The Beginners Aquarium: Basic Aquarium Maintenance
As much as sometimes we wish it were so our aquariums simply will not ever take care of themselves so that means we’ve got do something about it. We need to perform basic maintenance to keep our fish happy and healthy and looking its best.
The first thing you have to do to make sure your aquarium’s water is in tip top shape. Doing weekly water tests is a really important step to finding out how healthy your aquarium is and how large your water changes are going to have to be when it comes time to do them. The most important parameters to focus on when doing your water tests are ammonia, nitrate and nitrite, ammonia being probably the worst of the three. It is a very caustic substance and in any sort of amount within your aquarium can do a little bit of harm to your fish. In high amounts it can definitely be fatal so you want to try to avoid it altogether.
Nitrates on the other hand can build up anywhere between zero to 40 parts per million with it still being relatively safe. Your fish in above that is a definite we need to do a water change now kind of time. For those who have just set up their aquariums and added their fish you can expect to get a bit of an ammonia reading within the first two to three weeks of having that aquarium. That should slowly dissipate and start to turn into a nitrate reading. If you do notice your ammonia starts to creep up past 0.5 per million that means it is getting beyond the safe zone and you want to do an immediate water change to bring them back down to a safe level for your fish while your biological filter kicks in and starts to convert that ammonia to nitrate. If ammonia nitrate or nitrite have reached the caution zone or danger zone it is time to do an immediate water change and if you are in the danger zone a 50 percent water change is advisable to try to get those nitrates, nitrites or ammonia back down to a safe level for your fish.
Let’s say you do your water test and everything looks great, then you can go ahead and not do a water change that week and wait for the following week or whatever your next scheduled water is. Just make sure to do that 25% water change at least once every two weeks regardless. If your test kit says everything is fine what that is going to do is basically make sure that you don’t end up with a build up in the gravel or in other places in the aquarium that could then turn into a nitrate or ammonia problem that you don’t want to deal with and could harm your fish irreparably so that they are not alive. Quick little tip before doing water change. I always like to give the inside of the tank a quick wipe down, that little film of algae you get inside the tank that’s going to float around after you’ve done scraping it off which luckily you’re going to be able to pull out during your water change. So what I do here, I do it first so that is floating around so I can suck it out with the water change. Now it is time for arguably the most important part of aquarium maintenance which is water change. To do a water change safely we’ve got to start by unplugging our filter, our heater and any other equipment that is running inside the tank.
If you let a filter run dry, which can happen when you lower the water in the tank, it might destroy the impeller. Impellers aren’t meant to run dry. They get overheated and it can burn out the motors. Not good. Also the heater, it is very important you unplug it. Some heaters have an auto shutoff function if the water gets too low, but not all of them, so I unplug the heater and this will ensure that it does not accidentally blow up when you refill the tank. Because whether you know this or not you’re going to know now hot glass, cold water, kaboom. Now with all your equipment unplugged it is time to set up for that water change so grab your bucket and your siphon and get prepared to clean that water. When doing a water change you should aim for somewhere between 25 to 50% of the water volume of your aquarium. Now it’s important not to go over 50% because if you do too much water all at once you could throw off the aquarium chemistry, everything. During our water change we actually want to remove more than just water, we want to pull out all the debris and waste that is trapped under the gravel and we can do that using our gravel vacuum or gravel siphon and how do we do that. We take the bell of the gravel siphon which is a big tube end we are going to stick that directly into the gravel. You are going to see all the ways come up from underneath and eventually start to run clean that means that spot’s done. You can lift the gravel tube up and move over to the next spot.
If you find the tank is draining too quickly for you to cover the entire gravel be before you’ve reached your 25 to 50 percent water volume what you can do is actually crimp the tubing between spots on the gravel to down the flow that way you don’t pull out too much water at once. If you find the opposite is true and you’re done your gravel bed but the tank is not yet drained just go ahead and leave the tube in there. It will continue to drain the tank. You don’t have to clean the gravel anymore once you’re all done removing the water and cleaning the gravel. You can go ahead and take that water and dispose of it. Pro tip though, if you have house plants you can go ahead and use that water to keep your house plants fertilized and happy. It is very nutrient rich water and as long as you haven’t dumped medication or anything funky in your aquarium you’re good to go. Now that it is time to refill the tank we are going to take that fish safe bucket we just drained your tank water in to give it a quick rinse under some tap water and set it aside ready to get refilled.
Now it is really important that when you’re getting water to refill the aquarium that it is the same temperature as the water in the tank, it can even be a little bit warmer by a couple of degrees. It can never be colder and it’s really important that you get it right because if you add that back to the tank you can send your fish into shock and they don’t usually survive that so make sure it is spot-on. The best way to do that is with a thermometer. You should have a thermometer in your tank that tells you the temperature your fish are enjoying. Have a second one for water changes you can hold under the tap water to make sure that that temperature is the same as the aquarium temperature. You can also do it by hand if you like but that usually means you have to stick your hand in the tank and then run over to where the taps running and then do that more than once to make sure it’s spot-on and why do that when you can just get a thermometer. Now that the tap is running with the correct temperature of water go ahead and grab your bucket and fill it up with as much water as you removed from your aquarium you can fill it up with a little bit more if you’d like. There is no harm in that because you could always use that leftover water later to top up the aquarium from evaporation.
Now that you’ve got a bucket full of tap water you have to make that tap water safe for fish. Tap water has things like heavy metals , chlorine, chloramine and other nasties that are not good for your fish. You don’t want them exposed to it but water conditioner will go ahead and take those things and neutralize them so that your fish are not harmed. Every kind of water conditioner has instructions on the back so make sure you follow those instructions and add the appropriate amount of water conditioner for the amount of water you have in your bucket. Once you have done that give it a quick stir. I like to use a fish net because I know it’s never been anywhere other than about the tank so it is going to be safe for the fish. You don’t want to use cooking utensils because if you ever used a soap on them it could affect the wellbeing of your fish.
Now we can head back to the tank and start filling it up. When you are adding the water back to the tank make sure you pour that bucket nice and slow. You don’t want to dump the water in. That could spray your gravel everywhere, move your decorations around and cause turmoil for you fish. Now that your tank is refilled it’s time to plug in all that equipment that you unplugged prior to doing the water change. That means your filter which is a life support system of your tank, your heater to make sure your fish don’t get uncomfortable and anything else you might have unplugged and to tie that beautiful bow on that water change I like to add a little bit of s bacterial supplement to kind of make up for the beneficial bacteria that was removed during the water change.You only need to add enough to make up for the water that you removed so if you took five gallons you want to use five gallons worth of that bacterial just follow the instructions on the back and you’re good to go.
Next up its time for filter maintenance. Now it is really important to maintain your filter since it is the life-support system of your aquarium but I will caution you, you never want to clean your filter into a water change on the same day you want at least three days apart so don’t ever do those together. Very important. You can strip way too much bacteria and it could cause a tank crash and ammonia spike and all kinds of bad stuff so don’t do that but when you are ready to do your filter maintenance take a look at the replacement cartridges because typically they don’t last longer than one month. Those pads and cartridges should be replaced as often as necessary. Every time you do a water change look at those filter pads if they are dirty wait a few days, change them out.
Your filter should also have a biological media component to it. That media you don’t want to throw away entirely. Usually you’d replace a portion of it, in some cases you don’t replace any of it you just keep it and keep using it but what you should do is give it a rinse. never in tap water.
Water has got chlorine and chloramines and other bad things that can harm the beneficial bacteria that you’ve worked so hard to establish in that filter so make sure to only use maybe a cup of tank water . Give it a quick rinse and put it back in the filter it’s good to go. the mechanical components of your filter are also an important thing to take a look at. things like the impeller which is responsible for moving water from the tank through the filter and back out need to be cleaned. If you don’t take care of them they can burn out or break over time meaning you might be out of a filter for a while.
Sure you can get a replacement part but your fish are not going to like it if your aquarium has no filter for a few days so take the time at least once a month and give all of that a quick cleaning. You can use a filter brush or aquarium safe sponge and give it a quick wipe that’s enough to make on the back and you’re good to go. The mechanical components of your filter are also an important thing to take a look at. Things like the impeller which is responsible for moving water from the tank through the filter and back out need to be cleaned. If you don’t take care of them they can burn out or break over time meaning you might be out of a filter for a while. Sure you can get a replacement part but your fish are not going to like it if your aquarium has no filter for a few days so take the time at least once a month and give all of that a quick cleaning. You can use a filter brush or aquarium safe sponge and give it a quick wipe. That’s enough to make that you don’t have a build up of debris around the impeller moving components and your filter should run like new for a very long time and since you are doing this to your filter go ahead and wipe down the other components inside your tank. The heater will work most efficiently when it is not covered in stuff. Suction cups will also stay supple longer and hold better grip if you keep them clean
Now technically we have done our maintenance for the health of the aquarium but we can’t overlook the beauty of the aquarium from the outside so now is the time that you are going to want to go ahead and wipe up any water you may have spilled around the aquarium and give the glass on the outside a quick wipe with a nice eco cloth or some paper towel and then stand back and look at the glory of your aquarium and how happy your fish are swimming around in their clean tank.