Proper care and cleaning of your home fish tank or aquarium are often the most overlooked and yet the most important of all aspects of owning one. When you overlook cleaning your fish tank, not only will it lose its visual appeal, but it will also make your fish unhealthy and unhappy. Therefore, a daily, weekly, and monthly fish-tank cleaning routine is a must-have for all aquarium owners. Here are some easy ways to clean a fish tank without killing the fish.
1. Know the needs of your fish and your aquarium
When you buy an aquarium, make sure you understand its functioning mechanism, its filter type, and how regularly it needs cleaning. You will get specific instructions from the shop you buy. The frequency of fish tank cleaning depends greatly upon the type of filtration, the size of your tank, the type of fish inside, and, accordingly, the different types of cleaning procedures needed.
2. Remove the fish before you clean
For deep cleaning a fish tank, it sometimes becomes necessary to remove all the fish and place them in a bucket along with a bit of aquarium water. Small fish are slippery and can escape easily. Big fish, on the other hand, are easy to catch but they tend to splash everywhere (and even in your face!). So be careful and remove them one at a time. Keep them in a bucket filled with clean, chlorine-free water. For larger aquarium tanks, you might have to leave the fish in the tank while you clean. Be gentle and quick while doing so: fish tend to get stressed as they perceive your hand or other cleaning equipment to be a predator. So, avoid excess cleaning.
3. Maintain adequate temperature
Proper temperature maintenance is one of the daily aspects of keeping your fish tank clean. Check your fish tank water-temperature on a daily basis. Ensure that it is consistent; if you have a tropical fish tank, the water temperature should be kept around 77 F. You do not want a temperature more than that as it can lead to an overgrowth of algae. Check the fish tank daily using an aquarium thermometer. You can also place an aquarium heater with thermostat to regulate any temperature changes. A heater will ensure suitable water temperature, especially in winters, to keep your fish comfortable and stress-free.
4. Keep an eye out for sick or dead fish.
If there are any, remove the dead or sick fish immediately as even a single sick fish can harm other occupants of the fish tank. Try to assess the reason behind the illness.
5. Remove algae
One of the most important aspects of cleaning an empty fish tank is algae removal. There are many ways to counter algae:
- Members of the catfish family help keep the aquarium clean by eating up algae. So if your tank size allows it, keep some members of the catfish family. Blennies, tang, snails, sea urchins, and hermit crabs also devour algae.
- Use scrapper tools or aquarium brushes to remove the algae.
- Check your lighting – Excess algae formation is often an indication of improper lighting. Is the aquarium to close to the window and allowing too much sunlight? If yes, relocate the tank. Are you keeping the aquarium light on for too long? If so, how old is the light source? The quality of light can degrade with age leading to algae proliferation. Rule out these common factors behind algae formation.
6. Change the water every week
For small fish tanks, you only need to change 10% of the tank’s water once a week. Make sure you use good quality water. Check the pH of the water with a pH kit. For larger tanks with gravel at the bottom, you must change all the water. When you clean once a month, change about 25% of the water.
7. Ensure the right balance of chemicals in the water
You must test the water for ammonia, chlorine, and nitrates. The shop from where you buy your fish can give you ingredients to add to the water to balance the fish tank water chemicals. A good mechanical, biological, and chemical filter can also ensure the growth of good bacteria that help balance the chemicals in the water. Too much chlorine is toxic in aquarium water and you may have to use a water conditioner to remove it. Also, test the water for ammonia and nitrate levels. Always make sure that your balance of chemicals is right. High levels of chlorine or ammonia can cause the death of the fish. Never overlook testing the pH levels of the water; you can use a pH testing kit.
8. Change and clean the filters
An important part of cleaning a big or small fish tank is to change and replace its filter every fortnight. Never clean biological filter media too much as it produces beneficial bacteria population within the aquarium. If the biological filter is clogged, simply flush it out using aquarium water. You will get specific instructions on filter cleaning and replacement from an instruction manual for your tank or from the shop where you purchased it.
9. Use a vacuum or siphon tube for cleaning the tank
In aquarium tanks with under-gravel filter, bare-bottom, or with gravel at the bottom, vacuuming becomes necessary. Vacuum out accumulated debris and change the water. You can also use a siphon tube for the job. If you have removed the water during the process, make sure you re-fill it to the same level. Wash the gravel with clean water and add it back to the tank.
10. Cleaning a fish tank with vinegar
White stains on the walls of the fish tank are calcium carbonate deposits which are alkaline in nature. You can counter alkalinity with lime juice or vinegar. Never use any chemicals to clean these out as they can harm your fish. Cleaning a fish tank with white vinegar is one of the best natural ways to counter white stains. Here are some tips:
- Remove the fish in a bucket along with some water and empty out the tank, if you haven’t already done so.
- Depending on the extent of staining, you may have to use concentrated vinegar or dilute it with water as required. A vinegar-soaked rag works best. Make sure it is not dripping wet with vinegar. Scrub the areas gently with the rag. Rinse well using warm water.
- You can also submerge small, removable components of the fish tank in a container filled with white vinegar. Leave the components of the fish tank in the vinegar for a few hours.
- Scrub away loosened residue and rinse thoroughly with warm water.
- Finally, use a vinegar spray to wipe down the outer surface of the fish tank glass.
11. Trim the plants
If your aquarium has plants, tend to them weekly. You can trim them back if they are getting too big. Don’t forget to remove dead or sick leaves.
12. Weekly and monthly tropical fish tank cleaning steps
On a weekly basis:
- Remove waste from the bottom. Make sure there are no un-eaten food bits in the tank. Taken out uneaten food and waste from the water using a net.
- Check the chemical balance of the water.
- Remove 10-15% water using a siphoning tube and replace it to maintain the same water level as before.
- Check/remove dead fish
- Trim plants/remove dead leaves
On a monthly basis:
- Replace 25% of water using a siphoning tube.
- Clean the filter and replace the filter cartridge.
- Wash the gravel and stones with clean water and add them back into the tank.
- Scrape and remove algae from the walls of the tank; consider adding an algae eater to counter algae production.
- Use white vinegar to clean white stains from the tank walls. Never use harsh detergents to clean your tank as it can cause harm to your fish.
- Relocate the tank if needed.
Use these steps to keep your fish tank clean and maintain the health of your fish.