Are you a newbie to fish keeping? You are probably searching for how to clean a fish tank. Today I have grabbed you the perfect guide to answer your question. 

Typically, an aquarium consists of fish, water, aquarium filters, aquarium heaters, glasses, gravel, sand, plants, and some ornaments. With time, dirt, pollutants, and useless things accumulate around the above things. Then we have to clean them.

Cleaning a fish tank is not a single job. It is cleaning a filter, changing water, siphoning the gravel, cleaning everything in the fish tank, and many more. Let’s understand it step by wisely.

We can clean the fish tank without removing fish or after removing fish. When you do deep cleaning in six months, you must remove fish and all other things to clean the fish tank. But in intermediate cleaning, you don’t need to remove the fish from the tank.

The following are the steps regarding a complete cleaning of your tank.

Step 1: How to clean a fish tank

Remove the algae and debris from decorations, artificial and natural plants, rocks and driftwoods.

After a few weeks, we can see algal growths on most fish tank parts. With the direct sunlight and the water’s nutrients, it grows algae rapidly.

In the beginning, the algal growth is a plus point for fishes in the tank as a feed. But with time, we can see considerable algae growth on the tank ornaments, glass, gravel and many places.

At that moment, it’s necessary to control the algal growth. We can use algae eaters such as tank cleaner fish and some types of snails. We can extend the manually cleaning date using those algae eaters.

Bristlenose Plecostomus

Now let’s see how to remove algae from the ornaments and decorations manually.

Take out the decorations and other ornaments, rocks, driftwoods and plants you want to clean. There are several methods to clean those. I have mentioned them below.

Using hot water

  • You can put them into hot water for 10 minutes and soak them well to destroy algal colonies.
  • Scrub or brush using a scrubber or toothbrush to remove algal strains and other pollutants. 
  • Rewash them using hot water and dry them in the sunlight.  

You can’t use the hot water to clean natural plants and driftwoods.

Using bleaching solution

You can use bleaching solutions for cleaning ornaments and rooks and plastic plants. Bleaching solution is a strong chemical component that can kill algae. It may be harmful to your fish too. So you have to be very careful when you work with bleaching solutions.

  • First, you can purchase a bleaching solution from the marketplace.
  • Then prepare a 5% solution and put all the ornaments and other decorative things into it.
  • Please keep it for 10 minutes and soak it well. Then remove the bleach solution and wash the ornaments and decorative things using hot water.
  • Check the ornaments to find any remaining algal colony or unwanted parts.
  • If you find any algal colonies, you can scrub or brush. Wash them using hot water again. If any algal remains, scrub it out and rewash it.
  • Removing all beaching components is essential as it’s harmful chemicals to fish.

Using Vinegar

White vinegar is a trustful cleaning agent for aquarium cleaning. It is a natural mild acid that doesn’t look harmful to fish or beneficial bacteria.

  • First, soak the ornaments and other things in a 1:1 vinegar solution.
  • Then scrub them gently and wash them with hot water; you can see cleaned ornaments at the end.

Read more about vinegar and fish tanks.

Algae are grown on live aquatic plants as well. We can use vinegar to clean live aquatic plants too. We can use a sponge soaked in vinegar to remove algae from leaves and stems.  

Using conditioned water

This is a simple method. You can wash them using conditioned water or tank water. Don’t even touch the chlorinated water.

Step 2: How To Clean A Fish Tank

Remove the algae, algae stains and mineral stains inside the tank glass.

Tank glass is a preferable place for algal growth. Algal attached glasses take an unbeauty to the fish tank.

There are several tools to clean the fish tank glass. The magnetic algae scraper is one of the best products in pet stores. It helps to remove algae without removing water or without removing fish. You don’t want to touch the water using a magnetic algae scraper.

It’s better to remove algae on the glass once a week. Also, we can find some other algae scrapers that can remove algae efficiently.

Even a simple sponge or a towel is enough to remove the algae strains in the glasses. We can soak the sponge or towel in a white vinegar solution. Then remove the algae strains carefully.

Important: Don't use any tools or things already used for household work. Such as used sponges, used towels, cloths or used scrapers. It may bring some unwanted toxic components or unwanted matters to the tank.

Be careful about the tank glass surface because those tools may damage the glasses. Any tiny particle in the scraper can damage your tank glass permanently. So remember to wash them before you use them.

Clean the glass smoothly. Don’t push it hard or don’t pressure the tank glass unnecessarily.

Step 3: How To Clean A Fish Tank

Remove the debris, wastes and algae from gravel and sand.

Aquarium gravel or sand is the location that can be unclean quickly and easily.

Step 4: How To Clean A Fish Tank

Clean the fish tank filter

There are a few types of filters and you may use one of them. I pointed out below each filter and cleaning procedure as well.

  • Sponge filters – Clean the sponge every two weeks using tank water.
  • Under gravel filter – This is terrible work as the filter is under the gravel. We need to do it very carefully. When we pull the filter up from the gravel, there is a high risk of releasing some waste into the tank—so ready a siphon to extract the wastes which are sediment under the filter. Within two or three weeks, we have to clean this filter.
  • Hang on back filters – Clean the filter media using tank water. Do it in a few weeks, probably once a month. Sometimes you have to refill or buy activated carbon cartridges.
  • Canister filters – Canisters are potent and efficient filters. You don’t want to clean them each month.

It is better to know some essential facts regarding cleaning an aquarium filter.

At first, you can clean gravel, decorations, and ornaments. Also, you can remove algae but do not clean your filter on the same day. Do it after two weeks because some beneficial bacteria may be removed while cleaning.

The second important thing is not using chlorinated water to clean filter media. Please do not use chlorinated water because filter media contains live beneficial bacteria. It’s better to retain helpful bacteria while cleaning the solid wastes inside the filter media. It’s better to use tank water to clean the filter media.

Frequently Ask Questions; How to Clean A Fish Tank

Is cleaning a fish tank important?

Yes, of course.

Cleanliness is directly affected by the healthiness of the fish in the tank. Day by day, fish have generated their wastes. Fish wastes, including water, dissolve ammonium compounds and undissolved solid particles.

Ammonium is highly toxic to fish. For a healthy tank, ammonium and nitrite levels should be 0 ppm and nitrate levels should be below 40ppm. Undissolved solids are sediment here and there inside the tank.

Some harmful micro and macro organisms tend to grow in uncleaned tanks. Some algae grow in uncleaned water and tank glasses, reducing the opacity. Unclear water increases the stress level of fish and reduces their growth and activeness. It helps to introduce some diseases to fishes. It also disturbs the growth of aquatic plants.

Then a proper cleaning procedure is a must for a tank.

Is an Aquarium Filter 100% Effective?


Not any filter system is a hundred percent effective and efficient. A filtration system usually circulates the tank water through the filter media. It can trap free-floating pollutants and change some toxic components into harmless ones. Filter helps to keep aquarium without daily water changing or cleaning.

If our filtration system is more advanced and powerful, we can keep the tank without changing the water for two or three weeks. Solid waste sedimentation levels also can reduce by a powerful filtration unit.

How often should I clean the aquarium?

A fish tank is changing every minute as a dynamic and live system. Establishing a stable schedule for cleaning our fish tank is difficult. That means we can’t fix an exact date for it.

It depends on several factors such as your tank size, types and amount of fish, type and power of the filter and many more. For example, if you have a large amount of fish, it is necessary to clean it regularly. It depends on the condition of your tank. Below I have pointed out a typical aquarium cleaning schedule for your tank.

This schedule is recommended for the tanks which installed a suitable filter system and added beneficial bacteria at the beginning of the tank. The first 14 days are the most important period of a newly established fish tank.

Day 01 to Day 06 – No need for any significant action refers to cleaning. But inspect whether the filter is working accurately and inspect the behavior of fish. As we already added beneficial bacteria to start the nitrogen cycle, there is most probably no need to worry about ammonium toxicity. 

But if you don’t add beneficial bacteria, you and your fish are in danger. Then observe the behaviors of fish daily. Any gasping nature, unusual lethargic nature or sudden death alarmed a change in the water quality. If any above fact happens, please check the quality of the water and take immediate action.

You can take a few extra precautions to prevent ammonia poisoning. You can add an old filter pad that beneficial bacteria contains already. Or else you can add a cup of old gravel to the tank.

Also, it is better to add very few fish in the beginning. And you should check the ammonia level frequently and gradually increase the amount of fish. Frequent water changes can avoid ammonium toxicity.

Day 07 – Do the ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and pH tests. Change a quarter of water from the tank.
Day 07 – Day 14 Daily observe the tank.  
Day 14 – Most of the tanks are stable in 14 days. Between these 14 days, beneficial bacteria colonies grow to the optimum level. The nitrogen cycle is performed well. To ensure that recheck the water quality using kits. Change a quarter of water from the tank after the tank cycled—no need to check water quality frequently, once per two weeks.
 Day 14 – Day 28 Inspect any debris on the gravel. If any significant debris and solid waste are on gravel, siphon the tank. Check the filter system also. 
Day 28 – Check the water quality of the tank. Remove a quarter of water from the tank. Check the filters and clean them. Clean the decorations, ornaments, rocks and artificial plants. Scrub the algae on glasses.       
After six months – Remove the fish and clean every part of the tank deeply after six months.    

Check the below note.

Every two weeks —- Check the water quality parameters and change the water by 25 (must).

Every four weeks — Clean the filter, Syphon the gravels and clean the decorations and other ornaments.

Every six months — Deep cleaning.


I am Bruce Daniel Holgate from Los Angeles, the founder of, environmental scientist and content writer. Researcher and hobbyist in aquarium keeping and fish breeding with 20 years of experience. I'm willing to share my knowledge with you all.

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