How to Clean a Fish Tank at Home

Last Updated: 10th November 2018

Fish tank cleaning Has this combo of words ever scared you? It did scare me before I went into fish keeping. This is probably the #1 reason why people fail at keeping pet fish or don’t even begin to do that. But let me tell you from experience - cleaning fish tanks is not that difficult. Comparing with the upkeep of other animals, it actually requires minimal effort once in a while. In this article I am going to explain to you how easy fish tank cleaning is and how to do it properly. Note that this article is intended for cleaning freshwater fish tanks. Cleaning saltwater aquariums requires you to do some additional things, but the basic steps explained here are the same for both types of aquariums.

Before we do that, I would like to take a little step back and talk a little bit about why you need to clean your fish tank, because many readers probably are beginners in fish keeping who are willing to learn to take care of their pet fish. First of all, it doesn’t matter, how good your filter is, regular water changes are still necessary. Allowing your fish tank to get dirty will cause a buildup of harmful bacteria, creating an environment where disease will thrive. Once your fish gets sick, it will much harder to deal with that, rather than cleaning your aquarium once every week or so.

Fish tank cleaning can sound so scary, because “cleaning” usually involves a lot of things. But not so much in the case of aquarium cleaning. Cleaning mostly means regular change of water (not all water) and a little bit of scrubbing from time to time. This is necessary to maintain a healthy environment for you fish and keep a balanced nitrogen cycle. If you do not know, what that is, you can find out reading these common beginner mistakes. Cleaning also removes decomposing organic waste material, which builds up in your tank with time. Organic waste material releases toxic chemicals in your aquarium and can create acidic environment, leading to pH drops, which will most likely harm your fish. Is your fish tank cloudy? Cleaning will improve the water clarity as well.

How to clean a fish tank.

Water Changes.

First of all, while cleaning fish tank, you do not remove all of the water. This is a common misconception for beginner aquarists. Removing all the water from your aquarium, can be more harmful then helpful. That way you will destroy all the good bacteria that has built up in your tank and the whole environment will be ruined. Also, there is absolutely no need to to remove the fish from the tank while cleaning it. It recommended to remove only about 13 of water at max, when performing a fish tank maintenance. And you should do this at least once every two weeks, although once a week is recommended. This also varies on the size of your fish tank. Smaller the tank, more regularly you will need to clean it. Now fish tank cleaning doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Let’s get to the steps of fish tank maintenance.

Fish tank cleaning supplies.

fish tank cleaning supplies

Before you begin cleaning your fish tank, you need to buy or order fish tank cleaning equipment. Most of the things you will need are pretty cheap. Don’t worry if you do not know what for any of this is and it seems overwhelming for you. Keep on reading and along the way you will understand what purpose each of them servers and see that is pretty simple.

Preparing fresh water.

You cannot pour tap or faucet water straight into your aquarium. This is another very common mistake people make. The reason is, that water contains chemicals which are harmful for your fish and the environment in your aquarium. If you do this, you can be sure, you will see your fish die. But what do you use then? The same water, only add a bit of water conditioner to it. Yes, you need this. If you do not have one, then click on the link in the list provided above and you can order it from Amazon. You cannot do you fish tank maintenance without it.

Also, it is a good idea to prepare the water beforehand, perfectly, one day before you conduct your aquarium cleaning, so it can settle down and reach room temperature. Also, be sure to use dedicated bucket for this, so it does not have any detergent and chemical leftovers in it.

Prepare your tank.

Before you start cleaning, make sure you turn off your filters, otherwise it could get clogged from bits and pieces getting sucked into it due to you fiddling around. It is also recommended to remove the heater during the cleaning process. It also recommended to remove the filters completely and clean them as well.

Cleaning aquarium glass.

Algae pad cleaning equipment

Next, get your algae pad or magnet and run it across the glass. If you have an acrylic glass aquarium, you will want to be extra careful and not to scrub too much, as you will risk scratching it.

WARNING! Use a dedicated algae pad or magnet for this. Never use used sponges or scrubbers from your kitchen or bathroom. You want to avoid any chemical, even the smallest bit of leftovers, from getting into your fish tank. This, again, will harm your fish and the whole environment in your tank.

While doing this, you may also want to easily brush over your decorations as well. Unless they are very dirty, if they are, you will need to remove them completely and clean during the next steps.

Clean your fish tank using the gravel cleaner.

Fish tank gravel cleaning

Aquarium cleaner (also called gravel/sand cleaner) is another thing you will need to clean your fish tank. You will use gravel cleaner for 2 purposes. First, you will use it to remove at most 13 of your water, by shaking your gravel cleaner up and down. While doing so, you should also perform gravel cleaning. Suck up small amounts of gravel each time and, because the gravel is much heavier then all the waste you wish to remove, the waste will get sucked up and the gravel will fall back into your tank. You can also do this if you have sand, instead of gravel in aquarium. For that, stir up the sand with your hands, let them sit back down and remove the water from your fish tank a few inches above your sand. Sand is still heavier than waste, so waste is going to get sucked out the same way as it would when cleaning gravel. Also be sure to clean under your fish tank decorations from time to time. To get a better idea of how to do this, watch the fish tank cleaning video at the end of this article.

Clean your fish tank filters and decorations.

Fish tank decorations

If your filter and/or decorations are very dirty, you want to clean them as well. Note that you do not need to and actually must not replace the filtration media every time you do routinely maintenance of your fish tank. Make sure you buy filters that have multiple sponges in them. YOu want to change one part of fish tank filter after about 6 months, if it is brand new. After that, change the other part after a couple of weeks and repeat the process. The reason not to change all sponges at the same time is not to upset the balance in your fish tanks environment. Because they will be covered with good bacteria that helps the filtration process.

Make sure that you use a dedicated bucket in which you will place your old water, if you intend to clean your filters and/or decorations. Because, if you clean them under tap water, it will kill all the good bacteria that resides on filter sponges and decorations, which in turn will upset the environment in your aquarium. Then just clean your decorations and filter media with your algae scrubber. Do not focus too much on this, as a light rinse will do just fine.

Finishing the cleaning process.

After you have completed the steps mentioned above, it is time to replace aquarium water. Check that the replacement water is in the range of suitable temperature for the type of fish you keep. You do not want to introduce water that is way out of that range. Make sure it passes the water test (temperature and pH levels), and has been properly treated prior to adding it to the tank (Perfectly one day before). Make sure you do not fill the tank completely, that is with no breathing space left for your fish at the very top of it. The water may seem cloudy at first, but it do not worry about that, as it is normal and will settle down just fine.

After that, you can clean the outside glass of your aquarium with aquarium safe glass cleaner, if you feel like it. Next, put back all the devices you removed from the tank. You can also put them back before you add the new water, if you wish to.

Enjoy your fresh and clean fish tank!

Beautiful fish tank

Now you are all done! Was it that hard? I don’t think so. Once you get used to cleaning your aquarium, this will take just a couple of minutes for you, if you do this regularly. This beginner guide on how to clean a fish tank was mostly meant for regular cleanups. If you wish to make a full fish tank cleaning, the steps are pretty much the same, only difference, if you already have fish, you need to put them in a temporary swimming space that is safe from chemicals and add them at the very end, after you have added fresh water to your fish tank. You may want to do this if some fish has been sick and the disease has spread all over the place. Now go ahead and enjoy the beauty that your aquarium brings to your home. Or if you don’t have one yet and see it is actually not difficult to maintain one, check out these small aquarium beginner kits or our list of best large fish tanks if you want to go serious right from the start. I also suggest checking out these beginner friendly fish.

Here is a simple video that covers the basic steps of how to clean an aquarium.

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