How to Clean Your Fish Tank: An Easy Guide

August 2, 2023by Roselle Espina1

Are you thinking of how to make your fish pets happy? It’s simple! Just make a healthy and clean environment for them. If you have just recently got a fish or are considering owning one soon, you should really know how to clean your fish tank. 

Yes, it’s a must! Don’t worry, as this article can definitely help you!

How often should you clean your fish tank? 

First order of business, you should know when to clean them! 

Fishes are one of the best low-maintenance pets to have. You only need to drop fish pellets every day, and voila!you get to enjoy watching them swimming in their fish tank. You know, just doing their thing! 

Although you don’t need to put lots of effort into your fish every day, you must do something once every two (2) weeks: cleaning their fish tank or aquarium. However, the frequency of cleaning fish tanks depends on the number of fish you have. 

You don’t really want your home to smell fishy, don’t you?

What cleaning supplies do you need to get?

Now, let’s determine which equipment or tools you need besides patience.

If you are a first-time fish pet owner, you better invest in the following materials:

  • Ammonia test strips – to check the water quality in the fish tank. 
  • Bucket – to hold the water you will be replacing. 
  • Aquarium scraper (for glass or acrylic) – to remove algae in the fish tank. 
  • Aquarium brush (for glass or acrylic) – to clean algae found in the decorations or plants in the fish tank. 
  • Scissors – to trim or prune the plants. 
  • Dechlorinator (also called water conditioner) – to improve water quality. 
  • Glass cleaner or sponge – to remove dirt in the aquarium glass. 
  • Towel or rag – wiping up water spills 
  • Aquarium siphon (also called gravel vacuum) – to remove dirty water during water changes. 

A step-by-step guide to cleaning your aquarium or fish tank

Image from Unsplash

After learning the appropriate schedule to clean your fish tank and the materials you will need, it’s time to follow the process of cleaning. 

Step 1: Preparation

Prepare yourself to clean the fish tank by washing your hands and entire forearm. Also, expect that the cleaning process may take a while, so it is better to set it to your less busy schedule. 

Have all the necessary equipment and materials you will need (as mentioned above). It is recommended to have them beside you throughout the process. 

Step 2: Test the water quality

  • For a newly built fish tank or aquarium that has not cycled the water yet – you need to test its water quality using the ammonia test trips. This is for you to know if it has less than 40 ppm nitrates, 0 ppm ammonia, and 0 ppm nitrites. You better note that higher levels of these waste compounds are not safe for your fish.
  • For a fish tank or aquarium that has already cycled its water – you must maintain its nitrate levels below 40 ppm. You can easily measure the nitrates through the ammonia test strips.
    With the strips, you can determine the amount of water you should be removed or if there are other steps that need to be taken.

Step 3: Remove your fish from the tank

You can actually keep your fish in the aquarium while you clean. This is because you don’t necessarily have to remove all the water in the aquarium to clean it properly. However, we don’t recommend this. 

Although some fish owners do not follow this step, we suggest the oppositeremove your fish from the tank when you are cleaning it. 

This is to prevent them from experiencing unnecessary stress. You also lessen the risk of accidentally hurting them while you scrape off some algae in their home. 

Step 4: Partially change the water in the fish tank

It’s time to remove around 15 to 25 percent of your fish tank’s water or keep at least 50 percent of the water in the tank at all times. It is important that you do not remove more than this amount of water because it will disrupt the biological filtration of your fish tank.

To elaborate further, completely replacing the water in the fish tank is really a bad idea. It can eliminate beneficial bacteria in your fish tank and reset the nitrogen cycle, potentially killing your fish.

Hence, doing a partial water change is the best option for regularly cleaning your fish tank or aquarium. 

Another thing to note, it is okay to leave your plants and other decorations in place when you clean your fish tank. You can just clean them when they begin to look dirty.

Step 5: Start cleaning the sides

You can then start cleaning your fish tank by unplugging the heater and filter. Then, scrape algae off the sides of your fish tank. 

You need to make sure you use the appropriate scraper. If the sides of your tank are made with acrylic instead of glass, you must use a plastic (rather than metal) scraper.

Step 6: Clean the fish tank’s gravel

Image from Unsplash

Do you see those rock fragments placed at the bottom of your fish tank? Those are called gravel. You need to clean those rocks, too. 

In order to clean the gravel, you will need an aquarium siphon to vacuum the dirt and other gunk from the gravel. Also, you can use the aquarium siphon to remove some dirty water from the fish tank. 

Note: Using gravel vacuums will not affect the biological filtration inside the aquarium, so it is safe to use! 

Step 7: Slightly rinse the filter media

Next, you need to detach the filter media and lightly rinse it. When you clean your filter media too well, you compromise your fish tank’s beneficial bacteria. 

Also, never replace more than one-third of your filters at once if you find that your filter media needs to be replaced. 

Step 8: Refill the water in the fish tank

After cleaning your tank, you can then refill it with new water. However, you need to ensure that the new water you will refill has already had the chlorine removed using a conditioning treatment. 

Step 9: Other finishing processes

The cleaning process is nearly over! The last step would be getting back everything you temporarily closed or removed. 

You need to open any valves you close. Also, you need to pour water into the base of your filter to prime it. If you remove your plants or decorations during the cleaning process, you can place them back. 

Then, plug in all tank accessories and filters. Lastly, ensure all equipment properly works before you return your fish to their home!

5 things you should never do when cleaning your fish tank 

Image from Unsplash

Here are a few things you need to remember: 

  • Do not use any soap – you don’t need to use any kind of soap in cleaning your fish tank or aquarium. Soaps can kill your fish!
  • Do not clean your fish tank every day – you don’t need to clean your fish tank every single day unless, of course, you notice your fish behaving strangely, like gasping for air or acting sluggish.
  • Do not remove too much water during water changes – as mentioned earlier, the existing water in the tank and even some of the waste are required for a natural environment.
  • Do not put tap water in the fish tank or aquarium.
  • Do not use extremely cold or extremely hot water in the fish tank.

Remember, a clean and safe fish tank helps your fish community flourish! 

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One comment

  • Almera Logan
    Almera Logan

    September 8, 2023 at 9:25 pm

    PetPal is the perfect place to learn about pet-related news, tips, and trends and to connect you to fellow pet lovers.


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