10 Aquarium ‘Hacks’ You Should Not Try in 2024, According to an Aquarist

Alison Page

Alison Page


aquarium hacks you should not try

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Keeping fish is a wonderful hobby enjoyed by millions of people across the globe. However, caring for your precious pets can be expensive and time-consuming, even if you only have a small tank. Recently, a few hacks have been circulating online that purport to save you time, money, and effort.

However, the bad news for your fish is that many of these hacks are simply too good to be true and can actually be potentially dangerous for your fish.

This guide explores those hacks and explains why you should steer well clear of them. We also provide you with some proven alternatives for achieving the same results but safely!

Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways from today’s article on aquarium hacks you need to avoid!

  • Feeding Faux Pas: Misconceptions about feeding can lead to a plethora of problems, from water toxicity to fish illnesses. Correct feeding practices are vital for a thriving tank.
  • Decor Dangers and Wild Woes: Tempting as it may be to add a personal touch by recycling household items as tank decor or catching your own fish, live food, and plants, these shortcuts can be fatal to your aquatic pets. Prioritize safety with store-bought decorations and fish.
  • Critical Care Essentials: Overlooking the need for water changes and proper filtration can spell disaster for your aquatic ecosystem. Remember, a clean tank is a happy tank, and that requires diligence with water quality management.

Overfeeding Boosts Growth

man feeding fish

Unfortunately, overfeeding your fish is one of the primary causes of poor water quality and diseased fish.

That’s because giving your fish more food than they need results in excess organic waste in the aquarium. The more the fish eat, the more waste they produce. That waste and leftover food gradually decompose, releasing highly toxic ammonia into the water. Ammonia is usually processed into nitrites and less harmful nitrates by your biological filtration system. However, if ammonia levels become too high, the filter won’t cope, quickly becoming overloaded.

That results in dangerously high levels of toxins in the water, potentially leading to mass fish kills. Even if your fish survive, they will certainly become stressed, leading to a compromised immune system and outbreaks of bacterial and parasite infections.

In addition, algae thrive in dirty water because high levels of nitrate act as a food source for these tiny plants. So, overfeeding your fish often results in an algal bloom, leaving your fish tank looking dirty, cloudy, and unkempt.

Finally, overfeeding your fish often results in health conditions like bloat and constipation, both of which affect the fish’s ability to swim properly and can sometimes be fatal.

Correct Feeding

Feed your fish once or twice a day, offering only enough food to keep them busy for a couple of minutes. Take time to remove uneaten food from the substrate with an aquarium vacuum cleaner.

Using Household Items as Tank Decor

man decorating aquarium

Although using household items like cups, jars, and ceramic ornaments to decorate your fish tank might seem creative and a good money-saving hack, that is potentially dangerous.

Often, these items contain harmful substances or coatings that can leach into the water and harm your fish. In addition, fish can be easily injured by rough surfaces or sharp edges, so it’s much better to stick to using decorations specifically designed for aquariums.

Steer clear of using innocent-looking items like empty coconut shells as tank decorations. A friend of mine used a half coconut shell as a cave in her fish tank. After a few hours, the water’s surface was covered with an oily film leaching from the coconut. Her poor betta fish died within a day or so, probably because he was unable to breathe at the surface through his labyrinth organ.

Rather than trying to save a few pounds by using unwanted household items as fish tank decor, save your cash and invest in a few beautiful pieces from your local fish store.

Adding Wild-Caught Fish to Your Aquarium

quarantine tank with new fish

Many saltwater fish species are extremely expensive to buy, potentially putting them out of many hobbyists’ price range. If you live near the ocean, you might be tempted to catch a few fish, bring them home, and put them in your tank. Quite a few online contributors have experience in that and suggest that others might do the same.

However, catching fish from natural bodies of water and adding them to your aquarium can introduce diseases, parasites, and even invasive species to your tank. In addition, many fish species are endangered, and harvesting them without the necessary permits and permissions could land you in very hot water with the authorities.

Don’t risk it! Always buy your fish from reputable online sources or fish stores to ensure the specimens you take home are healthy and suitable for aquarium life.

Skipping Water Changes

changing aquarium water

Water changes are essential to dilute the levels of nitrates in the aquarium water and replenish essential minerals, keeping the environment safe and healthy for your fish and other livestock.

Some people suggest skipping regular water changes to establish a natural balance in your aquarium. However, neglecting water changes can quickly lead to ammonia spikes, nitrate buildup, and stressed, sick fish.

Of course, you can keep a naturally balanced fish tank by including plenty of living plants, wood, rocks, and invertebrates to keep algae levels down. If you run a hydroponics setup with just a few fish and many, many plants, you can reduce the frequency of your water changes. However, you still need to do them every three weeks or so to keep the water safe for your livestock.

Not Using a Filtration System

Colorful exotic fish swimming in deep blue water

Some aquarium hacks suggest reducing or removing filtration to create a more natural environment for your fish and plants. However, filtration is crucial for removing waste, maintaining water quality, and providing sufficient dissolved oxygen for your fish. Regardless of its size and occupants, every aquarium should have an efficient filtration system.

A tank without a filtration system will quickly suffer from a buildup of toxins, and the water will become toxic and unsafe for your fish and other livestock.

To choose the right filter system for your tank:

  • First, consider the size of your aquarium and the number of fish it houses. Larger tanks or tanks with a high stocking density typically need more powerful filtration to maintain water quality.
  • Next, you need to calculate your tank’s Gallons Per Hour (GPH) requirement. GPH is a measure of a filter’s flow rate, indicating how many gallons of water it can process per hour. Ideally, you want a filtration rate of between four and ten times the total volume of your tank.
  • Measure the length, width, and height of your tank in inches. Then, multiply these dimensions together and divide by 231 (the number of cubic inches in a gallon) to get the volume of your tank in gallons.
  • Once you know the volume of your tank, multiply it by the ideal turnover rate four to 10 times per hour. That gives you the GPH for your filter system. For example, if you have a 50-gallon tank and want an 8 times-per-hour turnover rate, you would need a filter with a GPH of 400 (50 gallons x 8).
  • When choosing a filter, look for the manufacturer’s suggested GPH rating that should be shown on the packaging. Make sure it meets or exceeds the ideal GPH for your tank size.

There are lots of different filter unit styles out there, including Hang On Back (HOB), internal box filters, sponge filters, and large canister filter units that live outside the tank. The kind of filter you choose depends on what fish and other livestock you keep and the size of your aquarium. For help in choosing the filter system for your tank, read this comprehensive guide!

Using Wild-Caught Food

Most omnivorous and carnivorous fish species love receiving live food every now and then. That’s great for the fish, providing an excellent nutrition source and encouraging natural behavior. The best place to get your live food is from your local fish store or a reliable supplier. Always remove the food from the bag water before offering it to your fish, just in case the water contains parasites or bacteria you don’t want to get into your aquarium.

Mealworm in hand

However, some sources on the net suggest saving money by catching worms, insect larvae, and other critters from local ponds and streams and feeding them to your fish.

There are several problems with doing that.

  • You could accidentally introduce parasites to the tank.
  • The live food you catch might not suit the fish species you keep.
  • The live food could be infected with bacteria that could attack your fish.

To be safe, buy your live food from a reputable source or offer your fish frozen foods instead.

Using Ordinary Table Salt in Your Aquarium

Little fish in fish tank or aquarium

Contrary to popular myth, you should not use regular table salt in your aquarium. This kind of salt should not be used in any fish tank, including saltwater and brackish setups.

As correctly pointed out by several Quora contributors, table salt is essentially just sodium chloride. However, it also contains iodine and some anti-caking agents. That’s fine for you and me but extremely risky for your fish and other aquarium inhabitants.

In addition, using table salt in a saltwater reef tank is not recommended since it doesn’t contain a balance of essential minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, needed by corals and other marine life. You should only use marine salt in a saltwater tank.

On the other hand, aquarium salt can be handy for treating a few minor ailments in tropical fish, such as Ich and bacterial infections. That said, you should always use an appropriate fish medication to treat the disease, backing it up with aquarium salt to aid recovery.

Using Wild Plants in Your Fish Tank or Pond

It can be tempting to take a few aquatic plants from a pond in your local park to add to your fish tank, and quite a few bloggers suggest doing exactly that. After all, the same species you see for sale in your local fish store can be seen growing wild in huge colonies, so what’s the harm? You could save yourself quite a bit of cash, right?

Red Wag Swordtail in planted aquarium

Unfortunately, wild plants often provide a home for parasites that you definitely don’t want in your tank. In addition, pest snails love nibbling on tender plant shoots and will quickly decimate your aquascape if they get into your tank.

Depending on where you live, it can also be an offense to steal plants from the wild environment. So, pinching a few sprigs of greenery could land you in trouble with local law enforcement.

Many plant species look very similar, and you could introduce a variety that not only completely takes over your tank but might also be toxic to your fish. Many waterways are heavily polluted. The water might look clean and safe from a distance but could harbor toxins and chemicals that could harm or even kill your fish.

Ignoring Quarantine Procedures

small goldfish in round glass aquarium

Although you might be in a hurry to install your beautiful new fish in your main display aquarium, I urge caution.

Unfortunately, a few hacks suggest that simply dipping the fish in an aquarium salt bath before adding them to your tank is all you need to do. However, every experienced aquarist knows that introducing new fish or plants to your aquarium without quarantining them first can introduce diseases and parasites to an established tank.

Quarantining new additions for a few weeks allows you to monitor them for any signs of illness before adding them to your main tank. That way, you can treat diseases and get rid of external parasites first, so you know your new fish are healthy and won’t infect your existing collection.

Using Household Chemicals

Male hand cleaning aquarium

Unbelievably, some hacks suggest using harsh household chemicals to clean your aquarium or its associated equipment.

Never use household chemicals like bleach, soap, or cleaning agents to clean your aquarium or fishkeeping tools. These substances are highly toxic to fish and can be extremely difficult to get rid of completely, even with multiple rinses.

Instead, stick to aquarium-safe cleaning products or vinegar and water solutions to clean your tank decorations and viewing panes.

Final Thoughts

Although using some of the many online aquarium-keeping hacks might seem like a quick fix to save time and money, many of them pose serious risks to the health and safety of your fish.

Overfeeding leads to poor water quality and potentially dangerous fish health issues while using household items as decor can introduce toxins. Catching wild fish or harvesting plants and live food from local water bodies can bring diseases into your main tank, and skipping water changes or filtration compromises water quality. Ignoring quarantine procedures can introduce parasites and diseases, and using household chemicals is toxic to fish.

It’s essential to prioritize the well-being of your aquatic pets by following safe and proven care practices, rather than taking shortcuts, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.

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