Learn about the essentials of aquarium maintenance. Maintenance should include regular water changes, servicing the filter & testing the aquarium water.
Spending about thirty minutes on aquarium maintenance every other week, helps prevent common and time consuming problems.
The main goal of routine maintenance is a stable and balanced aquarium.
If everything is running properly and your fish are healthy, there is no need for any major change, even if the pH or hardness is slightly out of range. Only increases or decreases of any major water parameter will require careful but immediate attention.
Aquarium Water Changes
Water changes are arguably the most important part of routine aquarium maintenance
Scheduled aquarium maintenance would not be complete without the water change. We recommend an average water change of 10 – 15%, every two weeks.
Maximize your efforts by using a siphon to extract aquarium water while “vacuuming” the gravel. This will remove uneaten fish food, fish excrement, and other harmful waste settled at the bottom of the aquarium.
When performing aquarium maintenance, test the water parameters of both, the aquarium and replacement water.
Tap water (municipal water) contains chlorine or chloramine. Chlorine will air out if kept in an aerated bucket for twenty-four hours. Chloramine will not. Chloramine = chlorine + ammonia.
Either way, it is best to use a water conditioner to neutralize the chlorine. We should note that ammonia will remain in the water if it contained chloramine, even after treatment with a conditioner. Nitrifying bacteria will break down the ammonia after adding the water to the aquarium.
Other elements of municipal water may be phosphates, iron, and other heavy metals. Contact your water company if you aren’t sure it’s safe for use in your aquarium.
Generally, well water is harder than municipal water, but it should be chlorine and chloramine free.
If you are using filtered water, it’s still a good habit to regularly check it for vital parameters. Replace the filter membranes according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Testing the Aquarium Water
Regular aquarium maintenance would not be complete without testing important water parameters
Because we can’t determine water quality by looking at it, it is very important to do regular testing. Testing your aquarium water is like checking the body’s vital signs. The results can tell us a lot about imbalances, therefore allowing us to detect and prevent looming problems.
Vital parameters to test as part of routine aquarium maintenance include nitrate, nitrite, pH, carbonate hardness, and salinity (saltwater only)
We highly recommend including testing in your regular maintenance schedule. Below are our basic guidelines for testing important aquarium water parameters.
Nitrates should be kept below 10 ppm in freshwater, and 5 ppm or lower in saltwater and reef aquariums.
Nitrites should be undetectable at all times (except during cycling). If nitrite is detectable, be sure to test for ammonia as well.
pH must remain stable. pH in the range of 6.5 – 7.5 is suitable for most species, but they should be fine if it’s slightly out of range.
KH (carbonate hardness)
KH (carbonate hardness) is a measure of pH stability. If KH drops close to 4.5 dH (degree hardness) or 80 ppm, you should monitor it frequently. If hardness drops below 45 dH, the pH of the aquarium water will crash.
A half teaspoon of baking soda per twenty-five gallons of water, raises kH by approximately 1 dH (17.8 ppm).
Regular aquarium maintenance includes servicing the filter
The aquarium filter should be serviced monthly. A densely stocked aquarium may require more frequent filter cleanings.
Think of your aquarium’s filter the same way you think of your kitchen trash can. The filter is nothing more than a receptacle for waste. Once it gets “full”, you need to empty it, otherwise it will contaminate the home of your fish.
Servicing and maintaining the filter is simple and straight forward. Change dirty filter inserts, along with any media (activated carbon, Algone, etc.) that is due to be replaced.
Occasionally a complete rinse of the filter is also required. The frequency depends on individual tank conditions, but generally once every 4 weeks is adequate. Avoid touching the bio wheels or any other beneficial bacteria supporting media during this process.
Important: Only use clean, fresh water when rinsing the filter or any other aquarium equipment. Never scrub the inside of the filter. Do not use soap, bleach, or chemical cleaners, because they will kill the beneficial bacteria required for healthy aquarium life.
Recommended Aquarium Maintenance Routine
A complete aquarium maintenance schedule includes daily, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly tasks
- 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 vital parameters: pH, carbonate hardness, nitrite, and nitrate.
- Clean the aquarium walls. Filter floss is fairly cheap and very efficient. Start from the bottom upward and rinse filter floss or scrubber frequently.
- Vacuum the gravel.
- Change 10-15% of the water.
- Rinse filter inserts with the extracted water.
- Replace filter inserts, cartridges, floss, carbon, and Algone. Rinse entire filter if needed.
- 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.
Every aquarium is different and will require a maintenance schedule that is best suited for its unique conditions. Use our aquarium maintenance guidelines outlined in this article as a starting point. From there, you will be able to set your own timelines.
Always remember, it is far more challenging to maintain an overstocked and overfed aquarium, so make sure to avoid both.