How to Clean a Fish Tank -An Infographic Demonstration

how to clean a fish tank

Fish lovers out there, we have something for you. For those who love to keep fish, setting up and decorating the aquarium is a fun-filled work. Once you have set it up, all you need to do is just follow a few tips to keep the aquarium clean and healthy. 

A fresh aquarium improves your fish’s health and adds to the beauty of your house or office. So cleaning the aquarium is the most crucial maintenance task for your fishkeeping hobby. In this article, we’ll talk about ‘how to clean a fish tank’ with some simple steps that are equally applicable both for freshwater and saltwater tanks. 

Well, buying some fishes from a store and keeping it in the aquarium is not the only thing you are supposed to do as fishkeeping. Just like other pets, we need to take care of fishes. Many people think that if they have added filters to the tank, adequate filtration and routine water changes are enough to keep their tanks clean. 

But in reality, only an aquarium filter is not sufficient regardless of how effective it is. You need to replace the filter cartridge regularly but simultaneously also need to clean the gravels or sand of the aquarium. You will have to scrape off the algae from decors and glasses to make your aquarium looking neat and tidy.

Many new people have many queries about fish keeping. Being unaware of the ways of cleaning the fish tank and fish keeping, they generally commit mistakes. As a newbie, you may be wondering,

  • How can I keep my fish tank clean?
  • Do I need to clean the tank once in a year or so?
  • What type of water is fit for fishes?

Dear readers, here we are to answer all your questions regarding how to clean a fish tank and maintain cleanliness. The article provides you the whole procedure to keep your fish tank clean. A properly maintained aquarium will soothe your eyes and make you proud of having such a beautiful aquatic species.

Materials required for cleaning

  • Water testing kit
  • Gravel vacuum absorber
  • Algae scraper/ magnetic cleaner
  • Large bucket
  • New filter media
  • Clean cloth
  • Prepared water ( the water should be made based on the amount to be replaced and the type of water available, salt or freshwater)
  • Powerhead and heater ( for saltwater aquarium )
  • A salinity probe ( for saltwater aquarium)

How to Clean a Fish Tank (Sequential Steps)

While cleaning the aquarium, you should keep in mind that you shouldn’t go over-cleaning. We never suggest the large scale vigorous cleaning when it comes to fish keeping. Your cleaning work intends to maintain your fish’s health, and an essential thing that you should remember is that your aquarium is also a house to many useful bacteria. 

Beneficial bacteria can help in the nitrogen cycle and also helps in maintaining the pH of the water. The bacteria in the water tank helps in converting harmful substances into less harmful ones. But over-cleaning will not allow useful bacteria to grow well.

Here we have for you the steps and various hacks that can help you keep your aquarium clean.



Unplug electronic devices and remove decors

Be mindful of unplugging the electric components of the aquarium before you start cleaning. For your safety, you must not work with water while associated electric power is on. If you have artificial decorative things, you can take the opportunity to clean those while cleaning the aquarium. But if you have living plants, never remove them from the tank, as it can damage their roots.

Analyze water

Use a water testing kit to test the water of your fish tank. This step is to perform twice, before the existing water removal and before the new water addition. Try to keep the note of the changes that take place before and after the cleaning. In case you see the difference in the test, that you must surely look into it, as it can create problems for your fish to get acquainted with the changing atmosphere.

Cleaning inside surfaces with algae scraper/ magnetic cleaner

The essential part of aquarium cleaning is the removal of algae. If we avoid cleaning the fish tank regularly, it may lead to the development of the algae all over in the aquarium.

Start cleaning with an algae pad, scrub as softly as it is just necessary. If you perform regular cleaning, there should not any stubborn specks be present. But if any, you can use a plastic razor blade carefully to scrape it off. 

If your aquarium is large, it may turn out stressful for you to clean the algae. In that case, we suggest to go for a magnetic algae cleaner, that will help you clean the algae settled on the walls of the fish tank. The same can be bought line or is readily available in your nearest pet store. 

Algae is something that takes birth in the still water, which can lead to lesser oxygen supply to your fishes. It will get settled on the walls of your aquarium, which will make the water unclear. So it is necessary to clean it time before it spreads all over, endangering the life of your aquatic species. 

Note that surface cleaning steps you can perform either at the beginning or after the water removal step. 

Siphon out water

After cleaning of algae, the next step is to remove the water from the tank. You can use a vacuum absorber or gravel vacuum to suck out the water. The fishkeeper needs a gravel vacuum absorber. Many aquariums are large enough, so it becomes difficult to change the water. 

This step aims at eliminating debris that settled at the bottom of the tank. So use a vacuum absorber to suck out all the water along with settled dirt. It will absorb the debris present in the water and make it clean and fit for the fishes.

Clean gravel or sand whatever you use

After removal of 90% of the water, use the gravel vacuum to clean the gravel. There are many types of gravel vacuum available in the market. You can stir up the gravel and suck up the debris with the gravel vacuum.

You can use an additional stick to stir up the gravel if needed. If you use a sand substrate, the cleaning process is almost the same. You can read our specific article on ‘how to clean aquarium sand.‘ 

You can use a sponge cleaner that will help you in this step. Take a sponge to absorb the unclean water over the gravel/sand substrate and rinse all the matter collected in a bucket.

One point to note is not to clean every gravel thoroughly so that your aquarium loses all the beneficial bacteria.  

Add new water to your fish tank

The addition of new water solely depends on you. One thing that should be kept in mind while replacing the water is maintaining the water’s pH. The water test kit will help you analyze the same, and accordingly, you can go for freshwater or saltwater.

We suggest never to replace the whole water; instead, some portion (10-20%) of existing water should reuse. Do it to keep the familiar environment for the fishes. It becomes difficult for the fishes to suddenly adjust in the new environment and cause danger to their lives.

For freshwater tank

If you have a freshwater aquarium, before adding the water, be sure it meets the basic parameters, like pH and temperature. You can use RO water that is available in fish stores, and it will be beneficial if nitrates contamination is high.

You can also use tap water, it is perfectly okay but be sure tap water is chlorine-free. Better to use a conditioner with an ammonia detoxifier. Use a heater to preheat the water and verify it with an infrared thermometer before adding (Ideal temperature range is 75° – 80° Fahrenheit).  

For Saltwater tank 

An important part of saltwater tank cleaning is the proper preparation of saline water. It is better to prepare the water solution night before starting the cleaning job. You can make saline water using a ready salt mixes pack that is available in the market.

A general thumb rule to prepare a solution is half a cup one-step salt mix for every one gallon of water. You have to check the salinity with a probe before adding it. All other steps are as similar to freshwater adding, including pH and temperature checks. 

Cleaning of decorative things

Lastly, if you have added some of the decorative items in the aquarium to make it look good (definitely you have!), so it also requires cleaning. All you have to do is just take out the things from the aquarium and clean them in freshwater to remove deposits. After that, you can put them back in the water.

Do not use regular glass cleaner or standard lime cleaner. If freshwater is not sufficient to make those clean, simply you can use vinegar, or use a cleaner designated for aquarium purposes.

Why an aquarium needs regular cleaning?

Keeping the surroundings clean is something that we all desire. If our surroundings are tidy, it helps us maintain good health and a feeling of freshness. The same concept applies to fishes also. Cleaning the fish tank doesn’t add to our aesthetics but also supports our fishes’ health. The cleanliness of the fish tank is necessary mainly because of the three main reasons.

  • It helps regulate the nitrogen cycle, which is converting ammonia to nitrate with the help of some beneficial bacteria present in the water. In comparison to ammonia and nitrogen, nitrates are less harmful to the fishes and removable from the tank by regular water changes. 
  • Cleaning of the fish tank helps in reducing the organic matter from the fish tank.  Just like it is necessary to remove ammonia and nitrogen from the water, similarly, biological substances removal is essential. If you keep plants in your fish tank then, they can consume some organic elements, while regular tank cleaning removes others. 
  • Cleaning replenishes the minerals for the fishes. If the minerals are too high or too low in the water, then it can lead to osmotic shock and finally death of the fish. Generally, the fish owners use RO water to fill the aquarium to ensure impurity-free water. The water has already gone through the process of reverse osmosis, and this makes it safer. But you might need to add minerals to the water externally in the aquarium.

Cleaning frequency

We don’t suggest a frequency of weekly or monthly cleaning. The time depends on the amount of dirt gathering in the fish tank.

But a usual practice is to go for weekly water replacement to help your aquatic species stay healthy. A routine water change will also reduce your labor and lessen your cleaning efforts. This practice will also prevent the algae growth in the fish tank.

Don'ts regarding cleaning the fish tank

These things you shouldn’t do, in regards to aquarium cleaning, to maintain the health of your species. 

  • Never clean the aquarium with surf or any other such thing. The reason is that those cleansing agents are harmful to fish health and make them lethargic.
  • Never remove the live plants from the aquarium; instead, you can always add some aquatic species that can help maintain the fishes’ health.
  • Never overfeed the fishes. Food leftover is a leading cause to make your aquarium unhealthy, leading to the death of your aquatic species.
  • One should never be with the mindset that only an effective filtration placed in your aquarium is sufficient to keep it clean. The filter itself requires some maintenance like regular cartridge replacement.  
  • Never keep the fish tank near the window. Excessive light will cause more algae growth and will require more cleaning, never overuse sunlight.

Final Words

Following the above procedure to clean the fish tank will help you maintain the beauty of the aquarium and provide fishes an excellent and healthy environment. You may think aquarium maintenance is a tough job. But it is not so if done correctly by following some proper steps of cleaning

The fishkeeping can turn into a fun activity, and you would live to keep the aquatic species. So it is always advisable to maintain cleanliness in the fish tank and add beauty to your life. We hope this article is useful and turned out to be informative for you!

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Sujit Modak

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my aquarium blog. Fishkeeping is my passion, and I started this fascinating hobby back in 2006. Besides my engineering profession, I deeply studied many fishkeeping topics since I started building my home aquarium. I researched effective aquarium filtration and lighting of planted aquariums. I am keeping 20+ species of freshwater and saltwater fish as my aquatic pet collection. I successfully experimented with a complex ecosystem inside the aquarium, biotope aquariums, aquaponics, etc. I would love to share some learnings from my hands-on experience of the last 14 years. Hopefully, my sharing will be somewhat helpful to make your aquarium journey awesome! 

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