How To Clean A Fish Tank

Cleaning your fish tank is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep your aquatic pets healthy and happy. By removing waste, ammonia, and excess bacteria, you are giving your fishes the best environment to grow.

But while the end result is beneficial to your fishes, the actual act of doing so can cause them a lot of stress. They just aren’t used to a high level of movement and abrupt changes in their environment. That’s why it’s important to keep your aquarium cleaning as stress-less as possible for your fish.

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When To Clean Your Tank

aquarium in living room

How often a tank needs to be cleaned depends on a number of factors: how big it is, how much water it holds, how many creatures live in it, what kind of creatures live in it, how efficient its filtration system is, where it is placed in your home, among others.

Bigger tanks typically require less frequent cleaning, but that can be negated if you cram twenty fish in there. You may have a brand new filtration system, but if your tank is placed near direct sunlight, it’ll be hard to stop the algae from thriving.

A safe estimate would be to clean once a week. Any more frequent than that on a regular basis will destroy your aquarium’s microbiota, which is essential to your fish’s health. But if you notice that the water is starting to get cloudy, or that your aquarium is starting to smell funky, or that your fishes are behaving like they are stressed, it’s a sign that a cleaning session is in order, regardless of how long it’s been since your last one.

Every six months, take time to check all the electronic devices attached to your tank, like the lights, hoods, filters, and pumps. Turn them off, unplug them, and clean if necessary. Replace filters, cartridges, lamps, and other equipment to make sure they’re working well.

Taking out all the water from your aquarium and doing a thorough, deep clean should never be done unless there has been an outbreak of disease. Even then, this is the last resort option. Replacing all the water is like resetting your phone to factory settings. It removes the beneficial bacteria that has thrived with your fish and changes the chemical and physical properties that your fish has gotten used to. The procedure for reintroducing your fish is exactly the same as when you first set up your fish tank.

What You Need To Clean Your Fish Tank

boy watching fish tank

Before cleaning your tank, make sure you have all the equipment you need:

  • Algae scrubber. There are many kinds of algae scrubber in pet stores, the most popular of which are sponge- or cloth-like pads, algal scrapers that look similar to what you would use to clean your windshield, and magnetic glass cleaners that help minimize dunking your hand into the water.
  • Gravel vacuum. The most basic gravel vacuum consists of a siphon tube and a hose. The siphon tube end goes into the aquarium, and the hose end empties into an empty bucket. To use it, submerge the siphon tube in the tank and move it up and down to get the suction going. It’s working when you see the water going up the hose and into the bucket.
  • Empty bucket. Make sure that it is large enough to fit 10-15% of your tank water.
  • Bucket of dechlorinated tap water to replace the tank water. Designate a bucket for this function. Do not clean it with detergent or any solution, and make sure it is only used for this purpose. To dechlorinate tap water, you can either leave the water overnight to allow harmful chemicals to dissipate, or add a few drops of dechlorinating solution before you start cleaning.
  • Water conditioner. A water conditioner is any chemical you add to water to change its quality. A dechlorinator is the most basic type of water conditioner and the one that most aquarium owners use. In fact, almost all water conditioners have dechlorinating abilities. In addition to that, they may include substances that are helpful to certain types of aquariums. There are water conditioners designed for use in saltwater fish tanks, some that help create the right pH, and others that can enhance aquarium plant growth without increasing algae. You may ask pet store owners what is the best product for your particular aquarium. In general, it’s best to use the water conditioner you used to set up your tank during routine cleaning sessions.

How To Clean Your Tank Without Stressing Your Fish

mother and girl pointing at fish in acquarium

Minimizing stress in your fish during routine fish tank cleaning is all about being slow and careful. This activity is done on a regular basis, and if your fish get worked up on a regular basis, it’s likely you will see its effect on their health.

  1. Before cleaning, make sure your hands and all equipment going into the tank are clean and dry. There should be no residue from soap or cleaning solutions.
    In a closed system like an aquarium, even trace amounts of chemicals can bring down the quality of your water. If you want to wear gloves, make sure to get the ones specially designed for aquarium cleaning. Other types of gloves may have chemicals that are harmful to your fish.
  2. Use an algal scrubber to remove excess algae from the aquarium glass. Clean the glass with slow and deliberate movements to minimize causing turbulence in the water that may alarm your fish.
  3. Remove the aquarium ornaments and set aside.
  4. Use your gravel vacuum to clean the substrate in your tank. Once you get the suction movement going, put the siphon tube right against the gravel.
    You will see the gravel rise up, and with it, the waste stuck to them. Slightly raise the siphon tube so the stones fall back down while the detritus gets sucked up along with the water. Again, use slow and careful movement as you go through the entire floor of the aquarium. 
  5. As you do this, keep an eye out for the water level. You show be removing 10-15% of the water in your tank. Make sure that your filter, temperature regulators, and other aquarium devices are still submerged in water. 
  6. Slowly add your replacement water into the tank. You can use the same gravel vacuum, just put the siphon end into the bucket and the hose end into the aquarium. You can also pour the water into the tank, as long as you make sure it’s a slow and steady stream with minimal splashing. 
  7. Take the aquarium ornaments and your fish net and scrub them clean them using an algal pad. Then place them back into the aquarium.
  8. You can rinse out your filter using the discarded aquarium water. This way, you preserve the bacteria living in it. If you plan to change your filter, make sure you do it a few days after you clean the tank. This will give time for your fish and bacteria to settle before another big change occurs.

And that’s it! A little effort every week goes a long way in keeping your fishy friends happy, healthy, and stress-free.

Regina Ranada

Regina graduated with a degree in Psychology and worked in Human Resources for four years before she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She is interested in companion animals and wildlife medicine. She sidelines as the social media manager of her pitbull, Pablo.

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