Maintenance and cleaning Fish Tank Guides

Aquarium maintenance – a quick guide to aquarium cleaning

aquarium maintenance

A guide to regular aquarium maintenance.

Aquarium maintenance

Maintaining your aquarium is the second most important part of aquarium ownership after getting some or lots of enjoyment out of it. So, here we’re going to talk through aquarium maintenance, so if you’re new to aquarium keeping this will be a quick guide on how to easily carry out your weekly cleaning duties.

Aquariums have many benefits, they improve our mental and physical health, they improve the aesthetics of your home and, if you have them, they will keep your kids busy. All that goes out of the window though when your aquarium turns into a box of green or murky water with some sick looking fish in it. So, having a good aquarium maintenance routine is key to keeping healthy, happy fish and to keep you happy too.

Aquarium cleaning can be a bit of a chore (unless you’re a bit mad like me and enjoy it), but hopefully, this will make it into a few simple steps with a couple of easier ways to get things done.


Water changes

Changing some of your aquarium water every week or two is really important. Your aquarium size and how many fish you keep in it will determine how often you need to change the water, and how much.

Regular water changes are necessary as your aquarium and filter convert ammonia (waste from your fish) into nitrite, nitrite is then converted to much less toxic nitrate. It is quite difficult to remove nitrate unless you have a heavily planted tank and whilst it is less toxic, if it builds up enough it will still become lethal to your fish.

Testing your water regularly can help you to determine what routine works best for you. Ideally, you want to keep nitrates under 10ppm to ensure optimum health of your wet pets. Testing for a few weeks will tell you how long it takes for the nitrates to reach that level, which will then set your water change schedule.

Your fish will survive higher nitrate levels than this, it doesn’t become too toxic until it reaches around 40ppm+, so if you find there is some variation then that isn’t too much of a concern.

Before you begin to drain your aquarium, ensure that your filters and heaters are switched off. Many items of aquarium equipment such as these can be damaged by being run outside of water, so the first task is always to switch everything off.

If you have a large aquarium then water changes can be hard work, carrying bucket after bucket from the aquarium isn’t really that fun. My living room aquarium is around 580 litres and is well stocked, which means I change around 50% of the water per week. So, that would be a lot of buckets! Instead, I use a hose to syphon water from the aquarium, the hose runs from my aquarium straight to the drain outside.

A normal hose pipe should work no problem as long as it is reserved for the aquarium only and is kept clean, but if you’re after a top quality purpose-built aquarium hose then have a look at the Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System.

Not only does this save a lot of trips back and forth, its really handy when the filter requires cleaning, as it provides free-flowing aquarium water in which to wash your sponges off in.

aquarium cleaning

The tank

Whilst the aquarium is draining is an ideal time to give the aquarium a cleanout. This means removing algae from the glass and getting leftover food and fish poop out of the gravel.

There are a few pieces of equipment available to help to remove algae, but do be careful, many devices, such as scrapers and sponges can trap small pieces of gravel/substrate in them which will scratch your glass.

Hoovering your substrate helps to keep your aquarium extra clean, without removing any bacteria from the substrate itself. Depending on what type of substrate you have will determine how much hoovering you do. If you have larger gravel then you can hoover fairly vigorously as it is unlikely that you will remove any of your substrate from the tank. If you have sand though, you may just need to hover over the top of it to remove any visible debris. Otherwise, your expensive sand will end up down the drain, literally.

Once the inside of the aquarium is looking clean, you’re all good. This task will become easier as your aquarium matures and you have less algae growth, in the first few months there can be a lot of scrubbing of ornaments and everything else to remove the bright green stains.

Filter Cleaning

Maintaining your filter is a big part of aquarium maintenance, your filter is what keeps your aquarium healthy between water changes and cleaning. So it needs to be in tip-top condition. Filters will not need cleaning every week, I clean mine out roughly every three months, smaller filters may require a slightly more regular schedule than that, but certainly not every week.

Your filter contains millions of live bacteria that break down the waste that your fish produce into that less toxic nitrate. This bacteria needs to be preserved when you clean it, otherwise, the filter is useless and you will need to re-cycle your tank, and no-one wants that.

Tap water contains chlorine and chlorine’s purpose there is to kill bacteria, not ideal for filters. So using the water you have removed from your aquarium is much better. This will allow you to remove any built-up gunk without harming your precious bacteria colony.

As I mentioned, using a hose is ideal for this, as this provides a fresh running supply of used aquarium water to clean your filter with. Any filter sponges can be squeezed and rinsed off in it, and a light hose down of any solid bio media should be enough to remove built-up gunk.

If you have an external filter then checking the seals of your filter regularly is important too, along with a check and clean of the impeller (this goes for internals too). Seals in most filters need to be changed annually, this prevents any leaks from the filter which prevents the contents of your aquarium ending up on your floor. The rubber seals are usually fairly cheap and won’t cost more than £10 in most cases, much cheaper than a new carpet!


Filling it up

Once everything is cleaned up, it will be time to fill the aquarium back up with fresh water. Any water that goes into your aquarium needs to be dechlorinated and at as close to the correct temperature as possible.

If you have a small aquarium that only takes a few buckets then this isn’t too much of a problem and can be done quite quickly. If you have a large aquarium then this is where your hose pipe may be handy again.

If you’re using a hosepipe, you will need to add your water conditioner to the aquarium directly and ensure that your filter is off (if external) or removed (if internal) until the water is well mixed and dechlorinated.

Water added to the aquarium should be at as close to the correct temperature as possible. This prevents any shock to your fish from large, quick temperature changes. That means that you either need to heat the water in buckets (very time consuming) or use the hot tap.

Hot water can contain lead from travelling through pipes at higher temperatures, it could also have been standing for a while if your house has a larger hot water tank. If you are going to use the hot tap to make your water the correct temperature then it is a good idea to test the water first, just to make sure that there are no nasties in there that will harm your fish.



All Clean?

Once you have finished your aquarium cleaning and filling, ensure that the water is well mixed (dechlorinated), now you will need to re-install or switch on any removed equipment. Mainly heaters and filters.

Your aquarium may not initially look all that clean, maintenance often stirs up a lot of ‘dirt’ from your substrate which will now float around in the water column. I often find too that after a filter clean the filter often spits out a bit of gunk when switched back on, I’ve yet to figure out where the hell it comes from even after a good many years of keeping fish. But I suspect it is a simple case of it being loosened by maintenance but not completely removed.

However, don’t worry, you’re aquarium will soon clear up and be looking fresh and clean again, with lots of waste (nitrates) removed and your fish will remain happy and healthy. Below are a few photos, photo one is straight after filling up, photo 2 is an hour later, photo 3 is two hours later.


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Got some great aquarium maintenance tips? Share them in the comments, or maybe write your own aquarium cleaning guide and we’ll publish it for everyone to read.


About the author

James @Seriously Fishy

I am a fish keeping enthusiast with over 20 years experience. I currently keep American Cichlids (CA) which are my favourite fish to keep so far. I started Seriously Fishy as I noticed a large volume of people on various web pages looking for help with Aquarium basics. I created the first Seriously Fishy book to solve the issue in 28 pages, that led to the Seriously Fishy UK fish forum and blog.

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