How to Clean a Fish Tank: The Ultimate Guide

Aquarium native hardy fancy gold fish, Red Fantail

The first day you get your new fish tank, it’s sparkling clean.

Then a few weeks later you might notice that your new aqua one fish tank is getting a little cloudy. You ignore it and move on, but a few more weeks go by and soon your fish tank is starting to look dirty.

In order to keep your fish healthy and prevent the spread of algae, it’s important to keep your fish tank clean and the water fresh.

Proper cleaning methods keep out toxins while still maintaining the helpful bacteria that your fish need to thrive. You can use some supplies already available in your home, but you might need to invest in some specialty products from another retailer.

With a little hard work and some simple cleaning supplies, your fish tank can be sparkling clean once again.

Check out our guide for how to clean a fish tank while still protecting the delicate ecosystem inside your aquarium.

What You’ll Need

Some of these items you might have lying around at home, but others you’ll need to buy from a pet store or online retailer.

Here’s a list of some supplies and tools you should have on hand:

  • Paper towels
  • Bath towels
  • Fish net
  • Smaller tank/container
  • Large container/bucket
  • Algae scraper/pad
  • Bleach
  • Glass cleaner ([amazon_textlink asin=’B000H6SRU2|B001D728VI’ text=’aquarium safe’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’aquaticsworld-21|aquaticsworld-20′ marketplace=’UK|US’ link_id=’40a97867-576d-11e8-85cc-a9fd62fe62c0′])
  • Dechlorinated water
  • Water siphon

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How to Clean a Fish Tank

Cleaning your fish tank regularly is key to keeping your fish happy and healthy. It’s important to prepare the right cleaning schedule so that algae and other residue doesn’t have time to build up.

Follow these steps to learn how to clean a fish tank and do it right.

Step 1) Clearing things out

Start by turning off and unplugging any electrical devices like lights or filters. Make sure that your hands are clean and free of any kind of residue–even soap.

Use some of the water from the original tank and put it in the smaller tank or container. Then use the fish net or a cup to scoop out the fish and put them in the smaller tank until the cleaning process is complete.

Then reach into the tank and remove any decorative pieces like plants, bubbles, or filters. There should be nothing except for rocks and gravel in the tank. You can clean off items in the tank with water and a scrubber before setting them aside for later.

Step 2) Cleaning the water

Now it’s time to begin the actual fish tank cleaning process.

Use a water siphon to remove the dirty water from the tank. Move the siphon quickly up and down several times. Make sure you move through the gravel to remove any debris or fish waste.

A larger bucket or container should be enough to catch the water from the siphon. You also shouldn’t have to worry about vacuuming up the gravel by accident–it will be too heavy.

Keep in mind–you shouldn’t remove more than 75% of the water from the tank. You need to keep some of the healthy bacteria in the water that your fish need to survive, and it will help your fish feel more at ease in the new water.

Step 3) Cleaning the inside glass

Once most of the water has been removed, it’s time to clean the glass.

Use an algae scrubber or pad to clean the sides. There’s a wide range of algae cleaners out there, from regular scrubbers, pads, long-handled sponges, or magnetic scrubbers.

You can also use a glass cleaner with paper towels, but make sure that it’s safe for aquariums. Buy all your cleaning products from a pet shop instead of a department store.

Even if they look the same, household products can have soaps or other chemicals that could hurt your fish.

In the case of any stubborn residue on the glass, you can use a metal or plastic razor blade to scrape it off.

If there’s a lot of algae near the bottom of the tank or you’re worried about dirtying up the water left in your tank, you can remove the remaining 25% of the water into a separate container until you’re done cleaning.

Step 4) Clean the filter

It’s important to keep your filter clean, but there’s a catch. Don’t clean your filter until a week or two after your initial fish tank cleaning.

Here’s why: cleaning your fish tank disturbs the vital bacteria that live on the plants, rocks, and gravel. A lot of this bacteria lives in the filter, so the bacteria ecosystem is still intact.

While it’s definitely important to clean your filter, if you do it at the same time as the tank cleaning, you might cause a dangerous spike in the ammonia levels of the tank.

It’s important that you keep some of the tank’s original water to maintain good bacteria, and be sure to alternate your cleaning of the tank and the filter too.

Step 5) Refill the tank

Now it’s time to put everything back.

If you’ve removed the original tank water for cleaning, pour it back into the tank. Then add the new dechlorinated water. Make sure you leave enough room to put the plants and other extra items, as well as the water you put in the container with your fish.

Even if you’ve already used dechlorinated water, it’s a good idea to add a drop or two of tap water dechlorinator if any tap water was used during the cleaning process. You can also add water conditioner to make sure the water is clean for the fish.

Then add the filter, plants, and other decorative pieces. Plug all the devices back on and then wait about an hour for the water to adjust.

Finally, once the hour is up you can put your fish back into the tank. Be careful to treat them gently and don’t touch them while moving them back to reduce any stress.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve mastered the basics of how to clean a fish tank, it’s important that you clean it on an ongoing basis so that it never needs a major cleaning again.

Clean the glass every two weeks, vacuum the gravel every time you change the water, and clean any plants as soon as you see algae on them. Check the filter monthly and be sure to alternate with your regular cleaning schedule.

With regular care and a little hard work, your aquarium will look beautiful all the time–and your fish will love it too.

Last update on 2020-01-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API