The Way Of The Clean Aquarium

Posted by Aquatropic Staff on January 9, 2023

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For those of you who celebrate the holidays by giving and receiving gifts, here's hoping you got a new fish tank! If it is your first fish tank we hope you checked out our last couple articles on picking out and setting up your new glass box! Regardless of if you bought a tank for yourself, or received the world's best gift, you've probably had it set up for a week or two and it's time to do some maintenance.

Maintenance you ask? Yes, every successful aquarium you've ever seen, from your friend's gorgeous home aquarium all the way up to the ones at Monterey Bay, Shedd, Georgia, and every other public aquarium in the world have maintenance needs. Generally these needs boil down into a few major components: water changes, cleaning and filter maintenance.

Water changes are the single most important maintenance you can do for your aquarium. It's pretty easy too. You just need a bucket and a small plastic tube, preferably with a gravel filter on one end. You can get one at your Local Fish Store; they are really just a widened end for the tube. Leave the wide end of the hose in the aquarium and start a siphon, but the other end in your bucket. The widened end will allow you to push the hose right into the gravel, and it will suck out uneaten food and fish waste that the filters haven't picked up without sucking up the gravel.

Remove 10% or so of the water each time you do this, which should be weekly. Less aggressively stocked aquariums could be done bi-weekly without much issue. More heavily stocked aquariums shouldn't be done more often, but you could do larger water change, up to maybe 25%. Unless you are taking corrective action (a topic for another article), you shouldn't change more than 25% of the water at a time. If you haven't cleaned all the gravel by the time you've removed your limit of water, this is ok, just vacuum the other side of the gravel next time. Then just add back the same amount of fresh water. The refill water should be the same temperature as the aquarium and if you are using tap water that has been treated by your municipality, make sure to treat it with a dechlorinator like Dr Tim's Aquacleanse. Pour the water gently back into the aquarium until it is full again and you've done the big part of the job.

Cleaning is much easier, and the worst of it was done when you vacuumed out the rocks. Next you'll want to clean the glass. There are a couple ways you can get this done. One is to use an acrylic pad like the ones from Lifeguard. Be sure to pick one that is for use on glass or acrylic, as they are specific to the aquarium type you have. Use them only for your aquarium, and never expose them to cleaning products. If you scrub the glass down every week, it will be an easy job that takes a couple minutes. Another way to manage this is to leave a glass cleaning magnet in the aquarium and use it to clean the glass every day. If you choose this method, be sure to remove the inside magnet and clean it during your weekly water changes. Regardless of the method you choose, be careful when you clean down near the gravel. Picking up rocks or sand with your scrub pad can mean deep scratches, especially in acrylic tanks. We suggest you do the glass cleaning before the water change, to help remove that algae from the aquarium.

Lastly, filter maintenance is a must. If you're reading this article, you likely have a “Hang on Back” aquarium filter. The mechanical portions of your filter should be cleaned out every couple weeks. Remove the intake and the impeller and scrub them good and clean.

There are really three components to any aquarium filters, and your HOB is no exception. The first component is called physical filtration. It is generally some kind of mesh or webbing that will catch debris and remove it from the water column. These mesh pads need to be replaced or rinsed weekly to remove the particulate pollution before it breaks down and re-enters the aquarium.

The next category of filtration is called chemical filtration, and this is where activated carbon or another pollutant trapping media helps remove dissolved fish waste from the water. This is usually replaced less often, but still must be replaced. How often is somewhat dependent on how many fish you have in the aquarium, and how much carbon is held by the filter. At some point, carbon “fills up” and at that point, it can release fish waste back into the aquarium. Expect to replace it every 2 weeks for more heavily stocked aquariums and every month for more lightly stocked aquariums. If you ever notice your water yellowing, replace the carbon immediately and start scheduling it more often. When you replace carbon, make sure to rinse it thoroughly before adding it to the system. Carbon dust can be an irritant to your fish.

The third type of filtration is biological, and this maintenance is slightly more nuanced. On every surface in your aquarium, a biological “film” develops and this helps process fish waste. In most HOB filters, there isn't a separate media cartridge for housing biological media, but a large amount of beneficial bacteria are definitely growing on the physical and chemical filtration parts of your filter system. When washing these parts, use treated water whenever possible, and try to leave some of the filter system untouched each week to allow the biological filter to restablish quickly. For example, you may want to consider only changing out the carbon on weeks when you don't scrub the filter body, or not changing out the physical filtration pads on the weeks when you change out the carbon, etc. If your system has a dedicated biological filter component like bio-balls or matrix, wash this by gently swishing it around in a bucket of treated water before replacing it back into the flow of your filter system. Biological filtration should never be rinsed in chlorinated water or scrubbed.

Now just wipe down the tank outside, put away your cleaning supplies and you're done! This reads like a lot of work, but it isn't really. If you keep up with this, it will be less than 15 minutes of labor a week for anything less than a 40 gallon tank, and most of us find the interaction with our tanks enjoyable. There is nothing quite like a fresh water change to make the tank just sparkle again. Make a schedule, and keep to it; your aquarium will be the envy of everyone who sees it, and you'll get years of rewarding, relaxing fish watching out of it too. Now head to your LFS and pick up a few supplies like a gravel siphon. Tell them Aquatropic sent you.