How To Clean your Aquarium

Read this in-depth guide on maintaining your freshwater aquarium
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Start Aquarium Maintenance Today With Liquid Habitat

Why is Aquarium Maintenance important?

Maintenance is essential in every system. Over time harmful toxins build up in the system which can be detrimental to livestock. Spending 30 minutes a week on your aquarium can help prevent common and painstaking issues. If your aquarium is not maintained regularly, you will encounter issues such as; algae, detritus / waste build up, livestock loss or even fish disease. 

The main reason for regular maintenance on your aquarium is to promote a healthy, balanced system that promotes the health and wellbeing of your livestock. As you are keeping live animals it's important that you ensure they are living in optimal conditions.

How to clean a fish tank

How to clean a tropical fish tank

Water changes are the most important part of freshwater routine aquarium maintenance. Doing a water change is the process of siphoning out a percentage of the old aquarium water and replacing it with treated tap water. Changing the aquarium water will decrease the level of toxins present in the water.

The amount of water you change will depend on; the quantity and size of fish you have in the system, filter size and efficiency, test results, the amount you feed and the overall litre/gallon capacity of your system.

How often should I do a water change on my aquarium?

Water changes should be part of regular aquarium, but the frequency can vary depending on aquarium size, efficiency of your filtration and the number of fish in the system. Small aquariums with a large quantity of fish will require more frequent water changes than a large aquarium that has a few small fish. We service aquariums on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. The aquariums we service monthly will usually require a deeper, longer clean and we will usually change a larger percentage of water.  

How much water should I change in my aquarium? 
We usually aim for around a 20-40% water change. This is determined by the test results & the visual appearance of the system and its inhabitants.

How do I clean my fish tank?

Liquid Habitat's Aquarium Maintenance Guide - The best way to clean a fish tank

Step 1: Equipment and fish health check
Before we start the routine maintenance, we study the livestock in the aquarium for a few minutes. We look for any signs of disease, parasites or stress and observe the overall health of the fish. Signs of fish disease can sometimes be fairly obvious if you know what to look out for. Some of the signs of disease or stress we look for are: 
- White spots on fins or body
- Fish not eating 
- Discoloured or red gills
- Trouble breathing or gasping for air at the surface of the water
- Bulging eyes Mucus / fungus on the body of the fish
- Bloated stomach 
- Crooked spine or changes in shape or size of the fish

Once we’re happy with the health of the livestock we will give the equipment a once over, check the water temperature, timer for lights and observe the filter flow. 

Water Testing

Step 2: Testing the aquarium water
In the next step we test the water. We recommend this step so we can get an overview of the water parameters in the system. We appreciate that a lot of fishkeepers do not own a test kit, but without testing your water you are unable to tell how polluted / healthy your aquarium is. Assuming you already know a bit about the nitrogen cycle in your freshwater system, the main parameters to test for are Nitrates, and Ammonia.

Nitrates: in your aquarium you should aim to keep the nitrate levels under 30ppm. Elevated nitrates are harmful to fish. 

Ammonia: this reading should always be 0. Ammonia is highly toxic to livestock. If there is a reading of ammonia in your aquarium this can result in you losing livestock to ammonia poisoning. If you test and there is a reading of ammonia, you will need to establish the root cause of this. Common reasons why you might have ammonia in your aquarium can include; heavily overfeeding, fish & plants dying / decaying within the aquarium, inefficient filter size and media, lack of maintenance, overstocking your aquarium with fish and housing species that are too large for your system.

Algae Removal

Step 3: Algae removal
We start the maintenance with algae removal inside the system. Over time algae can build up on the glass and surfaces in the aquarium. We remove this with an algae scraper or algae magnet to dislodge the algae from the glass and into the water column. We find using an algae scrapper with a razor blade or just using a new toothbrush for this works well.

Water Changes & Gravel Vacuum

Step 4: How to change fish tank water
In this stage we use a siphon/ gravel vacuum to remove the old aquarium water and to clean the substrate in the aquarium. This will remove uneaten fish food, fish waste, and settled organic waste that has built up at the bottom of the aquarium. During this stage we can also siphon out any of the free floating algae removed during stage 3 of the maintenance. We recommend changing 20-40% of the aquarium water. Before you start siphoning the water, please ensure the filter and heaters are switched off to avoid damage.

Servicing the filter (optional)

Step 5: How to clean your fish tank filter
We recommend giving the filter every once in a while. This is one of the most important aspects of your system so this should be part of your maintenance regime. This is something that doesn't really need to be too often and how often you clean your filter depends on; filter type, filter size, aquarium stocking, feeding etc. An important thing to consider when it comes to cleaning your aquarium filter is making sure not to clean it too thoroughly or every single time you conduct maintenance .

Aside from your tank substrate, your aquarium filter is the place where the majority of your beneficial bacteria have populated. If you clean your filter too much or too often, you could end up killing a significant portion of your aquariums beneficial bacteria and that could cause your tank to crash.

When cleaning your aquarium filter make sure you rinse and squeeze the sponges / filter floss in old aquarium water. If you clean the media with tap water you risk killing the population of bacteria with chlorine from your tap water.

Filling the aquarium

Step 6: Adding the Freshwater  
Once we have drained the required amount of water from the system we will now have to replace the water with fresh treated tap water.  It's important to note that tap water will contain chlorine and chloramine. Please ensure you use a dechlorinator to remove the chlorine and chloramine from the tap water before putting this into your system. Chlorine and chloramine is harmful to livestock and can cause chemical burns around the gills. Chlorine and chloramine can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause burning inside the fishes body. The problem is easily avoided by treating the new tap water with a dechlorinator before the new water is added to your aquarium. 

Try to avoid temperature shocking your fish and get the new tap water as close to the system temperature as possible. It's worth noting that many tropical fish spawn in the wild when river temperatures drop slightly so don't worry too much if water is a few degrees celsius cooler, as this could trigger spawning behaviour.

Cleaning the glass

Step 7: Best way to clean aquarium glass
Once the aquarium is filled, you can now use a microfiber cloth or kitchen towel to clean the outside glass panels.

Keeping your aquarium water clear

Step 8: How do I keep my aquarium water clean?
This is a question we get asked constantly. Aquarium water can sometimes look like it has a brown/yellow tinge. This is a common problem and the likely causes could be any of the following:
Organic compounds: excess food from over-feeding, decaying plants &livestock can pollute the aquarium and cause the water to be discoloured. The root cause of this issue usually comes down to a lack of regular, routine aquarium maintenance.
A heavy bio-load: overstocking the aquarium with fish can result in an abundance of waste within the aquarium. This excess waste will cause water quality issues and can affect the clarity of your aquarium water.
Untreated driftwood: if you are using natural driftwood / bogwood this can leach tannins into your aquarium water. The natural tannins present in wood can leach out over time and cause your water to turn brown or yellow.
Tap water: in rare cases tap water could be causing the problem. In some countries and regions tap water may come out yellow/brown.

Using activated carbon in the aquarium
We always use activated carbon in the aquariums we set up and service. Carbon, or activated carbon, is used as a method of chemical filtration. Carbon helps to remove organic and inorganic materials dissolved in aquarium water. The main use for activated carbon in the aquarium is to ensure water clarity. Activated carbon will keep your aquarium water clear and remove odours produced by your fish tank. As the activated carbon is usually found in pellets or granule form, it is usually housed in a mesh bag in your filtration.

One thing to note: activated carbon starts to lose its effectiveness after around 4 weeks and will need to be replaced.

Common freshwater aquarium issues

Here are the main issues we encounter when we service aquariums:

Overfeeding fish: This is probably the most common cause of a lot of the issues we encounter in our clients aquariums. It's very tempting to constantly feed your fish. It's really enjoyable watching your fish respond to feeding and they always seem hungry! Unfortunately the more you feed your fish the more you are polluting your aquarium.

The more your fish eat the more waste they produce and this means you will have to maintain your system more frequently. Overfeeding will result in an abundance of nutrients in your system for algae to feed on. Algae can easily overpopulate your tank when there are high levels of nutrients in your system.  Algae is very unsightly and can ruin the appearance of your aquarium. 

HOT TIP - Only feed enough that your fish can consume within 2 minutes, if food is left over after the 2 minutes you are most likely feeding too much. A small pinch of food goes a long way. Try keep feeding to once a day only and remember.

Aquarium Lighting Duration 

Keep your lighting duration to a max of 8 hours a day. If you are only around to enjoy your aquarium in the evenings, put your light on a timer starting from 4pm until you go to sleep. Algae will dominate in overlit setups and can ruin your aquarium display. 

Lack of Regular Aquarium Maintenance

It it very easy to get behind on aquarium maintenance. We lead busy, hectic lives and your aquarium can be ignored or forgotten about. Just think, you made the decision to keep fish, now it's your responsibility to look after and care for them! If you are starting to get behind on maintenance you could try any of the following:

Reducing the bioload in your aquarium: try reducing the overall quantity of fish in your system. Some fish stores offer trade ins, you can give away or sell them to other fishkeepers. 

Reduce the feeding amount and quantity: this reduces the need for a water change in the system.

Ensure you have an efficient filtration system: review the filtration you currently have in your system. Is it doing a good job? Is the filtration rated for your system volume?

Hiring in a maintenance company like us! There are professional maintenance companies out there that will come and service your aquarium for you. This can be an expensive option, but this will mean you won't have to personally manage the aquarium and its inhabitants. No more lugging buckets around, no more algae scrubbing and no more dealing with stressful issues, you can let the pros do it all for you!

Start Aquarium Maintenance Today With Liquid Habitat

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Don't have the time to maintain your aquarium? Encountering issues with your aquarium? Are your fish dying? Is Algae taking over your system?
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