How to Clean Your Fish Tank (And Keep It That Way)

published Dec 23, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

It’s well-known that fish are one of the best pets for small spaces, including apartments. Even though our aquatic friends make low-maintenance pets, it’s important to regularly clean their fish tanks so they stay comfortable and happy. Chances are you have spent a good amount of time arranging your tank and creating dreamy seascapes for your fish. But those designs can get dingy quickly, especially if you don’t keep up with maintenance. Here is the easiest way to clean a fish tank and keep the display pristine all month long.

What you’ll need:

  • Aquarium glass scrubber and scraper
  • Gravel vacuum 
  • Algae pad
  • Bleach
  • Aquarium-safe glass cleaner
  • Microfiber towel

How to Clean Your Fish Tank

Follow these steps and your fish will have a clean and happy environment for years to come.

Prepare the tank for cleaning.

1. First, leave the fish in the tank to minimize their stress, and only do a partial water change to keep the good bacteria in the tank. A partial water change might not even be necessary — it all depends on how dirty your water is.

2. Unplug any lights, heaters, and filters, and close any valves in the tank.

Credit: MARVIK/Shutterstock

Clean the sides of the tank.

Start by cleaning the sides of the tank and the glass. You can do this with either a full or half tank of water.

1. Wash your hands and arms with non-scented soap to ensure they’re clean before plunging them into the tank.

2. To remove any algae buildup, grab your aquarium glass scrubber and scraper, which has a sponge on one side and a tough scraper on the other. The scraper will remove tough algae buildup, and the scrubber will remove normal debris. 

3. If you have acrylic walls, make sure you buy a plastic scraper that will be gentle enough to avoid scratching the walls.

Clean the gravel. 

Next, you’ll clean the gravel, which you want to leave in the tank to conserve the good bacteria. 

1. If the fish tank decor has buildup or looks dingy, now is the time to remove it. If not, leave it in the tank.

2. To loosen any debris in the gravel, rake through it so the buildup gets dislodged. 

3. Then, grab your gravel vacuum and run it across the layer of pebbles. This $20 tool will suction away any debris and algae without you having to manually replace any of the rocks. Especially concentrate on any spots in the tank where the filter doesn’t reach, which usually have the highest-concentration of debris.

Clean the decor and accessories.

1. If there is a decent amount of buildup on these, take them out of the tank and clean them with a rough algae pad under hot water. If there has been a long period of time between cleanings, you might also need to disinfect them by soaking them for 15 minutes in a 1:9 mixture of 3 percent bleach and water. 

2. Thoroughly wash and dry the accessories afterward. You want to make sure there is no bleachy smell on the accessories, or you might introduce it into the tank. 

3. Continue to rinse the accessories if the scent lingers. When you’re finished, return the accessories to the tank.

Clean the outside glass.

1. Once the decor is back in the tank, use aquarium-safe glass cleaner to clean the outside glass. 

2. If you don’t want to buy specialty products, create a DIY cleaner using white vinegar diluted with water. You want to avoid regular cleaning sprays as their chemicals can affect the ecosystem of the tank. Spritz it on a microfiber towel, and buff away any fingerprints, marks, and stains.

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