How often an aquarium needs to be cleaned depends largely on the set-up, the number and type of occupants, feeding habits and filtration employed. Careful feeding, low stocking levels and good filter maintenance results in a low maintenance aquarium with good water quality.
As a guide, outlined below is a time table of maintenance required for the average aquarium.
- Feed the fish. Guidance on this task can be found on the When And How Much To Feed page.
- Check the temperature. Temperature may fluctuate depending on the time of day. Check that the measured temperature is within the correct limits for your fish.
- Check other equipment is working. After power cuts, some filter motors may stick – are you sure that there wasn’t a power cut last night? Is the output of a filter still strong? Perhaps some loose plant leaves have clogged the inlet pipe.
- Observe the fish. Are they all there? Are they all behaving naturally? Are there any signs of disease?
- Observe the water. Is it cloudy? Does it smell? Does it look yellow? These factors could indicate a need for maintenance or signify an unhealthy aquarium.
- Remove dead plant leaves and trim excess plant growth.
- Clean algae from the front glass using a scraper or algae magnet.
- Clean the outside of the glass with a cloth and window cleaning spray. Always spray the cleaning agent on to the cloth then apply to the glass. this prevents any over-spray entering the aquarium.
- Remove large debris from the substrate surface using a siphon. Have a large bucket ready below tank level and place a tube, approximately one inch in diameter into the aquarium. Suck on the other end of the tube until the water begins to flow through the tube and out from the aquarium. You will need to be careful (and quick) to avoid getting a mouth full of tank water. Sweep the end that is inside the aquarium over the substrate as if one is vacuuming it. Try to avoid sucking up gravel and fish! Finally replace any lost water with fresh conditioned water. Conditioned water is tap water to which a chlorine or chloramine removing agent, such as Tetra Aquasafe, has been added.
Note this task does not constitute a water change!
Every Two Weeks To One Month
- Clean the aquarium. This task constitutes all the tasks above but involves a more thorough cleaning of the substrate and a water change.
The exact frequency of this task depends on the set-up but as a water change is necessary a minimum of once a month, to reduce nitrate build up and replace trace elements naturally present in water, it is just as easy to combine this task with other maintenance duties such as cleaning filters.
If the substrate is shallow (less than 1 cm) or consists of sand, cleaning can be accomplished using a siphon tube as described above. If however, the substrate is deeper or consists of gravel, one should use a gravel cleaner.
A gravel cleaner is a siphon tube with a larger (2-3 inch diameter 8-10 inch long) tube attached to one end. Start the siphon in the normal manner by sucking on the exposed thin end and sift through the substrate with the wide tube. Gravel will rise and fall within the large tube whilst allowing debris to be washed away. Around 25-30% of the aquarium water should be removed during this process.
It is not imperative to remove every bit of dirt from the substrate. I tend to regard the dirt more as fertilizer than excreta as it houses beneficial bacteria. It is for this same reason that I do not clean the gravel in amongst planted areas.
When removing water from the aquarium, take care not to allow the water to drop below the heaterstat as the change in temperature may cause the glass element to crack. To avoid damage to heaters, turn them off five minutes before commencing any maintenance to allow them to cool, remembering of course, to turn them on again once the aquarium has been refilled.
Replace the lost water with treated tap water. Depending on the size of the aquarium and the speed that the water is replaced, tap water may require heating first. Most fish can tolerate a drop in temperature of 2-3°F but any more could cause thermal shock and unnecessary stress.
To heat water, add boiling water to a bucket of cold tap water to bring it up to temperature. It is unwise to use hot tap water as this may have been sitting in a cooper water tank for some time and cooper may have leeched into the water. Cooper is toxic to fish. Additionally, hot water from a water tank is not always very clean as calcium deposits and other debris often collect in the water tank.
As an alternative to boiling lots of water, buckets can be left to stand until they reach room temperature before they are added to the aquarium.
Do not add water too quickly too the aquarium. Many fish do not appreciate an impromptu jacuzzi and the bubbles that a rush of water create may cause damage if they settle on the fishes gills.
Every Six To Eight Months
- Clean the filters. Again this task can be combined with the water change above. Filter media should be rinsed in old tank water to prevent it from becoming clogged and reducing the filter flow. Never thoroughly clean filter media or clean the media in tap water as this will kill much of the beneficial bacteria growing on it. Cleaning the media too much will result in “New Tank Syndrome”, a phenomena where by the biological balance of the aquarium is upset and results in the tank requiring to be effectively cycled again.
Filter media, usually needs replaced every 6-12 months before rinsing becomes ineffective and again, for the reasons described above, only part of the media should be replaced. Never replace all the media at one time.
Filter maintenance should be done as quickly as possible as bacteria begins to die as soon as the filter stops flowing i.e. when oxygen and food supply stops. Try to avoid switching of the filters for more than one hour.
A worth while formula to remember is FILTER CARE = WATER QUALITY = HEALTHY AQUARIUM
- Finally, in an aquarium that utilizes fluorescent tubs as a light source, these should also be replaced every 6-8 months as although they may still appear bright, the spectral range from them will have deteriorated significantly.
Any aquarium maintenance should be done in one sitting. Scraping algae, moving a plant or adjusting a rock is a major event for a fish and causes stress. Thus the best thing to do is to perform all in tank maintenance in one process.