Cleaning an Aquarium

by April Reinhardt
(last updated February 20, 2009)

Whether you have a small aquarium containing five fish, or a larger one housing twenty-five species and a complicated filtration system, you need to clean your aquarium regularly. Waste and uneaten fish food decompose into ammonia, and then a bacterium combines with the ammonia to form nontoxic nitrates, providing a balanced environment for fish to live. If you do not change your aquarium water regularly, the bacteria will not be able to keep up with the waste, creating dangerous levels of ammonia.

While there are widely differing opinions as to how to clean an aquarium, the general consensus is the more you clean it, the healthier your fish will be. If your aquarium is less than five months old, you should replace half of its water every two weeks. Older aquariums only need one-third of their water changed once a month. Never remove more than half of the water from your aquarium at any one time, and follow these tips when cleaning your aquarium:

  • If you have a filter, or lighting and heating equipment, unplug them and wait at least twenty minutes before removing water.
  • Use the same equipment each time you clean your aquarium, and use it for no other purpose to avoid contamination. In other words, do not use your mop bucket to hold siphoned aquarium water, since the bucket may contain traces of bleach or other harmful chemicals.
  • Scrape algae from the glass. Some people use razor blades, while some use magnetic scrapers.
  • Always siphon water from the bottom of the tank since that is where waste accumulates. Purchase a water siphon from your local pet store to remove water without disturbing the fish or sucking up gravel.
  • Remove water from your aquarium by siphoning it into your bucket, and clean your filter with that siphoned water. The water you remove from your tank still contains helpful bacteria, as does your filter sponge.
  • Replace your carbon filter once a month.
  • When you refill the aquarium, use warm tap water combined with any water conditioners recommended by your veterinarian. Very slowly pour the water into the tank, taking great care not to disturb the gravel or fish.
  • Allow the water to rest for at least ten minutes, and then reinstall all of your equipment and turn it on.
  • Observe your fish over the next several days for signs of lethargy, stress, white spots, or limp fins. You may need to consult a professional at your pet store about water testing to bring the aquarium water back into balance.

Keep in mind that your aquarium holds helpful bacteria. If you clean your tank too often, you will create an unhealthy environment for your fish. Frequent filter changes also rid the environment of healthy bacteria.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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