Aquarium needs cleaning time after time. Algae, dirt and waste produced by fish and plants in your aquarium are most common things that make it look dirty. How often to clean aquarium? I would recommend to do it during regular water changes which should happen one or two times in a week depending on how your tank is populated or how well aquarium is planted.
I am quite lazy with aquarium cleaning. I try to clean my aquarium once in a week, but sometimes it stays untouched for almost three weeks. It’s not good. Aquarium gets dirty and fish feel huge discomfort. Don’t try this at home. Clean your aquarium minimum once in a two weeks.
Besides that – cleaning aquarium regularly takes less effort to do so.
Here is a step-by-step guide how to clean freshwater aquarium. Remember that this is not the only way to do it, but this is the way that I clean my aquarium and it works well for me.
Unplug electronic devices
You don’t want to get electric shock, don’t you. So, even though manufacturers guarantees that everything is safe, there is always a good reason to eliminate the risks even if they are small. So unplug heaters, filters and lightning (you can put small table lamp near the aquarium to see what you are doing there inside) before cleaning aquarium. I sometimes do forget to do it. Well, nothing bad happened but I do not recommend to do so. I always notice it when water level drops below filter outlet.
Remove and clean decorations
You don’t have to clean decorations every time you clean your aquarium, but you can do it as necessary when algae and dirt are visible by naked eye. If they are not, skip this step. DON’T use soap or any chemicals. Just scrub and clean water. It is a good idea to scrub it in a water that is removed from your aquarium to maintain beneficial bacteria.
Inside glass cleaning
You can use a simple scrub or scrape with or without a handle. There are also magnetic scrapers that consist of a pair of magnets. Put one on outside of tank and the other one with scraper inside and you can clean aquarium glass without getting your hands wet (you did not expect to get your hands wet while cleaning aquarium, did you?). Remember that there are some scrapers that can be used for glass aquariums only, some that can be used only for acrylic aquarium and some that can be used for both.
Make it extra carefully if you have acrylic aquarium. One tiny scratch and it’s ruined. This is why I do not recommend acrylic aquariums for beginners.
Gravel cleaning and water removal
Best practice is to clean gravel of your aquarium by siphoning it with gravel vacuum.
Some say that gravel can be stirred so dirt from it floats up so filter can take care of it, but I would not recommend that, as some of this dirt will still settle back anyway and it may cause unnecessary clogging of filter. Maybe for smaller tank with great filtering capacity it is possible, but definitely this is not the best way to clean gravel.
Siphoning is easy and if you do it regularly you won’t have to clean gravel in any other way. Also, you will remove water from four aquarium to process regular water change.
Start a siphon by sucking water inside of it and place outlet in a bucket below aquarium water level. It will start continuous water flow.
Push inlet of vacuum cleaner a bit inside the gravel. See water moving up the vacuum and how it changes from dirty to clean. When water becomes clean, just move to the next spot and so on, step-by-step, clean whole gravel. Be careful, do not push it into gravel near plants as you may damage their roots. Just move vacuum over surface of gravel and allow it to suck out enough dirt as it is possible.
If your gravel is sand do not push vacuum inside to prevent removing huge amount. Leave it a bit above gravel and watch carefully not to suck in huge amounts of sand.
Filter and other equipment cleaning
Filter cleaning is best done after reading instructions manual on how to remove and clean filter media. Don’t clean or replace all media at one cleaning. Do only a part and the other part in next cleaning so you won’t lose beneficial bacteria that needs time to repopulate. Take a part of media and rinse it in a bucket with removed water (hope you did not flush it away yet) and put it back in.
Scrub visible surface parts of filter. Do not clean inside of filter often to keep growth of beneficial bacteria.
Clean surface of water heater with a cloth. Avoid scratching it. Algae on it’s surface may prevent heat exchange and slow down warming up a tank.
Put decorations back in
If you removed and cleaned decorations, it is a good moment to put them back in. In some cases you can consider doing this only after refilling water so it is easier to refill, but if you put them back in it could be easier to arrange them as you can reach the bottom of tank easier and also you might fill in too much water and push it out if you put decorations back in after water refill.
Fill a bowl or bucket of replacement water. Tap water would be good enough – in some cases if possible you can fill bucket day before aquarium cleaning to allow normalize pH, Cl and other levels to normalize, but this is not the worst thing if you don’t do it. Check temperature of water by simple thermometer. You can check it already in a stream of water when filling a bucket so you won’t have to mix hotter water in.
When you have bucket full of water with temperature close to desired aquarium temperature, you can start to fill it in. You can place a plate or bowl inside aquarium to prevent gravel from scouring.
Plug in and clean outside of aquarium and aquarium stand
This is it. Plug back in electronic devices of your aquarium and clean outside of it. Try not to use chemicals here as well because you will still have a risk that some of chemicals could get into aquarium. Have a nice viewing.