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How to clean a fish tank efficiently

From filter to glass, learn how to clean out a fish tank to keep your house clean and your little swimmer happy!


fish tank

Key steps

Follow our key steps when cleaning your fish tank:

  • Monitor pH levels and clear obvious gunk regularly.

  • Clean fish tank glass by scraping away algae.

  • Use a water syphon to clean fish tank gravel and sand.

Keeping your fish tank clean is a vital part of making sure your little Nemo remains happy. Peering through the glass to check that it’s clear of debris is one thing but learning how to clean a fish tank properly will help keep your fish healthy. From several general rules to the specifics of how to clean fish tank filter parts, here are our top tips.

Use a razor blade to carefully remove stubborn algae on the glass of your fish tank. If your tank is acrylic, scrape away algae with a plastic blade.

How to clean out a fish tank

Before we look at specifics – like how to clean sand in a fish tank – let’s look at some general rules you should follow when cleaning a fish tank:

  1. Monitor pH levels regularly – they need to be right for your fish to thrive.

  2. Clear out obvious gunk – use an algae scraper to clear it from the glass.

  3. Change a quarter of the tank’s water every couple of weeks.

  4. Gather all your supplies before doing a thorough clean of your fish tank.

  5. Try to clean your tank with the fish still inside as moving them too often can cause stress.

  6. If you have to move your fish to clean the tank properly then put them in a clean bucket of water.

  7. Remove any accessories from your fish tank and start by cleaning the exterior and interior of the fish tank.

  8. Use an algae pad to wipe the glass on both sides. For tough marks, use a clean stiff-bristled brush.

  9. Clean the fish tank accessories once they've been removed from the tank.

  10. Remove and clean the filter last - make sure it is working correctly when you put it back in.

How to clean sand in fish tanks

If you’ve chosen sand as the base in your aquarium it’s important to make sure you clean it thoroughly. The process you take will depend on the type of sand you use but you should carefully move the sand from the bottom to the top when raking it in order to dislodge debris carefully.

For play sand

  • Start off by raking over the surface with your hand. This should bring debris to the top. 

  • Hover your syphon about half an inch above the sand and hoover away the debris. 

  • You’re bound to pick up some sand particles but they can be easily replaced. It’s a good idea to add in new sand every couple of weeks anyway.

For planting sand

  • Using a rake and syphon can disrupt this soil and release ammonia in some varieties.

  • Take extra care and read the packaging first.

  • Special handling may be required. 

How to clean fish tank gravel & accessories

Cleaning fish tank gravel is important, not only because you’re clearing out the fallen algae but also because you can remove old food and other debris too.

  • Use a water syphon to hoover away all of the leftover particles. 

  • Dispose of the water you syphon carefully.

  • Be thorough, as any debris that you miss will just end up back in the filter.

  • Clean any accessories, such as plastic plants, by wiping them with plain water and a clean cloth.

  • Try to avoid using strong cleaning chemicals. If you do have to use them, rinse items thoroughly before putting them back in the fish tank with your fish.

How to clean fish tank glass

The build-up of algae on the glass is one thing that you’ll definitely want to get rid of.

  • Use a specialist algae scrubber to scrape the debris. 

  • Once you’ve got it loose it will fall to the bottom of the tank - try and remove as much as you can.

  • Remove it from the bottom of the tank by learning how to clean fish tank gravel.

  • You can clean the outside of the tank in the same was as normal glass because it won't come into contact with the tank water. Read our article on using homemade glass cleaner to learn more about this.

How to clean fish tank filter

We’ve looked at how to clean a fish tank interior, its gravel, and the sand so the final task is cleaning the filter.

  • Simply remove it and clean each of the parts. 

  • Soak the removable parts in water from your tank – that way all of the good bacteria will go back into the filter.

  • Avoid using strong chemicals - your filter should just need a good rinse.

A clean home will keep your little swimmer happy, and once you know how to clean out a fish tank effectively you can make sure the environment is healthy. Put our top tips in place and enjoy watching your fish happily swimming around! 

Thinking of getting other pets? Read our article on preparing your home for a puppy!