Freshwater aquarium maintenance is a task that should be performed on a regular basis. Learn how to maintain a healthy freshwater aquarium the easy way!
Freshwater aquarium fish are living creatures and your fish tank is their home. As the owner, it is your responsibility to maintain a healthy environment for your fish and part of this responsibility involves cleaning the tank on a regular basis. Over time, solid waste, chemicals and uneaten fish food will accumulate in your tank, and unless you remove them, the water quality will deteriorate and your fish may become stressed or fall ill and die. You can avoid this consequence and keep your fish happy and healthy by performing a few simple maintenance tasks on a regular basis.
Instructions for Cleaning Your Tank
Cleaning your freshwater tank is not the large-scale, complex project you might imagine it to be. In most cases, keeping your tank clean is simply a matter of making routine water changes, replacing your filter media and vacuuming the gravel to remove excess waste build-up. It's not necessary to completely empty the tank and clean everything inside it. If you find that excessive algae growth in your tank necessitates frequent cleanings, check to be sure your tank isn't located in a place that gets a lot of direct sunlight. If it is, moving your tank to a less sunny location is one way to clear up the problem.
In order to maintain the water quality in you aquarium, siphon out about 10 - 20% of the tank volume once a week using a gravel vacuum and replace it with fresh de-chlorinated water. Depending on your tank set-up, a water change of 25% per month may also suffice. Dig the mouth of the vacuum into the substrate in your tank and move it around slowly to siphon up any waste or uneaten fish food that has accumulated at the bottom of the tank. If you have live plants in your tank, avoid siphoning the substrate within a two-inch radius of the roots. Aquarium plants draw nutrients from the detritus that accumulates in the substrate, so if you have live plants, a light vacuuming should be just fine.
After removing the appropriate amount of water from your tank, replace it with fresh, de-chlorinated tap water. Chlorine and chloramine are chemicals commonly added to tap water to make it safe for human consumption, but these same chemicals are toxic to fish so they must be removed before adding water to your tank. The quickest method is to use a de-chlorinating solution. Simply pick up a bottle of de-chlorinating solution from your local pet store and follow the manufacturer's instructions to determine how many drops or teaspoons to add per gallon of water. Another way to remove chlorine from tap water is to let the water sit in a large open container for at least twenty-four hours. The chlorine in the water will evaporate, making the water safe to use. Keep in mind that this method is only effective for removing chlorine, not chloramine. If your tap water is treated with chloramine you will need to use a de-chlorinating solution to safely remove it.
Another important step in cleaning your tank is to replace your filter media. Some filters that offer mechanical filtration include some kind of sponge to absorb solid waste. Remove this sponge from the filter and, if it is reusable, rinse it well in de-chlorinated water or water taken from the aquarium. Many filters take filter cartridges which combine the mechanical filtration of a sponge with the chemical filtration offered by substances like activated carbon. If you have this kind of filter you will need to remove the filter cartridge completely and replace it approximately every three to four weeks.
Tank Cleaning Tips
Use a clean sponge to wipe algae off the walls of your tank or check your local pet store for a magnetic algae scrubber that allows you to accomplish this task without having to get your hands wet. For stubborn algae, scrape the walls of your tank using a razor blade. If you use this method, be careful to avoid scratching the tank walls.
If you are looking for easy ways to decrease the maintenance requirements of your freshwater aquarium, think about replacing your aquarium gravel with sand, then add one or more burrowing snails to your tank. Nerite snails will not eat your plants or reproduce in your tank but they will help to remove detritus and control the growth of algae. Burrowing snails will aerate the sand and clean up some of the accumulated waste. It may still be necessary to vacuum your substrate occasionally, but these handy invertebrates will cut down on the time you spend cleaning your tank.
Common Mistakes Made by Novice Aquarists
One of the worst mistakes you can make when cleaning your freshwater aquarium is to empty and clean out either the filter or the tank completely. The beneficial bacteria in your tank that help to maintain the nitrogen cycle live on the surfaces of your tank and also in your filter. If you empty out the tank or filter and clean them thoroughly you could kill the entire colony of nitrifying bacteria. When you refill the tank or filter you will be essentially starting over and the tank will have to cycle again in order to re-establish a healthy population of beneficial bacteria. If it becomes necessary to clean your filter, avoid scrubbing the entire thing. A quick rinse with water taken from the aquarium will suffice.
Another common mistake made by novices to the aquarium hobby is to wait too long to clean the tank. Weekly 10% water changes and/or a 25% water change once a month should be enough to keep the water in your aquarium fresh. A larger scale cleaning may become necessary, however, in the event of an algae bloom. If you notice a sudden increase in algae growth in your tank do not wait for the problem to get out of control - take steps to correct the problem then clean the tank before it gets worse. Remove all the decorations from your tank and clean them using 10% bleach solution. Do not clean your filter within seven days of performing this task or you could lose all of the beneficial bacteria in your tank at once. Also, check the water with an aquarium water test kit to determine if there is an excess amount of phosphates.
Everyone gets busy at times, but do not be tempted to replace your routine water changes by simply topping off the tank with fresh water as it evaporates. If you just add more water to the tank without removing any, the water quality in your tank will still deteriorate and your fish may suffer. As water evaporates from the tank it leaves chemicals like ammonia and nitrates behind - and one way to remove these chemicals is to remove some of the water itself and replace it with fresh water. Also, install filter media that specifically targets ammonia and nitrates. Remember, it isn't just "one thing" that you should be doing to maintain a healthy, clean environment for your fish. Be a smart aquarist and perform a combination of the freshwater aquarium maintenance tasks outlined above on a regular basis and you'll enjoy a healthy, thriving aquarium!