If you’ve ever seen a picture online of an immaculate aquarium, you’ve probably wondered how someone can possibly keep their fish tank so spotless. But there is no secret to keeping an aquarium sparkling clean, and if you follow the steps in this article, your aquarium should start to improve almost immediately.
And don’t feel discouraged if your aquarium is already overflowing with grime and algae. I’ll admit when I started out, my first tank was a disaster. The glass was constantly smudged, hard water was crusted around the filter, and instead of live plants, I had fields of lush algae coating every surface. But with the help of some knowledgeable fishkeepers and a bit of online research, I was able to create the pristine aquariums I keep today.
Change the Water Weekly
One of the simplest things you can do to keep your aquarium clean is to change the water weekly. Nitrates constantly build up in the water and high nitrate levels contribute to algae growth. By removing nitrates with small, regular water changes, it will reduce the nitrate levels and keep the aquarium healthy. No more than 25% of the water should be changed at one time and larger water changes risk destabilizing the aquarium water. Also, make sure any new water is always treated to remove any chlorine or chloramine.
Test Your Water
An aquarium is a tiny ecosystem and if something goes out of balance, it can quickly spiral out of control. It’s important to test the aquarium water regularly to ensure there are no problems, and if any problems are found, you’ll be able to correct it quickly. The water test will check for ammonia, nitrites (both which are dangerous for your fish at any levels), and nitrates (these will always be present in some small amount).
Use a Gravel Vacuum
When you’re doing a weekly water change, it’s important to thoroughly clean the aquarium. Many new fishkeepers are content with just replacing the water, but when doing a water change, it’s important to use a gravel vacuum. The gravel vacuum will suck up uneaten food and fish waste from the bottom of the fish tank and will help to keep the aquarium clean. If you have a gravel substrate, the vacuum should be pushed down into the gravel to remove any built-up waste between the stones.
After purchasing my first large tank, I quickly grew tired of siphoning the water into buckets and carrying it through the house. That’s when I discovered the Python Water Changer. The Python Water Changer drains the water from the tank and then refills it with the flip of a switch. It’s made weekly water changes take less than half the time – with the added benefit of not having to carry endless buckets of water through my house.
Scrub the Glass and Ornaments
It’s not enough to simply remove the water during weekly water changes, it’s also important to remove as much algae as possible. The more algae you have in your aquarium, the faster it will spread. During the aquarium cleaning, you should scrape the glass (with an aquarium safe scraper), making sure to avoid damaging the sealant at the corners of the aquarium. Then you should remove the ornaments and wipe them down to clean them as much as possible.
Clean the Filter
Nothing is more important to the health of an aquarium than a well-maintained filter. And filters also play an important role in keeping an aquarium clean. The bacteria living on the filter remove dangerous chemicals from the water and most filters will also filter out any free-floating debris. But filters only work if they’re properly maintained. It’s good to get into the habit of cleaning your filter during weekly water changes. The filter media should be removed and cleaned with non-chlorinated water, and then the filter housing should be given a deep scrub, to remove any waste or built-up hard water residue.
Use Live Plants
While it can be a difficult job to keep the water just right in an aquarium – never mind keeping algae at bay – the addition of live plants will make your life much easier. Live plants compete with algae for nutrients and will slow the spread of algae. And not only do live plants make algae easier to control, but they also help keep the aquarium clean for your fish. Live plants remove nitrates from the water and may help to reduce dangerous ammonia and nitrites.
Don’t Overfeed the Fish
One simple way to make your aquarium cleaner is to reduce how much you’re feeding your fish. Most aquarists – both experienced and new – overfeed their fish. That excess food then rots and fouls the water, causing algae blooms or worse. By making sure you feed your fish just enough, you will help to keep your aquarium clean. A good rule of thumb to use is to only feed your fish as much as they can eat in five minutes. If there is any leftover food after five minutes, you’re probably feeding your fish too much.
Limit the Amount of Artificial Light
Another way to keep an aquarium clean is to limit the amount of light it receives. The more light in a fish tank, the more algae problems you’ll have. Generally speaking, an aquarium should receive between 8-12 hours of light a day. If you find you’re experiencing problems with algae growth, reduce the number of hours of light an aquarium is getting, but try to never go below eight hours.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
While too much artificial light makes it more difficult to keep an aquarium clean, direct sunlight throughout the day will most likely turn your aquarium into a green soup. While some sunlight is usually fine – especially in a densely planted aquarium – too much may cause a huge algae bloom. An aquarium should always be positioned where it’s away from windows and should only receive indirect sunlight.
Use Algae Eaters
There’s nothing wrong with enlisting a little help to keep your aquarium clean. Most of my aquariums have an algae cleanup crew along with smaller creatures to consume any uneaten food. Adding a few snails and an algae eater will go a long way towards keeping your aquarium spotless. The following algae eaters are suitable for most tanks: otocinclus catfish, bristlenose pleco, Amano shrimp, Malaysian trumpet snails, and nerite snails. While common plecos are often recommended as algae eaters, they only consume significant amounts of algae while they are young and grow far too big for anything but the largest fish tanks.
If you follow the recommendations in this article, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your aquarium starts to improve. After a few weeks of regular water changes and careful maintenance, your aquarium should be nearly pristine and ready to show off.