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.

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!