Fish tanks can be a great way to bring some life into your home, but you need to know how to take care of them. There is a very fine line between one day your fish being healthy, and the next they start dropping like flies.
Regular water checks, cleaning and maintenance are needed to keep your fish healthy and happy. This can become time consuming, but, if you set yourself up in a routine from day one, it will save you time and stress in the long run.
If you are wondering how to keep your fish tank as clean as possible without carrying out a partial water change every time, then this article is for you!
Why do you need to keep your fish tank clean?
Keeping your fish tank clean is how you keep the water fresh and safe for your fish.
Fish tanks will become smelly, murky, and dirty if not cleaned on a regular basis. A dirty tank will eventually kill all of your fish as the water quality will deteriorate, which will lead to ammonia forming which is fatal for the little guys.
It is pointless having a fish tank if you can’t actually see the fish because the water looks like something found in a witch’s den.
A build up of organic matter will start to form on the tank walls if you don’t clean it out regularly. These are food sources for microorganisms such as algae that will grow in your fish tank if they have a supply of nutrients.
Some people call this algae “fish food” because it may be eaten by the fish in your tank, but only certain fish eat the algae, and they will only eat it in limited quantities. It will spread much quicker than it can be eaten.
How often should you clean a fish tank?
There is no golden rule for cleaning a fish tank.
It can depend on the size of your tank, the type of equipment that you have and how often your pet fish eat or produce waste in their tank. Some fish produce a lot more waste than others. A good example of this is a goldfish.
Regular partial water changes are a very important part of keeping your fish tank clean.
However, if you keep on top of the smaller cleaning jobs in your tank, you won’t have to carry out a water change quite so often.
It’s important to keep your equipment clean, and in good working order so that the water remains clear and healthy for your pet fish inside of the tank!
A good general rule is that if anything looks dirty, it probably should be cleaned, which sounds like good advice to me.
How do you clean a fish tank without changing the water?
Well, technically, you can’t. A partial water change has to be carried out on a regular basis, or you will eventually end up with no fish.
However, there are steps you can take to keep your tank clean so that you don’t need to carry out a water change as often. Keeping everything else in check will mean you will only need to carry out a partial water change maybe once every 3-4 weeks, unless something happens to your water quality which needs quick action, but I will go into that a bit further on.
It is not just the water that needs to be clean in your fish tank. The gravel (or whichever substrate you are using), glass, ornaments, air pump, heater and the filter all need to be cleaned regularly. Basically, if it’s not an actual fish, it will need cleaning from time to time.
The only exception to this is the filter sponge. You don’t clean this as this is where all your good bacteria live.
If the filter sponge is completely covered in gunky stuff and isn’t preforming as it should, you can clean it when you are carrying out a partial water change and clean it in the water you are getting rid of. Now, clearly, this is not going to clean it properly. You just need to remove anything that looks like it is causing a blockage. I use a clean cloth and gently rub it against anything on the filter sponge that needs to come off.
I always make sure the inlet part of the filter (where the water goes in before going through the filter) is clear of any debris. I keep an eye on this daily when I switch my aquarium lights on of a morning. The same goes with the heater and air pump.
I always have my little net handy and if there is any debris or bits of plant floating around I scoop them up straight away.
You should aim to clean the inside of your glass at least once a week. I always clean mine twice a week though, as then there isn’t enough time for the stubborn little green spots to appear. You just need a cloth, or you can buy a multi purpose aquarium cleaner tool that has what looks like a sponge on a stick. This is good to use if doing it regularly. It doesn’t really help with stubborn spots though as you need to really press on them to lift them.
I have recently started using a Magic Eraser to clean my tank and it is brilliant. You can read my recent article about whether it is safe to use a Magic eraser on a fish tank.
Don’t forget about the outside of your tank as well. Make sure to give that a good wipe once a week.
Your fish tank ornaments can get covered in algae if not cleaned regularly. The longer it stays on without being cleaned, the harder it is to get off.
I take the ornaments out once a week and scrub them with a nail brush. I also use a toothbrush to make sure any internal parts of the ornaments are also cleaned.
I test my water parameters once a week to make sure everything is ok. Your parameters can go wonky with either clean or dirty water. Monitoring your water regularly will help alert you to any problems that are occurring.
Do you have to clean fish tank gravel?
It is very important that you clean your fish tank gravel on a regular basis. This is where both food and waste will lie and rot otherwise.
The gravel can be cleaned without carrying out a water change by using an electric gravel vacuum. I have one which I have recently started using. The vacuum sucks the water up, which then goes through a filter bag and bag into the tank.
If you are used to using the traditional gravel cleaner which pumps the water through, you just have to be careful that you keep the filter bag over your tank so the water goes back in there and not on the floor next to the tank. Yes, I learnt that the hard way..
This electric gravel vacuum is really good for cleaning the gravel without carrying out a water change. I use it every other week in my tank.
You will notice after cleaning your gravel that the water will go cloudy. This is normal as you have disturbed everything that was lying on or in the gravel and should clear after an hour.
If the water doesn’t clear after a few hours, you haven’t cleaned your gravel well enough.
Should you ever carry out a full water change?
The only time you should carry out a full water change is if something catastrophic has happened in your fish tank which has resulted in all of your fish dying. If this happens, I would suggest scrubbing your tank clean after you have removed the water. You will then need to start the tank cycle off again before adding any new fish.
You should never carry out a full water change in a healthy tank as this will kill all your fish off pretty quickly.
A full water change will reset your tank back to day one; remember, when you couldn’t put anything in it for weeks? All of the good bacteria that you patiently waited for at the start will be flushed down the drain with a full water change. This means you will need to cycle the tank again.
What happens if you don’t clean your fish tank?
If you don’t clean your fish tank you are risking the health and wellbeing of your fish.
If your tank gets too dirty the water will go cloudy, which is a sign of the water parameters changing in your tank.
Your filter, and possibly your heater will clog up and stop working as it should.
Everything in your tank will get covered in green algae.
Your fish will get sick and will then die.
Keeping your fish tank clean is one of the most important roles of being a fish mum or dad. If you are not keen on doing that, you shouldn’t really have fish as pets in the first place.
How long can a fish tank go without a water change?
There isn’t a set answer for this.
How long a fish tank can go without having a water change depends on different factors, mainly the size of your tank, how efficient your filter is, how many fish you have, and if they are a species that produce a lot of waste.
Once the water gets cloudy and the glass is turning green, it is well overdue a partial water change and you need to keep on top of your general cleaning.
To summarise, it is impossible to keep your fish tank clean without ever carrying out a partial water change. You need to be carrying out regular cleaning of the other parts of your fish tank so that you don’t have to change the water as often. You should be ok carrying out a partial water change every 3-4 weeks if you keep on top of your other cleaning jobs on a regular basis.
Make sure you are carrying out regular water tests to pre-empt any problems.