Keep Fish: How To Clean A Fishtank

Hello everyone! As promised, I am going to start writing about fishtank care! I only deal with FRESH WATER tanks. Just so you know.

I decided to start with the most dreaded and over-worried about part of keeping a fish tank. Cleaning it. I figure, if you’re interested in keeping fish, maintenance is the scariest part. My credentials:

  • Over ten years of fish keeping
  • 5 years professionally at a store
  • My fish breed, a lot

I’ve had fish since I was 16, my uncle bought me my first tank and I still have it, locked and loaded today. I worked at a fabulous pet store that had an amazing array of fish for 5 years, and learned just about everything I could. Also, I have insight on common mistakes, simple errors and common complaints. I am going to debunk as many as I can! Starting with:

Cleaning A Fish Tank Is Hard

Absolutely not! If I had a dollar for every person that over-worried their tank, man, I would be loaded. Seems to me that every tank I run into suffers from Over Mothering. Here’s a tip: Less is better. Let’s talk about the main requirements for keeping a clean tank:

  • Change 25% of the tank’s water via a gravel vacuum, once a month
  • Change filter cartridge , once a month (preferably not the same day you clean, more on that later)
  • Scrape off algea
  • Do NOT overfeed

That, my friends, is it. In a nutshell, that is all you have to do to keep a clean tank. Now, why do people have problems with this? Well, I can tell you that 99.99999% of the time the following conversations would happen at the pet store:

Customer: “My fish tank is cloudy.”

Me: “When did you change the water?”

C: “Yesterday.”

M: “How much did you take out?”

C: “Well, it was cloudy, so I took out (enter ridiculous percent or all here).”


Customer: “My fish tank is cloudy and I just started it yesterday, should I do a water change?”

Me: “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!”

Do you see a correlation there? Cloudy water DOES NOT equal immediate water change. And this is why, in very basic terms. Fish make poop. There is a bacteria that eats their poop. When you drop new fish into a tank, or remove a lot of the existing bacteria (example: extreme water change) the bacteria reproduces like mad to eat the sudden abundance of food/poop. The water turns a cloudy white, due to this.Β  Here is a link that very nicely sums it up. I couldn’t say it better myself. So, you start a fish tank, you change the water too much/often, you fall into a vicious cycle of WHY IS MY TANK ALWAYS CLOUDY?

So, heed my words:

I don’t care how cloudy your tank is. Only remove 25% at a time.

In fact, if it’s cloudy, I wouldn’t change it at all. Wait for the bacteria levels to even themselves out. The water will clear. Wait a whole month after that.

Now that you all understand that, let’s move on to how to go about this cleaning business. You’ll need things.

wpid-20140611_165537.jpggravel vacuum/siphon, sponge/scraper for algae, big bucket, water conditioner, aquarium salt (optional and much argued), towel

Gravel Vacuum/Siphon: The whole point of cleaning a fish tank is to get out the dirty water. The dirtiest water is hiding in the gravel. The vacuum works by sucking out that water and leaving the gravel behind.

Sponge/Scraper: Scrub off that algae! Algae is a good sign, it means your tank can support life. Yey! However, unsightly. Scrub when you clean the tank. If you have a lot of algae, leave the light on for less hours or reduce the amount of food you feed your fish.

Big Bucket: For holding dirty water/replacing water

Water Conditioner: This removes the chlorine from tap water. It is not negotiable. Chlorine will kill your fish. Also, fish are covered in a “slime coat” which protects them. When stressed, they will drop their “slime coat” and this can lead to definite problems. Often, a water conditioner will have something in it for that. Don’t buy a specific product just for that, buy one that has both.

Aquarium Salt: I’ve seen it argued either way. My personal vote isΒ  to have it as a remedy for diseases and to put about a teaspoon in when I change the water. I don’t even do that every time, just occasionally. I used it once to cure ich, a common problem and it worked so fast and so efficient I decided I was sold on salt in the aquarium. We never had ich at the petstore, and we regularly salted the aquariums. Also note: Salt does not evaporate out, so only add when you take out water.

Towel: To keep your arm from dripping all over, really? πŸ˜‰

START TIME: 06/11/14 5:00 pm

wpid-20140611_165525.jpgbefore: we’re filthy!

Wash your hands and arms, up to your pits, please. Your whole arm is going to be in that tank. Well, you’re probably taller than me, so maybe not. Wash anyway.

Next step is to turn the aquarium off. All the lights, everything. Unplug, the cords can hang, and as they are usually in the back of the tank, they shouldn’t get wet. Unplug anyway.

wpid-20140611_165753.jpgthey’re really mad now!

Remove all decor and place into the bucket, as you don’t want it to drip on your floor. I put the heavy stuff in the bottom and the fake plants on top. Why?…glad you asked!

Put the fake plants in a sink with screaming hot water. Put the heavier objects on top to keep them under the water.

wpid-20140611_170124.jpgtoo hot for algae

This step will kill any algae on the rocks or plants. Clever, eh? You could use bleach, but please don’t, ok? Just hot water, it totally works.

Next, get the siphon going. Mine attaches nicely to the bucket.

wpid-20140611_170214.jpgi could kiss the feet of whomever invented this

You have to prime the siphon to get it to work. The bucket needs to be lower than the siphon for this to work. Put the siphon in the tank, fill with water, let drain half way, then back into the tank. And then the siphon will siphon. More info here.

wpid-20140611_170226.jpghalf way empty, put back in tank!

Start at one corner of the tank, put the siphon directly into the gravel, watch the poop get sucked into the bucket, move to the next patch, repeat until you have removed 25% of the water.

wpid-20140611_170344.jpgstraight into the gravel, like so. pretend I turned off the light on my tank, m’kay?

Next, dump the waste water either into your plants, or the toilet or if your fish breed and you are insane, into a tub to dig out baby fish. You probably won’t have babies, but FYI there. If you see “poop that swims down rapidly” in your siphon, it might be a baby. Hey, at least you’ll never have to ever buy fish again?

Replace plants and decor.

Fill your bucket with tepid water. Not too hot, not too cold please.

Add water conditioner and salt (optional) to the bucket. Follow instructions on package.

Dump into tank, carefully.

Repeat for larger tanks. Mine is only 20 gallons and I only remove 5 gallons at a time, hence the five gallon bucket. Works out beautifully.

Wipe down tank, front and sides to remove water droplets. You wouldn’t dare you a glass cleaner, right? Just the towel.

Inspect electrical before plugging back in.


Now, it looks a bit cloudy because there is a lot of particulate that is floating around. My filter will grab it or it will settle within the hour.

Wash your hands up to the arm pits please!

END TIME 06/11/14 5:32 PM

Please remember I was dancing around and taking pictures! Normally, it’s a twenty minute job!

I hope this at least makes the idea of fish keeping less daunting. So many people are put off by this once a month chore, that it is a real downer. Or they over do it. You can skip taking all the decor out if it’s a busy month. Then you’re looking at 10 minutes, easy. Please note: I did not change out my filter today. I will discuss that later! Hope you enjoyed! πŸ˜€

The Diamond Tetras are Breeding

Well, this morning I went about cleaning the fish tank, which if you recall, just got populated with Diamond Tetras. And guess what they did? Made babies. Let me get you the whole visual here:

I am siphoning out the tank and as usual, I’m just watching the muck go through and a muck chunk begins to swim down siphon, fast.

*insert an intense amount of curse words*

Now I am fully aware if I have almost siphoned up one baby fish, there’s at least a few I didn’t see. Of course I can’t just dump the crappy water bucket! Noooooo, gotta save those little suckers!

*insert more swearing, very colorful*

So I went with the ol’ tried and true, dump the bucket in the tub with the drain closed and get on my hands and knees with a flashlight and a clear shot glass and look for two teeny tiny eyes and a tail. I found three and I dug pretty hard.

wpid-20140426_101453.jpgthis. this is a shot glass. there is a baby fish in the upper right of the shot glass. this was the bigger one, believe it or not.

Ugh. Normally, I don’t mind so much, I mean I like baby fish, but I wasn’t expecting them this soon! Calm down, tetras!

Fresh Fish: Diamond Tetras

I got some new friends today and I am so very, very excited!

wpid-20140327_125359.jpgour hate for you is palatable. why are we in a bag?

As you may or may not know, I have a fish tank and am very fond of it. I love a good aquarium set up and have been keeping fish for about ten years. My first few years were when I was a teenager and I have learned a lot since them. I professionally worked in a store that sold pet fish for six years and learned even more. I’ve been around the block a bit. My favorite kind of fish tanks are tanks that focus on one species, I have found that to be the most successful. Also, a tank must be well planted and have a variety of places for the fish to hide. This achieves two goals, if all the fish are the same species, they will be more colorful, less stressed and more likely to breed. A well planted tank prevents fighting and allows the fish to hide, again, reducing stress, improving coloration and achieving a more “wild” look to the tank.

My tank is only a twenty gallon tank, which is not very big. It’s not the most impressive piece of furniture in the room and it doesn’t allow for very many species to exist in it successfully. However, it completely fits my needs.

Right before I moved in with my fiance, I had diamond tetras. They are my absolute favorite fish. My tank held about 5 or 7 at a time and they would breed. I had those exact fish (plus or minus a few for breeding and random deaths) for about five years. They were stunning. Colorful, elegant, hearty, absolutely stunning. About a week before I moved in something (and I am not clear what) killed all of them. I am assuming it was an electrical problem, honestly, fish that are that old and have been that successful don’t all die immediately overnight. Every stinking one was gone. In a way, I was lucky, I didn’t have to worry about moving them and stressing them out. But it was still sad. So my fishtank was bare for several months, until I got all new electrical (filters, lights and heater) for the tank, which was expensive. After that, I let it run for about a month to make sure everything was in working order and I was not in a hurry.

Unwisely, I decided to change the species in my tank. I decided to get leopard danios, also known as Zebra Fish. Everyone who knew I had fish thought that I should get a different species after having “the same old, same old” for so long. I honestly don’t know why I listened to them. I think I choose the danios because they are ridiculously hardy. I also got 3 other fish, I can’t remember what they were called, but they were like a golden danio, which is basically an albino version of the leopards. I guess I liked them plenty, but it wasn’t the same. The selection at the particular store was crap. I wasn’t as dedicated, they weren’t as pretty. I don’t even know why I didn’t stick with my once species rule. That’s what made my tank in the past, why did I get two different kinds? They didn’t start off well either. Despite being hardy, two died right away and one was, um, special looking. I didn’t really even feel like getting replacements. I kept the ones that lived and today I cleaned out the tank and saw that there were only two left.Β  Out of six. That is terrible. I’ve had them about a year and that is just terrible.

So I decided to get the fish I want, diamond tetras!

wpid-20140327_125638.jpgthis is the male, closest to the camera. you can tell by his fancy sexy fins!

wpid-20140327_125607.jpgit is stupid hard to take a picture of fish.

I searched the store, diamond tetras aren’t always easy to find and then…I saw them…6 perfectly fat, happy and lively diamond tetras. They had been in the store for a while. Perfect. Perfect. The poor clerk had to chase them down and bag them for me.

wpid-20140327_125320.jpgRELEASE US!!!

I left them in the bag for about ten minutes for the water to adjust to temperature and released them. I can’t tell you how much happier I am about them. I still have the two danios, which hopefully will coexist peacefully. In all likelihood, everyone should play pretty nice. The danios can school together and right now my fat happy diamond tetras are schooling. The male, there might be more than one, but the dominant one, is keeping his little school in shape. There might be two other males, I can’t tell yet. But anyway, I am very pleased with my new fish! I feel like I am back in the hobby!

I do have concerns, my tank is over in the amount of fish it should have. As long as I am very careful not to overfeed them and make sure to do proper water changes, they should do just fine. But at least I am back to being excited about it!

One of these days I’ll do a post on how to start a fish tank, for anyone who is interested. It’s a very easy and rewarding hobby. Many people who just start a fish tank often overcomplicated the process and make it much harder on themselves. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming! πŸ˜€