How to clean your fish tank: a step-by-step guide

Cleaning your fish tank is a crucial aspect of aquarium maintenance. It keeps the environment looking pristine and clear and helps prevent the buildup of harmful substances like ammonia, which can harm your fish.

a scuba diver cleaning aqaurium at a zoo
Aquarium cleaning isn’t that complicated after all. Photo by Andy Hay, cc

In this step-by-step guide, you will learn how to clean your fish tank to ensure the health and well-being of your aquatic pets.

  1. Unplug devices and remove the thermometer. Before starting, unplug all electrical devices, such as heaters, filters, and lights, to avoid accidents.
  2. Remove the aquarium hood. Take off the aquarium hood or cover to access the tank’s interior easily. Most covers have lights installed, so you will likely need to place a lamp nearby to see what you are doing.
  3. Siphon water. Use a gravel vacuum or siphon to remove up to 1/3 of the water from the tank. Hold the siphon close to the substrate to suck up dirt and debris. This will help to remove waste products and prevent the buildup of harmful ammonia.
  4. Clean the aquarium walls. Using an algae scraper or pad, clean the interior walls of the tank. Avoid using detergents or chemicals, as these can harm your fish and upset the balance of the aquarium. If you have algae eaters in your tank, leave some of the walls, such as the front and back walls, untouched to provide them with a natural food source.
  5. Clean equipment. Clean the aquarium equipment, including the filter media, by rinsing it in a bucket of old aquarium water. This will help preserve the beneficial bacteria that aid in breaking down waste products.
  6. Tend for plants. If your aquarium has live plants, take this opportunity to trim any dead or dying leaves and stems and remove any floating debris. Check for signs of disease or pest infestations, and treat them accordingly. If needed, replant or reposition the plants to ensure optimal growth and maintain a visually appealing arrangement.
  7. Pour water back into the aquarium. Refill the aquarium with fresh, dechlorinated water. Water can be dechlorinated by using a water conditioner or by letting it sit in a container for a day or two. While pouring the water in, place a plate or your palm at the bottom of the tank to prevent disturbing the substrate or decorations and pour the water onto it. This will help disperse the water more gently.
  8. Clean the outside of the aquarium. Wipe down the tank’s exterior, including the glass and the hood, with a clean cloth or paper towel. Avoid commercial cleaning agents, which may leave residues that can harm your fish.
  9. Reinstall equipment and turn on devices. Once the aquarium is clean and filled with water, reinstall the thermometer and other equipment. Finally, plug in and turn on all electrical devices, such as heaters, filters, and lights.

Regular cleaning and maintenance of your fish tank will ensure a healthy and stable environment for your aquatic pets.

How often you should clean your fish tank depends on several factors, such as the size of the tank, the number of fish, and the types of plants and decorations.

Generally, performing a partial water change and cleaning the tank’s walls every one to two weeks is a good idea. However, more extensive cleanings, such as scrubbing decorations, cleaning filter media, and vacuuming the substrate, can be done every four to six weeks or as needed. Personally, I rarely clean decorations, but that is also because I have algae eaters in my tank.

Keeping a regular aquarium cleaning schedule will help maintain a healthy environment for your fish and prevent the buildup of harmful substances.





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