How to Clean a Fish Tank

How to Clean a Fish Tank

Cleaning your fish tank is crucial for the health and happiness of your fish, but also important to make sure that it looks nice and gives you more enjoyment. Cleaning a fish tank may seem like a tedious, unpleasant chore, but the truth is that if a tank is cleaned regularly, maintaining it can be fairly fast and easy. Here’s how to clean a fish tank.

Equipment Needed to Clean a Fish Tank

The most important thing about your aquarium cleaning equipment is that it never be used for any other purpose. Household cleaners, and even ordinary cleaning items like soap and tap water may be harmful for your tank’s water balance and your fish.

Buy cleaning supplies that are specifically designed for fish tanks, since ordinary household items may have residues that are harmful to fish. It’s best to prepare your aquarium cleaning kit and set it aside for use only in the fish tank. You will need:

Because you will need at least one large bucket, it’s a good idea to keep all your cleaning items in the bucket so they don’t get misplaced or mixed with other household items.

Having two buckets (one for preparing and conditioning water before using it in your fish tank, and a second bucket for use when siphoning) makes it faster and easier to manage aquarium water. Clean and dry all your cleaning tools after every use.

Before You Clean Your Fish Tank

The day before you clean your fish tank, test your water. Performing a water test lets you know whether (or how much) of a water change is needed, and gives you time to prepare and condition water for your aquarium if needed.

How to Clean A Fish Tank

To clean your fish tank, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your heater and filter

Turning off your aquarium heater and filter keeps them from being damaged as the water level in the fish tank is lowered during cleaning.

  1. Clean the inside glass

To clean the interior glass of a fish tank, use an algae pad to gently scrub the glass clean. If necessary, use a scraper to remove stubborn algae from the glass

  1. Remove and clean decorations

Remove any rocks, decorations, or artificial plants that are visibly dirty, or are large enough to block your access to the substrate. Clean decorations and accessories with a gentle scrub brush to remove algae, and rinse them in clean water if needed.

  • If your aquarium décor is especially dirty, prepare a solution of 10% bleach, and soak the items for 15 minutes. Then brush them clean, rinse them thoroughly, and allow them to air dry completely. You may also want to rinse them in water with a dechlorinator to make sure they are safe.
  • Leave your decorations outside the tank while you continue to clean it.
  1. Trim and tend living plants

You may need to gently brush living plants to remove excess algae. Live plants may also need to be pruned or trimmed, using aquarium-safe tools. Always make sure to dispose of aquarium plant trimmings responsibly.

  1. Clean the aquarium substrate

Using a siphon, vacuum dirt and debris from your aquarium gravel or substrate. To use an aquarium siphon:

  • Position the end of the siphon’s hose in a large bucket. If your siphon has a long enough hose, you may be able to use a nearby sink or drain instead of the bucket. Keep a section of the tube folded in your hand, so that you can relax your grip on the tube to increase water flow, or squeeze it crimped shut to reduce water flow.
  • Completely submerge the siphon end inside the aquarium. With your other hand, submerge the siphon and allow it to fill with water.
  • Tip the end of the siphon upwards. Holding the base of the siphon where it connects to the tube under the water, tilt the end upward at an angle.
  • Raise the siphon end. Gradually raise the tip of the siphon up over the lip of the water, until water starts flowing down through the tube.
  • Re-submerge the end at the same diagonal angle. As soon as water is flowing down the tube, re-immerse the siphon in the water to maintain the water flow into the bucket (if you have a siphon with a suction bulb or other mechanism, you may use that to start the water flow instead).
  • “Vacuum” your aquarium gravel. Once the siphon is completely submerged and water is flowing down into the bucket, use the siphon end to stir up your gravel or substrate, so that waste and debris flows down into the bucket. Use your “crimping” hand to control the amount of suction, allowing gravel to fall downward out of the siphon and dirt to travel through the tube to the bucket. Make sure you stir up all the gravel and remove all the debris.
  1. Clean exterior glass and fixtures

Use an aquarium-safe glass cleaner to clean the outside of your fish tank and restore its shine. You may also want to remove and clean the hood, lights, tank top, and other accessories. Rinse these items under water and wipe them clean and dry with a clean cloth.

  1. Replace lost water

Refill your fish tank with the water you prepared and conditioned the day before.

  1. Replace tank decorations

Replace your tank rocks, artificial plants, and other decorative items

  1. Turn on your fish tank equipment

Turn on the heater, filter, and other equipment after cleaning.

How to Clean a Fish Tank

After Cleaning Your Fish Tank

Approximately two weeks after cleaning your fish tank, clean your aquarium filter. It’s important not to clean the gravel and the filter at the same time since you may disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria. Instead, clean them approximately two weeks apart, inspecting and replacing filter media, cleaning filter tubing, and keeping the filter in optimal condition.

Keeping Your Fish Tank Clean

Generally speaking, you need to clean a fish tank and perform a water change every 2-4 weeks. However, keeping your fish tank clean in between monthly cleanings isn’t difficult, and makes ongoing maintenance much faster and easier. Here are some ways to keep a fish tank clean.

  • Spot cleaning. You can use an algae scrubber or a small brush to spot-clean algae as it arises.
  • Live plants. Certain species of aquarium plants can help to improve water quality and keep a fish tank clean by using nutrients that contribute to the growth of algae. Fast-growing aquarium plants like hornwort, wisteria, and teardrop rotala are famous for helping to use aquarium waste and reduce algae growth.
  • Scavengers and algae eaters. There are a wide range of aquarium inhabitants that naturally want to eat algae and scavenge waste, and help to keep an aquarium clean. Certain species of algae-eating fish, including plecos, catfish, and even ordinary mollies and guppies can help keep an aquarium clean. There are also snails, shrimp, and other aquatic species that scavenge waste and help maintain a healthy tank. Research species carefully to make sure that they will make good tank-mates for your fish.
  • Don’t overfeed. Overfeeding fish is a common cause of a dirty fish tank. Uneaten food becomes waste and debris, which can affect water chemistry and make the tank dirty more quickly. Wasted food also contributes to the growth of algae, and overfeeding is also unhealthy for your fish.

A clean fish tank is crucial for the health and well-being of your fish, and also makes your aquarium nicer to look at and live with.

Regular care, along with some minor maintenance and the right fish tank plants and animals, also makes periodic cleaning faster and easier.

Once you’ve made it a habit, it will only take a few minutes, and your fish will thank you for it.