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Pets > Fish on May 15, 2005

How to Keep Your Fish Tank Clean

So last month you bought a fish tank, stocked it with fish, and watched your little guys grow. Lately, however, you've noticed that the water is getting cloudy, the glass looks slimy, your blue rocks are starting to turn brown, and your filter that once ran like a waterfall is now slowly dripping. Now you're wondering how to clean your tank and keep it clean longer. Luckily, with the proper care, a fish tank can be kept clean with minimal effort.

Typical Aquarium Problems

Dirty Water

The easiest way to solve this problem is to get a power filter. The power filter is fundamental in the success of your aquarium; it's easy to use and easy to clean. The truth: if you have a power filter and maintain it your tank should almost be self-cleaning.

However, you must clean the filter often, meaning you should change the cartridges every three to four weeks. The cartridges are usually disposable, which means a no-hassle clean. Also, the cartridges are filled with carbon that remove impurities, odors, and discoloration. You'll know when to change the cartridges when the water flow from the filter has slowed down.

If cartridges are left in too long, the tank will start to look like a sewer, so a siphon and bucket may come in handy. The process is simple.

  • First, insert the siphon head into the tank.
  • Suck lightly on the hose end and drain the outcoming water into the bucket. Or if your siphon has a pump, squeeze it.
  • Comb the siphon head over the rocks. Also, stir up the rocks to get any waste that has settled to the bottom. Should any gravel get stuck in the siphon head, lightly tap it against the glass and gravity will do the rest.
  • Drain enough water to remove the waste.
  • Replace the water and then replace the cartridges.

The filter also serves as an oxygen source because it sends a stream of water back into the tank. The pressurized stream creates excellent water flow throughout the entire tank that helps circulate and clean the water more effeciently.

Algae Growth

You can practically avoid algae growth with one easy step: buy a Plecostomus or algae eater. They are some of the ugliest fish, but they do a very good job of cleaning algae off of the glass, plants, and the rocks. As an added bonus, the Plecostomus does seem to have a lot of personality.

Also, it is common to want to put your aquarium in a sunny place so that the fish get some sunlight. However, when the aquarium is exposed to the sun, algae thrives. If you have a Plecostomus, the tank should be well maintained because he will have plenty of food, but if you don't have an algae eater, you personally will have to clean the tank more often.

For hands-on algae removal, you'll need an algae scraper. Your pet store should have plenty of choices, which consist of everything from magnetic scrapers that don't get your hands wet, to slightly abrasive sponges that require you to get soaked from the elbows down. Your pet store should also have an algae fighting liquid that can be poured right in the water.

Cloudy Water

This could be the result of a few things. First, only feed three to four times daily (or the recommended daily amount for your specific type of fish), as overfeeding will leave the water cloudy and cause the fish to produce more waste. As a rule of thumb, feed your fish only the amount of food that they can consume within a 3 to 5 minute period.

Sometimes the only way to fix this problem is to replace all of the water. However, if you maintain healthy feeding habits and the water is still cloudy, it might be the water you are putting in the tank. Try using bottled drinking or distilled water. The cost shouldn't be an issue, for a gallon runs around 50 to 70 cents.


What is that stench? Simple. It's ammonia, or fish piss. Your fish are essentially living in their own toilet; therefore, to keep it stench free make sure you replace the filter cartridges at least every three to four weeks. The carbon in the cartridge will neutralize the smell because, ideally, the aquarium should be smell free.

Wrap up

See, it's simple to keep your aquarium clean. The easiest, hassle-free way is to use a power filter, maintain it, and buy an algae eater. Your tank budget shouldn't even be an issue. Cartridges for the filter usually come in packs that should last about three months and are under ten bucks. Any other product you buy- the algae scraper, bucket, siphon- should last for years, as should your fish.

Keeping your fish happy and healthy is the main issue. If you follow these steps to keep your tank clean, you probably won't get frustrated and end up throwing your fish in the bushes. Happy cleaning!

Aquarium cleaning essentials

  • Power filter
  • Siphon
  • Bucket
  • Algae scraper

Success Tips

  • Do not use soap or other cleaners when cleaning any portion of the aquarium (the tank itself, the power filter, bucket, siphon, anything). No matter how much hot water you rinse with, traces will remain that will harm the fish.
  • For proper cleaning use a salt solution and hot water. Soak and rinse with the solution. Be sure to rinse all salt off.
  • Be sure the siphon is dry and empty before sucking on it. Also, you may want to put a wad of t.p. on the end before you put your mouth on it.
  • Don't let the power filter get so dirty to the point that water doesn't flow from it- the motor will burn out. Even if water is flowing good after four weeks, it is still recommended to change the cartridge.
  • Do partial water changes every month. Remove about 20% of the water and replace with fresh tap or bottled water.

About The Author: April Anderson ©2004
Printed With Permission


Read feedback for this post below. Click here to post feedback.

By maddie_son. (Guest Post) 11/24/2008

I have a gold fish tank that look like is is growing mold like stuff. How do you get rid of this stuff?
Thank you very much! :]

By (Guest Post) 04/18/2008

I just got a crayfish and it won't eat anything! I only feed her/him once every two days and for six days she/he hasn't eaten. What do you think they eat? Vegies? meat? fruit? Please tell me, or my daughter will be furious.

By Bonnie (Guest Post) 11/15/2007

I have a baby aquatic turtle and 6 fish and an algae eater in my tank and I have only had all of them for 3 days now and I already have to change the water it smells and is very foggy you can barely see the fish in it. How do I keep the water clean for longer than 3 days? Please help me!

By Dean (Guest Post) 10/24/2007

I'm moving my 75 gallon tank, but I want to clean my rocks before I put them back in. What do you think or how to scrub them and make them clean?

Thank you...

By shellie (Guest Post) 05/05/2006

Have alot of suds on top of tank.Not sure what to do.Open to any answers.Thank you

By joe bloggs (Guest Post) 04/25/2006

how to keep coral clean in my fish tank

By Lee (Guest Post) 03/14/2006

I have a 6ft tank holding 780 litres of water with about 30 fish inside it. I have 3 external filters working on this, eheim professional 2 + 3 and the one that came with the tank. It would appear that the water nevers actually get clear never mind it getting dirty i cannot get it clean, i change about 50% of the water each week but this still makes no difference and also change of the wool pads in the tanks.

Can someone please help?



By Bev (Guest Post) 09/19/2005

I have a used fish tank and want to know what would be the best to clean the glass on the inside of the tank before I put my fish in it. I have two Koi I need to bring in for the winter months.

bev hintz at hotmail (dot) com (remove spaces)

By Grace (Guest Post) 09/02/2005

I need help, I just brought a fish tank and now it is time to clean the tank. I have read everything but i can find were it says to take out the fish before siphon. do I take them out and put them in a bowl then when i am finish put them back?
plese help

Editor's Note: We added this as a new request:

Look there for answers.

By something to think about (Guest Post) 08/09/2005

Split your FRESH WATER fish tank into "levels". Find fish that are compatibles with others and ask where they mostly feed. Goldfish will eat from the top tho the bottom of the tank, tetras eat in the middle while food is floating down, etc. The best thing I have ever done for my tank was to get some snails from the nearby lake and crayfish (about 1 inch long) and throw them in there. The snails run all along the glass and other surfaces eating any algae that may grow. The crayfish, nit pick all over the bottom and climb up my artificial plants and do the most excellent job of getting any food that would normally sit there and go to waste. Since certain fish will eat ghost shrimp (goldfish) that you can buy from the store I'd advise to save my money and catch the crayfish. Just make sure you give the crayfish places to hide. They will eat any kind of food you feed your fish. Mine actually love shrimp pellets. When the crayfish get too big (usually over 1 winter) scoop them out in the spring when the weather is fine for planting and throw them back into the creek and find new little ones to replace in your tank. I haven't had any problems with my tank since doing this and only have to do the necessary water changes because of the urine/feces of all the critters. Crayfish are shy by nature and will not hurt your fish (other than to take a stance and pretend they will fight) Most problems with tanks are due to people over feeding and over stocking them. I judge my crayfish and snails by the size of the tank. 1 crayfish/snail for each gallon. Ask the pet store where you buy your fish about how many fish they advise to have in your tank due to the different varieties you might get. If you do have a problem with your tank after doing this, DO NOT add any chemicals which can be harmful to the crayfish and snails. Hope this works for someone out there. By the way, crayfish are ugly little things but sure are fun to watch!

By Alex (Guest Post) 05/31/2005

Actually, you should change tank water every week and use tap water treated with dechlorinator.


I have 2 tanksl One is for hybrid goldfish that require cooler water temps, the other for tropicals. I feed only once a day. approx 1 flake of tropical food per fish. I also have an areator in each tank in addition to a pump. I purchased a hose with attached siphon that has up to 50 ft of hose available at a pet store made specifically for cleaning tanks. Extremely easy to use. I keep track of water temp and test water once a month using a kit from pet store. I adjust water using chemicals ava. at pet store. It takes a little effort, but Iv never lost a fish. Salt water tanks are more complicated and costly


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