A Complete Guide on How to Clean a Fish Tank

A clean fish tank not only looks great but also keeps your fish happy and healthy. Without regular cleaning, nitrates and metabolites will build up in your fish tank, thus putting the well-being of your fish at risk. The build-up also affects the overall appearance of the fish tank. This article gives you a simple guide on how to clean a fish tank.

Why Do You Need to Clean Your Fish Tank?

As indicated above, you need to clean your fish tank routinely in order to prevent the build-up of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. If you allow these elements to build up in the aquarium, they will result in severe problems with your fish.

Also, if you don’t clean your aquarium regularly, it will have unstable water conditions that will leave your fish with less appetite, lost coloration, weakened immune system, and reduced energy.

Furthermore, prolonged exposure to ammonia and nitrites can easily lead to the death of your fish. Studies have shown that the lifespan of fish kept in unfavorable conditions is shorter than those in ideal conditions. It has also been scientifically proven that incorrect water chemistry in an aquarium contributes to high levels of stress in fish and can be fatal if the conditions don’t improve.

How Often Should a Fish Tank Be Cleaned?

There are many factors that determine how frequently you should clean your fish tank, including the size of the tank, the number of fish, the filter system available, and the type of fish available.

Nevertheless, it is important to make sure that your fish tank remains clean and safe for the fish. If your fish tank is sparsely populated, you should clean it at least once a month.

how often to clean

A densely populated aquarium, on the other hand, should be cleaned at least twice a month. In conjunction with cleaning your fish tank routinely, you should also test its water regularly to ensure that it doesn’t have harmful chemicals, such as ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

What Do You Need to Clean a Fish Tank?

First, you need to understand that cleaning a fish tank doesn’t mean tearing it down. Doing so will remove all the useful bacterial colonies that help to remove the animals’ waste. Therefore, you should never tear down your aquarium in order to start over unless it is in a terrible condition. Here are the things you need to clean your fish tank:

1. Algae Scraper or Pad

Algae Scraper

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An algae scraper or pad is a strong pad that enables you to reach in and remove the algae from the corners and crevices of your fish tank with your hands. This pad scrapes and does away with algae fast and easily, and can be used as regularly as possible.

2. Plastic Razor Blade

Plastic Razor Blade

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This razor blade helps to clean the aquarium’s glass panes in order to remove even the stubborn dirt. However, you need to use this razor blade carefully to avoid injuries.

3. Bleach


Bleach has been approved by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as the best way to sanitize drinking water after a disaster. Furthermore, bleach is the right chemical to use for disinfection purposes. Just pour nine parts water in a bucket with a one-part bleach and stir the solution thoroughly. Fill the aquarium with the bleach solution for ten minutes and then rinse it thoroughly.

4. Water Siphon

Water Siphon

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After a while, the uneaten fish food, fish waste, plant waste, and other rubbles will accumulate in the aquarium, substrate, rocks, plants, and other décor items in the tank. The easiest way to get rid of this build-up is through a water siphon. This type of siphon is necessary for regular water changes.

5. Aquarium Bucket


When you are cleaning your aquarium, you need to use a clean and properly stored bucket. If possible, use a brand new bucket every time you clean your fish tank. This is important because it helps to preserve the quality of water. The bucket is used for adding water into the fish tank and taking the water out.

The size of the bucket is also very important because it determines the amount of water to be removed or added. For instance, if you have a 20-gallon fish tank and you want to remove 10% of the water from the aquarium, you will need to remove two gallons of water. Therefore, you should have a 3-gallon bucket.

6. Aquarium Lime Remover

Lime Remover

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Over time, lime deposits will accumulate on your aquarium’s glass, making it appear dirty and foggy. Although there are many products designed to get rid of this lime from your fish tank, you should try plain white vinegar. It is a natural disinfectant that dissolves even the stubborn lime deposits fast.

However, this method requires you to transfer your fish to a holding fish tank and remove the plants from the tank. You also need to drain the fish tank completely. Pour the white vinegar on the glass and let it sit in for about 10 minutes.

7. Filter Media

Filter Media

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A filter media is normally placed in an aquarium filter to improve the quality of water passing through it. There are different types of filter media that are specifically designed to create the right environmental conditions in a fish tank, but the main ones include mechanical, biological, and chemical.

8. Filter Brush

Filter Brush

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Your aquarium’s filter needs to be cleaned routinely and thoroughly in order to keep the unit running smoothly. Fortunately, there are different types of filter brushes that you can use to clean your tank’s filter and filter media.

9. Old Bath Towel

Bath Towel

An old bath towel is necessary when cleaning a fish tank because it helps to keep the area dry. It is supposed to stop drips and leaks that might cause serious damages if they get under the fish tank or into the particleboard. So, spread the towel on a flat table and place the fish tank on it.

10. Paper Towels

Paper Towels

Once you have drained your fish tank and removed the plants and other decorations, you will use paper towels to clean its inner parts. These paper towels help to remove algae. If the tank is dry, wet the paper towels. You should also change out the towels as they become dirty.

11. Chlorine Remover

Chlorine Remover

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There are many products on the market that you can use to remove chlorine from water. Just make sure that the product you choose for your fish tank is safe for your fish and can neutralize chlorine and heavy metals.

Step-by-Step Guide for Cleaning a Fish Tank

Step 1: Remove Algae

Start by removing the algae stuck on inside of your fish tank. This is where an algae scraper and razor blade come in handy. An algae scraper will scrub the inside walls of the tank while the razor blade slices through the stubborn algae spots.

Step 2: Clean the Plants and Other Decorations

Remove all plants, rocks, and other decorations from the fish tank and clean them. Instead of using ordinary soap to clean these decorations, use an algae scraper. But if the decorations need a more thorough wash, you should use the 10 percent bleach solution.

Step 3: Siphon the Fish Tank

You need to use a siphon to clear the debris in your fish tank. Although there are different types of siphons, their main purpose is to get rid of the debris without vacuuming the gravel. Also, ensure that the water that has been siphoned is replaced with dechlorinated water.

Step 4: Cleaning the Exterior

Once the interior of your fish tank has been cleaned, you need to clean its exterior. This includes cleaning the exterior glass, top, light, and other exterior fixtures. For this type of cleaning, use vinegar or bleach solution.

Step 5: Cleaning the Filter

After cleaning the fish tank, wait for about 14 days to clean the filter. The waiting period is important because the useful bacteria on the filter media help to replace what has been lost during cleaning. So, you shouldn’t clean the filter media immediately to avoid ammonia buildup.

Tips for Cleaning a Fish Tank

Tips for Cleaning a Fish Tank

1. Choose Ergonomically Designed Algae Scraper

To make the cleaning task even easier, you should choose an ergonomically designed algae scraper that is a bit heavy so that it doesn’t float. It should also give you a firm grip for easier scrubbing.

2. Special Bucket for Cleaning Fish Tank

When you are cleaning your fish tank, you will need a special bucket that is specifically intended for the tank. This helps to prevent contamination of the fish tank with harmful cleaning products that you use for other cleaning purposes in the house.

3. Clean Your Fish Tank Regularly

Knowing how to clean a fish tank thoroughly is one thing and keeping it clean is another. So, make an effort of cleaning your aquarium regularly in order to keep it in perfect condition. You can even set a reminder on your cellphone or computer so that you can maintain a consistent cleaning schedule.

4. Change The Water Frequently

Changing the water in your fish tank regularly helps to keep it clean and safe for your fish. It also helps to keep the water conditions in your tank balanced and comfortable for your fish. Therefore, you should change 10 or 20 percent of the water after every 3 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning a Fish Tank

1. What happens if you don’t clean your fish tank?

If you don’t clean your fish tank regularly, there will be a buildup of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. These are harmful chemicals that can lead to the death of your fish. Algae will also grow inside your fish tank, making its glass walls foggy and unclear.

2. How long does it take to clean a fish tank?

The time it takes to clean your fish tank depends on its size. Normally, a 5-gallon fish tank will take about 15 minutes to clean, while the larger ones take about an hour. The amount of filth to be cleaned also determines the amount of time you will take to finish the job.

3. When should I change the water in my fish tank?

Depending on the size of your fish tank, you should change 10-20% of the water every 2-4 weeks. The good thing is that you don’t have to transfer your fish to a holding tank when changing the water. But always stir the gravel every time you change the water.

In Summary

By following this simple guide on how to clean a fish tank, you should be able to get rid of all the filth quickly and keep your pets happy and healthy all the time. You should also be able to maximize the lifespan of your fish and keep your aquarium looking new.

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