Aquariums are in essence a “closed system” – that is to say that when your fish defecate or food is left uneaten, there is simply nowhere for it go apart from floating around in the water. For obvious reasons, over time this build-up of organic waste can be harmful for your fish, as well as making your aquarium unsightly.
Today, therefore, we ‘re going to look at how to keep your fish tank clean – something that will not just benefit your fish but also your viewing pleasure to boot.
How Often To Clean Your Fish Tank
When discussing how to keep an aquarium clean, the single biggest secret is “little and often”. It’s far better to carry out a small amount of cleaning on a weekly basis than it is to leave your aquarium for weeks at a time until your fish are gasping at the surface and the glass is clothed in brown slime.
But why? The important factor to bear in mind here is that fish can be surprisingly sensitive creatures. This applies both to water chemistry as well as temperature. Any significant shift away from the “norm” can be harmful for your fish, causing stress and – in extreme circumstances – fatalities.
But as a fish-keeper you have more to worry about than just the fish themselves. An effective and healthy fish tank will also have a colony of helpful bacteria in the gravel and the aquarium filter. These micro-organisms work hard to turn the toxic ammonia secreted by your fish into something far less harmful. Sudden and extensive cleaning can also harm these bacteria. Such colonies can take some weeks to recover after such a shock, in which time your fish tank might actually be more toxic.
In this way you’re far better, for example, to replace just a small amount of water at a time rather than emptying the tank entirely and refilling it with new water. You’ll also do better to gently clean the gravel a little at a time rather than really “going to town” and harming plants or the friendly bacteria living in it.
If you’ve ever read a book about keeping fish then you’ve no-doubt heard that you shouldn’t put fish into a brand new tank. Nor should you buy an entire tank-full of fish at one time. Instead a new fish tank should be allowed to get established for some weeks before introducing fish. Even then, fish should be introduced slowly and methodically over time.
The reason for this process are the helpful bacterial colonies mentioned previously. Firstly, these colonies take time to become established after setting up an aquarium. Secondly, once established, these colonies take time to grow. By introducing fish just a few at a time you’ll gently increase the amount of ammonia entering the water, allowing the bacterial colonies time to utilize it and so grow over time. By the time your tank is fully-stocked, the bacterial colonies which are an essential part of a healthy fish tank have had time to become fully-established, and are fully-prepared to help keep your aquarium clean.
Regular Water Changes
Assuming you’ve given your tank time to become established, the second most important factor in keeping your fish tank clean is regular, small water changes.
You should aim to remove just 10-20% of the water at each clean. This should then be replaced with water which has had the chlorine removed with a dechlorinating agent, and has subsequently been allowed to warm up to room temperature.
If you are in any doubt about the volume of water to change, try using a water testing kit on a regular basis, as available quite cheaply from many aquarium shops. Using a test kit is quite simple; simply remove a little water from your fish tank, place it into the test tubes provided, add the tablets provided and shake until colour develops. You can then compare the eventual colour with the colour-chart included in the test kit in order to assess how healthy your tank water is.
If your water is always in the “ideal” range you can consider removing less water, or cleaning slightly less regularly. On the other hand, if the test kit highlights repeated problems then consider more frequent cleans.
Gravel cleaners are simple and cheap pieces of equipment that will allow you to remove faeces and uneaten food from the bottom of your fish tank. They create a “vortex”, sucking up rubbish from the gravel without harming the bacterial colonies. This rubbish is sucked up the hose and into a bucket ready for disposal.
Of course, standard gravel cleaners will also extract aquarium water as well as this filth, so arguably the best way to both carry out a partial water change and clean the gravel is with a low-cost gravel cleaning device.
Cleaning Your Filter
Most filters require regular maintenance if they are to remain effective. Over time most filters will become clogged with waste material and, rather like a vacuum filling up, they will perform less and less effectively. Many people find that cleaning their filter effectively can do wonders for keeping their fish tank clean.
The critical thing here is to avoid cleaning your filter in fresh water straight from the tap. In doing so this ice-cold chlorine-filled water will kill off many of the helpful bacteria in your filter. Instead, clean your filter in the water you have just removed from your fish tank. This will allow you to wash away particulate dirt while retaining the helpful bacteria.
Some aquarium owners find themselves doing constant battle with brown, sludgy algae that grows on their aquarium glass. Fortunately there are a number of ways to quickly remove and prevent algae. For an instant fix, invest in one of the many algae scrapers available from aquarium shops. The easiest of all to use are magnetic and come in two halves. Simply place one half inside the aquarium and the other outside. They will “stick” together, allowing you to slowly remove excess algae without needing to get your hands wet.
After the initial clean-up, the next part of the puzzle should be preventing such problems from re-occurring. Here there are two possible options, which may be used separately or together. Firstly, try moving your aquarium away from any direct sources of sunlight. Most algae require sunlight to grow, so placing the tank in a darker corner away from windows will immediately reduce algal growth.
Finally consider adding one or two algae-eating fish to your aquarium. Popular examples are plecos, a form of cat fish who will slowly work their way around your tank rasping the algae off the glass.
As a final tip for keeping your fish tank clean consider what types of fish you have, and where they feed. While some fish will prefer to grab fish food from the surface of the water, others will hoover up food off the gravel surface. These bottom feeders can be tremendously useful for naturally keeping your fish tank clean, by gathering up excess food left over by the other fish feeding higher up in your aquarium.