Fishbowl Adviser

Aquarium Maintenance: The Complete Guide

Most aquarium owners don’t pay much attention to maintenance. But having a filter and bottom-feeding fish in an aquarium is not enough to have a clean environment for your beloved pets. Yes, it’s true that nobody cleans a river, lake, or sea, and fish have no problems having a healthy life there. But, where nature can take care of itself, an aquarium cannot.

A small amount of water in a closed system is a completely different habitat than the one in nature, and as such, needs a different approach and maintenance. FIlters do help, but not always. Because of that, it’s important to have proper aquarium maintenance. So how do you make sure your aquarium is clean without any previous experience?

Fish tank cleaning

Cycle Your Tank

The most crucial step in your aquarium maintenance is cycling. Before you add any fish to the aquarium, you must establish a nitrogen cycle, regardless of the type of water you will have. In a nitrogen cycle, any unhealthy elements that are in the aquarium water will transform into beneficial bacteria that your fish will need to survive.

This process happens when fish digest any protein-rich food and expel it in the form of ammonia-rich waste. During that process, bacteria will convert the expelled ammonia into nitrites that will become nitrate that steadily accumulates until the water is changed.

The best way to start the cycle is by letting the aquarium run for a day, without any fish in it. You can use a cycling aid to make sure the aquarium is seeded with good bacteria before your pets start living there.

After you finish this cycle in an empty aquarium, you can put a couple of your hardiest fish (gouramis or danis are usually the choices) in the aquarium water. After a week has passed, you can add more fish, but never more than three fish a week.

As long as you avoid overcrowding the aquarium and overfeeding the fish, the ammonia levels will remain the same. However, it’s still recommended to regularly test the aquarium water and remove some of it in case any harmful elements become too concentrated in the water.

Weekly Water Testing

Testing the water on a regular basis is the bedrock of aquarium maintenance. Because of this, it’s important to have a good aquarium water testing kit, educate yourself on how to perform these tests, and create a schedule that will make sure you test the water quality regularly.

There are several parameters you need to monitor:

  • pH levels
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrite and Nitrate
  • Alkalinity
  • Chlorine and Chloramine
  • Water Hardness
  • Salinity

pH Levels

The pH levels of the water should be maintained between 6.5 and 8.2. The exact pH level varies based on the type of fish you have, and you can ask your veterinarian for additional information. What you need to do is make sure the pH levels remain consistent and stable. Any rapid changes in pH levels can harm and kill your fish.


When ammonia builds up too much in the aquarium, it can put your fish at risk of getting sick and in some cases cause fish death. It’s best to monitor ammonia levels and make sure there is no excess amount.

Nitrite and Nitrate

Just like ammonia, having too many nitrites and nitrates in the water can get your fish sick. Nitrite levels must be undetectable, except during cycling. Once nitrite becomes detectable, it can be dangerous for your fish, and you should test for ammonia too. Nitrate levels should be kept below 5 ppm in saltwater and reef aquariums, while a freshwater aquarium should have below 10 ppm (freshwater fish need different conditions from saltwater ones).


Low levels of alkalinity will likely trigger rapid pH changes and impact the health of all fish in the aquarium. You will need to keep alkalinity between 120-300 mg/L to maintain stable levels of pH and keep your fish healthy.

Chlorine and Chloramine

Chlorine and Chloramine can make your water safer for drinking, but they are lethal to fish. You will need to put the water through a de-chlorinator and test it regularly.

Water Hardness

Water can get too hard if there are increased levels of pH. The water hardness should be kept between 100-250 mg/L.


For saltwater aquariums, you will need to watch the water’s salinity and make sure it doesn’t go over the recommended levels (that depend on the type of fish).

Man cleaning a fish tank

Perform Regular Water Changes

Apart from testing your water, you should also perform water changes regularly, usually once a week or month, depending on the test results.

It’s recommended to replace 10% of the water each week and put fresh dechlorinated water. And each month, you should change 25% of the water and vacuum the gravel that is located at the tank’s bottom.

Maintenance Frequency

While you do need to take care of a lot of things, not all of these tasks should be performed daily or weekly. And it’s never a good idea to clean everything at the same time. To minimize the impact cleaning has on beneficial bacteria and avoid doing more harm than good, you need to create a schedule for regular maintenance with separate tasks for daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning and testing of the water quality in the tank. For proper care of your fish, you will need to make a plan of all the tasks that must be done and when they need to be done.

Daily Tasks

Each day, you should do a quick visual check of your aquarium to make sure that everything is working properly (filter media, lights, and any other equipment you might have). You should also check the water temperature every day to do a quick check-up on your fish and see if they seem healthy. After each feeding, you should also check if they have finished eating (changes in eating can be a sign of an illness or some common disease) and see if there is any uneaten food that should be removed (with a siphon) from the water. And don’t forget to check around plants too.

Here is a list of daily tasks for your aquarium maintenance that you need to do:

  1. Observe the fish in the tank
  2. Check tank equipment visually
  3. Check the water temperature
  4. Remove any uneaten food (especially around plants)
  5. Write down any concerns in a journal or logbook

Weekly Tasks

Your weekly tasks should include light cleaning that includes the outside and inside. Cleaning a bowl or fish tank is something you really must do on a regular basis to maintain clean and healthy aquarium water. For the outside, you can wipe down tank surfaces with a cleanser that doesn’t have ammonia or with a simple cloth. You should also gently shake plants (if you have any) to dislodge any debris. Apart from taking care of the plants, you will also need to remove algae from the inside by scraping it from the glass. With a 10 to 15-minute break, you can use a siphon and remove any leftover debris from the aquarium water.

Here is a list of weekly tasks for your aquarium maintenance that you need to do in this order:

  1. Wipe down outside surfaces of the fish tank
  2. Shake debris off plants in the tank
  3. Scrape the inside glass of the tank
  4. Siphon substrate from the water in the tank
  5. Partial water change of the fish tank
  6. Note maintenance in a log

Monthly Tasks

The most important monthly task you should do is water testing for all the substances we previously listed. Apart from them, you should also test for phosphates if you have problems with algae, just to check if there is a bigger problem. If you have any live plants in your aquarium, you should inspect them, remove their dead leaves, and trim any excess growth.

Another important monthly task is water change. During water change, you should make sure you save a bucket of the aquarium water that you removed from the fish tank to use for the filter maintenance that you should also do each month. Performing regular water change is a crucial step that you should not forget or disregard.

Here is a list of monthly tasks for your aquarium maintenance that you need to do in this order:

  1. Water tests
  2. Trim live plants
  3. Change the water in the tank
  4. Change filter media
  5. Note maintenance and test results in a log

Periodic Tasks

Apart from the regular maintenance tasks that will keep your water clean, you should also take care of a few things that should be done as needed (with special attention given to the filter maintenance). These include:

  1. Replace light bulbs
  2. Inspect and clean tubing for a canister filter
  3. Clean filter intake with a filter brush
  4. Make sure the filter is working properly
  5. Fertilize live plants in the tank

Aquarium maintenance


Each aquarium is different with a different schedule for maintenance. You should follow the maintenance frequency, but you can also adjust it to fit the needs of your aquarium. There are plenty of pet products you can use to take care of your saltwater and freshwater fish that will help you keep the tank water clean. Just make sure your aquarium is clean and your fish are healthy.


  1. How to Maintain an Aquarium – HowStuffWorks


Related Posts

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

      Leave a reply