How to Clean an Aquarium
If you’re ready to grab your net to catch your fish and remove him from his tank to clean it, stop right there and leave him be – you need not remove them from the tank to clean it. This is just one of the many things you may not know about cleaning your fish tank properly.
What You Will Need
The first thing you need to do is assemble your supplies. Here’s what you’ll need to get that tank sparkling clean:
- Siphon and gravel vacuum
- Clean bucket or large bowl
- Algae scraper
Also, before you get started, you will want to prepare new water to replace the water you’re going to remove from your tank (between 10 and 20 percent of its total volume). If you have saltwater fish, you will need to prepare it to the proper ratio of salt and water. Regardless of the type of marine life you have, you’ll want the water to be the same temperature as the water already in the tank and you will need it to be free of chlorine and other additives. You should either leave the water sitting out on the counter for 48 hours or add dechlorinization solution to avoid undue stress on your fish from any minerals in your tap water.
Use a new bucket or bowl, not one you just used to mop the kitchen floor. You don’t want to risk any trace chemicals from soaps or other cleaning products, which could not only stress out your fish but could kill them. For the same reason, make sure your hands have no residue on them from soap or lotion if you plan on putting them in the tank.
And don’t forget to turn off and unplug the tank’s filter and other electric components before you start the cleaning process.
1. Scrub the sides of the tank
Again, it’s important to note that any cleaning solution you use on the inside or outside of your fish tank could be harmful to your fish and other inhabitants. The fix? Don’t use a cleaning solution! This will save you some time and effort, and most of the soil on the glass inside the tank should come off with an algae scraper, which you can find at a pet supply or aquarium supply store fairly easily. (If this doesn’t work, try a razor blade). To scrub the outside of the tank, including the lid, base and light, you can use a rag or sponge with water only, or you can buy a special fish-safe solution that is made for cleaning aquariums. Again, head to the pet supply store.
2. Siphon out some of the water
The key word here is some. You need to leave enough water in the tank to keep it comfortable for your fish. And this is not only because he’ll need water in order to breathe while you’re cleaning the tank, it’s also because it’s important that you don’t disturb your fish by changing the water conditions in the tank too much at one time. Fish are very sensitive to their environment and it needs to be kept in balance. The highest amount of water to change each time you clean the tank is 20 percent of the volume of the tank. So remove that much or less, never more.
How you use your siphon to remove the water depends on the type of siphon you have. Some require you to use suction from your mouth, others get their suction from the sink tap or through pumping air in and out of the tube. Follow the directions that came with your siphon to achieve the best results. If you’re not sure, call the manufacturer.
Drain the siphoned water into your bucket, bowl or sink.
*Use caution when siphoning the water from the tank. You don’t want to suck up any rocks – or fish for that matter!
3. Sort through the rocks, sand or gravel at the bottom of the tank
The material you have lining the bottom of your tank needs to be cleaned up to remove any food, debris and/or waste. Instead of removing this material from the aquarium and washing it off or replacing it, simply hover over it with the gravel vacuum while it remains in the bottom of the tank, using the siphon to suck up any material that shouldn’t be there.
4. Clean plants, ships, treasure chests, etc.
In most cases, you can clean all of your tank’s accessories using the algae scrubber, but if they are too soiled for this to be the case, take them out of the tank and rinse them in the sink. Do not use soap or any other cleaner on them. Let them air dry before you put them back in the tank.
5. Add the new water
Once you’ve gotten everything in the tank clean, you can add the new water that you have prepared. Simply pour it into the tank or use the siphon to pump it in from the bucket or bowl. Finally, plug the heater, lights, etc. back in. Then watch your fish smile at his brighter, cleaner tank.
Wash the filter
If you have a filter on your tank, you may not want to clean it at the same time as you clean rest of the tank. This could be too much of an environment change for your fish at one time. The best thing to do is to follow the advice in the instruction manual for your specific filter. You can also check out our “how to clean a fish tank filter” guide for more information and tips.
Keeping your fish tank clean
In order to maintain the ability to see your fish through the glass, you should wash your fish tank about once a week. You can also prevent a major algae buildup by getting your fish some algae-eating friends, such as suckermouth catfish. Of course, this will depend on the environment of your aquarium and how many fish you already have living in it. For advice specific to your aquarium, ask an employee at your local pet supply or aquarium store.