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13. Saltwater Aquarium Maintenance
Monthly Maintenance
Long-term success of your tank depends on regular maintenance. Regular 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% 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) See
Saltwater Solution 14 for cleaning corals and other decorations.

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. This may not be possible in tanks with sand substrate. Stir the sand instead as dirty water is siphoned away.

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
Sicce Utility Pump is a perfect pump for water changes.

5) Replacement water for your saltwater tank must be dechlorinated and mixed prior to refilling the tank. Use Vibrant Sea Salt Mix

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.

AquaLife Pro Condition Concentrate Reef should be added to condition new water for aquariums, reef tanks, and holding tanks, when performing water changes and/or additions, and before adding new fish, corals or invertebrates, to an existing aquarium.

8) Add Activate Saltwater
to help fight algae and keep gravel clean.

9) Restart filters, powerheads, heaters, and air pumps.

10) Algae covered coral can be cleaned by soaking 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 the items 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.

Note! Important factors to keep in mind:

• Chloramines
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.

• pH
For tanks with constant pH problems, use
Marine Buffer for fish tanks or Brightwell Alkalin 8.3 for reefs

• Toxins
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 in but don’t remove water, you did not do a water change. Only removing water from the tank removes toxins.

• Power Filters, Powerheads, and Water Pumps
Periodically remove and clean impellers. Impellers become dirty and begin to turn slower.
Special brushes are available for cleaning impellers, impeller housings, returns, tubing and other surfaces.

• Intakes
Keep intakes and intake strainers free of debris.

• Equipment
Light fixtures and filters have specific maintenance requirements which should be performed according to the manufacturer’s 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. Sponge filters should be replaced after 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, carbons, resins, and phosphate 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 Rotoco will last up to 2 months and can be soaked in bleach and reused for up to 6 months. Wooden air stones in skimmers should be replaced every 1-2 months.

• Aquarium Glass
The outsides of aquariums should be cleaned with
AqualLife Glass and Acrylic Cleaner . Many products are available for cleaning the insides of aquarium glass. Use aquarium-safe cleaning supplies only. Check out the great products by Aquarium Life Support Systems. The blue pad on a handle is a favorite among hobbyists. Many household cleaning products contain bacterial growth inhibitors that can kill livestock in the aquarium. Again, use aquarium-safe cleaning supplies only! View All Cleaning Supplies

• Canopies
Glass canopies and tops can be removed and cleaned with
AqualLife Glass and Acrylic Cleaner. This cleaner breaks down algae and salt deposits and rinses easily leaving no toxic residue. Artificial plants, corals and other decorations can be cleaned this way as well. Always rince thoroughly with clear water before returning to the aquarium.

For stubborn cases and algae covered decorations see Solution 14 - Bleaching Coral.

• 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 in reef tanks and saltwater fish tanks. Aquarium Life Support Systems
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 Systens to replace essential elements back into the water. Pre-treated water can be purchased at better aquarium stores. For small water requirements this is sometimes convenient.

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 the beneficial bacteria. Aquariums relying on single filters should be gravel cleaned one week and the filters maintained the third week. Always add Activate Saltwater
after water changes and filter maintenance. If two different filters are used, never clean them both in the same week.

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