Though never a pleasant chore, aquariums need regular maintenance. Water changes keep the fish happy, and prevent problems from arising in a fish tank.

The two things that aquarium owners hate the most are when fish die, and having to clean the fish tank. Yet, water changes and other maintenance procedures prevent fish from dying. Also, the more regularly maintenance is performed on an aquarium, the less time it will take during each maintenance session to keep the tank clean.

Here are routine aquarium maintenance procedures that should be carried out once a month. These steps to cleaning an aquarium should take less than an hour if done regularly.

Water Changes

An aquarium should never be completely emptied of its water. If all the water is removed, then the biological filter has to be restablished. It is much better to remove 20% of the water every 3-4 weeks.

The best way to remove the water is with a siphon hose, or gravel vacuum. Aquarium siphons can be purchased at most pet stores. Gravel vacs are simple to use. The steps to using a gravel siphon are as follows:

  1. Hold the gravel vac upside down in the aquarium until it fills up with water.
  2. Raise the siphon until the water starts to move down the tube.
  3. Quickly place the gravel vac back into the aquarium, upside down, before it empties, and flip it right side up.
  4. Suck the dirt out of the gravel by moving the siphon throughout the tank.
  5. It may take a few tries to get the timing right, but like riding a bike, anyone can do it eventually.

Each area of the aquarium gravel should be siphoned till no more dirt or debris comes up. This debris sitting in the gravel can cause ammonia to spike, and feed unsightly algae. Regular changes of aquarium water with a siphon prevents algae and cleans the water, keeping fish healthy. Remember to always add water conditioner to any new tap water placed into the aquarium.

Changing Filter Cartridges

Most aquarium filters utilize carbon filters to keep the water clean. Carbon absorbs any harmful nutrients in aquarium water that could harm fish. Once activated, carbon only lasts for 30 days, so it needs to be changed every month.

Some aquarium filtration systems come with separate cartridges for foam (which filters out solid debris) and carbon. Foam filters should never be changed on the same day as carbon. Changing both foam and carbon filter cartridges on the same day may remove too much beneficial bacteria from the biological filter. It is better to change the foam 2 weeks after the carbon.

When changing any filter cartridges, it is wise to use a beneficial bacteria supplement.

Make sure the water is flowing strongly out of the filter. If the water is at a trickle after changing the cartridges, the intake tube may need rinsing.

Live and Plastic Plant Maintenance

If an aquarium contains live plants, any dead leaves should be trimmed off and removed from the water. Rotting plant debris will cause ammonia and nitrates levels in the aquarium water to spike.

If an aquarium contains plastic plants, they may need to be cleaned from time to time, as they become covered with algae. The best way to do this is to soak the plastic aquarium plants in a solution of half bleach and half water until the algae disappears (5-10 minutes). Rinse the plastic plants very well before placing them back in the tank, as too much residual bleach will kill fish.

Never use soap to clean anything in an aquarium. Soap does not dissipate like bleach, and will stick to whatever it can in the tank, killing fish.

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