clean-tank.jpg

What Happens if You Don’t Regularly Clean Your Freshwater Aquarium?

By BrentNpetco on Jul. 28, 2017

clean-tank.jpg

What happens if I don’t clean my aquarium?
Fish produce waste like humans do, but unfortunately they aren't able to flush their waste away. As a result, uneaten food and other waste particles can quickly build up—causing harmful, naturally occurring chemicals like ammonia, nitrates and nitrites to form.

How does this affect my fish?
Exposure to ammonia—as well as nitrates and nitrites—can have severe effects on your fish. General signs for aquatic life with unbalanced water conditions include a decline or loss of appetite, loss of coloration, reduced energy and/or a weakened immune system. If left too long without being corrected, this chemical exposure can lead to death.

Can it shorten my fish’s lifespan?
Absolutely. Aquatic life kept in non-ideal conditions will have shorter life spans than those kept in ideal or close to ideal conditions. Improper water chemistry is a significant environmental stress factor and can be very stressful to aquatic life and lead to death if water conditions are not addressed.

How does the number of fish I have affect aquarium cleaning?
The more fish you have in an aquarium, the more waste the aquarium will produce. A lower population density and adequate filtration system designed to handle your aquarium size will help keep your aquarium cleaner for longer. When it comes to the number of fish in your freshwater tank, it’s recommended that you stock 1 inch of fish per every 1 gallon of water.

How often should I be cleaning out my aquarium?
There are a lot of different factors hobbyists consider when creating a cleaning schedule, but a good rule to follow is roughly once a month for sparsely populated aquariums and twice a month for densely populated aquariums. Along with a cleaning schedule, you should also test your water regularly for harmful chemicals like ammonia, nitrates and nitrites.

How long should it take?
The length of time it takes to clean an aquarium will vary on the size of the aquarium. For instance, a small 1–5 gallon aquarium should only take about 15 minutes to clean. Of course, larger aquariums will take more time to clean, but even a large 75–100 gallon aquarium should not take longer than an hour with the right equipment.

How should I clean out an aquarium? What products should I use?
First it’s important to understand what it means to clean your aquarium. Many people think cleaning their aquarium means simply removing algae from their aquarium glass and from the décor. This is an important step to ensure you get the most enjoyment out of your aquarium and should be part of your daily routine, like feeding. However, the main purpose is to provide a healthier environment for your fish, not just algae removal alone.

When cleaning your aquarium, you have two goals:
1. Remove visible waste from your aquarium substrate.
2. Remove roughly 20% of your aquarium water to dilute any harmful chemicals that may have formed.

Supplies you will need include: an aquarium siphon, a 3–5 gallon bucket and aquarium water conditioner.

tank-and-stand.jpg

To clean your aquarium, follow these simple steps as a guide:

  1. Remove any décor in your aquarium and set aside. You do not need to remove your fish as long as you are careful to work around them. Removing the fish can be very stressful to them.
  2. Position your bucket near the base of your aquarium; the bucket must be lower than the aquarium for gravity to create a siphon. 
  3. Follow the directions on your aquarium siphon to get the siphon started and then gently vacuum the substrate/gravel in your aquarium. You should vacuum the aquarium substrate until you have removed roughly 20% of the water. 
  4. Once you have finished vacuuming your aquarium, you will need to replace the water you removed with fresh, conditioned water. Aquatic life doesn’t tolerate dramatic temperature fluxuations. It’s important to use room temperature water close in temperature to your aquarium so you don’t shock your fish.
  5. For aquariums with filtration, replace carbon filters monthly.

Always wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water before and after handling aquatic life and/or their habitat contents.

What cleaning tips have you learned as a fishkeeper? Let us know in the comments below.

0 Kudos
2 Comments
Comments
by
‎02-15-2016 11:31 AM - edited ‎02-15-2016 11:33 AM

I never remove decor, but sometimes it's necessary to shift it around temporarily to vacuum the gravel beneath rocks or ornaments where detritus tends to get trapped.

Monthly or bi-monthly water changes are great, but heavily stocked tanks or tanks with large and massive fish (goldfish, cichlids for example) may need weekly water changes of 50 % or more.   Fish that are very intolerant of accumulated nitrates (Oscars, Discus) may require partial water changes more frequently than that. 

Activated Carbon probably isn't effective for a whole month. You should replace it more often than that if you use it.  Many authorities are getting away from carbon or using it only in special applications. For example, if you treat a tank with a medication, you can remove the residual medicine after treatment is over buy using fresh activated carbon for a couple days. Then discard that carbon. It is equally important to rinse or replace filter pads or filter sponges.  These trap particles (food, fish waste) and the sooner they are removed, the less opportunity they have to break down into nitrates. The less nitrates, the less chance for algae problems.

If you have not done a water change for a long time DO NOT attempt to make up for lost time by doing a huge water change all at once.  When tanks have been neglected, it is possible for the chemistry of the water to deteriorate to the point that it is very different from what comes out of your sink.  (Usually what happens is moderately hard alkaline water gradually becomes softer and acidic). If you suddenly change a high percentage of very old water and replace with new, fish can experience pH shock and die. The solution here is to do very small daily water changes (5-10 % maximum) for a couple of weeks before doing larger, less frequent water changes. In this way your fish will be more likely to adapt to the water and benefit from your maintenance regimen.

I try to place lots of old towel or sheets around the tank I am cleaning.  Despite being very careful, siphon hoses can slip out of your hand and spill water. Never leave the siphon unattended while it is operating. It's possible to empty an entire aquarium onto the floor if you get distracted.

Old aquarium water is full of nitrates which is essentially "plant food". Recycle the used aquarium water by using it to water houseplants or outdoor potted plants.

 

I never remove decor, but sometimes it's necessary to shift it around temporarily to vacuum the gravel beneath rocks or ornaments where detritus tends to get trapped.

Monthly or bi-monthly water changes are great, but heavily stocked tanks or tanks with large and massive fish (goldfish, cichlids for example) may need weekly water changes of 50 % or more.   Fish that are very intolerant of accumulated nitrates (Oscars, Discus) may require partial water changes more frequently than that. 

Activated Carbon probably isn't effective for a whole month. You should replace it more often than that if you use it.  Many authorities are getting away from carbon or using it only in special applications. For example, if you treat a tank with a medication, you can remove the residual medicine after treatment is over buy using fresh activated carbon for a couple days. Then discard that carbon. It is equally important to rinse or replace filter pads or filter sponges.  These trap particles (food, fish waste) and the sooner they are removed, the less opportunity they have to break down into nitrates. The less nitrates, the less chance for algae problems.

If you have not done a water change for a long time DO NOT attempt to make up for lost time by doing a huge water change all at once.  When tanks have been neglected, it is possible for the chemistry of the water to deteriorate to the point that it is very different from what comes out of your sink.  (Usually what happens is moderately hard alkaline water gradually becomes softer and acidic). If you suddenly change a high percentage of very old water and replace with new, fish can experience pH shock and die. The solution here is to do very small daily water changes (5-10 % maximum) for a couple of weeks before doing larger, less frequent water changes. In this way your fish will be more likely to adapt to the water and benefit from your maintenance regimen.

I try to place lots of old towel or sheets around the tank I am cleaning.  Despite being very careful, siphon hoses can slip out of your hand and spill water. Never leave the siphon unattended while it is operating. It's possible to empty an entire aquarium onto the floor if you get distracted.

Old aquarium water is full of nitrates which is essentially "plant food". Recycle the used aquarium water by using it to water houseplants or outdoor potted plants.

 

Posted on Feb. 15, 2016
by Aaron Chak
‎03-27-2017 09:10 AM

Excellent info! When it comes to maintaining fish, it seems like a delicate balancing act with all the things that could go wrong, like balancing pH, nitrates, ammonia, CO levels, etc. Thanks for breaking down these critical elements into an easily digestible format.

Excellent info! When it comes to maintaining fish, it seems like a delicate balancing act with all the things that could go wrong, like balancing pH, nitrates, ammonia, CO levels, etc. Thanks for breaking down these critical elements into an easily digestible format.

Posted on Mar. 27, 2017
About the Author
  • Brent has always had an interest in pets of all types. Born and raised in Louisiana, he had many pets as a child, but his reptiles and his reef aquariums were his passion. He enjoyed learning what inhabitants needed in their environment to thrive. The road wasn’t always easy, but with each problem Brent, found new solutions. Brent began working for Petco in 2004 as a store associate, where he worked mainly in the aquatics and reptile department. In December 2012, Brent graduated with his MBA and was offered a job at Petco’s National Support Center in San Diego, CA. In his role as Live Aquatics Vendor Coordinator, he worked with Petco vendors to bring in new aquatic species as well as update the current in-store habitats based on compatibility. In August of 2013, Brent became the Associate Merchandise Manager for Live Aquatics. He assists in overseeing Petco’s full assortment of live aquatic and reptile SKUs, choosing the aquatic life sold in every Petco. He is the proud pet parent to a miniature Australian Shepherd and his favorite hobby is caring for his established reef tank.
Latest Blog Posts

Plant Your Way to a More Beautiful Freshwater Aquarium

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 23, 2017
Learn how to design a planted aquarium ecosystem you and your fish can both enjoy.

Checking in with Obie - a Dog with an Extraordinary Weight Loss Story

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 11, 2017
Five years ago, a Dachshund that weighed nearly 80 pounds began an intense weight management program. We checked in on Obie to see if how he's doing t...

The Importance of Play for You and Your Cat

By KristenSeymour on Oct. 10, 2017
There’s little that will put a smile on a cat parent’s face like the sight of their kitty batting a toy around with abandon. Watching a frisky feline...