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.

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.

Setting up a tropical aquarium: step by step guide

fish tank set up

Setting up a tropical aquarium professionally

This is an easy to follow step by step guide on setting up an aquarium for the beginner aquarist. Following these steps closely will allow you to have a successful aquarium set up at home, even if you don’t have any experience in keeping fish. You will avoid the most common disasters such as dead fish, dying plants and green water.

1. Buy the biggest aquarium with a fitted hood that you can afford. Buy a 15″ high aquarium for larger fish or a 12″ high aquarium for smaller fish
2.Buy a heater-thermostat. Buy a larger wattage than recommended so that the heater doesn’t have to struggle to maintain the temperature
3. Buy a large sponge based internal power filter. Again get one with a higher turnover than recommended
4. Buy a stand or cabinet that will allow easy access to the top of the aquarium
5. Find a location away from direct sunlight near power sockets where the floor will support the weight of the aquarium
6.Use a spirit level to ensure the aquarium is sitting perfectly level
7. Place a sheet of polystyrene between the aquarium and stand or surface the aquarium is to sit on. This will help to spread out any pressure points which may crack the glass
8.Buy a hand pump action aquarium vacuum to assist in the maintenance of the aquarium

9.Buy some aquarium gravel
10. thoroughly wash the gravel until no dirt comes off in the water
11. Line the aquarium with the gravel. Slope the gravel. Higher at the back of the aquarium and lower at the front
12. Buy a flourescent tube with a peak in the red, blue and yellow areas of the spectrum. This will benefit the plants who will absorb the light
13.Buy a test kit that will test for ph, hardness, ammonia and nitrites
14.Fill your aquarium with water and treat the water with an anti chlorine chemical that will remove the chlorine. Or leave the water for standing for seven days so that the chlorine and ammonia will evaporate. Use a plastic sheet on the gravel when pouring in the water to avoid disturbing the gravel.
15. Set up a large barrel in the back yard or garden and fill it with tap water
16. Turn on your heater
17. Check your ph and hardness of your water.
18. Use the ph and hardness figures to guide you in selecting your plants and fish. If you have hard and alkaline water then it is much better to buy fish that thrive in such water such as Malawi fish.
19.Buy some plants and insert them into the gravel or in clay pots if needed.
20. Turn on the filter.
21. Add 2 hardy fish (such as zebra danios or mollies) after 7 days. Don’t feed for two days then feed sparsely to not pollute the aquarium. Any uneaten food must be removed within 5 minutes.
22. Do daily tests of the ammonia and nitrate. Do a water change with water from the water barrel when the ammonia starts to rise. Top up the water barrel as necessary.
23. After another 7 days buy a few more fish. Do half stock at this point. Keep feeding sparsely and clean up all uneaten food. For every litre of water allow 1cm of fish. 150litre tank = 150cm of fish. At this point 75cm total length of all your fish for a 150litre tank for example. But allow for growth. Calculate using the adult size of the individual fish.
24. Keep doing the water tests and do daily water changes of 10-25%.
25. After another 7 days buy some more fish. Stock at 75% at this point which for a 150litre tank is 112cm total length of all fish. keep feeding sparsely. Again calculate using the adult size of the fish.
26. Keep doing the water tests and daily water changes
27. After a month you can fully stock your aquarium but you will still need to test the water and do water changes. This is 150cm of fish for a 150 litre aquarium. 50cm for 50 litre. 100cm for 100 litre aquarium, etc. Again calculate using the adult size of the fish. Start feeding normally but keep a close eye on the ammonia and nitrite levels.
28. As the ammonia and nitrite levels stabilise to 0ppm, which may take up to 6 weeks, then you can cut back on the water changes to once a week or longer.
29. Check your plant growth. Some plants may be thriving while others may be struggling. Remove the struggling plants and buy some more suited to your aquarium.
30.Check for algae growths. If algae has taken hold then reduce the duration of lighting during the day and or cover one side or the back of the aquarium to reduce the light.
31. Siphon through the gravel by churning the mouth of the vacuum into the gravel. The gravel will not be sucked up but accumulated fish waste will be removed.
32. Use tablet fertilisers pushed near the roots of any plants that need it.
33. Swap or sell any fish that don’t settle in. Either they are bullying the other fish, being bullied, they are constantly hiding or have fallen ill.

So, set up your aquarium in a planned way so that the plants get acclimatized.
Beginners plants

Also a tank’s bacteria must mature to recycle fish waste so that the fish don’t die. Also make sure you buy fish will that get on with each other.

compatible fish lists here

Never have a newly bought fish die again and have that fish living for a long time.

Cycling your aquarium – explains the process in detail

Let aquarium set up mistakes be a thing of the past.