Care and Maintenance of your Freshwater Tropical Fish

Care and Maintenance of your Freshwater Tropical Fish

The responsible hobbyist… changes water weekly!

The hardest part of maintaining a Freshwater Tropical Aquarium is disciplining yourself to change the water weekly! The water won’t change itself… and the fish can’t do it, so you must setup a routing to clean the gravel and change the water weekly.

The required tools…
The tool box for the cleaning and maintenance or your aquarium doesn’t have to be that large. Here’s a list of things that you will need.

  • 1 – Gravel vacuum
  • 1 – 5 gallon bucket
  • 1 – 3 gallon bucket
  • 1 – Long handled fish net
  • 1 – Kitchen sponge with a scrubber on one side
    (This sponge should be for aquarium use only)
  • 1 – Long handled aquarium scrubber
    (The long handled scrubber should be for aquarium use only)
  • 1 – Small dish towel
  • An old chair
  • A garden hose with sink adaptor (optional)
    (The garden hose should be for aquarium use only)

The Gravel Vacuum is for removing debris from the gravel and siphoning water from the tank. Your gravel siphon should be 2″ or 3″ shorter than the height of your aquarium. It should have a drain hose about 3 feet in length. If the hose is to long… it can be trimmed to the proper length. Since most of my tanks are fairly large I prefer gravel vacuums that are about 1 3/4″ in diameter with a large vacuum attachment at the bottom. If you have a small tank purchase a vacuum that’s about 1″ in diameter.

There are several types of gravel vacuums available. I once owned one that had a squeeze ball at the top of vacuum to start the siphon action. This vacuum was really handy for my small tanks.

My second vacuum has some short of a ball bearing and check valve in the top of it. To start the siphon you immerse the vacuum in the tank and and lift it up and down until water comes out the drain hose. A great idea… but I can never get mine to work, so I start the siphon the old fashion way.

My largest gravel vacuum just has a drain hose that comes out the top. You start the siphon on this vacuum the old fashion way… sucking on the end of the hose until water comes out. It won’t take you long to master the art of siphon starting!


The 5 gallon bucket is for catching the water that is siphoned from the tank. The 3 gallon bucket is for putting decorations from the aquarium in while your cleaning.

I use the long handled fish net for catching large pieces of debris that I occasionally kick up during the cleaning process.

The kitchen sponge and the long handled scraper are for cleaning the glass inside the aquarium. Don’t use this type of scrubber on an acrylic aquarium.

I hang a small dish towel over the back of the chair to dry my hands and arms with… and for the occasional spill. The old chair is for setting your 5 gallon drain bucket on while cleaning the gravel.

Cleaning the tank…

The first thing you should do before you begin cleaning the tank is turn off all the electricity. If by accident you broke the glass on the aquarium heater… you could get one heck of a shock that could be fatal!

If you have a brand new setup… only clean one half of the gravel per week for the next several months. You’ll want to give the beneficial bacteria a chance to colonize the entire gravel bed. All of my tanks are very well established so I clean all of the gravel every week.

To clean the gravel place your gravel siphon in the tank and start the siphon. Once the siphon is flowing put one of your fingers over the end of the hose to stop the water flow. Gently force the end of the vacuum into the gravel until you feel the top of the undergravel filter (UGF), then move your finger off of the drain hose to let the water flow. Give the vacuum a little twist then slowly raise it above the gravel, then put your finger over the drain hole again. Continue this process until you’ve cleaned all the gravel. Once you’ve mastered gravel cleaning you should have removed 10% to 20% of the old aquarium water during the process.

Its not necessary to remove all the decorations in the tank every time you clean it… just work around them. Debris tends to collect around the base of plants, rocks, and other decorations in the tank. Be sure to vacuum around them to clean out the debris.

Every 6 to 8 weeks you should remove all the decorations to clean them and vacuum the gravel under them. Over time a large amount of debris will collect under the rocks, sticks, and the base of plants.

Recycling your Aquarium water…
I toss all of my old aquarium water out in the yard to recycle it. Aquarium water is rich in nutrients that’s good for both indoor and outdoor plants. If you don’t want to recycle your water… just pour it down the toilet.

Wipe the inside of the aquarium…
Every few cleanings you’ll want to wipe down the glass inside the tank with either the kitchen sponge or the long handled aquarium scrubber. As the tank ages you may begin to grow a little brown or green algae on the glass that should be removed.

Refilling the aquarium…
Be sure to refill the tank with water of the proper temperature for your fish. Since I have so many tanks… I refill mine with a garden hose attached to the bathroom sink. I fill my Discus tank first because it requires 86 degree water, then I adjust the temperature down to 75 and move the hose from tank to tank to refill them. It’s quick and easy using a garden hose with a water shut off valve and breaker on the end to refill your tank.

The other alternative is to bucket the water. If you only have one tank… this method works well. Back when I bucketed water, I’d fill my 5 gallon bucket in the bath tub because it was much faster than the kitchen sink.