Skip to main content

What to do with your fish while you deep-clean their aquarium

If you are a new fish owner, cleaning the tank might seem scary at first. The most common concern is how to deal with your marine buddies while you clean their aquarium. For those who are just learning how to maintain their first fish tank, it’s normal to wonder about how often you should change the water or how much water you must replace.

The good news is that keeping your fish happily swimming in clean water is much easier than you think. We are here to help you learn how to deep clean a fish aquarium.

Aquarium filled with fish
Vladimir Krivoshiev/EyeEm/Getty Images

Before you get started

Make sure you have all the tools, utensils, and supplies needed to clean your tank. Having the right cleaning kit will make your life easier. Some of the most useful items you need are:

• Gravel vacuum

• Water quality test kit

• Extra bucket for dirty water

• Water conditioner

• Dish sponge for cleaning glass

• Algae scraper and blade

• Toothbrush for cleaning decor

• Glass cleaner

• Towel for wiping up water spills

• Glass-cleaning cloth or paper towel

Leave your fish inside the tank

While it seems better to take your fish out of the tank when you clean it, the stress of capturing them and moving them into a smaller container can be harmful to them. Since you will only be replacing 15% to 30% of the water with every cleaning, the fish will have enough water to swim while you gently go about cleaning.

Turn the equipment off

The most important safety precaution you must take is to turn off the filter, water heater, and any other light fixture in your tank. Prevent any accidents by making sure you have unplugged any power cables as well.

Start by testing the water

Woman testing water in aquarium
Elva Etienne/Getty Images

Maintaining the water quality of your tank is the most important part of the process. Use a testing kit to make sure you have adequate levels of certain chemicals:

• Ammonia: 0 ppm
• Nitrites: 0 ppm
• Nitrates: Less than 40 ppm

This will ensure the best balance possible for your fish to thrive. Imbalances in the chemistry of the water can be fatal to your colorful companions.

Remove algae from the glass

To always have a clear view of your pets, you have to clean the algae buildup that accumulates on the glass walls. Use a sponge to scrub the inside of your aquarium. Try to be as gentle as possible, and avoid fast movements that can scare your fish.

Vacuum the gravel bottom

A gravel vacuum or aquarium siphon is a super useful tool that will help you take dirty water out of the tank, move it into an extra bucket, and clean the bottom of your aquarium at the same time. Over time, excess food, fish waste, biological material, and other materials accumulate at the bottom of the tank and can cause bacterial growth.

Replace the water

Once you’ve completed the cleaning, make sure the temperature of the water is ideal and that it’s conditioned with the right chemicals to lessen the shock to the fish.

How often should you clean the tank?

There is no exact schedule for cleaning your aquarium. Cleaning frequency varies from tank to tank. The answer depends on the number of fish you have, the size of your tank, and your filtration system. For the most part, you’ll need to clean your tank every one to two weeks.

Some fish owners choose to do a weekly partial cleaning and a full monthly change. Please note that the full clean does not involve a complete water change. It just means scrubbing the inside of the glass and vacuuming. This is also the time to replace your filters.

With proper care, you can keep a clean and healthy environment for your fish. Use the proper supplies and stay disciplined with your maintenance routine to enjoy a beautiful tank. Experience and discipline are key to proper fish care. Your fish will thank you for the loving care, and your home will look great, too.

Mother and son looking at aquarium
Westend61/Getty Images

Editors' Recommendations

Check these 3 things immediately if you have fish swimming at the top of the tank
Here's what might be causing fish to swim on the top of their home
Fish swim around in a tank with a bubbler

Before you set up your first tank, you likely didn't realize how much work went into maintaining the perfect ecosystem. In nature, we have the checks and balances of evolution to guide the delicate balance, but in an aquarium, it's just you. Learning how to clean, feed, and decorate takes time and research but will certainly benefit you — and your swimmers — in the end. Since fish can't tell you what they feel or even bark to let you know they need something, you'll discover other cues that tell you something's up. If you find your fish swimming at the top of the tank, take action right away. Here's what to do when your fish spend too much time at the surface.
What does it mean when your fish swim to the top?
Usually, your fish go to the surface when they're not getting enough oxygen. Unlike you, fish use their gills to breathe the air that's already in the water. However, in some circumstances, there's not enough oxygen in the tank for all the fish to breathe easily. To combat this, they swim up to the surface, where there is oxygen-rich water. You may notice some gasping or other signs that they're not well while they are up there. 

How do you oxygenate a fish tank?
The basic solution is to keep your tank oxygen rich and also low in CO2. You can do this by moving the water a bit more with an air pump or fan, which exposes the liquid to the air and helps get it ready for easy breathing. Be careful not to negatively impact other factors like temperature (more on that in a bit). Whatever you decide, make sure you have a long-term solution in place or the fish will go right back to the top again.

Read more
What you need to know about sugar gliders before you get an exotic pet
Follow these steps to set your sugar glider up for success
Sugar glider clings to their owner's thumb

Choosing a small pet involves almost as much deliberation as selecting a breed of dog. While there are a lot of factors to take into account, a sugar glider might turn out to be the perfect fit with their curious personality, attachment to your family, and fondness for pockets.

Like any exotic pet, gliders require expert care plus some dedicated research to choose the right breeder or pet store. But with the right prep, your new mammal will fit in perfectly and bond with the whole family. Keep reading to find out if sugar gliders are good pets.
What are sugar gliders?
Unlike most little pets, sugar gliders aren't rodents but marsupials. This gives you a few distinct advantages, as they behave differently from hamsters, guinea pigs, or gerbils. For starters, these are highly social creatures and they will bond with every member of the family and even other pets in the house. Because gliders don't smell like the animals your cats and dogs like to chase — rats, gophers, and bunnies, to name a few — many bigger pets can get along with your new friend. You'll need to introduce them carefully, but they can form lifelong attachments to each other.

Read more
Can you make a profit breeding your bearded dragon?
Does breeding your bearded dragon make you money? Read on to find out
Two bearded dragons sit on a rock

The first step in getting a new pet of any species is research. You want to make sure you're adopting or purchasing your pet from a reputable breeder who uses ethical sourcing techniques to acquire their animals. While veterinarians suggest that all pet parents spay and neuter their companions, some animals can be bred without causing distress to you or your pet.

One of the easiest pets to breed is the bearded dragon. With that being said, we recommend having experience under your belt before you embark on your journey as a breeder. Here's what you should know about breeding bearded dragons.
Is my beardie male or female?
When they're babies, it's really difficult to tell the sex of your lizard. Wait until he or she reaches maturity before making that determination, which is actually a good thing for breeding. You don't want to start your female reptile before 18 months for health reasons. In order to look at the little beast, you need to get comfortable enough to feel the underbelly, so give it a few days after bringing your beardie home.

Read more