Fish Tank Maintenance

Regular fish tank maintenance is an absolute necessity for every aquarium. It is very difficult to make a definitive guide on the subject as there are so many factors to take into account.

Some of the factors will be the size of the tank, types of fish in the tank, types of filters used, whether you have plants in the tank and other decorations you could be using.

The best anyone could do in this area, without writing a full length book, would be to try covering each area as generally as possible and letting the fish tank owner decide what will best suit their situation.

If you are still in the process of researching keeping tropical fish, I would suggest you read maintenance articles like this and decide whether you are ready to make the effort. I always say, an informed decision is a good decision.

Before we look at the “How”, let’s take a look at the “Why”, with some of the basic reasoning behind needing proper fish tank maintenance. Bear in mind though that each of the reasons are equally important and should all be taken into account.

If you are having problems with diseases in your aquarium then its quite possibly down to a flawed maintenance schedule.

The “Why”

Removal of Settled Waste

Now no matter what filter system you are using in your aquarium, there will always be settled waste products. This waste includes fish waste, plant waste and food waste.

Besides the obvious result of a cleaner looking aquarium, there is a more important reason behind removing this waste.

These settled waste products are visible in your fish tank. The problem comes in when this waste starts decomposing and creating invisible toxins in your aquarium.

These toxins will always be present in any fish tank, but need to be maintained at acceptable levels. If you haven’t already heard about it, then take a look at our page on the Nitrogen Cycle. It will help you understand the subject of toxins a little better.

As the name suggests, you should be looking to clean anything that waste could “settle” on. These will include filters and other equipment, aquarium decorations and of course the gravel inside your tank.

Control Algae Growth

Very excessive algae growth can often be a symptom of over-lighting your aquarium. It is not always possible to reduce the lighting you provide your tank as you may need it for your plants to grow.

With that said, all tanks will have some level of algae growth. Some people like to keep an Algae Eater type fish, or even a few of them to reduce the effect of the problem.

Most aquariums will only need a little bit of attention in this area during fish tank maintenance.

Nitrate Control

This is again another area that you will gain some insight on by reading the section on the Nitrogen Cycle. Nitrates are an end product of the Nitrogen cycle and it is primarily the aquarium owner that is responsible for keeping its levels under control.

Nitrate removal is the main reason behind doing your fish tank maintenance at regular intervals. A test kit can help you determine these intervals.

Nitrates must be kept below 40ppm (parts per million) in a freshwater aquarium, any higher than 40ppm can be considered dangerously high levels. Personally I try to keep my levels between 10ppm and 30ppm.

Just a little note here, a nitrate level of 0ppm is fine if you do not have any living plants in your aquarium. Plants use the Nitrate as food, so if you have live plants you should leave your nitrate level at around 10ppm for the plants to survive.

Equipment Maintenance

Equipment maintenance could be as simple as taking a cloth and wiping the dust off the light bulbs, but some equipment takes a bit more effort.

Your best bet over here would be to check with your operation manuals for each piece of equipment you have. Things like external water pumps may need regular servicing and cleaning, which most people will not cover in any guides.

Once you know what servicing your equipment requires, you will be able to work it into your fish tank maintenance schedule.

For the most part, equipment maintenance refers to your water filters. The media inside your filters will get blocked up and prevent it from cleaning the water properly.

If you are using activated carbon or resin in your filter, that will also need regular replacement. Not replacing carbon regularly can be quite detrimental, read our section on filters if you would like more information on that.

The “How”

Here we will discuss how to go about your fish tank maintenance using some basic affordable equipment.

What you will need:

1. A Bucket (5 gallon or bigger)

2. A Siphon or Gravel Vacuum

3. A suitable Algae Pad

4. Any replacement media you may need for your filter or filters

Before we get started, I would just like to add that it shouldn’t be necessary to do a full clean-up every week. I normally try for a small water change (10% - 15%) once a week, and then do a more extensive clean once a month.

Adjust cleaning frequency to suite your aquarium requirements.

Safety First: Before you start any fish tank maintenance you should unplug all your electrical equipment.

There are two reasons for this. The first would be to reduce the risk of electric shock if you mess water over anything. The second reason is to prevent your filter from sucking up all the extra mess that gets stirred up while you are using the gravel vacuum.

What I do next is clean the front glass of my tank with my algae pad. The two sides I leave for my Algae Eaters to enjoy. If you don’t have an Algae Eater then you may need to clean the sides of your tank to avoid excess algae build up.

Make sure you buy an algae pad or scrapper to suite your fish tank. You can use just about anything to scrape the sides with, but what you must watch out for is scratching the glass or acrylic. You need to be careful with this; scratches don’t do any good for the appearance of the tank.

My next step would be to remove the decorations from the tank. You will be surprised how much dirt collects underneath your fish cave and other decor. With these parts out the way it makes using your gravel vacuum a lot easier.

Place your bucket below the level of your aquarium and start siphoning the water out using your gravel vacuum. Once the siphon action is going you need to gently stir up the gravel. You will notice how the dirt is light enough to get sucked out and the gravel falls back to the bottom.

Continue using the gravel vacuum until you have removed roughly 15% of the water from the tank. Remember to keep some of the water that you have sucked out.

Now I take my decor and give them a good rinse in the bucket with the water that came out of the fish tank. After they are clean they can be placed back into the tank.

This is very important: don’t clean your decor and filter media with untreated tap water. Chlorine or Chloramine in the water will kill off bacteria needed for the Nitrogen Cycle. Always use water from your fish tank for this purpose.

How you perform the next part of fish tank maintenance depends largely on what type of equipment you are using. Cleaning your filter is something that should be done with great care.

Avoid over-cleaning your filter as you don’t want kill off all the good bacteria that has built up inside it. If you need to replace the filter sponge or other filter pads, then don’t do it all at once so that you don’t beak the nitrogen cycle by removing all the bacteria.

It is a good idea to check all electrical cables and connections for any damage and at the same time take a cloth and wipe off any dust on the exterior of your tank.

Last but not least; top up your aquarium with treated water to the required level. Read the section on Removing Chlorine & Chloramine so you know how to prepare water before adding it to your aquarium.

Remember, to get the most out of this section on fish tank maintenance you should read the following supporting pages:

Removing Chlorine & Chloramine

The Nitrogen Cycle

Fish Tank Filters


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