How to Clean Your Tank

Scrape the Algae

Algae scrapers, not surprisingly, are used to raze algae off tank walls. Those fitted with razor blades are perfect for glass tanks, but acrylic requires special plastic blades to prevent scratches. The blade is mounted on a handle to enable you to keep your hands out of the tank. Another type is the magnetic algae cleaner, which uses an abrasive pad against the glass and a strong magnet on the outside of the glass. When you move the magnet around the glass, the scraper cleans the glass.

Make sure you don’t get grains of sand or gravel between the blade or pad and the tank, or you will severely scratch the glass or acrylic. Scrape before changing the water so you can siphon out the algae that is removed.

Clean the Gravel

Gravel cleaners are an indispensable part of efficient water changes. The larger diameter of the tube reduces the suction of the drain hose, causing the gravel to be lifted only partway up the tube. The agitation separates the debris from the gravel, and it flows up the tube and out the drain, while the gravel gradually falls back down. By moving the tube throughout the substrate while siphoning out the water, you can remove most of the organic waste from the tank.

Change the Water

You can certainly perform water changes with a hose and a bucket, but there are several devices to make things easier. The first type incorporates a water-driven pump. These are hooked to a faucet; when the water is turned on, the water flowing through the device sucks water from the aquarium. Then you turn a valve and the tank refills through the same hose.

There are also automatic water changers that mount on the tank rim. They siphon and fill simultaneously through a water-driven pump device and can be left running on an aquarium for extended time periods for a constant, gradual water change.

Additional Maintenance Supplies


Complex controllers are available that constantly monitor temperature, water chemistry, and other parameters. Some will activate various other devices, such as CO2 generators, when they detect certain changes in the aquarium conditions. Some will even call your cell phone or pager, or email you if they detect a parameter outside a specified range.

Test Kits

You can use test kits to measure a wide variety of water parameters: pH, hardness, alkalinity, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and even more specialized things like the concentration of copper, oxygen, calcium, etc. Testing is vital if you use any supplements, since you have to know before and after values to determine the proper dosage.

Some kits contain a solid or liquid reagent that is added to a sample of aquarium water, while others contain dip strips already impregnated with various reagents. In all cases, you read the result by comparing the water sample or dip strip to a standard—usually a chart with colored gradations. Even more accurate results can be obtained with electronic probes, which are available in an ever-increasing variety. A digital readout gives a precise value. Besides being more expensive, these testers need to be kept calibrated.


Many aquarists use timers to turn the tank lights on and off at fixed times. Some timers can be set with multiple on and off times, and fancier ones can control more than one set of lights. With these you can simulate dawn, high noon, dusk, and even moonlight. If you run a refugium, timers can keep the tank lights and the refugium lights on opposite schedules.

Timers can also be used on dosing pumps for additives or for topping off. They are very useful to run CO2 infusers only when the aquarium lights are on. Timers can also be part of a wave maker; one way to simulate wave action is to have different water pumps cycling on and off, and the better timers can do this.

Are Test Kits Necessary?

Yes, the various test kits for ammonia and nitrite are usually accurate, although some are better than others. Some become inaccurate past the expiration date, so you want to be mindful of that.

Are they necessary? We lived without them for a long time, and some hobbyists still make due without them. However, it is a real advantage to be able to discover just what may be going on with your aquarium water.

In the old days, aquarists may have known when there was something wrong, but they didn’t know exactly what it was. Water testing helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the aquarium, and test kits are one of the useful tools for maintaining a successful aquarium.