How to clean your fish tank

Cleaning your aquarium is the single most way to ensure stable, healthy and suitable water chemistry for your aquatic animals. Whether it’s a goldfish bowl or a shark pond, cleaning the environment will ensure that your pet will be healthy and your hobby will be fulfilling! This is the best way to be hands on with your fish, coral or marine invertebrates!

How often do you need to clean a fish tank?

The frequency of cleaning your aquarium is based on a few key variables. Water volume, tank inhabitants, nutrient input and nutrient export should all be taken into consideration. For example, a small tank with a few fish will need to be cleaned more often than a larger aquarium with a few fish in it. Another determining factor will be the type of food being fed and how often. Lastly, knowing the filtration and how it removes waste will help you dictate and regulate the frequency of cleanings. 

Do you take the fish out of the tank when cleaning?

No! You should not take the fish out. This will cause unnecessary stress to the marine animals and could cause death to more sensitive fish. There are some very rare cases that would prompt you to remove the fish like treating an individual or relocating the tank entirely. But, in a regular maintenance rhythm you should not have to remove the fish.

What water is safe water for an aquarium?

For a freshwater aquarium an old practice used to be letting the water sit out for a day or so while the chlorine evaporated. However, now-a-day local water plants use different chemicals to treat the water, some that do not evaporate (chloramine). It is always a good practice to “prime” or dechlorinate the water. This in turn will make tap water safe instantaneously for a freshwater aquarium. 

Saltwater aquariums are a bit of a different beast. Tap water is out! The safest way to recreate a marine environment is to use RO/DI water or reverse osmosis deionized water. This is sold by the gallon by your local fish shop (LFS). Get used to milk jugs and hardware store buckets! Another way to get this water is to have a RO/DI system of your own. This however will require you to change sediment filters, carbon blocks and membranes. You will want to check with your local municipality to inquire what is being used to treat the local water. This will help you determine the total dissolved solids in your water source and help in identifying how many stages you will need. After you have your bucket of RO/DI water, you’ll need to mix and salt. Always add salt to water and not water to salt. The specific gravity of salt should be 1.025 or 35 ppm.

How do I remove Algae?

There are a variety of algae that live in water. It’s recommended to identify what algae you are battling prior to taking action. First and foremost algae is photosynthetic. The more light you offer it the more it grows. Reducing light can be used as a preventative measure as well as a cure. Take into consideration not only the lights you have over the fish tank but also the ambient room lighting (Windows and room light). Shaving off an hour or two at the beginning and end of your lighting schedule can help cut back on algae growth. In severe cases, when algae seems to be overtaking the aquarium a total blackout could be an option. Turning off the lights and covering the tank with a sheet or towel to prevent light penetration is often referred to as a “blackout”. This can be implemented for a few days to kill off algae.

Scraping and scrubbing the glass and rocks/decor is good practice. This should be a part of the routine when doing biweekly/monthly cleanings. This in turn will allow the algae to either settle or be removed by the filters. Always scrape glass prior to changing the water. This will make for easy removal of any settled algae. 

It is important to stay on top of your maintenance schedule. When it comes to algae - simply remove it when you see it. An ounce of prevention goes so much farther than a pound of cure!

How do I do a “waterchange” on my aquarium?

First before any water is removed from the aquarium be sure to have your new water ready to go. Ensure that the temperature of the new water is similar to the aquarium water. If this is a freshwater aquarium be sure that the water is primed to remove chlorine. And if this is a saltwater tank be sure that the RO/DI water has been prepped and salt has been added. 

One other thing to note before the removal of water is to cut off any pumps that could potentially run dry. We will want to avoid any pumps or filters running without water in them as this could damage the equipment.

The best and most efficient way to remove water is with a gravel vacuum. This is simply a cylinder attached to a hose. This can be found at any local fish shop. Start by inserting the cylinder into the top of the aquarium, submerging it fully underwater and creating a siphon through the hose. Make sure the other end of the hose is leading into a bucket where the dirty water will go. Use one hand to guide the large cylinder inside the aquarium pressing it into the gravel in various spots to remove settled detritus. Try to cover as much surface area at the bottom as you can. Once you’ve removed about 20% to 30% of the water (depending on your particular maintenance rhythm), dispose of it. Now all that’s left to do is add your clean water, turn back on all pumps/filters and enjoy!