How To Clean A Dirty Tank The Right Way

Don’t perform a major cleaning job on your dirty fish tank unless it is in terrible condition. Beneficial bacteria that eliminate the animals’ waste are lost if you tear apart a dirty fish tank for a thorough cleaning job.

However, this does not mean you can’t clean the tank. Clean it without breaking down the ecosystem inside.

A few cleaning tools will change the outlook of your aquarium, all while providing a healthy environment for your fish.

Cleaning Items Required 

  • Scrapers
  • A gravel vacuum
  • Razorblades or plastic blades
  • Bleaching substance
  • Bucket, preferably new
  • Glass cleaner/lime remover (made for aquarium)
  • Filter brush
  • Filter media
  • Cloth and paper towels
  • Aquarium water conditioner

How To Clean The Aquarium

Begin With The Inner Part Of The Glass

Using an algae pad, start on the inside and clean thoroughly. There are plenty of algae scrubbers to choose from. You have the option of a scraper with a long handle and a magnetic scraper too.

It is advisable to purchase algae pads from reputable sources like pet stores. Although they both look similar, the houseware pads come laced with soap or a chemical residue, which isn’t harmful to people, but can be detrimental to fish.

Some algae stains that can’t come off the glass using a scraper can be dealt with using a razor blade. In the case of an acrylic aquarium, a plastic razor will suffice as standard ones tend to scratch and damage the acrylic surface.

Cleaning The Aquarium Rocks And Decor

Once you finish cleaning the inside of the glass, remove the rocks, decorations, and plants. Avoid using detergents or soap to clean them. Once you use soap, it is difficult to remove it entirely from the surface using water. Any remnants of soap can hurt the fish.

A good scrubbing of the rocks and plants with warm water and a scraper will eliminate the dirt.

To deal with stubborn problems, soak the items in a bleach solution for roughly 10 to 20 minutes, then scrub. Run the rock or decoration through running water and air dry. That will remove any remaining bleach and chlorine smell.

Ensure the chlorine smell is eradicated from the items before putting them back in the aquarium. Alternatively, you can rinse them in water containing dechlorinator solution for the complete removal of chlorine.

Soak your live plants for two to three minutes in a bleach solution, followed by a good rinse.

Keep the plants, decorations, and rocks out of the tank during gravel vacuuming to avoid unstable debris covering them again.

It is imperative to get a new bucket for the aquarium only. That prevents the accidental introduction of traces of soap and detergent in the aquarium. Used buckets can also hold on to unwanted chemicals that find their way into the tank.

Siphoning The Gravel

A siphon system is then used to clean the gravel by vacuuming the debris. A few types of siphons are available on the market. The siphon will stir up the gravel and pick out the exposed debris without interfering with the gravel.

Work through the entire surface of the gravel to get rid of all the debris. Now replace the dirty water with chlorinated water to ensure the aquarium ecosystem remains intact.

A 25 percent water change is recommended monthly during cleaning. It is vital to ensure that the replacement water maintains the same temperature as the aquarium’s water.

During water change, unplug the aquarium heater to avoid air exposure as water levels drop.

Clean The Outside And The Fixtures


Next to be cleaned after the inside of the aquarium is the tank top, light, and hood. You will find chemicals such as ammonia in many glass cleaners. These chemicals are toxic to fish. The toxicity of lime cleaners is even higher. Therefore, it is strongly recommended you use a designated aquarium-safe cleaner purchased from a pet shop, or vinegar will also work. After cleaning the outside glass, rinse thoroughly.

Clear The Filter

The rocks and decorations go back into the aquarium once the outside is clean. You can then give it a few weeks before clearing the filter again.

After the primary cleaning, the ecosystem in the aquarium may be upset by disturbing the beneficial bacteria on the gravel, plants, and rocks. Fortunately, the still filter media harbors many beneficial bacteria which are reintroduced to the ecosystem.

The filter change simultaneously may cause a dangerous spike in ammonia because there is nothing left to eliminate the toxins.

A filter with ammonia that absorbs carbon should be replaced every three weeks. The absorbing qualities are depleted after this period, so the filter becomes useless.

But suppose the mechanical filter medium contains parts like filter fiber, ceramic rings, and sponges. In that case, it should be rinsed gently to clean out the debris and then returned to its place to continue working. Do not get rid of it.

To minimize the loss of bacteria colonies on the filter, use replacement water of the same temperature as the aquarium water. Also, ensure that you return the media quickly to the filter.

Other parts of the assembly are next in line to be cleaned. The sludge and build-ups on the small crevices can be accessed and removed by a filter brush.

Maintain The Aquarium Regularly

Once your tank or aquarium is in good clean shape, avoid major cleaning in the future by cleaning it regularly. Schedule glass cleaning and gravel vacuuming with every water change.

Also, do not forget the rocks and plants should be cleaned whenever there are noticeable algae or debris build-up signs. And even when there is not, clean anyway to keep the aquarium ecosystem in good shape.

Monthly cleaning of the filter is essential and will ensure that your aquarium is healthy and balanced all the time. It is not hard to maintain your aquarium, but it requires dedication and focus.