How to Properly Clean an Aquarium

Busy Bee: How to Properly Clean an Aquarium

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Maintaining a pet’s health involves much more than simply ensuring they are fed and safe. Long-term health is practically impossible if the pet’s environment is not kept clean. In the case of pet fish, this means regularly cleaning your aquarium. A good indication that it is past time to clean your aquarium is that the water will get cloudy and may start to emit a foul odor. It is important that the aquarium is cleaned before this takes place, but equally important that, should the conditions reach this point, that you begin cleaning the aquarium immediately.

Of course, caring for freshwater fish is different, and in many ways less complicated than caring for saltwater fish. Saltwater fish require a particular environment. The temperature and salinity required for saltwater fish must fall within certain parameters, while the freshwater fish simply requires cool, clean water.

To aid in the maintenance of your tank, you can buy particular types of fish that feed on the waste and algae you remove when you clean the tank. The plecostomus, commonly called the sucker fish, feeds on algae and even the remains of other dead fish. In the case of saltwater tanks, snails can fulfill the same role as the freshwater sucker fish.

Here are some step-by-step instructions for cleaning both a freshwater and saltwater aquarium.


1. Prepare

To avoid unnecessary delay, make sure you have all your cleaning supplies ready before you begin. Make sure you have enough water to replace the water you will be removing. To properly clean the tank, you will need an algae pad and a gravel vacuum. You should also replace your filter, especially if the water has begun to change color. To do this, you will need to have replacement sponges, carbon packets, etc.

2. Clean the Glass

Using the algae pad, you will be able to remove algae from the glass. Algae can be harmful to the overall health of your fish, so make sure you are thorough. If any of the algae sticks to the glass such that you cannot remove it with the algae pad, carefully use a razorblade to remove what remains.

3. Vacuum the Gravel

The gravel in an aquarium may look clean, but it is where everything from old food to fish waste can hide. This can breed all kinds of diseases that are dangerous to the fish. Using a gravel vacuum, you can clean the gravel and keep your fish healthy.

4. Clean Everything in the Tank

After cleaning the glass and gravel, it can be easy to forget to clean the decorations. The castles, treasure chests, etc, can attract algae. Remember to clean the insides of these decorations as well, considering that is where your fish may spend much of their time. It is advisable to clean these decorations by taking them out of the tank and allowing them to soak in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for no more than 15 minutes. After soaking the decorations, soak them for a few seconds in boiling water to remove the bleach and let them dry before placing them in the tank.

5. Replace the Correct Amount of Water

Even if the water has just begun to change color, it is not always necessary to replace all the water in the tank. For a five gallon tank that is cleaned regularly, one gallon, or 20 percent, should suffice. If the water has begun to change color, it is probably necessary to replace two and a half, or 50 percent of the total amount of water. The water should be roughly the same temperature as that which you removed, as water that is too hot or too cold can do damage to your fish.

6. Change the Filter

Changing your filter approximately once a month is crucial to maintaining the overall good health of your fish. Failing to do this can cause the filter cartridge to release carbon, which can do harm to the fish you’ve just worked to maintain. The entire filter does not need to be replaced every month. For instance, you can simply rinse the cartridge off once a week rather than replace it, but everything you decide to replace should be replaced with careful attention paid to the instructions. Incorrectly replacing parts can cause the filter to malfunction.

Saltwater Aquariums

1. Prepare.

Cleaning a saltwater aquarium is not entirely different from changing a freshwater one. In fact, all of the same materials for cleaning the tank are required, plus some additional supplies. In addition to the materials mentioned above, you need salt mix, a refractometer, salinity probe, or hygrometer, a thermometer, and, in the case of a saltwater tank cleaning, the one part to ten bleach solution is necessary.

2. Clean the Algae

Just as the instruction above, clean the algae from the inside of the glass with your algae pad.

3. Remove Ten Percent of the Water

Saltwater aquarium owners are constantly fighting against nitrates building up in their water. Removing and replacing ten percent of the water will eliminate the nitrates and keep your fish healthy.

4. Vacuum the Gravel

Even in saltwater tanks, gravel will harbor a wide variety of dangerous diseases if it is not properly maintained. Use a gravel vacuum to clean the gravel and remove any fish waste and food.

5. Clean Everything in the Tank

Follow the instructions for the freshwater tank. In the case of saltwater tanks, however, cleaning the decorations in the bleach solution is a necessity.

6. Replace the Saltwater you Removed

In the case of a freshwater tank, you only need to be concerned, in most cases, with the temperature of the water. With saltwater, however, you have to ensure that the pH, salinity, and temperature are all in a safe range. Place distilled water in a clean bucket and heat the water with a saltwater heater designed for this purpose. You can find one at your local pet store or online. Next, add the salt mix and follow the instructions that came with it. Before adding the water, let it aerate overnight. Ensure it is safe for your fish; check to make sure the salinity is between 1.021 and 1.025 with your salinity probe. Finally, make sure the temperature is between 73 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.


Maintenance and Setup

Famous Aquariums around the World

  • The National Aquarium – Located in Baltimore, this aquarium holds some of the most incredible creatures of the sea.
  • The Seattle Aquarium – Since 1977, the aquarium has included some amazing attractions, such as the 120,000 gallon aquarium, holding creatures from the coast of Washington.
  • The Offshore Gulf of Mexico Aquarium – To learn more about tropical fish, visit the Sea Center in Texas.
  • The New England Aquarium – One of the most famous aquariums in the world, this aquarium, located in Boston, holds not only fish, but a variety of penguins, turtles, and more.
  • The Top Aquariums in the World – A ranked list of the top 25 aquariums on Earth.

Fish Facts

  • Compatibility Chart – If you choose fish that are not compatible, it does not matter how clean the tank is.
  • Fish Diseases – A chart to help you diagnose fish diseases.
  • Tropical Fish Problem Solver Chart – Like the Fish Diseases chart above, but specifically designed for the saltwater fish owner.
  • Common Fishkeeping Myths – Do not fall victim to these common misunderstandings.


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