We all love looking at a crystal-clear aquarium with vibrant, lovely colors and happy, colorful, lively fish swimming around! In order to have all that, the fish tank itself needs to be cleaned regularly, otherwise, your fish might not be happy, colorful or even be at all. Same with having a crystal-clear aquarium – if you don’t clean it when you have to and you forsake it – it will become a misty, green thing that you’ll want to get rid of because it is no longer pleasant to look at.

So, as you knew all along when you decided to start a fish tank (hopefully you’ve done some research), there is quite a bit of work involved to maintain it. It’s not the end of the world, you can extend the intervals between cleaning if you use water conditioners and you can make it easy if you plan things out and use the right cleaning accessories. When you’re dealing with very large aquariums, anything 70+ gallons, then this becomes a serious task for which you need to plan and allocate a few hours at least.

There are a few things that you will need to do regularly and most of them can be done together so that you only have to deal with the water-everywhere situation involved with the cleaning process once.

What do I need to clean on a regular basis when caring for an aquarium?

  1. Cleaning of the aquarium walls (both glass and acrylic). This needs to be done on an as-needed basis. Depending on the location that you choose and how much light your tank gets, you’ll have to deal with algae on the aquarium walls. If you clean it often, and as soon as the algae appear, you’ll have a clear aquarium and little headache. If you let it settle in – that’s when you might get in trouble. Some algae will become very – and I mean VERY – hard to remove once you’ve allowed it to settle in on the aquarium walls. And dealing with hard-to-remove algae might end up in unwanted, ugly scratches that will be there to stay.
  2. Cleaning of your filtration system. Your filtration system will need cleaning at regular intervals because some of the material designed to do mechanical filtration can get clogged and if that happens then the entire system becomes inefficient and slow. If it does that, then the water in your fish tank slowly becomes toxic and you endanger its inhabitants. It can get so worse that the water will actually appear dirty to the naked eye as well. Please ensure that you understand what your filter does and which parts of it are for chemical filtration and which are for mechanical filtration. The chemical filtration part of it should never be cleaned with tap water as you will kill beneficial bacteria and risk decycling your aquarium.
  3. Water change. This should be #1 actually because it is the most important. While we do our best to replicate the fish’s natural environment, we never get to a point where our aquariums become self-sufficient. With time, there will be dangerous chemical buildup that we need to diminish by replacing part of the water. How much of the water, depends on how often you do it and how good the quality of the water is. You can use water testing kits to check water quality. Please keep in mind that changing too much water can be harmful as well. So, 10%-15% should be sufficient if you do it weekly. For those that do it bi-weekly or have a heavily populated tank, you might need to change a bit more, perhaps 20% – 25% of the water. Again, use water testing kits to figure out how often you must change the water and how dangerous (or safe) the water in your aquarium is for its inhabitants. It is important to know that you should not just use tap water. It is recommended to dechlorinate it, either naturally, by allowing the chlorine to evaporate or by using water conditioners. 
  4. Cleaning the substrate/gravel. This is also an important part of your cleaning duties and one that I usually carry out when I do a water change because the substrate can accumulate dangerous gas which can be harmful to your aquarium’s inhabitants. You can help mitigate some of it with substrate snails or fish that scavenge the substrate, like Corydoras or some species of Loaches but it is best if you can just go in and clean it yourself.
  5. Overall cleaning of your aquarium. It is a piece of furniture after all, and with time it will get dirty. This is something that you’ll need to do as needed – you’ll notice it. What I would like to add and include in this section is the cleaning of certain parts/accessories that you might not think of:
    – your lighting system,
    – your aquarium’s top
    – your pipe (hose) system.Calcium can build-up on your lighting system as well as your aquarium’s top. With time, that will make your lights weaker and even insufficient for your aquarium. Be mindful of this risk and give it a look from time to time. When you notice that it could use some attention – give it the attention it needs. The same applies for your pipe/hose system and top – they’re both permanently wet/humid and they can get dirty/clog.

How can I make the cleaning of a large fish tank easier?

  1. Schedule the cleaning assignment. As you may already know, your large fish tank is not a small thing to deal with. Therefore, you need to devote some of your valuable time to clean it. You have to schedule the cleaning work where you can do it without any disturbance. Make sure you have the required time to clean everything – especially if you’re like me and do a general clean of everything that needs to be cleaned at once. If you have small children, it is best to make sure that they are not around as water will inevitably splash and it can be dangerous for them. You’ll also have accessories exposed and having a small child, unsupervised, running around, won’t be of any help. I usually clean my fish tank late at night while my wife and son are asleep or sometimes during his afternoon naps.
  2. Prepare the necessary tools. You need a lot of things. Mainly (what I use and recommend): gravel cleaner, water change system (might include a bucket), scraper for the aquarium walls – unless you clean them often, in which case you can skip that part, brush(es) to clean your filtration system and piping/hose system, filter replacement media, any water conditioners/treatment that you regularly use, plant-caring tools (if you plan on trimming any plants) and last, but not least – towels! Water will inevitably splash when you’re going to do the cleaning so make sure you have towels handy, be it regular towels, paper towels, whatever you prefer, as long as it can get the water off the floor, you, aquarium, etc. The last thing you want is walking around your home or office dripping wet, looking for a towel.
  3. Plan the whole cleaning process and stick to it – repeatedly. If you plan things out correctly and stick to the same routine every time, you will eventually become a lot more efficient and because you always do things the same way, you’ll avoid missing any steps. You’ll hate it when you’ll think you’re done and getting ready to call it a day – when you realize that you haven’t changed the prefilter’s sponge or cleaned it or the cotton pads that it uses (if that’s the case). And you’ll have to take the entire thing apart again. A well-thought plan will also help you be efficient because you’ll be able to identify moments when you’re not doing much – for example when you’re waiting for the water to drain or to be replaced – and you could get busy with something else. Be careful though – don’t get carried away with other tasks while you’re draining or refilling with water. You can get into trouble when water starts overflowing because you’ve drained more than you should have or you have filled it with too much water. If you want to take advantage of these moments just make sure you get to keep an eye on the water levels and that the task isn’t too complex.
  4. Clean it thoroughly. If you allow algae or calcium to build up excessively then you’ll have a very hard time removing it at a later time. A hard time that can also result in scratches that will make your aquarium less pleasing to look at. So if you are cleaning it, then make sure you clean it and you’re not doing sloppy work, just because you have to – you’ll be the one that pays for it later on. If you really can’t allocate this time to cleaning your aquarium properly – you can find a company that can do it for you. If you prefer that and can afford it, just hire someone to clean your aquarium regularly and then neither you or the fish will have to suffer!
  5. Keep it clean all the time – stick to the schedule. The same as above applies to your cleaning schedule: if you don’t respect the schedule then algae, calcium and all the dirt that you need to be cleaning will accumulate and become that much harder to remove. Your fish won’t be happy or healthy either. An unhealthy aquarium is much more likely to have weakened fish which in turn can get a disease and could lead up to a lot of casualties. Some fish species don’t even need to catch disease to perish, low-quality water parameters will be enough.Consider hiring someone to help if you can’t manage to stick to the schedule. Your aquarium will stay beautiful and your fish and plants happy and alive! After all – this is why you’ve bought the thing in the first place anyway.

I hope that you find all this information useful, that it makes cleaning your large fish tank easier and a more manageable recurring task and that it helps you maintain a beautiful, lively aquarium!

Here are some of the accessories and items that I have mentioned above, which you might find very useful when maintaining your aquarium:

While I haven’t mentioned them by name or even by type, I did think of them because they will make your life a lot easier!

 

This is an amazing tool to have as it is battery-powered and fully submersible. It means you can use it with a tank any size and any depth, and get to the dirt you want to be removed easily. It is very easy to use, the batteries do all the work and the water gets returned back in the aquarium.

There will be some clouding left behind after you use this, but most of the dirt gets collected by its filter. If you want to lower the clouding, you can add some filter floss to the built-in filter compartment and that will retain some additional dirt.

The fact that you don’t need any bucket or hose to clean specific spots or even the entire aquarium is simply amazing for those that don’t always have the time for a more elaborated accessory setup. It’s great to use even before carrying out your regular water change.

I use this successfully on my regular cleaning days as well as on the occasion when I randomly spot things that I want to be removed from the aquarium quickly.

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When it comes to water changes and gravel cleaning – a system that connects to your faucet and creates the vacuum required for draining and refilling your aquarium is a lifesaver.

You won’t need to use buckets, struggle to get it started,  worry about overflowing recipients or carry water yourself. You just connect it to your faucet and it’s ready to go. It allows for very fast water replacement and it saves you from quite some trouble with water spills as it minimizes the risk for that to happen.

This is a good option too:

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A good aquarium cleaner/scraper is very important if you want a long-lasting, pleasant view into your small aquatic world. This is very important, especially when it comes to a magnetic scraper like this one. Good quality means that it will be easy to operate, it will clean well, it will have an adequate size (as long as you choose right too) and will result in a very clean aquarium. The fact that you’ll use it easily means that you’ll not hesitate to grab it and clean that new algae spot that you’ve noticed.

If you get a cheap, poor quality magnetic scraper then you risk it disconnecting, grabbing sand and scratching your tank’s walls, having to dive in to recover the submerged part because it just fell off and all kinds of other annoying scenarios. You’ll think twice before using it and that means that your aquarium, and ultimately you, will have to suffer.

Choose a good magnetic cleaner and you’ll not regret it!

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If you ever end up in a situation where algae or calcium has settled in and is difficult to clean, a more complex cleaning kit like Hygger Carbon Fiber 6 in 1 Aquarium Cleaning Tool Kit will be very useful in getting rid of it. You’ll always want to use good quality tools to clean your aquarium because, and I might be repeating myself, you can scratch the walls and be left with a permanent scar on your view.

You don’t necessarily need to get a kit – these could do the job too and won’t cost an arm or a leg: or

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Water tests can tell you a lot about what’s going on in a fish tank. Some things you can see for yourself, especially once you’ve gained some experience, but for starters, it is best to have water tests to check on your status/progress.

You’ll know how often you need to change the water, you’ll know how much water you need to change, if you need to apply any kind of water treatment or conditioners and monitor your fish tank’s overall parameters and health.

I recommend using specialized tests, that are meant to check for a specific parameter as they are very precise and reliable. The usual X-in-one strips/tests that you can get for a few bucks aren’t always reliable.

They could, however, approximate the levels for you – and if that’s all you need, then you can certainly give these a try: or

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Always make sure that the water you’re adding to your aquarium is safe. You don’t want to harm nitrifying bacteria or your fish. Adding water conditioner to tap water (I am well aware that very few people will actually dechlorinate water naturally) is critical – always keep one of these handy.

What it does is it removes chlorine, chloramine and heavy metals from the water. It works well for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums and it is also supposed to help support beneficial bacteria.

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