Tips For Cleaning Your Freshwater Aquarium

You have your tank up and running – you are the proud owner of a beautiful, freshwater aquarium.  Then you notice the water is a little cloudy, something smells, and what is that green stuff growing on the sides of your tank – you did not buy anything like that from the pet store!

It’s time for “freshwater aquarium maintenance”.  Once up and running, keeping a tank healthy for your fish and looking good for your guests is going to take some routine maintenance.  Really now, it’s not that bad. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Dirty Water

Are you tired of dirty water? Well, guess what, so are your aquatic pets!

Try a power filter, they are relatively inexpensive (when compared to other options), easy to hook up and easy to maintain.  The filter will remove all the floating particles in your tank, and most will combine some chemical (for smell) and biological (for your fish) components to the process as well.

Make sure to change out the filter cartridge every 3-4 weeks, they are usually disposable.  Thoroughly rinse out a new one, swap them out and you’re good to go for another 3-4 weeks.


Yep, that’s the green stuff growing on the side of your tank.  Algae is going to be an everyday part of your freshwater aquarium, but you can minimize the visual repugnance . . . some algae can even be attractive (hey, I said some!) . . like some green bearded algae growing in tufts on your wooden log.

One delightful solution is to get an algae eater, a Plecostomus (Pleco for short) is great and they have a wonderful personality too.  Two others that come highly recommended are the Otocinclus (Otto) and the Siamese Algae Eater (SAE), but make sure you have plenty of algae for those fish to eat or they could starve.

Even if you have an algae eater, you will have to remove some of it by hand, just not as much.  There are lots of tools you can buy to assist you, like scrubbing pads, scrapers, etc.  Just make sure that whatever you use is recommended for your tank – you can scratch your expensive Plexiglas tank with the wrong stuff!

Remember, algae is a plant!  Give it sunlight and it grows, fertilize it and it blooms! Change your water to remove nitrate (that’s the fertilizer) and place your tank where it is not getting direct sun.

Strong Scents

Strong odors emanating from your aquarium is a danger sign!  Your fish are in peril it you do not remedy the situation!  Change (or clean) your filter more frequently, change out 20% of your water at least every two weeks and add some chemical filtration to your system, most filters will have a means of adding a charcoal in one form or another.

Cloudy Water

Cloudy or unclear water can usually be attributed to overfeeding. Watch your fish periodically when you feed them, adjust the amount being given so it is gone 3-5 minutes.  That means ‘eaten’ by your fish and not sucked up into your filter.  Some owners turn off their filters during feeding, just don’t forget to turn them back on or you will really have some cloudy water!

Change The Water Every Two Weeks

Your tanks water needs to be “freshened” on a regular basis.  At least every two weeks, change 20% of the water.  You can use a siphon hose, self-priming or manual start (try not to drink too much of your fish water); you can buy one at the pet store or use a short length of garden hose.

Drain the water into a bucket, or if you have a long hose right out the front door. Your flowers will love a drink of tank water, it is loaded with nitrate.  You can also use a gravel vacuum to remove food particles and fish waste from the gravel and since it works as water siphon, it removes water from the tank in the process!

Before filling your tank back up, scrub the insides of the aquarium with a sponge to remove any algae growth.  Make sure what you use will not damage your beautiful aquarium and ensure that your scrub sponge is not used for anything but your tank!

Once a month (every second water change) your decorations can be soaked in hot water with a bit of salt, and then scrubbed clean.  It is critical that you do not use any form of soap on any item from or for your tank, it will kill your fish in short order!

Time to refill your tank will want to match the pH and water temperature to prevent stress to your fish.  Also, if your water is chlorinated, you will need to treat it or let it sit long enough to evaporate all the chlorine out.  Chlorine will kill your fish about as quickly as cleaning agents will.

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