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12. Freshwater Aquarium Maintenance
Monthly Maintenance
Long-term success of your tank depends on regular aquarium maintenance. Regular aquarium maintenance, at least on a monthly basis, removes accumulated organic material, nitrate, sludge and fish waste, all of which can cause water chemistry problems, excess algae growth, fish stress, disease and fish death. Water changes and gravel cleaning are the first lines of defense against these problems.

Partial Water Changes
Water changes of 10-25%, at least monthly, of the tank volume are mandatory to maintain proper water chemistry. More frequent 10% water changes every two weeks are often even more effective, especially if the tank has had problems.

Step by Step
1) Unplug heaters, pumps, air pumps and any filters.
2) Remove ornaments that need cleaning leaving some as hiding places for the fish.
3) Spray plastic plants and ornaments with a light coating of
SeriClean and place them in a container used only for the aquarium. Let them soak for a time to break down algae. Do not spray SeriClean into the aquarium!

4) Clean the Gravel
Use a gravel cleaner to siphon 25% of the tank water. The gravel cleaner should be pushed down into the gravel, agitating and removing any debris. Clean the gravel in this manner throughout the aquarium and siphon any obvious debris on the gravel surface. Crimp the gravel cleaner hose to slow down the water flow and release the gravel that accumulates in the tube. Keep gravel out of the hose.

Some gravel cleaners, such as the Penn Plax Gravel Vac, have a built-in regulator to adjust the flow. Water can be drained directly into a sink with a Python or Lee gravel cleaner. Hagen gravel cleaners work well in deeper aquariums. Remember, only use buckets saved specifically for your aquarium. White buckets are great for small and medium aquariums. For large tanks, Rubbermaid Roughneck trash cans are great for moving new water to the tank or for storing reverse osmosis water.

Tip! Rubbermaid buckets are available in sizes from 10-44 gallons and a rolling dolly is available for moving buckets to the tank. Dirty water can be pumped quickly to the drain and new water can be pumped from the bucket to the tank with a 500gph or larger submersible pump. The
Mag Drive 5 is a perfect pump for water changes.

5) Refill the aquarium with clean water the same temperature as the aquarium water.
6) Add a high quality water dechlorinator/conditioner to the aquarium as soon as the tank is filled.
AquaLife Complete is an excellent chlorine neutralizer.
7) Add
Immune Plus and Aqua Flourish by Tropical Science to prevent disease, to enhance fish color and increase vitality.
8) Add
Aquarium Cleaner to prevent filtration disruption, to remove sludge and keep filters clean.
9) Rinse decorations thoroughly that have been soaking in
SeriClean and redecorate the aquarium.

Note! Important factors to keep in mind:

If you are trying to maintain a specific pH and the tank was at the desired pH before the water change, adjust the new water to that pH prior to refilling the tank.
Amazon Rain, by Tropical Science added directly to the tank is great for holding freshwater tanks at neutral pH, 7.0. SeaChem and Kent Marine make excellent freshwater pH products for African cichlid freshwater tanks and Amazon region freshwater tanks.

Municipal water treatment plants in some areas, in order to make water safe for human consumption, add chemicals to the water that can kill your fish. If chloramines are present in your tap or tank water, use
AquaLife Complete. It is important to note that different areas have different tap water conditions. Using Reverse Osmosis filters by Aquarium Life Support Systems is the best way to ensure the highest quality tap water.

TOXINS DO NOT EVAPORATE! Topping off water due to evaporation does not constitute a water change and does not lower the toxins in the tank. If you add water but don’t remove water, you have not done a water change. Only removing water from the tank reduces accumulated toxins.

Power Filters, Powerheads, and Water Pumps
Periodically remove and clean impellers. Impellers become dirty and begin to turn slower. Hagen and Eheim make special brushes for cleaning impellers and impeller housings.

Keep intakes and intake strainers free of debris.

Light fixtures and filters have specific maintenance requirements which should be performed according to the manufacturers’ instructions.

Filter Media
Disposable filter cartridges (all filter pad-type filters) should be replaced monthly. The carbon in pad-type filters is only active for one month. If filters hold two or more pads or inserts, replace them one week apart. Reusable and or biological filter media (sponge-type) should be rinsed periodically with dechlorinated water or water taken from the aquarium then returned to the filter. Sponges should be replaced every 3-6 months.

Micron cartridges, like Hot Magnum, Magnum, or Rainbow, should be cleaned in a mild solution of unscented bleach at a 1:5 ratio of bleach to water. Soak for 1-2 hours and rinse thoroughly under pressure. Soak in a solution of double dechlorinated water before returning them to the filter. It is often convenient to buy two cartridges and rotate them so the filter is never out of commission.

Most chemical media, Ammo Carb,
Carbon and ammonia removers, should be replaced monthly. Some higher-end chemical media, like ChemiPure and Poly Filters, last up to 3 months.

Air Pumps and Air Stones
Air pumps are easy to maintain. The air filters should be changed whenever they appear dirty or after approximately 2-3 months of use. Diaphragms should be changed if air flow or pressure is reduced. Replacing air stones regularly increases the life of air pumps.

A dirty, encrusted air stone puts excess back pressure on a pump and quickly wears out diaphragms. Air stones running undergravel filters should be replaced monthly. Remember, glass beaded air stones like the
Lifetime Airstone will last up to 2 months and can be soaked in bleach and reused for up to 6 months.

Aquarium Glass
The outsides of aquariums should be cleaned with
Seri Clean by Jungle Laboratories. Many products are available for cleaning the insides of aquarium glass. Use aquarium-safe cleaning supplies only. Magical Cleaning Rod and the Deluxe Cleaning Pad are also very good items. Many household cleaning products contain bacterial growth inhibitors that can kill livestock in the aquarium. Again, use aquarium-safe cleaning supplies only!

See all
Cleaning Supplies to choose what is best for your aquarium

Glass canopies and tops can be removed and cleaned with
SeriClean by Jungle Laboratories. Seri Clean breaks down algae and salt deposits and rinses easily leaving no toxic residue.

Artificial Plants and Other Decorations
Use brushes and
Seri Clean by Jungle Laboratories. Rinse them thoroughly. Stubborn cases and algae covered decorations can be cleaned by soaking them in a solution of bleach at a ratio of 1 cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water. After the decorations are bleached to the desired color, pour out the bleach water and rinse the decorations. Soak in fresh water and use a quadruple dose of dechlorinator. The decorations should be soaked until all smell of bleach is gone or until the rinse water is free of chlorine. This should be checked with a chlorine test kit.

A word about tap water . . .
Tap water is prepared for human consumption and is not safe for use in aquariums. Chlorine and fluoride are added to tap water for the protection of humans but will kill your fish and wipe out the beneficial bacteria in filters. Water conditioners are inexpensive and neutralize these toxic compounds. Good water conditioners bind metals and enhance the slime coat barrier of fish to help prevent disease. Reverse osmosis or ion exchange water significantly reduces excess algae growth. Kent Marine Reverse Osmosis units are among the best money can buy. These units produce soft, phosphate-, silicate-, and nitrate-free water. When using reverse osmosis water, remember to use AquaLife Complete by Aquarium Life Support Systems to replace essential elements back into the water. Pretreated water can be purchased at better aquarium stores. For small water requirements this is sometimes convenient.

Aquarium keeping is a fun, intellectually stimulating and rewarding hobby that brings the fascination of biology and nature into your home or office. Regular water changes and routine maintenance is the formula for success.

A New Tank

A cycling aquarium should not be gravel cleaned. Obvious overfeeding can be removed from the surface of the gravel but complete water changes will lengthen the cycling time.

If the aquarium is not equipped with an undergravel filter, gravel vacuuming (water change) and filter maintenance should not be performed at the same time. This could lead to a larger than acceptable loss of beneficial bacteria necessary to drive the cycle. Aquariums relying on single filters should be gravel cleaned one week and the filters maintained the third week. Always add
Aquarium Cleaner or Nitromax after water changes and filter maintenance. If two different filters are used, never clean them both in the same week.

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