How to Clean a Freshwater Fish Tank

Keeping a fish at home can be both comfortable and tedious. Your colorful friends enjoy lounging in the tank, and they quickly take your day’s stress off. However, you need to do a few maintenance steps to keep your fish in top shape. You need to ensure that they have enough nutrition and live the best life in their own tiny home. Although it is dreadful to some, you will eventually need to clean your aquarium at home. Find out how to clean a freshwater fish tank in these easy-to-follow steps.


Why do I need to clean my freshwater fish tank?

Cleaning a mushy and hazy freshwater tank goes beyond aesthetic purposes. Besides enjoying a beautifully clean tank at home, it also has many benefits for your aquatic friends. Here are three main reasons why you need to maintain the cleanliness of your freshwater fish tank:

Regulate the nitrate content

Bacteria inside your freshwater tank are significantly involved in the nitrogen cycle, wherein they convert ammonia to nitrite and the less harmful nitrate. These byproducts can be toxic to fish in very high amounts. And one of the most effective ways to keep nitrate levels at bay is by having regular water changes.

Remove organic compounds

Fish that are regularly fed will also have regular excretion of their byproducts. Your fish tank has a filter to keep these byproducts at a minimum, but some organic compounds cannot pass through the filters. They tend to remain in the tank until it is manually removed. Cleaning your freshwater fish tank will remove and refresh its water. Organic compounds that aren’t filtered will have their way out of the tank by regular cleaning and water changing.

Replenish minerals

Fish that are kept in a freshwater tank will not have the same environment as they should out in their natural habitat. Keeping their water clean will ensure that they live as similar to where they should be. Your tank’s filter is also another factor why minerals are depleted day by day because it cannot single out to filter harmful compounds only. By cleaning the tank and adequately keeping their environment suitable for growth, you replenish your fish’s needed minerals.

fresh water tank

How often do you clean a freshwater fish tank?

The cleaning frequency of your freshwater fish tank will depend on a lot of factors. Cleaning will significantly rely on how large the tank is, how many fish are inside, and the kind of filtration system you are using. Although guidelines may vary depending on the factors mentioned, most fish tanks may require cleaning and water changes in about two weeks. Here’s a quick guide on your fish tank’s maintenance on a daily and weekly basis:

Daily Checkup

Maintenance on a daily will include keeping your fish well-fed. Checking it out will only take a few minutes of your day. While you are at it, check if there are noticeable differences in their mood –if they are usually swimming, if they are as energetic, or any signs of illness. It is also recommended to check for the temperature and specific gravity of your fish tank every day.

Weekly Maintenance

At least once a week, check out the water of your tank. This weekly maintenance includes checking for ammonia, nitrate, and pH levels. Home kits for checking out tank water are widely available and are very easy to use. This is a crucial step to ensure that your tank’s water is healthy for your pets. Weekly checkup on your fish tank equipment is also advised. At this point, look out for any changes in your lights, filter, glass, and others. This is to ensure that there is no potential breakage that can happen anytime soon.


How to clean a freshwater fish tank?

Cleaning your freshwater fish tank is easy when you have a step-by-step process to guide you. Here’s a quick list of steps that will help you maintain your tank’s cleanliness and water quality.

Step 1: Prepare your equipment.

Before anything else, prepare all the necessary equipment that you will need for cleaning. It may include bath and paper towels, algae scraper or pad, water siphon, bucket, filter media and brush, bleach, chlorine remover, etc. There is a lot of fish tank cleaning equipment that you can find in pet stores. The cleaning equipment will also depend on the type of tank you have. Once you have all the equipment ready, remove the electrical connection on your water tank before cleaning. You may also take out the large decorations.


Step 2: Clean the inside glass.

Scrub off the inside glass using an algae pad or sponge; having a blade attachment will surely ease off cleaning the tank walls. Algae that has grown on your tank’s lid is easy to clean off as you could manually rinse it off with water. Be careful not to use soap when cleaning the lid because chemicals may retain and may cause harm to your fish.


Step 3: Clean the decorations.

After cleaning the walls, please take out the decorations one by one and clean them off. You can use a toothbrush to scrub off the algae that have stuck through. Again, do not use soap to clean these decorations. You can soak them with bleach for about 15 minutes for those with severe algae or dirt. Wash them thoroughly after and try to scrub off the remaining residue. Live plants can tolerate bleaching but at a lower percentage. Make sure to keep them off the aquarium first before putting them back on. At this part, you can also prune plants inside if they have grown too big for your tank.


Step 4: Vacuum the debris and substrate.

Use the water tank siphon and vacuum out around one-third of the water content. The water siphon will clean out the uneaten food, fish waste, and dead leaves accumulated at the gravel. It will also remove the tank water with organic compounds and other waste products not filtered through. The siphon should be able to stir up the gravel but never suck it up. Make sure that the water siphon covers the entire area of gravel.


Step 5: Clean the filter

It is essential to keep the filter clean because gunk of debris can accumulate over time. Although cleaning the filter may not be as frequent as cleaning the entire tank, it is worth checking the tank filter once in a while to make sure that it is not clogged up. Take your corner box, hang-on-back, or canister filter out and wash the filter media in a bucket of water. Remove the foam portion of your sponge filter and wring it multiple times for cleaning.


Step 6: Refill your tank with water.

Before adding water to your tank, make sure it has the same temperature as the existing tank water. Take out a bucket of water, and you may add a dechlorinator inside. At this point, you have the option to add root tabs or liquid fertilizer for your aquarium. Carefully fill up the aquarium with your freshwater.


Step 7: Wipe the glass.

The last step is to clean up the outside glass for a clearer view of your pets. Use an aquarium-safe wiper or cloth to have a crystal-clear aquarium. Remove water spots or streaks that may be an eyesore. You can now turn on the aquarium and enjoy a newly cleaned freshwater tank.

Where do I place my fish while cleaning my tank?

You do not need to take your fish out while cleaning unless you have a tiny fish tank at home. Remember that fish do not like to be disturbed in their habitat. Having them in another container can be stressful on their part. It is recommended for your fish to be inside while you change your water and clean your tank.

cleaned tank

How do I keep my freshwater fish tank clean?

Keep your freshwater fish tank clean by having daily and weekly checkups, as mentioned above. It is also essential to give your fish the right food to have less toxic waste products. Never place anything on your water tank that will probably harm your fish and contaminate its water. It is also important to note that having partial water changes will ensure the right amount of bacterial colonies. Tank cleaning will promote a healthy lifestyle for your fish that will keep their mood up.


Cleaning your freshwater fish tank can be a daunting task, but it should not be as laborious as you imagine. It will only take a few minutes of your day but will provide your fish a happier and healthier environment for weeks. Knowing the basics of cleaning your fish tank with water changes will save you money from professional cleaners. The more frequently you clean your tank, the lesser the dirt will accumulate over time. It is enough to know how to clean a freshwater fish tank for maintenance as this will promote better fish growth and keep a more vibrant fish tank.

Rita Wagener
Rita is a resident paw expert at Pet Keepers. A registered & licensed dog trainer, she also has a degree in animal nutrition, and runs her own dog training course.

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