How To Clean A Fish Tank -An Infographic Demonstration

Fish lovers out there, I 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 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.

This article will talk about ‘how to clean a fish tank’ with some simple steps applicable to both freshwater and saltwater tanks

Buying some fish 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 fish. 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 to keep things clean regardless of its effectiveness.

Besides the right filtration system, you need to replace the filter cartridge regularly and simultaneously clean the aquarium’s gravel or sand. You will have to scrape off the algae from decors and glasses to make your aquarium look neat and tidy.

I have been in this sensational hobby since I was a teenager and learned a few things from hands-on experience. Cleaning aquariums is never a hard job, but it’s tricky. 

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 a year or so?
  • What type of water is fit for fish?

Dear readers, here I am to answer all your questions regarding cleaning a fish tank and maintaining cleanliness.

The article provides you with 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)

The First Thing To Remember – Avoid Over-cleaning

While cleaning the aquarium, keep in mind that over-cleaning can be suicidal. All expert aquarists will never suggest the large-scale vigorous cleaning of the aquarium.

Your cleaning work intends to maintain your fish’s health. A vital thing you should remember is that your aquarium is also a house to many useful bacteria.

Beneficial bacteria help in the nitrogen cycle. The water tank bacteria help convert harmful substances into less harmful ones and keep healthy water quality. But over-cleaning will not allow useful bacteria to grow well.

Here I have the steps and various hacks that can help you keep your aquarium clean. I’ll suggest following it sequentially. 

How To Clean A Fish Tank (Sequential Steps)

infographic - how to clean a fish tank

Step-1: 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.

Related Resources: How to Clean Aquarium Decorations [Essential Tips]

Step-2: Analyze water

Analyzing water is crucial to maintain a steady quality (more specifically pH) before and after the cleaning. 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 a note of the changes that take place before and after the cleaning.

In case of a significant difference is found in the test, you must indeed look into it. A sudden alteration can create problems for your fish to get acquainted with the changing atmosphere.

Step-3: Cleaning inside surfaces with algae scraper/ magnetic cleaner

An 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 algae all over the aquarium.

Start cleaning with an algae pad, and scrub as softly as it is just necessary. If you perform regular cleaning, there should no stubborn specks be present. But if any, you can use a plastic razor blade carefully to scrape it off.

If the aquarium is large, it may turn out stressful for you to clean the algae. In that case, I suggest going for a magnetic algae cleaner that will help you clean the algae settled on the fish tank walls.

Different types of magnetic cleaners are readily available in your nearest pet store, or you can buy them from online sites.

Algae take birth in still water, which can lead to a lesser oxygen supply to your fish. It will get settled on the walls of your aquarium, making the water unclear. So it is necessary to clean them time before they spread all over, endangering the life of your aquatic species.

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Step-4: Siphon out water

After cleaning of algae, the next step is to remove the water from the tank. It is better to use a vacuum absorber or gravel vacuum to suck out the water. Fishkeepers need 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. A vacuum absorber will suck out all the water along with accumulated dirt. Absorbing the debris present in the water will make the water clean, clear, and fit for the fish.

Step-5: Clean the substrate

After the 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 piece of stones and suck up the debris with the gravel vacuum. 

It is better to use an additional stick to stir up the gravel if needed. If you use a sand substrate, the cleaning process is almost the same. To present a more specific instruction for the sand substrate, I have an article on ‘how to clean aquarium sand.‘ 

You can use a sponge cleaner that will help 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.

It is vital to remember that you should not clean every gravel thoroughly so that your aquarium loses all the beneficial bacteria.  

Step-6: Adding new water to your fish tank

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. 

I suggest never to replace the whole water. Instead, some portion (10-20%) of existing water should reuse. Do it to keep beneficial bacteria essential for cycling the tank.

The remaining part of the old water also creates a familiar environment for the fish. It becomes difficult for the fish to adjust to the new environment suddenly. The drastic change can danger their lives.

For freshwater tank

Before adding the water, be sure it meets the necessary parameters (the most important are 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 the tap water has to be chlorine-free. It is good to use a conditioner with an ammonia detoxifier. Use a heater to preheat the water and verify it with an infrared thermometer before adding (The ideal temperature range is 75° – 80° Fahrenheit).  

For Saltwater tank 

An important part of saltwater tank cleaning is the proper preparation of saline water. I’ll suggest preparing the water solution night before starting the cleaning job. You can make saline water using a ready salt mix pack that is available on the market. 

A general thumb rule to prepare a solution is half a cup of 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 similar to freshwater adding, including pH and temperature checks. 

Step-7: 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!), it also requires cleaning. All you have to do is take out the aquarium and clean them in fresh water 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, you can use vinegar or use a cleaner designated for aquarium purposes. Check the article for cleaning aquarium decorations for details. 

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 fish also.

Cleaning the fish tank doesn’t only add to our aesthetics but also supports our fishes’ health. The cleanliness of the fish tank is necessary because of three main reasons.

(1) It helps regulate the nitrogen cycle, converting ammonia to nitrate with some beneficial bacteria present in the water. Compared to ammonia and nitrogen, nitrates are less harmful to the fish and removable from the tank by regular water changes.

(2) Cleaning the fish tank reduces all the harmful organic matter from the fish tank. It is necessary to remove ammonia and nitrates from the water; similarly, other biological substances removal is essential. If you keep plants in the aquarium, they can consume some organic elements, while regular tank cleaning removes others.

(3) Cleaning replenishes the minerals for the fish. If the minerals are too high or too low in the water, it can lead to osmotic shock and, finally, the fish’s death. Usually, 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, the RO process eliminates necessary minerals from the water. So, sometimes it is required to add minerals externally.

Cleaning Frequency

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

But a routine water change is essential. It is good practice to perform weekly partial (10 – 30%) 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 algae growth in the fish tank.

Don’ts Regarding Cleaning The Fish Tank

In regards to aquarium cleaning, a few things you should avoid to keep the fish healthy.

  • Never clean the aquarium with surf or any other such thing. The reason is that those cleansing agents are harmful to fish health. Toxic contamination makes them weak and lethargic.
  • Never remove the live plants from the aquarium while cleaning. Removing plants from the tank will damage the roots and make them unstable. 
  • Don’t overfeed the fish. Food leftover is a leading cause of making your aquarium unhealthy.
  • Never be with the mindset that only an effective filtration in the aquarium is sufficient to keep it clean. The filter itself requires some maintenance like regular cartridge replacement.  
  • It is better not to keep the fish tank near the window. Excessive light will cause more algae growth and will require more cleaning. Don’t overuse sunlight.

Final Words

Following the above procedure to clean the fish tank will help you maintain the aquarium’s beauty and provide fish with 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

Follow the right way, and the fishkeeping will be fun, relaxing, and mind-refreshing. Of course, you would love to keep the aquatic species.

Cleanliness is the key to successful fishkeeping. Properly cleaning the aquarium will minimize the labor, save time, and ensure healthiness.

I hope this article turned out to be informative for you! If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to drop one in the below comment box. 

Sujit Modak

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