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Updated: Jul 19, 2023

For beginner aquarists, maintaining a healthy and thriving aquarium can be a challenging task. An aquarium, whether saltwater or freshwater, requires each owner’s full attention and efforts to be healthy. If you’re ready to take on the task of aquarium care, there are a couple of basics you must know. From monitoring pH levels to […]

For beginner aquarists, maintaining a healthy and thriving aquarium can be a challenging task. An aquarium, whether saltwater or freshwater, requires each owner’s full attention and efforts to be healthy. If you’re ready to take on the task of aquarium care, there are a couple of basics you must know. From monitoring pH levels to water changes, here are 10 key tips to keeping a healthy and beautiful aquarium: 1.Properly condition your water. The properties of your tank’s water is crucial to the long-term well-being of your fish. Remember that tap water contains many properties, such as minerals that need to be balanced out. Otherwise, it will not be able to support your pet fish and aquatic plants. You must condition your water by using biological agents or supplements that clear out these properties. 2. Acclimate your fish to the water. Acclimation is an essential part of introducing your fish to their new home. Many fish species are delicate and thus, without proper acclimation, they may go through shock. You can ask our Pet counselors on the best acclimation methods for your pet fish. They may advise you to test the water chemistry before you begin the process. Once you arrive home, make sure to test the water based on the appropriate chemical levels. If your tank levels differ, you will need to acclimate your fish a little longer. 3. Float fish in their bag. You will also need to acclimate your fish to the water temperature in your aquarium. For this process, you will need to float your fish in their sealed bag for at least 15-20 minutes. Every five minutes, you will need to add at least a quarter cup of aquarium water into the sealed bag until full. After you finish this process, remove some of the water from the bag and lower it into the water to let your fish swim freely. This process combines the chemistry and temperature of your aquarium together, making the acclimation process much easier. You can also take a look at the acclimation process on our blog, How To Set Up A Beginner Level Saltwater Aquarium. 4. Maintain pH balance and other chemical levels. pH levels measure the balance of acidity and alkalinity in your aquarium’s water. You can monitor your tank’s pH levels by purchasing a pH test kit. Freshwater fish typically do well in aquariums with pH levels between 6.6 and 6.8. Saltwater fish thrive well in pH levels between 7.6 and 8.4. You will also need to regularly check your tank for the right levels of nitrate, nitrite, and ammone. Of course, these levels depend largely on fish species and the kind of aquarium you have. For the best results, ask our Pet counselors for advice on maintaining pH balance and other levels. 5. Make sure water temperature is right. Your tank’s water temperature should be comfortable enough to sustain aquatic life. Any major changes to your tank’s temperature can be fatal to your fish. Avoid placing your tank in an area that receives a lot of sunlight or near cooling vents. Freshwater fish need a constant water temperature between 72°F – 82°F; saltwater fish thrive between 75°F – 80°F. Temperature levels also depends on each fish species so it’s important to research for the best possible results. You may need to buy a water heater for your tank if your aquarium is too cool to maintain your fish. 6. Change water regularly. Changing 25 percent of your aquarium’s water every month keeps your tank clean and stabilizes nitrate concentrations. You also get rid of other debris and waste products left by increased phosphate levels. Leaving these levels high puts extra stress on your fish, which can make them very sick. Consistent water temperatures allows your fish and aquatic life to stay strong and healthy. 7. Clean tank glass and other structures. Seeing a little green in your tank isn’t usually cause for alarm, but too much of it can be detrimental. Algae buildup gives your tank a murky, swampy look, and reduces the amount of oxygen in the water. This can cause a potential loss in fish and aquatic plants in your tank. Check out our blog, How to Control Algae Growth in Your Aquarium for more tips on how to eliminate algae. 8. Choose the right size for your tank. It’s tempting to keep a large group of pet fish, but overcrowding your tank isn’t exactly a great idea. Overcrowding can lead to low oxygen levels, leading your fish vulnerable to disease. It can also cause excessive debris, wastes, and fatalities—all of which can reduce the quality in your water. Be sure to ask our Pet counselors about appropriate tank sizes for your pet fish. 9. Pick compatible fish species. Many fish species can coexist with each other under certain environments. As long as they have adequate space, food, and other necessities, fish species usually leave each other alone. Some fish species, however, tend to be quite territorial or aggressive when it comes to their homes. That’s why we suggest researching fish that can live peacefully with each other. For the top freshwater fish breeds, check out our Top 10 Best Freshwater Fish For Your Aquarium. We’ve compiled a list of the Top 7 Best Saltwater Aquarium Fish for Beginners for more beautiful saltwater options. 10. Avoid overfeeding your fish. This one is a cardinal rule in maintaining an aquarium. Overfeeding your fish can cause a variety of problems, including increasing the amount of waste and debris in your tank. Most fish do not need to be fed a huge amount of food to survive. Overfeeding can also encourage algae growth, further depleting your water quality and oxygen. Maintain a consistent feeding schedule and provide an appropriate amount of food. With enough practice and effort, you will surely have a spectacular aquarium with vibrant aquatic life. Remember to be patient and ask our Pet counselors any questions about your tank. Check out our blog, Freshwater vs Saltwater Aquariums for our tips on caring for freshwater and saltwater tanks!

Routine Aquarium Maintenance

BACK TO TOP A large part of keeping your fish healthy is ensuring that their habitat remains healthy. Regular maintenance is key to keeping the aquarium environment safe.1 One roadblock for new aquarium owners is not knowing what maintenance they should perform, and when. Experts may disagree on the specific points of aquarium maintenance, but everyone agrees that following a regular routine of any kind is better than no maintenance at all. This is one recommended aquarium maintenance plan.

Why Do Maintenance? Often aquarium owners don't give much thought to maintenance. After all, they have a filter, and some bottom-feeding fish to pick up stuff that falls there. So what else is needed? Some will cite the fact that nobody is cleaning the rivers, lakes, and oceans, and the fish do fine. So why clean the aquarium? That's actually a good question. Mother Nature is not idle, she does a pretty good job of cleaning things up in the great outdoors. Lakes, rivers, and oceans are large bodies of water that have currents and waves circulating the water. Rain falling adds fresh water, and live plants produce oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide. The sheer volume of water also serves to dilute any harmful toxins. Unlike bodies of water in nature, an aquarium holds a relatively small amount of water. Add to that the fact that it is a closed system, and it becomes quite different from a habitat in nature. Nothing goes into or out of the tank unless you have a hand in making it happen. Filters certainly help, but if not maintained, filters become clogged and will no longer work properly. Meanwhile, fish continue to produce waste, uneaten food decays, and potentially harmful byproducts slowly build up.1 The only way an aquarium will remain clean is if you take the time to perform maintenance on a regular basis. Otherwise, the habitat will become unhealthy for the fish over time. Frequency of Maintenance It is neither practical nor healthy to clean every surface in the aquarium on a daily or even weekly basis. For that matter, it's never wise to clean everything in the aquarium at the same time. To minimize the impact cleaning has on beneficial bacteria, cleaning of colony-rich areas, such as the filter and the substrate, should be staggered. If the bacterial colonies are disturbed too much, it can disrupt the nitrogen cycle enough to cause a spike in ammonia and nitrite.2 For that reason, it's also wise to test the water a few days after a significant cleaning to ensure nothing is amiss. Daily Do a quick visual check of the aquarium to ensure the filter is running at full strength, the lights are functioning properly, and any other equipment you have is running normally. Check the water temperature to ensure it's in the proper range. Count the fish and check if they appear healthy. A good time to do this is when you feed them, as they will be out and easy to observe. Once they have finished eating, examine the tank to see if there is uneaten food remaining on the bottom. If you notice that there is often uneaten food left after five to 10 minutes, cut back on the volume of food you give your fish at each feeding. Should you notice that uneaten food starts building up on the bottom of the tank, use a siphon or gravel vacuum to remove it. If the water level has dropped, top it off with treated or aged water as needed. This is a good time to start an aquarium journal or log if you haven't done so already. While there is no need to record everything, it is helpful to note anything out of the ordinary on your daily checks. That way you can catch trends that may be occurring. For instance, the temperature dropping by a degree isn't a huge deal, but if it drops a degree four days in a row, that's a tip-off that something may be wrong with your heater. All of this can be done in literally a matter of minutes, so it's not a huge time investment.

  • Count and observe the fish

  • Visual equipment check

  • Temperature check

  • Remove uneaten food

  • Top off the water level

  • Note concerns in a journal or logbook

Some experts are proponents of weekly partial water changes, while others prefer to do them every few weeks. As long as you are regularly performing partial water changes every couple of weeks, the exact frequency is not critical. Use water that is treated to remove chlorine, and if possible, aged. Replacement water should be close to the temperature of the aquarium. However, prior to performing the water change, perform the other weekly and every other week tasks first, such as cleaning algae off the inside of the aquarium glass. Leave the partial water change as the last task. The other task that should be performed every week or two is the general cleaning of the tank. By performing light cleaning every couple of weeks, your aquarium will never get overly dirty. Wipe down the outside tank surfaces with a non-ammonia aquarium-safe cleanser, or simply use a damp cloth. Gently shake plants, whether they are live or artificial, to dislodge debris. Scrape the inside glass to remove any algae, then take a break for ten or fifteen minutes and let everything settle a bit. When you come back, gently siphon the substrate to remove debris. Lastly, perform a partial water change. Make notes in your log or journal of the maintenance you performed, and anything unusual going on in the tank.

  • Wipe down outside surfaces

  • Shake debris off plants

  • Scrape inside glass

  • Siphon substrate

  • Partial water change

  • Note maintenance in a log

Monthly Water testing should be performed monthly to ensure nothing unseen is brewing. Test the following parameters: pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. If you have algae problems, you may also test for high phosphate level to see if that may be the cause. Perform water tests first before water changes and any other maintenance. If there are abnormal water test results, check them again after the water change to ensure the parameters are back to normal levels. If you have live plants, inspect them, remove any dead leaves, and trim excess growth. Next, perform the weekly/biweekly cleaning tasks followed by the partial water change. Save a bucket of the water removed from the tank to use for performing filter maintenance. If you use exhaustible media, such as activated carbon or zeolite, replace it. Using the water saved from the water change, rinse the mechanical filter media. If the filter media is very dirty or clogged, replace it. However, avoid replacing all the filter media at the same time. Instead, retain part of the media to avoid losing too large a portion of the beneficial bacteria colonies. The next month you can replace the remaining filter media. Mechanical filter media (such as foam) generally only has to be replaced once or twice a year.

  • Water tests

  • Trim live plants as needed

  • Perform weekly/bi-weekly tasks

  • Change or clean filter media

  • Note maintenance and test results in a log

In addition to the scheduled maintenance tasks, there are a few things that should be done as needed. These include replacing the light bulbs once per year, regardless of whether they have burned out. Inspect the air pump tubing, and the filter tubing if you have a canister filter. Clean the canister filter intake using a filter brush. If you have live plants, fertilize them.

  • Replace light bulbs

  • Inspect & clean tubing

  • Clean filter intake

  • Fertilize plants

Cleaning Equipment Aquarium maintenance does not require a lot of equipment. However, it does help to have a few specialized tools on hand. The most important piece of equipment to have is a dedicated aquarium bucket, and make sure you do not use it for anything else. Having two buckets is helpful, but not absolutely necessary. In addition to the bucket, a siphon, water conditioner, algae scrubber, filter brush, aquarium-safe glass cleaner, soft cloth, and some towels round out your cleaning materials. All of these items can be stored inside the aquarium bucket to make cleaning day quick and easy. Additionally, you'll need fresh filter media and if you have live plants, fertilizer, and small scissors to trim the plants.

  • Water bucket

  • Siphon

  • Algae scrubber

  • Filter brush

  • Aquarium safe cleaner

  • Cleaning cloths/paper towels

  • Replacement filter media

  • Scissors to trim plants

  • Plant fertilizer

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