, you will need to perform large daily water changes until the ammonia levels fall to near zero.

Setting up a water management routine

Once your tank is properly cycled, you will still need to monitor your tank’s water. Since the nitrogen cycle is taking care of your immediate concerns over waste matter recycling, you can keep your water quality high with minimal effort. The only daily task that is necessary at this point is checking the water temperature.

Weekly tasks include performing a small water change, between 10–25%, as needed according to the nitrate level of the tank. You should also be testing your water every week in order to gauge the nitrate level as well as detect and prevent any possible ammonia, nitrite, or pH problems that may spring up, before they get serious.

Your monthly tasks should include a vacuuming of the tank gravel, a squeezing out of the excess dirt from your filter sponge and a scrubbing to remove any algae present in the tank. Never use tap water on your filter sponge. Squeeze out the sponge using some water from the aquarium. This avoids harming the beneficial bacterial colony growing on it.

Common water quality problems

One of the most evident signs that your aquarium water has a problem is if the smell changes. Aquariums generally have a pleasant lakeside scent to them once they are properly cycled, but excess ammonia and other elements can change that, giving you a warning to test the water and change it quickly.

Most often, bad-smelling water is a sign that there is too much waste in the tank as a result of overfeeding. Your fish should generally eat all of their food in two minutes or less and not leave any to rot. Excess food will rot which releases excess ammonia that will poison your fish. Occasionally your fish will go off their food. Feeding at this time will just result in food being left uneaten and rotting. Remove any uneaten food using a siphon.

A fish that dies in the tank should be removed immediately. A rotting fish will release a lot of ammonia which your filter will not be able to cope with.

Algae is another common result of poor-quality aquarium water. Again, excess nutrients (especially nitrate and phosphate) can allow algae to bloom, turning your water green and presenting problems for your fish. If you are not overfeeding your fish, then algae may bloom because of an excess of yellow light. Also, be sure to keep your aquarium out of direct sunlight.

If you pay attention to your water and follow the guidelines mentioned above, you should have a tank full of clean and clear aquarium water for your fish to enjoy.

Tropical fish keeping on a budget

home made sponge filter

Tropical fishkeeping on a budget

home made sponge filter
home made sponge filter

While aquarists far and wide agree that fishkeeping is a fascinating hobby and trade, it can easily become an expensive one as well. The staggering number of new products always being released is enough to make anyone believe that an aquarium is a major investment. However, if you keep things simple and aren’t afraid of a little bit of DIY work, you can enjoy an amazing fish tank without breaking the bank in the process.

There are two major elements to keeping a tropical tank on a budget: reducing your start-up costs and keeping your tank maintenance low-cost. Making the correct choices in both aspects will ensure that you end up saving significant sums of money in the long run.

Reducing start-up costs

The first opportunities to save money come when you begin collecting supplies to set up your fish tank. Depending on what products you buy and the sources from which you buy them, you can end up earning yourself substantial savings, or spending an unnecessary fortune.

Naturally, getting a smaller tank will decrease all of the associated costs that you will have to deal with afterwards. However, small tanks can be difficult to properly take care of, so you are encouraged to choose a small tank only if you feel like you have enough experience to make it a success, especially if you are on a budget.

Some of the best deals for aquarium equipment can be found through second-hand sources such as classifieds sections and fishkeeping forums. Buying second-hand equipment can vastly reduce your start-up costs, but must be done carefully. Everything has a shelf life, and you can expect to replace used equipment more frequently than you would if it was new.

Creatively sourcing your aquarium supplies can help you save in many ways. For example, you could forego using expensive substrates like black Tahitian moon sand and instead opt for pool filter sand that, while not specifically made for aquarium use, is cheap, clean, and natural enough to use on a budget without risking the health of your fish or affecting your filtration.

Sometimes people will give away a leaky aquarium that is otherwise sound. Such an aquarium can be repaired for just the price of a tube of silicone and a bottle of nail varnish remover. Use a blade to remove the old silicone from the inside of the aquarium. Thoroughly clean the joints. Then spread a thin bead of silicone and reseal the tank. Use a finger along the seam to smooth the silicone and voila a new tank. You can also re-seal any tank that springs a leak.

Another great way to save money on your start-up costs is by making your aquarium setup a DIY project. Many common aquarium appliances can be made using various household and workshop items:

  • Sponge Filters – If you buy a simple power head and a brick of filter sponge, you can use a plastic tube to connect the inlet of a power head with the other end of the tube inserted into the sponge. Point the outlet towards the surface of the water and you have a surprisingly good filter at a fraction of the cost.
  • Sumps and refugiums – Ambitious DIY aquarists can build their own sump with relative ease. If you have spare tank handy and don’t mind doing a small bit of plumbing work, you can enjoy the benefits of a sump without having to pay for one! This is a great option for tanks that are damaged or scratched.
  • Aquarium stands – You can use a solid piece of furniture to place your aquarium on. A table of exactly the right size can be purchased and used. These can be bought second hand and used. Make sure that they are sturdy and level and support the whole of the aquarium base. If needs be place a solid sheet of wood on the base to support the aquarium.
  • home made aquarium lid
    home made aquarium lid

    Aquarium lids – This is an ideal DIY project. If you have some DIY ability this is an ideal first project that will not be costly if you make a mistake. Materials can be bought from your local DIY store. You can also improve your design over time.

Collecting your aquascape decorations locally is another way to save some cash on your setup. Why pay for exotic Amazon driftwood to be delivered to your door if you have a river or a forest nearby? With a little bit of time, some careful selection, and a thorough cleaning and soaking, you can get your entire tank’s decoration done for free. Rocks and stones can be collected in the same way.

Making choices that save money over time

There are lots of ways that you can enjoy tropical fishkeeping on a budget, and a great deal of them rely on reducing the long-term costs of keeping a tank. Putting any of these cost-saving measures into practice with your tropical fish tank will ensure that you keep your expenses low.

  • Make your tank plantless—Live plants are wonderful additions to tropical tanks, but they need lots of light and those lights need lots of energy to run. If you want to save money in the long run, you might want to leave the plants behind.

Plantless aquarium here

  • Use low-maintenance, low light plant varieties and keep them nourished with inexpensive LED lights whenever possible. Incandescent and halide lamps can get costly over time. Buy a few easy varieties that grow fast.
  • Do your own repairs. Most filters have repair kits that are used to replace parts that wear out. The kits are a fraction of the price of a new filter.
  • Condition your water slowly—If you want to avoid conditioning your local tap water with expensive chemical products, let the chlorine naturally evaporate before using it in your tank. You can even try collecting rainwater if your tap water is too hard.
  • Grow your own live food—Fish food is a constant cost that continually adds up over time. If you choose instead to invest some energy in cultivating brine shrimp or daphnia or digging worms from the garden, you can enjoy an effectively unlimited supply of high quality live fish food.

Live food rearing here

  • Make your own dried fish food – There are many fish food recipes based on prawns, spirulina or spinach, flour, eggs, fish and other ingredients mixed in with multivitamins. The recipe is blended together then baked on a low heat to dry. The result can be broken into small pieces and frozen.
  • Insulate your aquarium – Heat loss can result in additional energy costs and make your heater work harder, wearing it down faster in the process. Insulating your aquarium to minimize heat loss will save you money over time—even if it is only partial insulation.
  • Set up a low maintenance Walsted aquarium.
  • Set up a temperate aquarium without a heater.
  • Stock your aquarium by breeding your own fish. To obtain different species just advertise and swap your excess brood. It may take some time, but you will obtain the variety of fish that you want for just the price of the initial adults.
  • Buy young fish and grow them to the size you want. Adults are more expensive to buy and won’t adapt to your aquarium as well as young fish.

Common cost-saving mistakes

Some beginning aquarists, in an attempt to save cut corners and save money, make a number of grave mistakes that can end up costing them the entire aquarium if left unchecked. A few examples of these are listed below:

  • Buying cheap low quality equipment such as heaters, filters and lighting is a bad mistake. A heater that fails can chill your fish or even get stuck and cook them! A filter that fails will pollute your water.
  • Using sunlight to light your aquarium—A tropical aquarium needs both heat and light, so placing your aquarium in direct sunlight seems like the perfect cost-saving solution right? Not quite! Rather than killing two birds with one stone, this will probably kill your aquarium population by causing an uncontrollable algae bloom.
  • If you don’t buy a heater, tropical fish will slowly die of cold at night or in winter.
  • Insufficient Filtration – Yes, larger filters tend to cost more, but it is always better to err on the safe side and go for a larger filter than to find yourself suffering from insufficient filtration.
  • Not testing the water—Water testing kits are not the kind of product that you want to skip out on in order to save some cash, even if you are an experienced aquarist. Be sure you know your water’s ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels, as well as its hardness and pH before you start adding fish.
  • Do not try to repair a tank with a cracked glass. Finding and fitting a new pane of glass is as difficult and costly as buying a new or second aquarium.
  • Buying cheap fish that are unhealthy. By all means shop around and see if someone is giving away fish or selling at a low price. But always make sure that the fish you are buying are healthy and the other seller’s fish are also healthy. Sick fish don’t just die they also pass illnesses to your other fish.

If you avoid these three common pitfalls and follow the guidelines set out above, you should be able to enjoy significant savings on your tropical fish tank. If you get lucky enough to find good deals on your tank’s necessities, you can end up with a beautiful aquarium at a fraction of the price it looks like it cost!

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Why create a low maintenance aquarium? So you can spend more time admiring your fish, perhaps. People who are just getting started in the aquarium hobby are often taken aback by the level of maintenance that a successful fish tank usually needs. The cultural stereotype of keeping a goldfish in a tiny bowl and enjoying some kind of no-maintenance pet that just floats around and nibbles on flake occasionally is quickly dispelled once the conversation turns to biological filtration systems, cleaning schedules and balancing the nitrogen cycle in your tank.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many fish keeping enthusiasts have come up with some clever ways to lower the maintenance needs of their tanks. Thanks to one of two approaches, aquarists are getting closer than ever to a no maintenance sustainable environment that does not need constant upkeep and vigilance to keep their fish healthy.

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

If the average aquarium maintenance seems like hard work then there are two basic ways to approach your setup in order to enjoy a tank that allows for low maintenance fish keeping:

natural tanks-These tanks are designed around sound ecological principles. While complex these greatly reduce the amount of work that you have to put in on a regular basis. These tanks focus on providing a closed ecosystem that is as close to natural as possible, with plants, algae, bacteria, microscopic planarians, freshwater shrimp, and fish completing the food cycle for you.

High-Tech tanks-This kind of aquarium does away with the need for ecological purity and uses automation and chemicals to maintain comfortable water conditions without your help. This means using sterilisers,  over-filtration, automatic feeders, algae-reducing chemicals, and more. These tools work in concert to keep the tank healthy and clean.

In natural tanks you will want to plan your tank around hardy, low maintenance fish that can tolerate the occasional change in water quality without being too badly shaken by the experience. Natural tanks will have occasional biological issues, and high tech tanks may suffer malfunctioning equipment from time to time, so it is important that you do not commit yourself to extremely delicate species.

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

If you would like to set up an natural aquarium for low maintenance fish keeping, your tank will need to put a premium on long term planning and maintaining adequate life cycles for all of the tank’s inhabitants. Your choices regarding the species that you would like to keep will be very important, since they will all need to work together in order to maintain a healthy tank.

In the case of a natural, self-sustaining aquarium, the simplest aquarium tools can be put to effective use while plants and bacteria take care of your biological filtration needs. A drip-feed system can make water changes unnecessary, and with the right approach to your plants, you may even eliminate gravel cleaning from your to-do list, leaving you only with the responsibility of feeding your fish.

Plants are a necessity for the low maintenance fish keeping set up. By absorbing unwanted fish waste and keeping algae in check, they can help reduce the need for water changes while keeping your fish healthy. Good low-maintenance choices include the following:

  •  Water wisteria,
  •  Java moss,
  •  Lilaeopsis,
  •  African water fern,
  •  Java fern.

Simply keeping plants in your aquarium is not enought to ensure a stable low maintenance environment. Using soil as a substrate can allow biological filtration to occur directly within the tank when done properly. One of the most effective natural tank designs is the soil-based tank developed by Diana Walstad.

The Walstad Method

Diana Walstad has pioneered an unorthodox method of low maintenance fish keeping  that makes heavy use of plants and organic soil conditions to keep aquarium water healthy for fish. The combination of a soil substrate with fast growing plants takes out the nitrate and ammonia present in the water. This natural approach allows for filtration to occur through the land-based plants’ absorption of those chemicals in the roots and their subsequent release in to the atmosphere, above the water line.

These aquariums, when properly set up, can greatly reduce the need for mechanical filtration tools and other gadgets while also eliminating the need for you to personally change the water constantly. The key is to be found in the proper use of soil as a substrate rather than conventional gravel. Having your plants rooted in a thin layer of high quality soil allows anaerobic bacteria to filter the water without overwhelming their roots. This high quality soil boosts plants growth and activity. Thriving plants take out a lot more of the harmful ammonia, nitrites and nitrates than their struggling counterparts in a gravel tank. This also makes gravel cleaning a thing of the past.

With this kind of tank, supplemented by the addition of microscopic planarians or daphnia and other live food, you can enjoy a truly low maintenance fish keeping set up. You can do away with all the specialized equipment and other products. Often, a natural Walstad tank can be enjoyed indefinitely with only a heater, good lighting for the plants, and a light-duty mechanical filter or aerator that keeps the water flow up. The Walstad set up can be enhanced with a modicum of equipment, especially a small biological filter and a drip feed water system. But then it is not a 100% natural system.

You can buy Diana Walstad’s book on Amazon.The book goes into detail on how the aquarium ecosystem works. She details some of the experiments in building a sustainable ecosystem that have lasted several years. This is not a book full of pretty pictures. It is a book that will tell you how to build healthy and low tech aquariums where the plants thrive and the fish are healthy. Click on the book on the left to buy the book.

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

Since it is clear that the use of soil as a substrate is what makes this tank special, it is important to determine what constitutes high quality soil and sets it apart from other options. The main concern here is to use properly natural soil—that is, soil that is made of 100% natural matter so that natural decomposition can take place.

The composition of the soil will greatly affect the water quality of your tank as it decomposes, so you will want to perform frequent water changes while your tank and its fish adapt to the presence of the soil and an ecological balance is created. Regular potting soil is largely excluded due to the presence of additives that will contaminate your water.

Step by step process for setting up a Walstad Method natural tank

• Start with your tank’s essentials: the heater and filter/power heads should be in place before you add anything else to the tank.

• Begin by adding a 3 cm layer of untreated, non-sterile top soil to the tank.

• Cover the soil layer with an additional 3 cm of medium fine gravel, or a fine layer of sand. Be gentle: too much covering will deprive your bacteria of oxygen.

• Your plants will need calcium. If your water is soft, add in bone meal or coral gravel to compensate.

• Add your choice of plants and turn on your lights: 2 watts for every 3.8 litres is a sufficient amount.

• Add clean room temperature water that is free of chlorine or chloramine.

• Use filters or power heads to maintain brisk water flow and keep the water oxygenated, especially until cycling is complete.

• Test for pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite every two days for two months, changing the water as necessary. Some soils will require frequent changes to rid the water of toxins.

• You can add fish immediately after setting up, but be sure to perform 25% water changes as soon as you see ammonia or nitrite levels above zero.

• If algae becomes a problem, reduce your lighting or add floating plants to the tank. Once the tank is established, the plants will effectively out-compete algae for nutrients.

To read more about the techniques and why they work then read

The high-tech tank

If you would like to enjoy low maintenance fish keeping without making any compromises on fish choice or plant presence, the high-tech tank might be for you. This type of tank has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can keep just about any type of fish you desire, and plants tend to grow bright and beautiful quickly in this environment.

Some delicate fish species that usually live in river environments are especially suited to the high-tech tank. The increased flow, filtration, and continuously changing water will make river species feel right at home.

The main drawback to the high-tech tank is that setting it up is a long process. After set up there is usually a tinkering period where you fine tune things. You will have to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into maintaining a proper balance through technological means. This could mean using any or all of the following tools to keep the water conditions ideal for your fish:

• Double filtration—Using multiple filters will effectively double the period before you need to clean the filter media. Doubling the filters maximises biological filtration to keep ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels at zero.

• Power heads—These can help keep the flow rate high within the tank, enabling effective filtration and keeping detritus and mulm from settling into the gravel substrate. This gives more of a chance for the filters to pick it up instead.

• Drip-Feed System—This is a very useful DIY project that will continuously drain and replace water from your tank: Pre-filtered water is drip fed to the tank while an overflow system drains all excess water. Carbon filtration is needed to remove chlorine.

• Automatic feeder—A programmable fish feeder can store days’ or even weeks’ worth of food and reliably deposit a controlled amount directly into the water at regular intervals. Robust, high quality units can be left on their own for weeks at a time without worry. You can even go on holiday and not worry about hungry fish.

• UV steriliser—Low maintenance fish keeping practitioners still need to control algae, and if you want to avoid regularly scraping your aquarium glass clean then a UV steriliser will provide the algae control that you need.

• Algae-controlling chemicals—Another low maintenance fish keeping solution for controlling algae is through the use of specialized chemicals. These can be found at many fish and aquarium supply stores. But these are a last resort.

• Light timers—Choose your lights carefully to avoid encouraging algae growth. A light timer can also help by allowing you to set a specific lighting schedule that offers just enough to help your plants grow without triggering an algae bloom.

• Protein skimmer—Often found in saltwater aquariums, these devices greatly reduce the amount of organic fish waste in your tank, reducing the need for water changes.
This approach to low maintenance fish keeping allows you to enjoy your aquarium without needing to worry about your fish’s basic needs such as feeding and water changing. You will still need to perform regular cleaning. But with high-powered filtration of your tank and a good control of algae, you should be able to get by with a quick monthly vacuuming and filter rinsing schedule.

Step by step process for setting up a high-tech tank

• Again, start with the tank’s essentials: Your filters, heaters, and lighting setup should be ready.

• Add a 5 cm even layer of gravel along the bottom of the tank. If you use sand, a very shallow layer will make vacuuming easy.

• Plant any plants you may have now. If you use the easy-to-clean thin gravel substrate, your plants should be potted or attached to rocks and other decorations, which you can also add in now.

• Add clean, conditioned, de-chlorinated water to your tank.

• Insert and activate your filter, lights, and heater.

• Begin cycling either by adding starter fish, fish food, or another ammonia source.

• After cycling begins, you can activate the drip-feed system for constant water changing, though you may need additional water changes until cycling is complete.

• Test the water every two days for two months, waiting for ammonia and nitrate readings of zero.

• Respond to algae growth with reduced light until cycling is complete. The UV steriliser and protein skimmer should help here but if it is not enough, you can add algae controlling chemicals after cycling is complete, or even use low maintenance floating plants to control algae growth.

Once you’ve successfully cycled your tank, you should have a complete low maintenance fish keeping solution on your hands: high water flow, drip feeds, and automatic fish feeders will ensure that your aquarium stays sustainably healthy without constant care. Again the high tech system is enhance by having floating plants and biological filtratrion. So not a pure high tech solution.

Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fish. You’ve earned it.

 

Guide to aquarium filters

various filters

Your guide to aquarium filter types: what kind of filtration is best and why

different types of filter
Aquarium filter types: canister, power, sponge, internal filters

 

Without a doubt, aquarium filters represent one of the most important elements of a properly functioning fish tank. Without proper filtration, your fish cannot possibly survive in the tank habitat you introduce them to.

The process of keeping the water clean and free of waste is so important that the aquarium industry has developed numerous solutions to approach the issue of filtration. A quick look at your local fish shop will show a wide variety of filters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Understanding your aquarium filter types

Your aquarium water needs to be filtered in three ways to offer your fish a pleasant environment in which they can thrive. These three filtration methods are defined as follows:

• Mechanical Filtration. This refers to the physical act of pulling unwanted matter out of the water and leaving it in the filter, to be disposed of when you clean the filter. Dead plant leaves and foreign particles are commonly filtered mechanically. Vacuuming your tank regularly is also a form of mechanical filtration.

• Chemical Filtration. Chemical filters remove toxic chemicals by attracting them chemically to a filter medium as the water is pushed through them. Carbon is a very common filter medium for chemical filters because the majority of toxins will attach to carbon.

• Biological Filtration. Biological filtration takes place on the filter medium when beneficial bacteria consume poisonous waste products, saving your tank from becoming toxic.

Biological filtration cycling explained here

Also in saltwater aquariums live rock and live sand biological filtration

What are the various aquarium filter types?

Since there are so many different filtration options available, beginning aquarists can easily feel overwhelmed by the number of different products available. The differences between these filters may seem quite complicated, but the following list of filter types described below will help make the subject much more accessible:

sponge filter
Typical air powered sponge filter

• Sponge Filters. The sponge filter is one of the most basic types available on the market. It is distinguished by its lack of complex mechanical, chemical, or biological components and makes an acceptable, inexpensive filtration solution for small tanks, hospital tanks, and spawning tanks.

The sponge filter operates by using an air pump to pull water through the sponge material where unwanted particles are caught and beneficial bacteria consume ammonia and nitrite. Despite its simplicity the sponge filter provides excellent biological filtration

• External Filters. External filters are very common for aquarium hobbyists because of their excellent combination of effective mechanical, chemical and biological filtration as well as their price. External filters are usually grouped into hanging filters (HOB) for medium-sized tanks and external canister filters for larger tanks.

Both of these filters draw water into a canister filled with filtering material that provide mechanical, chemical filtration and biological filtration.

Larger external canister filters also pressurize the water when inside the canister. Because the water is pressurized and there is no air-to-water contact occurring within the canister, biological filtration is not as effective.

• Internal Canister Filters. Aquarium filters that sit directly on the glass of the inside of your tank are called internal canister filters. These filters combine excellent mechanical, biological and chemical filtration with very quiet usage, being completely submerged.

The drawback to these types of filters is that they take up space inside the tank. If you are short on space or would like to keep your tank interior pristine and natural, you may want to look at other filters.

undergravel filter operation
Details of how an undergravel filter works

Undergravel Filters. These filters are installed underneath the gravel substrate of your tank and pull water through the gravel and into uplift tubes where it is again deposited into the tank. These filters use your gravel as a mechanical filter, but leave out the chemical element.

Undergravel filters are generally not recommended for a number of reasons: Biological filtration is limited to whatever bacteria live on your substrate, mechanical filtration continually builds up a mass of decaying matter under your gravel, chemical filtration is not present, and any plants you may keep will have to deal with having their nutrients siphoned off.

Chemical Filters. Aquarium filters that base their entire filtration process on chemical means often use activated carbon as their primary filter medium. There are other materials on the market, but carbon remains by far the most popular, and for good reason.

A chemical filter that uses activated carbon can remove a great deal of unwanted chemicals from your water simply by letting the water pass through the carbon. For this reason, many external and canister filters include a small chemical filter that uses carbon.

• Fluidised Bed Filters. Fluidised bed filters are cylindrical filters that hang off of the back of your fish tank. They connect to a water pump that forces water through the bed of small, heavy particles— often sand or silica chips.

These filters can be expensive, but they offer a very useful combination of mechanical and biological filtration while remaining generally low maintenance.

Many of these filters will provide successful levels of filtering according to their type, while sacrificing their efficiency towards the other two filtering methods. In order to realise all three filtration methods for the best quality water, you will probably want to combine two filters.

The benefits of combining filters

While a great deal of aquarium filters promise effective mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, many aquarists prefer to use two types of filters that only perform a single filtration task each. Combining filters can provide distinct benefits that even a large all-in-one canister filter cannot meet.

One benefit of combined filtering is that of redundancy— if one of your filters breaks down, you will still have some filtering going on through the other filter. Since these devices are so critical for the continued survival of your fish, it pays to keep a backup running.

Another benefit is that dedicated filters perform their jobs better than mixed ones. A single mechanical filter that does not provide chemical filtration has access to more water and space for its filtration job than it would if it had to do double duty. For this reason, many aquarists prefer to purchase multiple dedicated aquarium filters.

Choosing aquarium filter media

So far, this article has covered the various types of aquarium filters available on the market and categorized them by the way they function. There is another important way to categorize these devices, however, and it is by the medium that they use to filter water.

Mechanical filters have the widest range of filter media options, generally categorized by the size of the particles they can capture:

• Fluval Prefilter Media. Essentially a coarse, sponge-like material, this is called prefilter media because it is designed to catch large debris before it makes its way to a finer mechanical filter.

• Filter Pads & Foam. This medium-grade sponge material will clean most visible debris from your water without issue, and do not need to be replaced as often as finer filter media.

• Filter Floss. This fine material requires higher maintenance in the form of more frequent cleaning, but leaves your water much cleaner in the process.

• Micron Filter Pads. The very finest filter media available, these pads can filter material that is only fractions of the width of a human hair in length. These filters require frequent replacement, but can make your water crystal clear and even parasite free in the process.

Other considerations for aquarium filters: noise

The filter you choose could make a big difference not just for the lives of your fish, but yours as well: certain filters will produce different levels of noise. Controlling that noise can be difficult with certain types of filter.

Large external filters are usually the most common culprits of unwanted aquarium noise. Those that pressurize the aquarium water will often have to make some commotion in the process.

In general, any aquarium filters that rely on air pumps are usually quite noisy. High quality filters tend to be much quieter than their less expensive counterparts, and many self contained external filters are reasonably quiet.

The quietest filters are those where the main pump is fully submerged in the water such as the internal canister filter which can be almost silent.