correctly clear an aquarium

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Too often beginners believe that aquariums require little or no maintenance once set up. While some seasoned hobbyists run tanks that are self-sustaining for years, the rest of us typically need to do maintenance at least twice a month. Aquarium maintenance doesn't have to be difficult, however, and the work is definitely worth the beautiful aquarium you will end up with!

Read on to find out how to clean your aquarium and the easiest way to keep your aquarium clean in the future!

Why do you need to clean your aquarium?

Regardless of a freshwater or saltwater tank, regular maintenance is required to maintain a healthy ecosystem. If you compare your closed aquarium to the natural habitats your fish and invertebrates came from, you will find that there are constant entrances and exits of various species, food availability, and, at the microscopic level, essential nutrients and gases. Some of these ecosystems even rely on changing seasons to function properly.

How can you replicate these conditions in your aquarium?

First of all, we need to understand what happens in your tank during maintenance. It should be noted that some hobbyists have been successful when they have performed little to no maintenance on their aquariums and each system runs differently.

Regulate the import and export of nutrients

Perhaps most importantly, regular maintenance of the tank will help maintain a balance of nutrients in the system. While the nitrogen cycle – in which ammonia is constantly being converted into nitrate – is always going on in your tank, nitrate can build up in tanks that are not maintained and become a problem. Regular water changes help keep these nitrates down, which can help prevent algae outbreaks.

Similarly, water changes can also import and export other minerals and nutrients such as phosphate, calcium, and magnesium. While organisms need phosphates to perform certain physiological functions, they can also contribute to algae growth, and most hobbyists need to closely monitor their levels. Like nitrate, excess phosphates can be regulated by changing the water as long as the replacement water used does not already contain undesirable quantities.

Calcium and magnesium are two very important parameters that need to be monitored. Both calcium and magnesium contribute to the general hardness of the aquarium water. Fish and invertebrates require adequate general hardness to build bones and exoskeleton, regulate metabolism, and support ion exchange. Water changes help keep calcium and magnesium levels, as well as overall water hardness, within the correct range for fish to grow and have a healthy lifespan.

At the same time, nutrients are exported and imported, and gases are exchanged. Of course, changes in water increase surface movement, which can increase gas exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Waste management

As we will discuss later, vacuuming your aquarium is important to remove stuck debris like fish debris, uneaten food, and other organic matter. If too much waste is left in the aquarium, it will start to rot and leak ammonia into the water column. While beneficial bacteria can usually handle smaller amounts of ammonia, too much can quickly lead to fatal conditions for fish and invertebrates.

This can especially be the case if your aquarium has a lot of hard-to-reach places with a lot of debris. The best way to prevent ammonia spikes in your aquarium is to remove as much waste as possible!

How often do you need to clean your aquarium?

How often do you need to clean your aquarium to keep it running as well as possible?

Every tank is different, but in general most hobbyists recommend vacuuming a 25% partial water change every two weeks. Smaller tanks usually require more regular maintenance, as parameters can fluctuate more and a weekly water change of 10% is recommended. On the other hand, some larger tanks only need servicing about once a month!

For most aquarium owners, a water change and a gravel vacuum every two weeks, a filter media change every once a month and a cleaning of the devices every 3-6 months are sufficient to regulate the parameters.

The best way to clean your aquarium

There are many chemicals and supplements available commercially that claim to be the best way to keep your aquarium clean. However, they don't want you to know that a series of water changes can fix most problems.

In addition to changing the water regularly, vacuuming the substrate, maintaining equipment, and looking after the algae are the best ways to keep your tank clean.

Water changes

A water change is the removal of aquarium water from the aquarium and filling in with new water. In short, this helps regulate both the import and export of nutrients and waste management. Typically a substrate gravel vacuum, airline hose, or cup / bowl / bucket are used to transfer the old and new tank water. Aquarium heater may be needed to warm the water before adding it.

Most hobbyists want to do a partial 25% water change every 1-2 weeks for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. This is usually enough to keep nitrates and phosphates low and other trace elements and nutrients high. However, if problems arise in the tank, large consecutive water changes of> 50% are recommended, with the idea of ​​gradually replacing all of the water in the tank within a few days.

However, water changes are only as effective as the newly introduced tank water. If the quality of the new water is poor or drastically different from the tank, the sudden changes can quickly affect corals, fish and invertebrates.

There are many different types of aquarium water such as tap water, distilled water, reverse osmosis water (RO water), and deionized reverse osmosis water (RO / DI). Many hobbyists have success with tap water, while others have more success with plain water. If you are using tap water, make sure you have a thorough analysis of the parameters as these can vary widely between geographic locations.

As always, use a water purifier to remove chlorine and heavy metals from the water! It is normal for the tank to be somewhat cloudy after changing the water.

Substrate vacuum cleaner

The next best way to maintain a clean aquarium is to purchase and use a substrate vacuum on a regular basis. This device is also handy for sucking water in and out of the tank.

A substrate vacuum lifts dirt and other organic matter out of the gravel or sand in your aquarium. Many hobbyists vacuum their substrate with a water change at the same time to catch any debris that gets into the water column.

At the same time, a substrate vacuum can be used to reach hard-to-reach places behind decorations or stones, and it can even be used to vacuum organic matter directly from surfaces and crevices.

Fortunately, these vacuums are designed to work only by gravity and suction and do not require any external pumps or equipment.

Equipment maintenance

Maintaining equipment is just as important as changing water and vacuuming the substrate, but it doesn't need to be done as often. In general, it is best to clean and replace filter media every 3-5 weeks, and clean other equipment every 3-6 months. Protein skimmers need to be emptied and cleaned more often.

Most of the mechanical filters that hang on the back filters and filter canisters consist of replacing the media and the filter cartridge. However, it's also a good idea to completely disassemble these devices and occasionally flush and scrub them in a bucket of water from the aquarium. Never use tap water to flush equipment or decorations out of the tank as this can kill large amounts of beneficial bacteria!

Otherwise, regularly monitor the performance of powerheads, heaters, UV sterilizers, and other equipment. It is best to clean all aquarium equipment regularly, but even more so when something seems to have lost performance.

Algae care

The main problem you will encounter in your freshwater or saltwater aquarium is algae. Whether your tank is a few days old or a couple of years old, you will eventually be dealing with algae.

The best way to treat algae is to find the source of the problem. This is usually due to poor water quality, too much or too little light, inadequate water flow, overfeeding, or the fact that the tank is not fully assembled. One of the best ways to control algae is to perform water changes to achieve optimal water conditions that are suitable for your setup and work towards overall stability.

While changing water on your tank regularly, you should physically remove as much algae as possible. This includes using an algae scraper / magnetic washer to clean the inside of the glass (make sure you don't have an acrylic aquarium as this can easily scratch the glass) and vacuuming algae stains. Stones, artificial plants, and other aquarium decorations can also be temporarily removed from the display and gently scrubbed.

There are many other methods of treating algae, including using hydrogen peroxide, aquarium lighting, recommendations for farm animals, and commercial remedies. At the end of the day, constant water changes, the right flow, the right light, and general stability lead to a successful aquarium.


Here are some frequently asked questions you might have before trying to clean your aquarium!

Do you have to take everything out of your aquarium when cleaning?

No, you don't have to take everything out of your aquarium to ensure proper cleaning. In fact, you want to keep your hands as far away from the tank as possible and keep exposed areas to a minimum.

There is always a chance that your hands could introduce toxins into the tank and the use of aquarium-safe gloves is recommended. Leaving the aquarium decor, stones, and equipment can also quickly cause bacteria to die off, which can lead to dangerous ammonia spikes once placed back in the aquarium.

In short, you shouldn't remove any items from the aquarium unless you're replacing parts or cleaning up algae.

How do you clean an aquarium with eggs?

If you notice eggs on the walls of the aquarium or other surfaces, there is nothing to worry about cleaning it. In general, it's the same process.

However, you should avoid creating a lot of excess flow that can displace the eggs. You will also want to make sure the eggs are always underwater and keep a safe distance when working in this area.

Most importantly, when changing the water, you want to ensure tighter parameters between the tank water and the clean water so that conditions don't vary too much.


A successful aquarium is all about how much time you want to invest in creating a stable ecosystem. While some hobbyists find their tank works best on the autopilot, others feel that only rigorous maintenance will keep their aquarium surviving. Knowing where your tank is most in balance and establishing a schedule is important. You can then carry out the required water changes, substrate vacuum cleaners, equipment maintenance and algae care.

If you have any questions about cleaning your aquarium, cleaning a particularly dirty aquarium, or any experience with an algae outbreak, don't hesitate to leave a comment below!

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