How to Clean a Fish Tank Without Removing the Fish

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how to clean a fish tank

A fish tank is a great addition to any home, but it requires regular cleaning to keep the fish healthy and the tank looking its best. Cleaning a fish tank is not difficult, but it does require attention to detail.

Both how often you clean and how you clean can have a negative impact on your fish. The following steps will help you clean your dirty fish tank quickly and easily. Before learning how to clean a fish tank, prepare your cleaning tools:

Cleaning Tools Checklist

To clean a fish tank, you will need some basic supplies, including:

  • Hand soap
  • Aquarium magnet cleaner
  • Gravel vacuum cleaner
  • Large buckets
  • Dechlorinator treatment
  • Aquarium-safe solution (If you have live plants)
  • Filter media
  • Paper towels
  • Vinegar

How To Clean a Fish Tank

Before cleaning a fish tank, wash your hands. Make sure to rinse all of the soap off because any residue can be harmful to the fish.

Step 1: Cleaning the Inside Glass

Cleaning the Inside Glass

To clean the inside of your tank’s glass, fill a bucket with lukewarm water. Use an aquarium magnet cleaner to clean the inside of the tank glass. With such a tool, you don’t have to soak your hands inside the tank, and it won’t get wet. Be sure to get all of the algae off of the glass, as this will help your fish breathe easier and make it easier for you to see them.

How to clean algae from fish tanks? You can also use a razor blade as an alternative to scraping off any stubborn algae, but be very careful when doing so – you don’t want to scratch the glass. Rinse the algae scraper inside of the bucket every time it gets too dirty. 

Step 2: Cleaning Decorations, Plants, and Rocks

cleaning decorations plants and rocks

This is where the bucket comes in handy. Any decorations, artificial plants, and rocks should be removed from your tank so they can be soaked in a separate container of water for cleaning. Removing the decor will also allow you to brush off any algae or dead plant matter that may have been collected on them while they were inside your aquarium.

Wash the decorations and rocks on the bucket with soap but make sure to rinse all of the soap off before putting them in the tank. Wait, don’t put them inside your tank yet.

If you have live plants in your tank, remove them and place them in a bucket of water. You can also take this opportunity to trim any dead leaves off the plants.

If you have aquatic plants, it’s best to play it safe. While you don’t want to soak real plants because this could lead to root rot, small pieces of driftwood especially can provide hiding places for parasites that are invisible but harmful to fish. To prevent potential problems, treat live plants with an aquarium-safe solution after removing them from your tank.

Step 3: Siphon to Clean Aquarium Gravel

best gravel vacuum on aquarium

Once the algae are removed, and all the decorations are outside of the tank, now it’s time to siphon the gravel. This is an important step because it removes waste and other debris that has sunk to the bottom of your tank.

Siphoning can be done with a variety of different tools, but a gravel vacuum cleaner is best for the job. If you’re using a gravel vacuum, simply attach it to the outlet of your tank and turn it on. The water will be pulled into the gravel cleaner and dirty aquarium water will come out of the tube connected to the gravel vacuum. This process might be a little difficult at first, but with a little patience, it should go smoothly.

Start sucking up water and scrape off gunk that has accumulated on aquarium sides and gravel as you go. To ensure that all of the waste is removed from the bottom of your tank, repeat this step several times.

Don’t forget to add a dechlorinator treatment to remove harmful chlorine and chloramine compounds. By doing this, you also have done the water changing.

Step 4: Clean Outside Glass and Fixtures

clean outside glass and fixtures

Once the gravel is clean and you have siphoned all the tank water out, it’s time to get started on the outside glass and fixtures. Use a clean bucket filled with lukewarm water to clean the outside of your aquarium by wiping it down with a paper towel.

If there are any stains on the glass, you can make use of some vinegar to remove them. Just mix some vinegar (typically white distilled) in warm water and pour it directly onto the stained area before wiping it with a paper towel. If necessary, repeat this step until all of the stains are gone.

Aluminum fixtures can also be cleaned with a mix of vinegar and water, making sure to rinse off any residue.

Step 5: Clean the Filter Two Weeks Later

cleaning fish tank filter

The second major cleaning job should take place two weeks after cleaning your fish tank because the bacterial colonies within your filter have had time to establish themselves and generate enough bio-mass to keep the cleaning fish tank operating smoothly.

To clean your filter, remove all of the mechanical filtration media and scrub them with an old toothbrush under running water. Put these items back into their designated slots inside the filter. If any of your filtration media is too stained or worn out, replace it with new material. 

Rinse off sponge filters and replace them in their chambers. Thoroughly wash the added sponges by flushing water through the sponges until they are free of dirt and other debris; electrical filters can be rinsed with your tap water.

Step 6: Putting Everything Back Together

setting up fish tank

Now that everything is clean, it’s time to put everything back together. Start by reattaching any decorations you took out earlier. Next, add a layer of aquarium gravel over the siphoned area. Add your artificial plants and, if you have them, aquatic plants back into the tank. Finally, fill your tank with water and add a dechlorinator treatment (if you haven’t done it yet).

Your fish tank should now be clean and ready for use!

Ongoing Maintenance

Aquarium maintenance is as important as owning one in the first place! You should perform a full tank cleaning at least twice a year. Between the major cleanings, you can maintain your aquarium by regularly cleaning or replacing filtration media and scrubbing the glass with an aquarium magnet cleaner to remove any algae on the walls.

By following these simple steps, you can keep your fish tank clean and running smoothly for years to come.

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I am Mario, a expert aquarist who is sharing his knowledge with everyone.

Keeping innocent fish and aquatic plants safe and healthy is my daily routine. With my experience and my passion for aquatic life, I will advise you through the long run of keeping an aquarium.

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