How to clean a Fish Tank

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This site will show you how to clean a fish tank with minimal effort and maximum results. We’ll provide you with some common-sense cleaning tips for fish tanks, as well as industry tips to make tank maintenance easier and less dramatic for the tank dwellers, as well as yourself.
With more than fifty years of experience, we have simplified the routine of regular maintenance of aquarium tanks. Whether you have a freshwater aquarium, a saltwater tank, or a live reef, the steps are basically the same.
On this page, you will find some categories that may cover other topics that may concern you or that you want more information about. Just click on the category you are interested in freshwater angel and you will find items that belong to that category.
We are not trying to include all the details of aquarium maintenance on this page, rather we provide a broad overview to keep the process as seamless as possible. Because each tank has different patterns of filtration, lighting, feeding, etc., it would be impossible to cover everything.
However, in all the years we’ve been in this industry, there probably isn’t a scenario that the How To Clean A Fish Tank staff hasn’t found. We have spent untold amounts of money over the years testing products; some really good, but many were just a waste of time and money.
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Everything on this site is free. We decided to set up this site so that you would feel comfortable not only with the knowledge we offer but also with the confidence you gain from this hobby. So take advantage of the contact page to choose our brains. Give us a brief description of the problem you are having and we will get back to you.
We understand that this industry tends to have many opinions on how to clean a fish tank and maintain an aquarium. The following steps will provide basic information for the aquarist who wants to learn how to do regular maintenance on their fish tank or reef tank.
Although some of the employees at Fish Tank for Sale or even your local fish shop may have valuable experience and can be helpful, all too often this is not the case. With very few exceptions, stores will try to sell you products to “improve” or “correct” problems you may have in your tank, whether or not you really need them.
Let’s face it, they are in business to make money. We understand. However, many products that are sold to correct water conditions can make things worse. Some can even cause a false reading when you test the water, meaning the test says nitrates are zero when in fact they can be extremely high. The truth is, regular water changes provide the healthiest possible environment for your tank inhabitants. Most aquarists who do regular water changes rarely, if ever, need to use medications or water conditioners.
Although doing a monthly water change may seem like a chore, in the long run, it will cost much less than medications, conditioners, and replacing dead fish. How to clean a fish tank is not rocket science, although some stores want you to think it is. We call that “job security” for them. That way they can sell you items. We hope the following helps.

Why does an aquarium or fish tank need regular maintenance?

Poor water quality will affect fish, corals, and invertebrates more than anything else that can happen to an aquarium. Most diseases, algae problems, and fish lethargy can be corrected or avoided with regular water changes. Even if the water is “crystal clear”, that does not mean that it is not toxic.
An established aquarium should have zero ammonia and zero nitrites. Nitrates, much less toxic than ammonia or nitrites, will build up over time and also become very toxic. The easiest way to avoid high nitrate levels is to do consistent water changes. Physical removal of the old aquarium water is the best way to remove nitrates.
Replacing new, clean water should reduce nitrate levels in the aquarium by at least the same percentage as the water is changed.
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What causes poor water quality?

Inevitably, the main culprit for toxic levels of ammonia, nitrites, and/or nitrates is overfeeding. Although the most likely cause is “killing them nicely” with too much food, overfeeding can also be the result of too many nutrients in frozen foods (usually liquid supplements for corals or invertebrates).
Overfeeding is the result of people thinking that their fish need flake food several meals a day. The truth is that fish eat what they need in five minutes once a day. So when feeding, the best way to avoid overfeeding is to watch them eat. If, after five minutes, there is any food left, he has fed too much. The next day, feed less. When it comes to nutrients, cut the recommended dose in half, unless you have an unusually high density of corals or invertebrates.

How to clean a fish tank with minimal errors?

Use the “plus or minus two” rule. A 25-30% monthly water change should never change the water temperature by more than 2 degrees. If it’s a saltwater tank, make sure the specific gravity doesn’t alter by more than .02 (example: if you keep your specific gravity at 1.021, don’t lower it below 1.019 or raise it above 1.023).
The “plus or minus two” rule also applies to pH – never raise or lower the pH by more than 0.2. If any of these conditions need to be changed further, wait at least two hours before making any further adjustments. This allows animals to acclimatize without causing shock. Do not remove animals from the aquarium. The stress caused by trying to catch fish can shock them.
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How to clean a fish tank?

1) Get Proper Stuff

Before you start, make sure you have everything you need. You should have the salt you need, both for reef or saltwater aquariums, as well as what you can use for a therapeutic level in your freshwater tank.

Make sure you also have:

  • Filter Pads
  • Charcoal
  • Air Atones
  • Air Tubing
  • or any other products that you may need to clean or replace in the filter system.

Once your aquarium cleaning routine begins; you don’t want unnecessary delays in completing the task.

Start with:

  • Unplug pumps
  • Heaters
  • Lights
  • Coolers
  • Dispensers
  • or any other electrical item that could cause an electric shock while working near water.

2. Decoration Cleaning

If there are decorations that need to be cleaned, remove those items, and begin the cleaning process in a sink, tub, or another suitable container. Always make sure there are no fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. hidden in the decoration.

Most fake plants and decorations can be bleached (i.e. bleached and you can simply buy from Woolworths) in a 15 to 20 percent bleach solution … plain, unscented, or gel-like bleach.


After the items are clean, usually only a few minutes, rinse the items well with fresh water. After rinsing the decorations, immerse the stems in freshwater and use several drops in several jets of Dechlor.

Dechlor will remove any residual chlorine or chloramine left after bleaching. It usually only takes a few minutes of soaking in Dechlor to do the trick. Rinse items briefly in freshwater one more time. A quick sniff of the decorations will tell you if the Dechlor process needs to be done again.

If you smell like bleach, the bleach solution is most likely too high. Next time use less bleach. Always wear gloves to protect your skin from the bleach. Never use soap or detergents in aquarium products. Now is a good time to check the filter system and replace or clean any items that are needed.

It should be noted … we’re not going to go into filter details just because there are too many to try to cover and to devote adequate attention to. More about this source text required for additional translation information.

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3. Prepare New Water

If you have a saltwater tank or reef aquarium, mix in as much salt water as you may need. Take into account the temperature of the aquarium and the specific gravity. Most municipal water is acceptable to mix with high-quality synthetic salt mixes.
If you are concerned about tap water, use Dechlor to neutralize any chlorine or chloramines that may be present.
Remember: only put in enough Dechlor, Amquel, Novaqua, or even therapeutic freshwater aquarium salt levels, for the amount of new water coming in. The existing water in the tank does not need it.
In other words, if you have a 100-gallon tank and you are doing a 30-gallon water change, put in just enough product for the 30 gallons. Do not use the salt that is on sale. The inhabitants of your aquarium trust you for consistency.
Always try to use the same brand of salt. You will find that it is not only less stressful on your fish, but less difficult on you. We like to use two trash cans (again, for aquarium use only) for water changes.
The salt can be premixed before removing old water and can be used for the actual removal of old water. That way, you know how much to take out and you won’t waste salt or water. If you have a freshwater tank, it is not a bad idea to have two buckets; This way, while filling the new container with water, you can manipulate the temperature and add conditioners before it enters the tank.
Too often people start running water straight from the tap, not realizing that it is too cold or too hot until it is too late. Ph levels too, if you have a whole house filter that uses rock salt to soften the water, avoid it during the water change.
Water softeners tend to change the pH and affect the tank too much. If your fish need softer water with a lower pH, such as discus, use products from your local fish store to accomplish that feat.
Quick note: the other benefit of using trash cans is that they are stackable and you can store most, if not all, of the rest of your cleaning equipment along with additional filter pads, cartridges, salt, charcoal, etc. with a lid to keep dust or other contaminants between water changes.
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4. Clean Interior Of Aquarium

Clean algae from glass or acrylic with a suitable scouring pad to avoid scratching the inside of the tank. Remember, the more scratches, the more places for algae to grow. Although most manufacturers of algae scrubbers make acrylic and glass scrubbers, we only use acrylic scrubbers.
In this way, the probability of scratching is greatly reduced. Also, most acrylic scrubbers are white, making it easy to see tiny spots of algae. Take the time to clean any algae that have accumulated on powerheads, heaters, under gravel piles, remaining decorations, etc. If the algae are extreme, you may want to remove as much of it as possible.
Too many algae is a sign of too much light, too many nitrates, or a combination of both. Never use anything toxic to clean the inside of an aquarium.

5. Remove old dirty water

Let’s start removing the water from the aquarium. Before removing the water, check to see if anything that is alive will be exposed when the water level drops during the water change. This last point refers mainly to corals, anemones, etc. If there are animals that are going to be exposed, carefully place them lower in the tank or even at the bottom if necessary.
You will use a gravel vacuum to extract 25 to 30 percent of the aquarium’s water volume. Be sure to use a gravel vacuum that is suitable for the size of the tank you are working on. An oversized vacuum in a small tank will siphon too quickly without properly removing debris (dirt, algae, and debris).
Too small a vacuum in a large tank will not remove the water quickly or efficiently enough. The key is to remove the waste material and loose debris without sucking up the substrate (gravel, crushed coral, sand).
After a few times, you will master it. If you are unsure of how to properly vacuum the tank materials, there are many videos online that can easily show you how it is done.
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6. Replace decorations

Now that you have removed 25 to 30 percent of the aquarium water that needed to be changed, it is time to replace the decorations or plants that were cleaned. We found that it is easier and less water will be splashed by placing these items before the new water is put back into the aquarium.

7. Refill the fish tank with new water

The old water is already out, the tank is decorated like you and the fish, so it’s time to put the new water in. If you have a pump, make sure that when you turn it on, it doesn’t splash. everywhere and that the force of the water will not harm the aquarium inhabitants.
Depending on the size of the tank you have, it may be worth the money to get a small pump and some tubes or a hose that you only use to clean your fish tank. It makes draining the old water and replacing the new water much faster and saves on transporting buckets from one place to another. The pump does not have to be huge or expensive. You only need to pump an adequate amount of water for the height of your tank.
Note: Most pumps will have a chart or chart on the box or in the documentation that shows how many gallons they will pump at different heights. Bring the water levels to where they should be, both in the tank and in the sump or filter. Once you have the water level where it should be, plug in the electrical items that you had originally unplugged.
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8. Almost finished

Make sure that all electrical elements are working properly and make the necessary adjustments to the temperature control devices; heaters and coolers. Observe the pumps and filters and make any water level or flow adjustments that may be necessary. Wipe the outside of the tank to remove watermarks or fingerprints. We always use a wet towel first, then a dry towel.
They can be paper towels as long as they are not too harsh. Rough paper towels can scratch acrylic. If you need something stronger than just wet and dry towels to remove something from the outside of the tank (sticky handprints from the boy next to you), spray the cleaner on the towel first, away from the tank. Then use a dry towel.

9. Ahhhh

Sit back and enjoy your fish tank. Now you know how to clean a fish tank. We are well aware that we do not include every aspect of what can or even should be done to show someone how to clean a fish tank or maintain all types of fish tank, filter, lighting system, etc. It would take too long and it still won’t cover all the little nuances you may have regarding your fish tank.
At How To Clean A Fish Tank, we decided to help the person trying, perhaps for the first time, to maintain their aquarium with as few problems as possible.
This site is provided so that those unfamiliar with the steps required to clean their fish tank can do so with a modicum of confidence. Some products were referenced and others were illustrated. These are simply products that we know about and are comfortable mentioning. This should not be construed as an endorsement.
We hope this site helps you feel more comfortable about cleaning a fish tank. We hope the above information has been helpful to you. Visit our Shop page if you like to buy a new fish tank.

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