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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Spring cleaning your aquarium

There’s no better reason to spring clean your aquarium than a grimy aquarium
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - February 5, 2011
By: James Ong
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Spring cleaning your aquarium

Let’s face it. Any sort of work which involves cleaning is usually last on the list. If your aquarium looks really grubby, you will need to clean it – bad luck or not – to prevent the premature demise of your beloved fish.

Getting started

Unless your tank is in an extremely bad condition, do not tear down your aquarium and start over. That will result in your losing all the beneficial bacterial colonies that break down the waste produced in the aquarium. Instead, clean your aquarium in this order: inside glass, decorations such as rocks and plants, gravel, outside glass/fixtures, then the filter.


Cleaning the glass will cause debris particles to fall on the plants, decorations and gravel, so clean the latter only after that. Removing the plants and decorations will cause debris to fall to the bottom, so you should clean the gravel after this. Cleaning anything inside the tank could get the outside dirty, so clean the outside after the inside. Do not clean the filter yet. 

Simple and inexpensive cleaning supplies you will need:

Algae pads/scrapers

Use an algae scraper/pad to clean the inside glass. Choose from a wide variety ranging from long-handled scrubbers to magnetic ones. Purchase algae scrubbing pads at an aquarium shop instead of the hardware store. Though the pads may look alike, the latter may have soapy chemical residue in them, leaving a lethal film in your aquarium which is harmful to fish. Particularly stubborn residue on the glass can be scraped off with a razor blade.

Bleach & glass cleaners

Remove all rocks, artificial plants and decorations with significant algae growth on them. Do not clean them with soap or detergent or as it is very difficult to completely remove the residue, which will be lethal to your fish. Use a good algae scraper to remove the algae and dirt.

For stubborn spots, prepare a 10 per cent bleach solution and soak the items for 15 minutes. Scrub, rinse well in running water to remove all the bleach, and air-dry the items to eliminate any residue. To bleach live plants, prepare a 5 per cent bleach solution, soak the plants for only two to three minutes, and then rinse well.

Leave the rocks, decorations and plants out of the tank while you vacuum the gravel and use a water siphon to remove the debris. Use glass cleaners to clean the hood, light, tank top and the outside glass.

Filter cleaning

Clean the filter last – and only two weeks after cleaning everything else in the tank. Though the earlier major cleanings will have upset the bacterial colonies in the aquarium, the eco-system remains in balance because a significant number of the beneficial bacteria still reside within the filter media. Cleaning the filter too soon after everything else will cause an ammonia spike, because there won’t be enough beneficial bacteria to eliminate toxins which harm the fish.

To clean the tubing and other parts of the filter, use a filter brush to clear out the sludge that builds up in the small crevices. Change the filter media every three weeks if it contains carbon, ammonia absorbers or ion-exchange resins. You can leave a bit of the old filter media behind to repopulate the bacterial colonies. 


Maintaining your aquarium