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The Ultimate Guide To Aquarium Maintenance In 2023

There’s nothing quite like the peaceful sound of bubbling water and the calming presence of aquatic life to make you forget the chaos of the outside world. But, as an aquarium owner, you’ll know that having a beautiful, thriving underwater ecosystem takes time and effort. This guide will take you through every aspect of aquarium maintenance, from water changes and filter cleaning to substrate maintenance and equipment selection.

By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to keep your aquarium looking its best and your fish their happiest.

Why Is Aquarium Maintenance Important?

Aquarium maintenance is crucial because, unlike bodies of water in nature, an aquarium is a closed system with a relatively small amount of water. Nothing goes into or out of the tank unless you make it happen. Although filters help, they must be regularly maintained to avoid becoming clogged and losing their effectiveness.

Meanwhile, fish continually produce waste, uneaten food decomposes, and potentially harmful byproducts accumulate. The only way to ensure that an aquarium remains clean and healthy is by performing regular maintenance. Otherwise, the fish’s habitat will become unhealthy over time.

Neglecting your aquarium can lead to many problems, including water quality issues, unhealthy fish, and unsightly algae growth. On the other hand, maintaining a clean and healthy aquarium has numerous benefits for you and your aquatic pets. I’ve included these benefits below.

Clean Water

For starters, regular aquarium maintenance helps to keep the water clean and clear. This is not only aesthetically pleasing, but essential for the health of your fish and other aquatic creatures. On the other hand, dirty water can lead to a build-up of harmful chemicals, bacteria, and other toxins, which can cause a range of health problems for your fish. A dirty aquarium can also create an unpleasant odor, making spending time in your home or office less enjoyable.

A Well-lived and Full Lifespan

Fish living in clean, well-maintained environments are less likely to get sick or stressed, increasing their lifespan significantly and ensuring your fish live healthy and happy lives for the duration. It also helps to prevent algae growth. Algae can be unsightly and compete with your plants and fish for nutrients and light, affecting their health in the process.

Types of Aquarium Maintenance

To ensure your fishy friends stay healthy and happy, you must regularly perform different types of aquarium maintenance. So, let’s dive in and explore the different types you need to know.

Water Changes

How often you need to do this depends on your tank size, the number of fish, and the type of filter you use. In general, I recommend performing a 25% water change every two weeks for a small aquarium (up to 20 gallons) and every week for a larger aquarium. However, you should monitor the water parameters regularly and adjusting the frequency as needed.

How to Do a Water Change Like a Pro

To perform a water change, you’ll need


  1. Before you start, turn off all the equipment that runs on electricity in your tank, such as filters and air stones. This prevents any damage to them while you’re performing the water change.
  2. Use a siphon or a gravel vacuum to remove any debris or waste accumulated on the substrate. It’s essential to get as much out as possible, as this is where harmful bacteria and other nasties can accumulate.
  3. Siphon about 25% of the water and transfer it to a bucket. 
  4. Add a water conditioner to the new water before adding it to the tank. That removes harmful chemicals and ensures the water is safe for your fish.
  5. Slowly pour the new water back into the tank, taking care not to disturb the fish or the substrate. 

Tips for Making the Water Change Process Easier and More Efficient

β€’ Invest in a good quality siphon or gravel vacuum for easy and efficient cleaning.

β€’ Use a hosepipe attachment for the faucet to make filling the tank quicker and more comfortable.

β€’ Always monitor the water parameters after a water change to ensure everything is balanced and healthy for your fish.

Filter Cleaning

Your aquarium’s filter is crucial in keeping the water clean and healthy for your fish. However, over time, the filter can become clogged with debris and lose its effectiveness, leading to poor water quality and potential health problems for your fish. To avoid this, it’s vital to clean your filter regularly.

The frequency of filter cleaning depends on your filter type and the size of your aquarium. Generally, you should aim to clean your filter at least once a month, but it’s best to monitor your aquarium’s water quality and clean the filter as needed.

General Instructions For Cleaning Filters

  1. After turning off the electric source, remove the filter media, such as filter pads, cartridges, or sponges, from the filter.
  2. Rinse the filter media in a bucket of aquarium water to eliminate debris and waste.
  3. If the filter media is heavily soiled, get a new one.
  4. Thoroughly clean the filter housing and impeller with a brush or sponge to remove any build-up or debris.
  5. Reassemble the filter and turn it back on.

🐠Here’s a more in-depth guide to cleaning your aquarium filter, including step-by-step instructions.

Substrate Cleaning

Substrate cleaning is a crucial aspect of aquarium maintenance. The substrate, or the material on the bottom of your aquarium, can harbor debris, uneaten food, and waste, which harms your fish.

When cleaning your substrate, the best tool is a gravel vacuum. This device uses suction to remove debris and waste from the substrate, making it an essential tool in any aquarist’s toolkit. Simply insert the vacuum into the substrate and let the suction work.

Tips for Keeping Your Substrate Clean and Healthy

  • Choose the right type of substrate for your aquarium. Gravel, sand, and soil are common substrates, but each has pros and cons. Research what’s best for your tank and its inhabitants.
  • Use a gravel vacuum or siphon to clean the substrate regularly. This process will remove debris and waste, preventing the build-up of harmful bacteria.
  • Don’t overfeed your fish. Excess food can fall to the bottom and create debris, leading to harmful bacteria growth.
  • Use live plants in your tank. They help absorb excess nutrients and prevent the build-up of waste.
  • Avoid overstocking your aquarium. The more fish you have, the more waste they’ll produce, leading to a higher likelihood of debris build-up.

🐠 We’ve put together a full guide on aquarium substrates, including how to choose the right one, how to maintain and clean it, and how to use a substrate cleaner.

How Often Should I Clean My Aquarium?

When cleaning your aquarium, it’s crucial to find a balance between keeping it clean and not disrupting the beneficial bacteria that help keep the water healthy for your fish. You might not need to clean every surface every day or week, but it’s necessary to clean colony-rich areas like the filters and substrate on a staggered basis. Too much cleaning can disrupt the nitrogen cycle, leading to an ammonia and nitrite spike that can harm your fish. It’s essential to test the water a few days after a major cleaning to ensure everything is in order.

There are several stages to maintaining an aquarium, which can be done either daily, weekly, or monthly.

Daily Maintenance

Visually inspect the tank. Check that the filter is operating at full strength, the lights are functioning correctly, and every other piece of equipment is running as it should be. Also, ensure that the water temperature falls within the acceptable range and count your fish to ensure they look healthy. 

After feeding your fish, look at the bottom of the tank for any uneaten food. If you notice excess food often, adjust how much you feed your fish. If there’s a build-up of uneaten food on the substrate, use a siphon or gravel vacuum to remove it. Also, check to see if the water level has decreased, and top it off with treated water when necessary. 

Start a journal or log of your daily checks, as it’s beneficial in detecting patterns or trends in your tank’s conditions. It takes only a few minutes but can provide valuable insights into your aquarium’s health. For instance, a gradual temperature drop may indicate an issue with the heater.

Weekly/Bi-Weekly Maintenance

Some aquarium experts suggest doing partial water changes weekly, while others recommend every two weeks. Regardless of the frequency, it’s critical to regularly perform partial water changes and ensure you use treated water free of chlorine and close in temperature to the aquarium. Before doing a water change, perform other tasks like cleaning algae off the inside of the aquarium glass.

Another essential task to perform weekly or bi-weekly is the general cleaning of the tank.

Here’s How to Do a General Tank Cleaning

  • Use a non-ammonia, aquarium-safe cleaner or a damp cloth to wipe down the outside tank surfaces.
  • Gently shake plants, whether live or artificial, to remove debris.
  • Scrape the inside glass to remove algae and let everything settle for ten to fifteen minutes. Then, use a siphon to remove debris from the substrate before doing a partial water change.
  • Keep a record of the maintenance performed and any unusual occurrences in the tank in your aquarium journal or log.

Monthly Maintenance

Perform monthly water tests to check pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. You may also want to test for high phosphate levels if you have an algae problem, as it could lead to fish di. If you see any abnormal results, recheck them after performing a partial water change.

Next, inspect your live plants, remove dead leaves, and trim excess growth. If you use exhaustible media, such as activated carbon or zeolite, replace it, and rinse the mechanical filter media using the water saved from the water change. If the filter media is clogged or very dirty, replace it, but avoid replacing all the filter media simultaneously.

Finally, note the maintenance you performed and the test results in your log or journal.

Periodic Maintenance

Apart from the regular maintenance tasks, some other studies should be performed periodically. These include replacing the light bulbs yearly, even if they haven’t burned out yet. Check the air pump tubing and canister filter tubing and clean them as necessary. Use a filter brush to clean the canister filter intake. If you have live plants in your aquarium, fertilize them periodically to keep them healthy and vibrant.

🐠Did you know…self-cleaning fish tanks take the work and mess out of maintaining your aquarium. Learn more here.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Cleaning Your Aquarium

  1. Removing all the water from your tank at once can harm your fish and other aquatic inhabitants. Removing only about 25% to 30% of the water at a time is best.
  2. Over-cleaning your filter can disrupt the beneficial bacteria on the filter media. These bacteria help to break down waste and maintain a healthy environment for your fish. Only clean your filter when necessary.
  3. Soap and chemical cleaners can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Use only warm water and a soft-bristle brush or sponge when cleaning your aquarium.
  4. Tap water contains chlorine and chloramines that can harm fish and other aquatic life. Always use a water conditioner to remove these chemicals before adding tap water to your aquarium.

How Do I Choose the Right Equipment for My Aquarium


The type of filtration you need depends on the type of fish and plants in your aquarium, the size of your tank, and the bioload of the fish. Several types of filters are available, including hang-on-back, canister, and internal filters.

I’d recommend the Fedour aquarium filter because it’s submersible and can efficiently handle over 35 gallons.


A heater is necessary to maintain a consistent water temperature in your aquarium. Choose a heater that’s appropriate for the size of the tank and has a reliable thermostat. 

You can’t go wrong with the HITOP aquarium heater. It’s adjustable and fitted with suction cups to streamline the attachment.


Lighting isn’t just for aesthetics; it’s also necessary for the health of plants and some fish species. Different lighting types are available, including LED, fluorescent, and incandescent, and the choice depends on the type of plants and fish in the tank.

I like the Hygger aquarium light because it’s fully submersible, and has an adjustable timer, with varying modes of brightness.

Testing Kits

Regularly testing the water parameters is crucial to maintaining a healthy environment for the fish. Several testing kits are available, including pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate testing kits. Choose a reliable brand and test the water regularly.

The SJ WAVE aquarium testing kit provides fast and accurate results, and also features a thermometer to help you test for temperature.

Cleaning Tools

Having the right cleaning tools can make the maintenance process much easier. Some essential tools include a gravel vacuum, algae scraper, and bucket for water changes.

The UPPETTOOLS cleaning kit, is a six-piece set with a long handle to help you clean hard-to-reach areas.

Troubleshooting Aquarium Problems

Cloudy Water

Various factors, including overfeeding, improper filtration, and excess waste, can cause cloudy water. To troubleshoot this issue, check your filtration system to ensure it works correctly. Then, reduce feeding and perform partial water changes to remove excess waste.

If the problem persists, test the water parameters for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and adjust as necessary. Consider adding a water clarifier product to clear up the water quickly.

Algae Growth

Algae is a common problem in aquariums and can be caused by excessive light or nutrients. To troubleshoot this issue, reduce the amount of light your aquarium receives. You can also reduce nutrient levels by performing more frequent water changes, cleaning your filter media, and reducing the food you feed your fish. In addition, consider adding live plants or algae-eating fish to your tank to help keep algae growth under control.

Equipment Failures

Equipment failures can be caused by improper installation, wear and tear, and power outages. To troubleshoot this issue, check your equipment regularly and perform maintenance as necessary. Also, consider investing in a backup power supply to prevent equipment failures during power outages.

Bonus: How To Create A Perfect Aquascape Design

Pick the Right Plants

Choose aquatic plants that suit your aquarium’s lighting, substrate, and water conditions. Don’t just go for pretty plants; make sure they’re practical and easy to maintain.

Be Creative with Decorations

From natural rocks and driftwood to artificial caves and castles, the options for decorations are endless. Pick ones that fit your theme and create a natural-looking habitat for your fish.

Choose a Focal Point

Decide on a focal point for your aquascape, such as a group of tall plants or an interesting rock formation. That’ll help guide your design and create a sense of balance in the tank.

🐠We’ve put together a how-to guide for an awesome aquarium, with 7 styles of aquascaping.

Maintaining A Dreamy Aquarium

Maintaining an aquarium can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, but it requires a lot of attention and care to keep your aquatic pets happy and healthy. We hope this guide has been helpful to you and has provided valuable information on how to maintain your aquarium properly.

Did you enjoy this guide? Let us know in the comments below, and please share it with other aquarium enthusiasts. Thank you for reading, and happy fishkeeping!

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