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Aquarium maintenance tips and fish care guidelines

Good aquarium maintenance practices will lead to a healthy aquatic environment and thriving fish, providing years of joy for the hobbyist.

Jump to routine maintenance guide!

Expensive and time-consuming problems can be prevented by spending thirty minutes on maintenance every other week.

The biggest factor for maintenance is tank stability. As long as everything is running properly and your fish are healthy, there is no need for any major change, even if the pH or hardness seems to be slightly out of range; only increases or decreases of the major aquarium water parameters will need your careful but immediate attention.

Water Changes

A key part of aquarium maintenance is the water change, which should be performed about every two weeks. In most cases, 10-15% of the tank volume is sufficient. A good method is to replace the water extracted while vacuuming the gravel, which will eliminate uneaten foods and other residues that settle on the substrate.

It is highly recommended to check the water parameters of both the tank and replacement water. Most tap water (city water) contains either chlorine or chloramine. Chlorine will air out rather quickly (kept in an aerated bucked for twenty-four hours); chloramine (chloramine = chlorine + ammonia) will not. Using a water conditioner will neutralize the chlorine in both cases, but ammonia will still be present in the latter. It has to be broken down by the nitrifying bacteria present in the aquarium. This may take longer than your fish can tolerate.

Other elements of municipal water may be phosphates, iron, and other heavy metals. To find out about your tap water chemistry, call your local water company.

Well water is usually harder than tap water, but is chlorine/chloramine free.

Filtered water should also be checked on a regular basis and should be considered part of your aquarium maintenance routine. The filter membranes could be damaged or may require replacement prior to the expiration date.

Testing Aquarium Water

Water chemistry is not visible; therefore, it is vital to check it on a regular basis. The best way to make this a routine is to check on the tank chemistry while changing the water.

The vital parameters are pH, nitrates, nitrites, and carbonate hardness (salinity for marine tanks).

Stability is the main factor with pH. pH in the range of 6.5 – 7.5 is suitable for most species, but they can adjust if slightly out of range.

KH (carbonate hardness) is the indicator of pH stability. It should be kept under close observation if it comes close to 4.5 dH (degree hardness) or 80 ppm. You must take action if it decreases any further.

Half a teaspoon of baking soda per twenty-five gallons of water will raise the kH by about 1 dH (17.8 ppm).

Nitrites should be undetectable at all times (except during cycling). If you detect nitrites make sure you check on ammonia as well.

Nitrates should be kept below 10 ppm in freshwater and 5 ppm in marine and reef (preferably 0 ppm).

Aquarium Filtration

The proper function of the filter is essential. Filter inserts (floss, Algone, activated carbon) should be changed at least every four weeks. A high fish load may require shorter periods. Trapped particles will decompose in the filter as they would in the tank. The filter should also be cleaned once a month (do not touch the bio-wheels, if present) by using the water extracted from the tank during the water change.

Recommended Aquarium Maintenance Routine


  • Make sure the equipment is running properly.
  • Watch your fish during feeding. Behavioral changes are a good indicator of a potential problem.


  • Count your fish. In case of fish death, smaller species can decompose quickly, resulting in ammonia and nitrite spikes, and eventually high nitrate levels.

Every Other Week

  • Test your water for the vital parameters: pH, carbonate hardness, nitrite and nitrate.
  • Change 10-15% of the water .
  • Vacuum the gravel .
  • Clean the aquarium walls. Filter floss is fairly cheap and very efficient. Start from the bottom upward and rinse out often.
  • Rinse filter inserts (cartridges) with the extracted water.


  • Replace filter inserts, cartridges, floss, carbon, and Algone.
  • Inspect tubing, connections, airstones, skimmers and other parts for proper operation.
  • Clean aquarium top to assure your lighting is not affected.
  • Check the expiration dates printed on the boxes and bottles of the aquarium supplies you use. Do not use after the imprinted date. Expired test kits will give false readings and may prompt you to take unnecessary action.

23 thoughts on “Aquarium maintenance tips and fish care guidelines

  1. My betta fish’s bowl is unhealthy and needs to be transferred to the new bowl I’ve got as soon as possible. It’s been about 2 hours now that I’ve used chlorine tablet in the new bowl to remove chlorine from water and I’m beginning to get worried about my betta’s health he needs to be transferred to the new bowl. Is it safe to transfer him to the new bowl if just chlorine treated with tablet 2 hours ago

    • It should state on the directions of the product how long treatment takes. Liquid products usually work instantly and I believe the tablets work quickly after they dissolve. To be safe you should consult the directions or call the manufacturer of the tablets.

  2. sir
    i had 25 fishes before a day .yesterday i changed there water and after that my twelve fishes died till now.
    pls suggest how to change water plus proprply care them also at what temperature i have to put there heater on and for how much tim i have 3 feet long aquarium .

    • You should always make small, incremental changes to your aquarium. Large water changes can disturb the balance of the eco system by removing too many beneficial bacteria need to break down waste in the tank. This can lead to a disruption of the nitrogen cycle, requiring the aquarium to “restart” the process. During this time ammonia spikes are to be expected. Ammonia is lethal to fish as it severely inflames their gills and makes it difficult to breath. Bottom-line is that you should stick to 10 – 15% water changes no more frequent then once-a-week.

      The heater for a tropical fish tank should be set between 76 – 80 degrees F. Please check first however what temperature is required for your specific species.

      We recommend lighting only for about 4 hours a day. Light at a time when you will be spending time in the room so you can enjoy the tank. Less lighting generally mean less chance for an algae outbreak. Provided the room in which the tank is, isn’t completely dark, your fish won’t require much bright light. Aquarium light in fresh water aquariums benefit the owner more then the fish.

      • Water changes should not exceed more then 20% in most cases. 10 – 15% regularly is ideal. Large water changes are generally not recommended. In some circumstances they may be effective, however sudden and large environmental changes can severely stress fish making them more vulnerable to disease.

  3. Dear sir
    In our aquarium there is small white color species whose stick on fish and because of that one by one fish is death.
    We also change the water but there is no results this amall species is present as it is
    So kindly suggest some antibiotics for such type of bacteria

    • You should talk to your local fish store professional immediately. Describe the exact symptoms and they will gladly recommend a product for treatment. We do not sell medication and can not diagnose medical problems over the internet. Please see our health guide for a helpful overview of common fish diseases.

    • The obvious consequence will be the rise of waste. The accumulating waste will be converted into ammonia, nitrites, and eventually nitrates. While nitrates can’t be avoided in the aquarium altogether, they are commonly removed by means of regular water changes. Neglecting to remove organic waste with a filter however will likely result in far greater nitrate levels, eventually leading to algae outbreaks and green aquarium water.
      Also see:

      The less obvious result of a “no-filter” setup is that oxygen in the tank may become severely depleted. Oxygen primarily enters the fish tank through surface agitation, which the aquarium filters return usually provides effectively.
      Also see:

  4. Honestly, most fish tanks are pretty depressing. Taking a fish from the wide open sea and sticking them in a little bowl is kinda cruel, so keeping it clean and safe is the least we can do for the little guys, so they have a happy life.

  5. My son is really into fish, so I am going to buy some for him. I am glad I read this article first though. I didn’t know about the pH requirement.

  6. High nitrates is a relative term, and depends on the species and the overall environment. Tab water, treated with a water conditioner, is a safe source, but not directly linked to nitrates. With water changes, nitrates are temporarily diluted. Keeping in mind that nitrates are the end result of decaying organic matter. Algone for example removes more than just nitrates. Proteins, fats and other substances are removed, otherwise they would eventually turn into nitrates. I would say 20ppm would be safe to introduce new fish. The lower the better of course.

  7. I am planning on having Blood parrot cichlids in my aquarium. I cleaned the tank and took some of the water for testing. They told me that nitrates were too high. I bought several products to combat this problem, but still it is unstable. I was then told by a fish expert that the regular tap water is safe. Before I get my fish, how can I get my aquarium environment safe for my cichlids?

  8. Its also not advisable to always leave the lighting system on for 24Hrs. This is thought that light stimulates the growth of algae which may endanger the life of fish in my aquarium. Since this will make them active.

    • You are absolutely correct in that excessive lighting can cause increased algae growth in the aquarium. We generally recommend not lighting for more then 6 hours a day. Less if an algae problem already exists. Of course this is just a general guide and special consideration needs to be given to aquariums that require additional and/or specific lighting such as reef tanks and planted aquariums.

      In addition to light algae also requires nutrients, especially nitrate, for growth. Therefore the lighting schedule as well as nitrate control are the best means for controlling aquarium algae growth.

  9. My unused Aquarium needs cleaning brfore I can again put fish in it. How do I go about this? What products can I safetly use as not to harm the fish. Thanks Agnes

    • Thoroughly rinse the tank with clean, warm, fresh water. If there is some grime buildup on the glass then you can use any mild detergent to clean the tank more thoroughly. A window cleaner will work as well. If you do use a detergent or window cleaner, make sure you rinse the tank assuring ALL of the soap is removed. Soap residues are harmful to fish and other livestock. It is also harmful to the natural nitrifying bacteria, which is needed to keep the aquarium healthy and balanced. Hope this helps.

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