Aquarium Water Still Murky After Treatment? Try This

Alison Page

Alison Page


persistently murky water

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Cloudy aquarium water is frustrating for any aquarist, especially if you’re new to the hobby. After all, you want to enjoy a clear view of your fish, and if the water turns murky, you can’t do that. In addition, cloudy tank water can’t be good news for your fish, right?

But what does it mean if your aquarium water is still murky after you treat it? Will your fish die before you can fix the problem?

Don’t panic! This guide provides an overview of the likely causes of murky aquarium water and explains how to solve the problem, step-by-step.

Keep reading for sound, practical advice on how to keep your fish tank water crystal clear.

Key Takeaways

  • Cloudy Water Culprits: Cloudiness in aquariums can stem from factors like algae blooms, overfeeding, and overstocking, each requiring specific remedies like reducing light exposure, moderating feeding, and adjusting fish populations.
  • Filtration and Tank Maintenance: Proper filtration, along with regular tank maintenance, such as weekly water changes and filter media upkeep, is crucial for avoiding cloudy water.
  • Patience with New Tanks: Newly set-up tanks may experience new tank syndrome, with cloudy water as part of the initial nitrogen cycle; patience and regular water testing during this time are key.

What Causes Cloudy Aquarium Water?

The first thing to know is that there are quite a few causes of cloudy aquarium water, all demanding slightly different solutions. Let’s discover more!

Summary Table

Before we dive into the dirty details of what causes murky aquarium water, here’s a quick at-a-glance summary to give you a few clues about the potential cause of the problem.

Cause of CloudinessSolutions
Algae BloomReduce light exposure, especially direct sunlight.
Perform regular water changes to remove excess nutrients.
Introduce algae-eating species.
OverfeedingFeed fish in appropriate amounts and remove uneaten food.
Implement a fasting day each week.
OverstockingStock according to tank size and fish growth potential.
Consider rehoming or upsizing the aquarium if overstocked.
Improper FiltrationChoose a filter with adequate GPH for tank size.
Maintain and clean filter media regularly.
Dirty SubstrateWash new gravel until water runs clear.
Allow time for the mechanical filter to remove particulates.
New Tank SyndromePerform partial water changes during cycling.
Test water parameters regularly until the cycle is established.
Mineral PrecipitationTest and adjust water hardness and alkalinity.
Use purified or RO/DI water for changes.
Add micron filters and chemical filtration media.
Microbial BloomImprove water quality with regular partial water changes.
Ensure a well-maintained filter system.
Use beneficial bacteria supplements as necessary.

Algae Bloom

Dirty glass of aquarium. Algae growing on the surface of fish tank. Abstract view of green slimy organism background

One very common cause of cloudy fish tank water is an algae bloom.

Algae are tiny plants that thrive in environments rich in nutrients and sunlight. You’ll most likely find some algae growing on the surfaces within your aquarium, typically on decorations, plant leaves, viewing panes, and even on individual gravel pieces.

Algae growing in your fish tank is not necessarily a catastrophe, and it certainly doesn’t mean your tank is unhealthy. The presence of a small quantity of algae can provide something for your fish to graze on between meals.

However, if your tank has too much light, especially sunlight, and is particularly rich in nutrients, you could finish up with an algae bloom. An algae bloom refers to thousands of tiny plants floating in the water, creating a greenish, cloudy effect.

The Solution

If your aquarium water is cloudy and green, the most likely culprit is an algal bloom. Here’s how to fix the problem.

  • Start by reducing the duration of light exposure in your tank, especially sunlight. If the tank is in direct sunlight, move it to a place where your aquarium lighting unit and natural daylight generate the only light the tank receives. Direct sunlight hitting your tank also causes hotspots that could plunge your fish into temperature shock or encourage pockets of harmful bacteria to grow in the substrate.
  • Regular water changes help remove excess nutrients and algae spores from the water, reducing the likelihood of algae blooms. As part of your aquarium maintenance regime, be sure to perform partial water changes every week.
  • Some organisms eat algae. To help control algae growth, consider adding algae-eating fish or invertebrates, such as Otocinclus catfish or Amano shrimp.


Impact of Overfeeding

Overfeeding is a very common problem in beginner tanks. If you give your fish too much food, some will be left, drifting down to the substrate, where it slowly decomposes. That makes your tank look dirty and unkempt and also serves as a food source for bacteria and algae.

The more your fish eat, the more waste they produce, increasing the burden on your filtration system and risking an ammonia spike that could harm your fish.

In addition, thousands of minute particles of organic matter float in the water, making it appear cloudy.

The Solution

Overfeeding is relatively easy to avoid.

  • Research your fish thoroughly to see how much food each species needs to thrive and feed them accordingly.
  • Most fish do fine on two or three small daily meals. Give the fish only what they will eat within a couple of minutes, and vacuum away any uneaten food immediately before it vanishes into the substrate.
  • Include one day per week when you don’t feed your fish. One fasting day helps to prevent health problems, like constipation and bloating, and keeps the fish’s digestive system working properly. Don’t worry; your fish won’t starve! They will graze on biofilm and algae on the aquarium surfaces throughout the day, just as they do in the wild environment.


Aquarium cichlid exotic fish

Too many fish in your aquarium can overload the filtration system, leading to a buildup of waste. As described above, tiny particles of waste can turn the water cloudy, and the excess nitrates act as nutrients, fuelling the growth of algae and exacerbating the problem.

In addition, overcrowding is very stressful for the fish, especially territorial or shy species that need their own space to feel comfortable. Stress impacts the fish’s immune system, leaving the creature open to attack by parasites and bacteria.

The Solution

Most fish sold in fish stores and by online breeders are juveniles with plenty of growing to do. Unfortunately, many newbies to the hobby take home a cute 2-inch fish from their local pet store only to find their new pet grows into a 6-inch whopper within a year or less.

When you go shopping for fish, research each species carefully to determine its adult size. That way, you can work out how many fish will comfortably fit in your tank and stock it appropriately.

Remember that some fish are prolific breeders. For example, guppies and mollies reproduce constantly, and you can soon end up with a population explosion. If that happens and you have too many fish for your aquarium, try rehoming some of the excess stock with friends. Sometimes, fish stores will take home-bred fish, and you might even earn a small amount of cash from trading with them.

If you can’t bear to part with your precious pets, you might need to upsize your aquarium if you have enough space in your home to accommodate that. Alternatively, you could do what I did one time and buy another fish tank to handle the extra fish I’d inadvertently bred!

Improper Filtration

Aquarium filter output of a tropical freshwater aquarium

Every fish tank, regardless of its size, needs an efficient filtration system to keep the water clean and safe for your fish.

Choose a filter that circulates the total water volume around your tank at least four times every hour. Leave your filter system running 24/7. That’s essential because the beneficial bacteria living in the biological filter media need constant oxygen to survive, and the flow of water across the media provides that.

In addition, the mechanical element of the filter system is responsible for removing particulate waste from the water, keeping it clear so you can enjoy an unobstructed view of your fish.

However, the filter must be maintained properly. If the filter media gets clogged or isn’t functioning optimally, it won’t effectively remove debris and waste from the water, resulting in cloudiness.

The Solution

Start by ensuring the filtration system you’re running is strong enough to cope with the tank size and species you keep. Ideally, the pump should circulate the entire water volume through the filter media at least four times every hour. Check the GPH (gallons per hour) rate displayed on the filter system packaging to ensure it’s suitable. If you’re not sure, ask in-store for advice from an expert.

Some fish species are dirtier than others. For example, goldfish are filthy creatures that generate a ridiculous amount of waste. That means extra maintenance.

You must clean the filter box and wash the media in some dirty tank water to remove sludge and grime that would otherwise prevent water from flowing through it. Most filter media sponges and cartridges require changing for new ones every month but be guided by the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Dirty Substrate

Close up of a hand pumping out water to clean up the substrate in a fish tank.

Cloudy water is extremely common in a brand-new aquarium setup, and that can be frustrating, especially if you’re new to the hobby.

So, what’s causing the problem?

Adding dirty substrate to your tank usually causes cloudy water from the start. Even substrate fresh out of the box contains a certain amount of dust and loose dirt. For that reason, you should always wash new gravel under running water until the water runs clear before putting it into your tank.

Sometimes, even diligent washing doesn’t guarantee crystal-clear water, so be prepared to wait a few hours to allow the mechanical filter to remove particulates.

New Tank Syndrome

colorful fishes swimming in the aquarium

Another cause of cloudy water in a newly set-up fish tank is commonly referred to as new tank syndrome. It happens during the initial establishment of the nitrogen cycle. Ammonia spikes during cycling can lead to cloudiness until beneficial bacteria establish themselves in the filter media and aquarium surfaces to break down ammonia and nitrite.

The Solution

The nitrogen cycle can take up to two months to complete fully, and the tank water can stay slightly cloudy during that time. Performing partial water changes every few days to remove excess nitrates throughout the cycling process can help.

Check the water with an aquarium water test kit every few days. When the levels of ammonia and nitrites are zero, the cycle is complete, and you can add a few small fish.

Mineral Precipitation

testing aquarium water

High concentrations of minerals in the water, such as calcium and magnesium, can sometimes precipitate out of the solution and form particles that cloud the water. This phenomenon is more common in hard water conditions and might require water treatment to address.

The Solution

Although most fish need some minerals to remain healthy, if the concentrations are too strong, your pets could be harmed.

  • Start by determining the aquarium water’s hardness (GH) and alkalinity (KH) using a reliable test kit. High levels of calcium and magnesium contribute to water hardness, increasing the likelihood of mineral precipitation.
  • Purified water has fewer dissolved minerals, reducing the risk of mineral precipitation. So, consider using purified or RO/DI (reverse osmosis/deionization) water for partial water changes or dilute dechlorinated tap water.
  • If your tap water is excessively hard, dilute it with purified water or use chemical additives to adjust the hardness and pH levels. You can buy products such as aquarium-specific buffers and conditioners to soften the water and stabilize pH levels.
  • Use filter media with a small pore size, such as micron filter pads or filter floss, to trap fine particles suspended in the water. You might also want to add a micron filter to your filtration system, which can capture even smaller particles than standard filter media. Micron filters are particularly effective at removing fine sediment and suspended solids, including those from mineral precipitation.
  • Chemical filtration media, such as activated carbon or poly-fiber pads, can adsorb dissolved organic compounds and other impurities that contribute to cloudiness. Remember to replace the chemical filter media according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure optimal performance.
  • Some aquarium additives are designed specifically to bind or sequester excess minerals, preventing them from precipitating out of solution. These products can help maintain water clarity and stability in mineral-rich environments.

Microbial Bloom

microbial bloom aquarium

In some cases, cloudy water can result from a microbial bloom, where certain bacteria or other microorganisms proliferate rapidly. This bloom often occurs because of an imbalance in the aquarium’s bacterial population or sudden changes in water parameters.

The Solution

  • Start by improving the water quality in the aquarium by performing weekly partial water changes of around 20% to reduce excess nutrients and organic waste, which can fuel microbial growth.
  • Ensure your aquarium filter is functioning correctly and clean or replace filter media as needed. As mentioned above, A well-maintained filter helps remove suspended particles and keeps the water clear.
  • Introduce beneficial bacteria supplements or use bacterial additives specifically designed to promote a balanced microbial population. These products help boost biological filtration and accelerate the breakdown of organic waste.
  • Although it’s crucial to maintain a clean aquarium, excessive cleaning can disrupt the beneficial bacteria colonies responsible for biological filtration. So, only clean your filter media when necessary to prevent the removal of those valuable beneficial microbes.
  • Well-oxygenated water supports beneficial aerobic bacteria, which play a vital role in breaking down organic matter and maintaining water quality. So, be sure to provide adequate aeration by using an air pump or bubbler to create surface agitation.

Final Thoughts

Cloudy aquarium water can have many potential causes, so you’ll need to play detective to discover the problem.

Murky fish tank water can be caused by algae blooms, poor filtration, dirty substrate, excess minerals in the water, or could simply be down to poor maintenance and cleaning practices.

Now, it’s up to you to determine what’s causing the issue and take the recommended steps above to fix it!

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