How Often Should You Really Clean Your Fish Tank?

fish tank cleaning hand

When I was a kid, a friend of mine had a fish tank. It was pretty cool — all lit up and everything. But when it came time to clean the tank, he really let it go. We’re talking months before he cleaned it, and of course, he never put any new water in it or anything, so the fish were sitting in their own filth. Needless to say, they all died (even though he tried to save them). I bring this up because I actually get emails from people who tell me they haven’t cleaned their fish tank in 6 months! Can you believe that?

If you have a pet fish and own an aquarium, you must clean it as well. While you might be familiarizing yourself with how to take care of your fish, you might start wondering how often should I really clean my fish tank? It’s a question that plagues those who have taken the plunge into this hobby.

Let’s divide this question into small bits and then you will have a better understanding of cleaning your fish tank.

How Often Should You Clean the Gravel of Your Fish Tank?

fish tank gravel

It’s one of the most important aspects of keeping your fish healthy and happy. Cleaning the gravel in your tank can be a difficult task, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to keep problematic algae from growing and prevent harmful bacteria from forming. Here’s what you need to know about how often you should clean the gravel in your tank.

The short answer is that you should clean your fish tank gravel at least once a month. However, it’s better to perform this task once every two weeks or so.

Why is cleaning the gravel so important? Well, algae can grow on the surface of the gravel and rocks in your tank, creating an unsightly mess. Because these algae will probably be green or brown in color, they will also make viewing your fish more difficult. Even worse, uneaten food can accumulate in your gravel and begin to decay, which will create a foul smell that could harm your fish. If this decaying food is not cleaned out regularly, it can even affect the water quality in your tank and lead to some serious conditions for your fish.

How to Clean the Gravel of Your Fish Tank?

Step 1: You will need a fish net, a cleaning sponge, and clean water

Step 2: Drain the tank down to about half the original water level

Step 3: Place the fish in their bowl or container

Step 4: Using your fishnet, skim off any floating debris

Step 5: Fill your bucket with water from the aquarium and add an aquarium safe cleaning agent such as Freshwater Aquarium Gravel Cleaner

Step 6: Scrub your gravel using a sponge or your hand until all algae are removed

Step 7: Rinse the gravel in clean water until all dirt is gone

Step 8: Return the gravel to the aquarium and refill with dechlorinated water

How Often Should You Change the Water of Your Fish Tank?

fish tank water change

A good rule of thumb is to change 10-25% of your water every 2 weeks, with 20% being the most common. But there are a few things to keep in mind.

The heavier your fish load per gallon, the more often you’ll want to do a smaller water change. If your fish tank is lightly stocked, a monthly water change of 50% will probably be fine. If you have a lot of fish and/or invertebrates in a small space, that number should go down to 25%, and maybe even as low as 10%.

This also depends on what kind of filtration system you have. The general rule is 1″ of fish per gallon, but if you’re using very efficient filtration like a canister or wet/dry system, you can easily get away with 2″ per gallon or more.

The quality of the source water is also important. If your tap water has a lot of chlorine or chloramine (which happens to be much worse for tropical fish), make sure to treat it first before adding it to your tank. This will be especially important if you are changing large amounts of water at once.

How to Change the Water of Your Fish Tank?

The best way to change the water of your fish tank is:

Step1: Gather the materials needed for changing fish tank water. This includes a siphon, water conditioner, a five-gallon bucket, and another container for your fish.

Step2: Use a siphon to remove about 10-15% of the water from your tank. You want to remove enough that you can comfortably add new water without overflowing the tank.

Step3: Use a small cup or container to scoop out any debris from the bottom of the tank.

Step4: Fill up your bucket with tap water and add in the appropriate amount of water conditioner. Stir well.

Step5: Slowly pour your treated water into the fish tank until it is full again.

How Often Should You Replace the Filter Media of Your Fish Tank?

fish tank filter

Filters are the most important part of your fish tank. They keep the water clean and remove waste from the water, which is essential if you want your fish to live a long and happy life.

How often you change your filter depends on the brand of filter you use, but generally speaking it’s every 2–3 weeks if you have a small aquarium and every month if you have a large aquarium.

If your filter starts making a lot of noise or doesn’t seem to be running as well as before, it’s probably time for a new cartridge. You can also check whether or not it’s time by looking at the cartridge itself: if it has become brown with algae, for example, this indicates that it is full.

How to Change the Filter of Your Fish Tank?

The steps below describe how to change the filter in an aquarium with an external filter. The process differs slightly depending on the type of filter, so take note of any special instructions that came with your filter when installing it.

Before starting, get everything ready and put on some gloves so that you don’t get your hands dirty!

1- Turning Everything Off

Turn off the filter, heater, and any other equipment in the tank, and remove the hood if there is one.

2- Taking Out the Filter

Remove your old filter from your fish tank. You can do this by taking out the lid, unscrewing the filter, or tapping it out.

3- Rinsing Everything

Rinse out all of your filter parts with clean water. If it’s a new filter, you don’t need to rinse it as much as if you’re using an old one.

4- Putting Things Together

Put everything back together in reverse order. When you’re done, turn everything back on and make sure everything works correctly before putting the hood back on.

Tip: For carbon filters, you’ll need to change them more often because they can’t be rinsed out.

Things That You Should Never Clean in Your Fish Tank

When it comes to cleaning your fish tank, you’re probably doing a pretty good job. You’re probably removing algae, scrubbing down the dirty spots, and keeping the water looking clear. But there are some things that you should never clean in your fish tank.

Never clean the following things in your fish tank:

1- Rocks and sand

Rocks and sand are porous and will absorb the chemicals from soap and bleach. If you need to clean these items, do it outside of the fish tank with just water. When possible, try to use rocks or sand that have been cleaned before for aquariums.

2- Plastic plants

Plastic plants can harbor bacteria and other contaminants that you don’t want in your aquarium. Instead of cleaning plastic plants, replace them as needed. This is especially important if you’ve recently had an illness or outbreak in your aquarium.

3- Fishnet

The last thing you want to happen is for a fish to get caught in a dirty net while being removed from the aquarium. Instead of cleaning a fishnet, replace it as needed with a new one if it gets dirty or frayed.

Things That You Should Never Do to Your Fish Tank

Don’t clean your fish tank with soap or detergents

It’s important to only use aquarium-safe cleaners when you clean your fish tank. Soap and detergents can be toxic to fish, so make sure any products you use are designed for aquariums.

Don’t use vinegar to clean your fish tank

Vinegar is a popular cleaning product for all kinds of uses around the home — but it shouldn’t be used for cleaning your fish tank. Vinegar is too acidic for aquariums and can harm fish and plants if it isn’t thoroughly rinsed away.

Don’t change 100% of the water in your fish tank at one time

When you’re doing a big clean of your fish tank, there’s a temptation to completely empty it, clean every inch of the glass, and start again with all new water. This is generally not a good idea — in fact, it could kill off all the beneficial bacteria that live in your aquarium filter, which will make life harder for your fish, and may even result in their deaths. Instead, try to change only about 20% of the water each time you do an aquarium clean. It’s better for water changes to be small but regular than big but rare.

Few Things to Keep in Mind

Right now, there aren’t any foolproof ways to determine exactly when to clean your fish tank, but ideally, you should do so when you notice that the water is starting to look cloudy. Unless you’re testing out chemical products to effectively maintain your tank, there’s no right or wrong way to clean it. Do what works best for your situation, and do it regularly so that you keep the water as clean and healthy as possible.

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