How Often Should I Clean My Fish Tank?

How Often Should I Clean My Fish Tank?

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“How often should I clean my fish tank?” is a common question for newbie aquarists. Before you begin setting up an aquascape, it’s essential to understand every aspect of how to care for fish and all other life inside the aquarium. This means devising a plan of action for cleaning long before you bring your new water-bound pets home.

How often you should clean your fish tank will depend on many factors. This mainly involves the number of fish, type of aquarium and size of the tank. For example, large community tanks will need weekly cleaning while small tanks with a few fish may only require biweekly or monthly cleanings.

But, the frequency of cleaning will also rely on the time you have to dedicate to it. It is possible to create a self-cleaning tank. This has the potential to reduce your frequency. That said, self-cleaning tanks may not be good for every situation.

What Are the General Rules for Fish Tank Cleaning Frequency?

Because fish tanks can vary greatly, there are no hard and fast rules for when you should clean an aquarium. This is why it’s important to devise your plan before you get the tank and the fish so you can anticipate all the problems that can arise. You can also decide if doing a self-cleaning tank will be right for your purposes.

Once you’ve determined the tank size, variations of species and the kind of equipment you’ll have, then you should create a simple cleaning schedule. This can be as often as weekly or as infrequent as monthly or longer.

As a general rule, larger and well-established tanks require a cleaning schedule of once per week. This is the best way to keep your fish happy and healthy while maintaining a proper environment. At the very least, doing a 25% water change will control toxin levels, pH balance and bad invisible bacteria.

Should I Clean My Fish Tank Every Day?

Daily cleaning is not advisable as a standard for cleaning the tank. This could shift the parameters and destroy the healthy bacteria built up along with the precious nitrogen cycle. The only time you’ll have to clean it daily will be due to something toxic infecting the tank like algae or dead fish.

However, it is important to check your tank every day and do the necessary readings to ensure there are no major shifts in the parameters or conditions. Check for ammonia spikes, temperature shifts, overall appearance of the tank, the health of the fish and that all equipment is running properly.

Should I Use an Aquarium Vacuum to Clean My Fish Tank?

It’s a good idea to invest in an aquarium vacuum. This cleans off all the excess algae from the gravel and the walls inside the tank. Smaller tanks may only have to do this once to three times per year. Huge tanks with many inhabitants will have to use an aquarium vacuum once per month.

However, if you have invertebrates like shrimp or bottom feeders like Plecos or catfish, then you shouldn’t need an aquarium vacuum too often.

What Other Considerations Go into Cleaning My Fish Tank?

Another thing to consider when making your cleaning schedule is penciling in when to unplug all the equipment and cleaning them. This includes the filter, water pump, light fixtures, heating pad and any other such items. Doing such a thing will keep them in good working order and you can catch any problems before they become a serious issue.

If you can preplan and foresee issues before they have the potential to start, you will be ahead of the game of what happens in the tank. So, not only should you devise a cleaning schedule, but you should come up with emergency plans and think about what you would do in the event the power goes out and etc.

Should I Deep Clean My Tank Often?

Just as with daily cleaning, deep cleaning should be rare and only when there’s a serious disease outbreak. This is because deep cleaning will drastically shift the water parameters and this will upset your fish along with the tank’s delicate chemical balance. Therefore, only deep clean when there isn’t any other way to fix a problem.

What If I Don’t Want to Clean My Fish Tank Often?

If you find that cleaning your fish tank weekly is a daunting task, then you should consider creating a tank that cleans itself. There are a few key things you have to do to make it work, but it will run much longer than a traditional setup and you won’t have to be so hands-on about it.

How to Ensure a Self-Cleaning Tank Works

The only way a self-cleaning system is going to work is if your tank parameters and conditions are stable. This includes oxygenation, temperature, pH balance, water current, filtration and etc. If you have frequent issues with your fish or experience spikes often, a self-cleaning tank setup may not be ideal.

But, if you don’t have your aquatic pets yet, then you can setup the tank to be self-cleaning when you are first beginning to establish the nitrogen cycle. The two most important components here will be to consider the fish you have carefully and incorporate a few plants.

About Your Fishy Inhabitants

Since the fish are the stars of your aquascape, their needs and habits will determine if you can create a self-cleaning tank successfully. This means getting fish that have a low bio-load and having a few cleaning fish like invertebrates or bottom feeders.

Another important aspect to the fish is to avoid overcrowding the aquarium and add tank mates gradually. Do not just put them all in at the same time. Always add the least aggressive and territorial species first and build up from there. Check to see how the roomies are faring together before adding more.

Finding fish that love to eat dead plant matter will be excellent too. For suggestions on fish, consider the table below:

InvertebratesBottom Feeders
Amano ShrimpBristlenose Plecos
Cherry Shrimp Chinese Algae Eaters
Ghost ShrimpCory Catfish
Mystery Snails Otocinclus Catfish
Nerite Snails Siamese Algae Eaters

Plants Are Key in Self-Cleaning Tanks

Plants are going to be your best friend in being able to pull off a self-sustaining tank. This is because plants will utilize the waste compounds in the tank and turn it into things like oxygen they inject throughout their environment. This means plants do a lot to keep down nitrites, nitrates and ammonia.

However, you will have to consider your plants carefully. Depending on which ones you decide to have, you may have to get a CO2 kit and/or a fertilizer-dosing pump. These will be the only way a planted tank can work that you want to operate on autopilot. Some of the best and easiest plants to care for are:

  • Duckweeds
  • Green Bruce Plant
  • Guppy Grass
  • Hornwort
  • Pearl weed
  • Water Lettuce
  • Waterweeds

Consider the Tank Size

Then you want to ensure the tank size will be right for the job. Unfortunately, larger tanks are better for this kind of setup than smaller ones. This is because the more water there is, the less likely it is to have a chemical spike, pH imbalance or temperature shift. Plus, there’s more room for plants to help purify the water.

Other Items; Equipment

Others things to consider are substrate, heater, filter and water pump. Investing in a solid water heater and pump will help ensure your self-sustaining system does what it should.

The heater will keep things at the appropriate temperature most comfortable for plants and fish. Water pumps maintain clean, filtered water through the tank and carries beneficial bacteria around.

Ensure you use a thick layer of substrate and a variety of textured filter media. Using a combination of one or more of the following is excellent for building beneficial bacteria and keeping the tank clean:

Additional Things to Think About

You can also consider additional equipment to foster a self-sustaining aquascape. This means getting timers for light fixtures, automatic feeders, fertilizer pumps for plants and etc. Allow these things to run as you’re building the nitrogen cycle of the tank and take daily readings until you have stable tank.

Self-Cleaning Tanks Still Need Daily Checks

Even if you are successful in establishing a self-cleaning tank, you still have to check it every day. It’s subject to the same problems and issues that can pop up as a traditional setup. Diseases, chemical shifts and temperature spikes are all still possible. This is also true for equipment breakdowns and algae blooms.

Also, you have to look at your plants regularly. Just like any garden flower or houseplant, you will have to prune dead leaves and make sure they’re getting enough light. Plus, you want to ensure that none of your green-growing things take over more of the tank than they should.