Many people assume that an aquarium is, for the most part, a self-sufficient entity that requires little human intervention. In the case of special freshwater aquariums this is sometimes close to true, but for the most part, aquariums require constant care. Some of you may realize that you must do water changes, etc., but are not really sure what the proper amount to change is. Others may wonder how often you should do aquarium clean-ups. The frequency of what you must do varies greatly depending on the contents and structure of your aquarium.
Let’s start with water changes. Unless you are simply adding water to account for evaporation, water changes should be done using a gravel vacuum. This is much like killing two birds with one stone. A gravel vacuum is designed to remove debris and nitrate from the aquarium floor. At the same time, it siphons up the water in the aquarium allowing for the addition of new water.
How much water should I change in my aquarium?
Typically one does about a 10 percent to 15 percent water change. They should be done about every two to four weeks. Many would like to say that you must do them every other week no matter what, but I am a person of reality, and it is simply too hard sometimes to dedicate this much time to your aquarium. I almost hate to say it, but in many cases you can do a water change about every month if you change 20 percent of the water. Please realize that this will cause a greater risk of algae growth and biological disruption in your aquarium, but you shouldn’t run into any major problems. In the case of freshwater aquariums, you are going to want to add a bit of water dechlorinator to condition the water before pouring into your aquarium.
Let’s also mention that you should take care when adding new water back to the aquarium. The fish are already a little uneasy about the gravel vacuuming, so you want to reduce the stress that you put on the aquarium inhabitants when you replace the water. Simply add the water slowly over a few minutes rather than dumping it all in at once (this will also help since the new water is usually not at the same temperature as that in the aquarium). For those of you with saltwater aquariums, make sure that you mix your saltwater solution and check the salinity. When adding water to account for evaporation, you should add freshwater since the salt does not evaporate, but when you have removed water using the gravel vacuum, you will want to add saltwater. It is also a good idea to check the aquarium salinity so that you can try and compensate for any deviation from the desired value when adding new water to the aquarium.
Clean Your Filter Media Correctly
Filter media cleaning is also a necessary part of aquarium maintenance. A good time to clean the filters in your filtration device is during the water changes. An important note that is often not known by aquarists: wash the filter media in the water that you have removed from the aquarium with the gravel vacuum. Also, do not get the filter media pristinely clean! You want to keep the bacterial colonies that are living in it. If you vigorously clean it, you will be removing all of the nitrifying bacteria that are good for your aquarium. Some of you may want to argue that in the best situation, the bacterial colonies should be living in the aquarium, not in the filter media. This is true, but it is not a perfect world, and saving as much of the good bacteria as possible will only help. As you may have guessed, the frequency at which you should do the filter media cleaning is somewhat dependent on your water changes. It is not necessary to clean the filter media every time that you do a water change, but the filter media should be checked to make sure that it is still functioning. Clean it when needed.
Assuming that you have already been through the new aquarium cycle, and the biological components of your aquarium are in good shape, you should do chemical testing of the aquarium water between water changes. I recommend once a month. This should be done on a weekend that you are not doing any water changes. This will allow you to properly check the levels in your aquarium since they may momentarily change a little for a day or so during the water changes. Proper aquariums should have no ammonia and nitrite content and moderate to low nitrate levels. pH should also be in an acceptable range, or one should add buffer or do a water change to correct it. This holds true for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
At this point, I hope I have at least given you a little bit of a better idea of what is meant by aquarium maintenance. Every aquarium is slightly different, and it is really hard to generalize the whole cleaning subject as I have done. There are many additional things that one may or may not need to do.