An aquarium is essentially living art for your home – here’s how to keep one

Fish are probably the easiest pets to have: they don’t need to be walked, they don’t eat much and they don’t take up much space. Additionally, aquariums add life and color to any space. When cared for properly, they are essentially living art for your home. But if you think all it takes to maintain an aquarium is a weekly water change, think again: cleaning and maintaining an aquarium isn’t as simple as it sounds. So before you rush out to buy a complete aquatic setup on a whim, read on to find out everything you need to know about proper aquarium maintenance (along with a step-by-step guide on how to clean them. a).

The set up

When considering where to park your aquarium, there are a few things to consider. For one, the water can be quite heavy (nearly 10 pounds per gallon!) – so an aquarium should sit on a very sturdy surface or support. Even the slightest overhang can cause the container to crack or rupture under excessive pressure.

Second, avoid placing your tank in direct sunlight, which can promote algae growth. (Algae are plants that thrive in places rich in light, water and nutrients – so if you have a lot of it in your aquarium it could mean that you are exposing its contents to too much sun, overfeeding your fish – c ie more than one pinch once or twice a day or not replacing water often enough.)

Choose a location near a grounded outlet, as most aquariums need electricity to operate (and to make the water replacement process easier, don’t choose a location too far from a sink) . Finally, to maximize the pleasure of the eyes, make sure to choose a place where you spend a lot of time!

The most important takeaway for budding aquarists? “Don’t assume that one size fits all,” notes Hess. “Different species of fish require different tank sizes and have different water needs. Consulting an aquatic specialist will help ensure that your fish have the right environment.

How to clean and maintain a freshwater tank


Step 1: Remove Algae

Use a long-handled brush or cleaning pads to wipe away algae buildup from the sides of your tank. Gently use your fingers to scrape the algae off the living plants to make sure you don’t damage them in the process. (This is also a good time to prune dead leaves from plants.) Remove any decorative items that have algae growing on them and use a toothbrush and warm water to clean them.

Step 2: Change the water

It is crucial to change your aquarium water regularly to limit waste by-products (such as ammonia and nitrites) and to ensure that its pH level remains within safe limits. “Keeping the water clean helps keep your water quality within recommended parameters,” says Dr. Laurie Hess, director of veterinary medicine at Petco.

Use a water changer Where gravel trap (coupled with a bucket) to replace 10% to 25% of your tank water every two to four weeks. Run the suction tube in an up and down motion, allowing it to pick up and gently agitate the gravel so that detritus (fish droppings and uneaten food) travels up the tube and out of the tank. (Note that if your aquarium contains sand, you cannot use a water changer or siphon to clean the soil bed, as the fine grit will only get stuck in the tube.)

reef tank maintenance

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Lift the tube to release the suction so the gravel goes down. Move the vacuum tube slightly and repeat the process until your entire aquarium has been cleaned. Do not move the vacuum tube in a rapid back and forth motion as this will dislodge debris in the water and make it harder to remove.

Add dechlorinated water to your tank, making sure it is the same temperature as the existing water. Don’t let your tank’s temperature fluctuate more than two degrees over a 24-hour period to avoid upsetting the delicate ecosystem. “Drastic temperature changes can be hazardous to fish health,” warns Hess.

If you’ve replaced 20-25% of the water in the tank and haven’t finished going over the gravel, stop and refill the tank, then wait two weeks before dealing with the rest (because over-cleaning the gravel can eliminate beneficial bacteria).

Step 3: Add extras

Mix in any extras, such as live plant food or freshwater salt (which stimulates gill function).

girl using chemical test kit to measure water quality in home aquarium

Stephen River//Getty Images

Step 4: Change the filter

Replace your tank filter once a month. (Follow the instructions provided by the product manufacturer, as they vary.)

Step 5: Wipe the surrounding area

Use a towel to buff out any water spots or spills. Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling your tank to avoid contamination.

How to clean and maintain a saltwater tank

Additional Materials for a Saltwater Tank

  • Premixed salt water (or aquarium salt combined with reverse osmosis deionized water)
  • A five gallon bucket
  • A refractometer or hydrometer (to measure salinity)
  • A submersible heater
  • A container with a powerhead (to circulate the water)
  • A protein skimmer

Perform step 1, but for step 2, follow the steps below instead:

Pour dechlorinated water into a clean bucket and set the submersible heater to the temperature of your tank water. Having a powerhead inside the container will help mix the salt and facilitate gas exchange. Hydrometers are sensitive to temperature when measuring specific gravity (or relative density), so minimizing degree fluctuations is essential.

Add sea salt according to the manufacturer’s instructions for the amount of water to replace in your tank. Premix the saltwater the day before a water change, making sure the specific gravity of your premix matches that of your tank water. Never let the relative density of water change by more than 0.001 in 24 hours. “Always make sure all the salt is completely dissolved before putting water back into the aquarium,” says Hess.

The expert also recommends investing in a protein skimmer, an additional device that filters out harmful chemicals and organic waste. The handy tool deposits all the grime into a collection cup, which should be cleaned weekly. Complete steps 3-5 as described above.

Keep your aquarium in pristine condition and your beautiful finned friends will thank you and your guests will be captivated!

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