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Aquarium Maintenance 101

November 29, 2015

You wouldn’t dream of driving your car for more than 3,000 miles without changing your oil. You’d never let your computer operate for months at a time without some software cleanup. So why would you treat your aquarium any differently?
Like most long term concerns, periodic maintenance is a must if you want to keep your tank in good working order. This is a good lesson for beginner aquarium owners all the way up to the masters of the fish bowl. No tank, regardless of size, can thrive without scheduled, preventative maintenance. Here are some of the basics of aquarium maintenance.


This article is a guest post by Adam from The Aquarium Guide. You can check out my guest article for The Aquarium Guide about blackwater aquariums here!


Water, Water Everywhere

It may sound obvious, but it’s worth repeating: keep your tank’s water clean. Regularly cleaned water is vital to the long term wellbeing of your fish. You should already be adhering to a regularly scheduled water replacement schedule, but if you are not, then now’s the time to start.

Changing the water will help to regulate pH levels and get rid of harmful waste products and other detritus. Plan on changing out one-fifth to one-quarter of the water in a regularly stocked community tank every week, and more if you keep messy fish like goldfish. A cleaning system like Python can really help with this!
While refilling the tank, be sure to do so slowly and with water of the same temperature. Acclimation is key: you don’t want to shock your pets by putting them in water that is too hot, too cold, or does not have the proper pH balance.

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Bettas should never be kept in unheated tanks. DSC_3648 by gomagoti

Not too Hot, Not too Cold

Like their wild counterparts, fish in your aquarium like both the proper temperature as well as a stable temperature. Typically speaking, saltwater fish will want warmer water while freshwater fish prefer slightly cooler temperatures. The temperature should be accurate, but stability is almost as important as the temperature itself. Wild swings in temperature can be quite hazardous to the health of your tank’s inhabitants.

If your fish require a high temperature, make sure you get a heater and check the thermometer every day. If they require lower temperatures you may need an aquarium chiller to counteract some of the added heat from the various lights, pumps, and other various sources of additional heat. If you want to learn how to setup an aquarium chiller, you might want to read this post – Setting Up An Aquarium Chiller Properly.

Water Quality

In case it isn’t apparent, you really want to baby the water in your aquarium. In addition to changing out the water on a regular basis and heating or chilling the water appropriately, you’ll also want to test the water on a regular schedule.  You’ll want to test the pH level, the water hardness, and the presence of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Water tests are generally not very expensive, but can provide advanced warning on potential health hazards for your fish. You can’t put a price on that! One of the most popular and widely used water testing kits is the API Freshwater Master Test Kit.

Plant Life

Plant life is going to be a part of your aquarium: live plants provide a touch of realism to your tank and give your fish a place to hide and play. Keep in mind that most plants will need some sort of fertilizer and an occasional sprucing up (removing dead leaves, etc). If you use a full-spectrum light to help your plants thrive, you’ll want to change out the bulb once or twice a year as well. A list of easy aquarium plants can be found here!

Algae are more of a nuisance than anything else and should be avoided in almost all cases. Too much in your tank can be detrimental to water quality, which is not good for your fish. Algae can be caused by many things, such as leftover fish food; the unused portion is a great nutrition source for algae. Here’s a good post to learn more about avoiding algae growth – How To Avoid Algae In Your Aquarium.

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Amazon sword plants need little maintenance. 20150523_132759 by mobile_gnome

Clean it Up

Remember to also keep up a monthly cleaning schedule for the tank itself. The easiest time to do this would be during water changes. Don’t use any abrasive chemical cleaners. You’re not trying to bleach stains away; mainly you’ll just want to clean all the dirt and debris that naturally builds up over time. Use warm water and “elbow grease” to get all the spots and crud off of the sides and bottom of the tank. A quarterly inspection of all the tubing and filter assemblies would also be beneficial. Get a scrubbing brush to remove stuck-on material.


Proper maintenance of your aquarium will result in the longevity of your fish and ultimately, your aquarium. If you are unsure of the correct way to clean the tank and change the water, hiring a professional aquarist who can handle the cleanings and possibly educate you on the proper steps can be a good idea. You can also leave a comment below and ask for some extra help. Remember, a clean tank will result in happy fish!

Cover image: Aquascape Changes by nattarbox


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