Keeping your fish tank clean is a crucial part of caring for fish health. However, it can be a bit difficult to change the water when you have a sandy substrate. Start by partially emptying the tank of both water and decorations. Do an intensive cleaning focusing on removing general dirt and excessive algae growth. Keep the tank looking good by removing solid debris with a net when you see it.
Method 1 of 3: Be Prepared for Cleaning
Step 1. Determine the type of substrate
Not all arenas are the same. If your tank has standard washed sand, then you can rake it out and drain it without worrying too much about contamination from the tank. However, if you have specialized plant litter, you will need to be very careful when raking it, as it can release ammonia when disturbed. Read the instructions and warnings on the packaging carefully to see if any special handling is necessary.
You can also visit an aquarium store and speak with an expert who will advise you on your sand options. Some options, like coral sand, are very nice, but can be dangerous for certain species of fish
Step 2. Turn off the heater, filter, and all pumps
If they come with a switch, turn it to the off position or just unplug all of these devices. The fish will be fine in the short amount of time it will take to change the water, and for safety reasons it is important not to have electricity in the tank while handling the water.
You can also take this opportunity to rinse the filter pad or cartridge in cold water. It is advisable to do it every two to four weeks
Step 3. Remove the plants and decorations
Dip your hand into the water in the tank and carefully remove any decorations you want to clean. Wash these items in lukewarm water by scrubbing gently with your hands or a soft brush to remove all algae and debris. Place the clean decorations on a lint-free cloth or in a clean bucket.
- It is not necessary to remove live plants to clean them. This could damage the roots.
- Cleaning the decorations is a bit controversial and some argue that it is best to leave everything inside the tank to preserve the beneficial bacteria.
Step 4. Drain a portion of the water
Place the siphon in the water and begin draining the water directly into the sink or a bucket. It is necessary to remove between 10 and 25% of the water depending on how dirty the tank is.
- It is advisable to carry out this partial water change and cleaning process every one or two weeks.
- This dirty water does not need to be preserved and you can get rid of it immediately.
Step 5. Prepare replacement water
Fill a clean bucket with water from the sink. Add a few drops of a water conditioner and wait a few minutes for it to take effect. The water conditioner will remove impurities and neutralize chlorine from the tap water to make it safe for your fish.
Read the instructions on the water conditioner bottle carefully. The number of drops that are used can vary, as well as the settling time in the water
Method 2 of 3: Remove Dirt and Debris from the Fish Tank
Step 1. Scrape off the algae
Use a specialized seaweed scraper or lint-free cloth to gently rub the inside of the fish tank. Apply consistent, light pressure while making small circles on the surface. There is no problem if chunks of algae fall on the sand, as they will then be siphoned off.
Avoid pressing too hard on the fish tank, as you could cause damage or cause it to tip over
Step 2. Rake the sand with your fingers
Place your fingers in the sand at the bottom of the tank. Gently push the sand from the bottom up. Repeat the operation on the entire floor of the tank until all the sand has been removed. You will see that the residue will have settled on the surface of the sand.
Sometimes it helps to siphon over the surface of the sand once before raking it
Step 3. Remove debris from the surface with a gravel siphon
Lower the siphon until it is about 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) above the surface of the sand. Move the siphon in a back and forth pattern, maintaining depth level, as you scoop up debris and dirt. Aim for any particularly large residue.
Expect the siphon to pick up some sand particles with this method. You can then rinse those particles out and put them back in the tank or just throw them away. It's a good idea to add new sand every few weeks anyway
Step 4. Replace all the decorations
Take the time to take the clean decorations and put them back in the fish tank. You can use the same pattern as before or you can combine them into a new design. Make sure each piece is anchored and move it around the freshly cleaned sand as needed.
Step 5. Pour the fresh water into the fish tank
Replace the removed water by adding the treated water to the tank. You can pour directly from the bucket, although that could disturb the tank and the fish. A better option is to use a pitcher to add the new water slowly.
You can also deflect the water with a plate as you add it, further reducing the chance of damage
Step 6. Turn the heater, filter and lighting back on
As soon as you've finished changing the water, you can plug in all the electronics in the fish tank. Make sure they work properly before you finish the tank.
- You may want to leave the fish tank light off for a few hours after changing the water. This will help the fish relax after what has been a stressful situation.
- Check the temperature of the replacement water with a thermometer before adding it to the tank. The two water temperatures should be roughly the same or you risk shocking the fish.
Method 3 of 3: Keep the Fish Tank Clean
Step 1. Always rinse the substrate before adding it
Get a large 5-gallon bucket and put the new sand on the bottom. Use a sink sprayer or garden hose to spray the sand. Keep stirring and beating until the dirt particles rise to the top. Get rid of the dirty water and repeat the process. Continue until the water runs clear and the sand is ready for the tank.
Use cold water to rinse the sand, but allow it to come to room temperature before adding it to the tank
Step 2. Use a fine net for floating debris
Keep a small net near the fish tank. Whenever you see debris floating in the tank, simply catch it with the net and discard it. It is especially important to do it about an hour after mealtime.
Step 3. Be careful when removing decorations
When making alterations to the fish tank decoration, be aware that objects can get trapped under the sand and release toxins into the water as they decompose. When removing live plants, be sure to pull out the roots as well. Gently dig them out of the sand.
Step 4. Change parts of the substrate on a scheduled basis
Entire sections of the sand substrate can be replaced within a few months. To do this, you will use a gravel cleaner to collect the dirty sand, replacing it with fresh sand that has just been washed.
Note that this method can keep your tank clean, but it can also stress your fish and decrease the production of beneficial bacteria
Step 5. Get some snails
Snails can help minimize algae growth in your tank, which will also help make the sand cleaner. They also dig into the sand and prevent stagnation. Go to a local aquarium store and learn about the different types of snails that might suit your particular fish tank.
You will often have the option of choosing your substrate, but some species of fish are simply better suited to sand. Bottom feeders, in particular, can get hurt by gravel and enjoy searching for food hidden in the sand. Other species require sandy beds for their reproduction or the health of their digestion
- Don't overfeed the fish. This could increase waste in the tank and will require more frequent water changes.
- Taking fish out of the tank could stress them out. Try to keep them in the tank by changing the water weekly, if this is possible.
- Sand can scratch the surface of acrylic fish tanks. Before rubbing the inside surface of the tank, check for sand particles.