How to clean a fish tank – the ultimate guide

Keep your fish happy and healthy with our guide.

Man cleaning fish tank

by Isabel Martins |

A lot of people think that owning fish is an easy task; fish are pretty low maintenance pets, right? That's one of the many reasons we love them. However, there's a little more to owning a fish than you might think, especially if you want to keep them happy and healthy.

Whether this is your first time having fish, or you're a seasoned veteran, correctly cleaning your fish tank is extremely important. This may sound pretty straightforward, but when it comes to cleaning your fish tank, there are several factors to consider.

These include how often you need to clean it, what products you need, as well as what's the best way to clean your fish tank, and if you should remove the fish out of it when cleaning.

So if you have no idea where to start, or you're just slightly unsure about some things, you've come to the right place! We're going to answer all your queries about cleaning aquariums and fish tanks, and we've even included the best products to help you do so.

After some more cleaning tips? Check out these easy cleaning tips that you need to know plus tips to clean your dishwasher,**** oven, washing machine and TV.

What do I need to clean my fish tank?

Remove algae with an algae scraper

Before you start cleaning, make sure you unplug the heater and filter and remove any artificial plants from the tank. This is the first step you should take when actually cleaning your fish tank.

You'll need to clean the inside glass and components of your fish tank. Give the inside of your aquarium a thorough scrub with an algae scraper, otherwise known as an algae pad. If there is any residue that refuses to come off, you can purchase a razor blade to get it off. Make sure you scrub any residue off of artificial plants or decorations, too.

Replace water with a water siphon

Next, you will need to remove around 20 to 25 per cent of the current water. You can do this with a water siphon, otherwise known as a gravel siphon or gravel vacuum. The siphon works like a vacuum, so place it across the gravel surface and it will suck up any dirt or debris that is at the bottom of the tank.

When you suck up the water and the gravel, make sure you have a bucket to deposit this. You will later use the water deposited to clean your aquarium filter. The water sucked up will be deposited into the bucket, but the debris will just fall back into the fish tank.

Replace the removed water with fresh dechlorinated water, ensuring the new water is the same temperature as your aquarium water.

With the replaced water, you'll need to ensure it contains live bacteria as this is key in keeping your fish happy. Live bacteria are usually available in liquid form, and we have included some below:

Clean the exterior with vinegar and a damp cloth

This is the fourth step when it comes to cleaning your fish tank, which is cleaning the light, hood, top, and outside glass of your fish tank. It's important to note that normal glass cleaners and lime cleaners contain toxic chemicals, such as ammonia.

Instead, use vinegar or an aquarium safe cleaner. Rinse and clean the outside glass with a damp cloth.

Thoroughly clean the filter with a filter cleaning brush

You don't have to undertake this step if you're cleaning your tank every couple of days, however, you should clean your filter every two weeks. If you clean your fish tank every two weeks, make sure you clean your filter, too.

This is the fifth step when it comes to aquarium cleaning. Remove the filter and wash off all the residue - you can do this over the bucket with the water you removed earlier, simply clean the sponge by hand. Ensure you squeeze the sponge to help remove all of the gunk collected. If the pad or sponge is too dirty to be cleaned, replace it with a new one.

After removing any gunk on the sponge/pad, you may need a filter brush to scrub the harder to get to spots, so we've listed an excellent one below. Once you're done cleaning the sponge, place it back in the filter.

Important: Never clean the filter under tap water, as this will kill the bacteria in the water and your fish require a certain amount of live bacteria to process the fish's waste.

How often should I clean my fish tank?

This depends heavily on the size of your fish tank, how many fish you own, the type of fish you own, and the filter system you have. As a general rule of thumb, you should clean your fish tank once every two weeks.

You may be wondering, "how do I know when I need to clean my fish tank?" According to Pets At Home, you should "peer through the glass and see what you can see". If it's clear, you can leave it, but "if you can see any uneaten food or waste floating in the water, it's almost definitely time to give your tank a clean."

How to clean your fish tank guide
©Photo: Unsplash

Do I take my fish out when cleaning the tank?

No, unless it is absolutely necessary, leave the fish in the tank when cleaning it. If you remove your fish, you can cause them distress.

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