Fish Keeping 101

Aquarium Talk: How Often and when Should I Clean My Fish Tank?

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Many beginning aquarists do not know the answer to the question "when do you clean your fish tank?" Cleaning is an essential part of aquarium maintenance and there are both right and wrong ways to go about doing it.

One of the most common questions new aquarists ask is when do you clean your fish tank? While routine partial water changes are always advised and algae eaters like the common pleco (plecostumus), are helpful in keeping algae growth under control, it is still necessary to clean the entire tank once in a while.

Why Should You Clean Your Tank?

Over time, any fish tank will accumulate a buildup of waste products, harmful toxins, and algae growth. Your filtration system will help to cycle the water and to provide chemical filtration, but if you only add water to your tank, rather than replacing some of the existing water, the water will become increasingly hard - ammonia and other toxins will build up to a level that fish cannot survive. Depending on the location of your tank, algae growth may also be a problem that can only be remedied in removing tank decorations and scrubbing them, as well as the walls.

When Should You Clean Your Tank?

Several factors must be considering when cleaning your fish tank. The location of your fish tank is very important - an aquarium in direct sunlight will accumulate algae growth more quickly, thus making it necessary to clean it more often. The size of your tank and the number of occupants are also large factors. Despite what you may think, smaller fish tanks require more frequent cleaning than larger tanks, because waste accumulates much more quickly in a tank with less water volume. The number of fish in your aquarium also contributes - more fish will produce more waste to be cleaned out. Filtration also plays a role in the necessity of cleaning a tank, as does the frequency with which you feed your fish.

Most experts recommend doing a 10%-15% water change on a weekly basis to remove chemical build-up, and to prevent the water in the tank from becoming too hard to support fish. You may also want to remove and clean tank decorations when algae builds up to a level your algae eaters cannot control on their own.

How Should You Clean Your Tank?

With the question of "when" do you clean your fish tank answered, we must now look at the "how". To perform a 10%-15% water change, use a siphon to vacuum debris out from the gravel - this will ensure that the water you do remove from the tank is the dirty water. If you are using an undergravel filter it is especially important to remove uneaten food and debris buildup, so your filter does not become clogged. Other types of filtration systems may require monthly rinsing to remove buildup, and most filtration media should be replaced every 2 to 4 weeks. If possible, try not to clean your entire filter at one time because this could result in the loss of the majority of the beneficial bacteria living in your tank.

Occasionally you may find it necessary to do some more extensive cleaning. Algae pads and scrapers will help to clean aquarium glass and to remove thick algae build-up from decorations - you can even use a 10% bleach solution to soak decorations for 15 minutes to make the cleaning process easier. If you use bleach, be sure to rinse the soaked items thoroughly and allow them to air dry.

When you do clean your fish tank, remember to never use soap or detergent in your tank or on items that go in your tank. These substances are extremely toxic to fish, and soap residue is difficult to remove even with thorough rinsing.
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