Hello again Pet-Pals. Today, we’ll be talking about tank maintenance. To the general populace, tank maintenance is something you do in the Army. In the world of aquatics, tank maintenance refers to the upkeep and well-being of your fishes’ home; ensuring that ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and algae are all kept in check. Some of you may be thinking: “Oh no, I didn’t realise that there was work involved with keeping fish!” There’s not, it couldn’t be any easier; at least that’s what you’ll be saying after reading the rest of this article *nudge-nudge*. With that said, if you haven’t kept fish before I implore you to read on and see for yourself how easy it is to perform general fish-tank maintenance! You’ll be surprised how enjoyable it is!

Plan Ahead:

This is the most crucial step when it comes to tank maintenance. You need to know exactly how much space you can give your fish, how many fish you would like to keep; what size, what species, what are their needs. I myself own a 34L Fluval Flex. In hindsight, I wish I had have bought a 200L tank so I could keep as much fish as I wanted!

The logistics behind tank sizing is complex, but in essence; the more fish you have, the more waste is produced. The more waste is produced, the more water changes you’ll have to do. Some fish produce more waste than others. Goldfish are notorious for their waste, while a shoal of Neon Tetras will barely affect your tank’s Bio-load.

What’s Bio-load, Aidan?

Bio-load is the measurement of how many fish can live comfortably in a tank. My Fluval Flex has a very small Bio-load because it itself is so small, whereas a 200L Roma has a huge Bio-load; capable of handling several schools of different species. If the Bio-load is maxed out you will notice that you are performing water changes more frequently, you will have rampant Algae growth, some of your fish may die or become ill, and the tank itself will look crowded and dirty. We generally stick to the following rule: For every inch of fish (not including the tail), allow 1 US Gallon of water. This way, your fish will have comfortable lives (and so will you).

Water Changes:

Once a week, once every two weeks, once a month; depending on how big your tank is and the needs of your fish, you will probably be conducting water changes on one of those three frequencies. Water changes are an important part of owning fish. Removing water also removes a portion of the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates that build up in your tank; leaving your filter media to easily handle the rest. The recommended removal is 25% of the tanks capacity per week. So for me, I remove about 9 Litres per week. If I let it go for a second week, I remove 50%. If I let it progress further, I perform a staggered water change over three days; eventually replacing 75% of the contents. While it might sound daunting, it literally takes me 10 minutes on one evening a week to perform a water change and help keep my little tank right.

When adding new water to your tank, it is very important that it is treated first. You will need to add something that removes the chlorine from tap water, such as stress coat or a similar tonic. If you have live plants in your aquarium, a water change is an excellent time to add fertiliser or a vitamin tonic such as magnesium. Water changes also give you an excellent chance to see your fish in an active state; this is very important for noticing diseases early and potentially saving a finned soul from passing.

Water added to a tank should always come from the same source and be roughly the same temperature as the tank it’s going into. NEVER put bottled water into an aquarium. The minerals which are good for our bodies may not be suitable for your fish’s. Also, it is important to be aware that most plant fertilisers contain copper (as it helps plants grow). Shrimp don’t like copper. They hate it that much that they die in its presence, no matter how minuscule. Always read the label on anything you plan on putting into your tank and always do your own research to make sure that whatever you plan on putting in is suitable for your fish.

Filter maintenance:

Ok, this bit is rather important. Your filter is the shield that guards the realms of fins. It is the watcher on the wall, the bulwark against disease, the sword that cuts dirt down where it stands... Wild analogies aside, your filter has an important duty: it removes the tiny particles of dirt and debris you can’t see, continuously keeps your water moving which prevents stagnation, allows water to pass through your filter media and further remove any toxins which may have built up, and provides a current in the water that your fish can play in.

Over time, your filter and filter media will become dirty and less effective at their jobs, meaning that toxins and dirt will slowly begin to build up. A water change is the perfect excuse to clean out your filter and filter media. Wash all components, except for your bio-max insert. The bio-max insert holds on to the good bacteria that promote a healthy environment for your fish, so washing it would render it useless.

Your carbon should be changed once every 3-6 months, or if your tank begins to smell. The filter sponge(s) should be changed every 6-12 months, or if you notice that they have become ineffective. The bio-max insert can be changed after a year of use. A new bio-max should be inserted before a water change occurs. Once inserted, allow the water to cycle through for one week, and then perform your usual maintenance routine.

Gravel and Glass Cleaning:

Perhaps one of the biggest innovations of the last 100 years, the gravel cleaner allows you to quickly and safely remove dirt and debris from your gravel without having to clean your entire tank. Nearly all gravel cleaners use simple physics to generate a vacuum which pulls the water from your tank, creating a siphoning effect which disturbs the gravel and “hoovers” up anything you hold it over. Conveniently; dirt, debris, waste and water will flow out the other end, leaving your tank spotless. Gravel cleaners are also handy for water changes where a delicate touch is needed.

Glass cleaning can be a little trickier, especially if plants and ornaments are taking up much of the room in your tank. You don’t need a fancy algae magnet or a dedicated glass cleaner... Find a decent washcloth (preferably white) and rinse it well under the tap. Wring it out and proceed to clean the inside of your glass slowly and gently. Sure, your hand might get wet, but from experience this is the best and easiest way of removing tough algae spots and general dirt. If that doesn’t work, read on...

Call in the Big Guns:

In the fight to keep your tank clean, you’re not alone! Several species of fish, shrimp, and snail are more than happy to bear some of the load when it comes to tank maintenance. Shrimp, Snails, Hillstream Loaches, Otocinclus, and some Corydoras love-love-love brown and green algae and are voracious eaters of the latter. Corydoras are also adept at sifting through gravel in search of algae, Hillstream loaches are excellent at removing algae and algae spots from plants, glass and ornaments, while shrimp prefer to fan through the water column in their search for grub.

It is very easy to tell the difference between a tank that has one of the above species and one that doesn’t. In my own tank at home I have Corys, Hillstream Loaches, and Coolie Loaches; all of which consume algae faster than my tank can grow it. This results in a spotless tank, and with frequent water changes, crystal clear water. Even just one or two can make a huge difference to your aquarium.

Testing, Testing:

Ammonia, Nitrates, and Nitrites; silent killers all. You can’t even see them unless things are dire. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to have a test kit on hand. A test kit consists of either strips or liquid and will give you a good indication of the levels of different elements within your tank, as well as the P.H level of your water. If you can’t get your hands on a kit, put some of your tank water into a bottle and bring it to us. We’ll test it for you absolutely free and advise you on the best course of action if things are a little out-of-whack.

In the event of high toxins within your tank, perform a 50% water change immediately and leave to rest for one hour. Test again and if toxins are still present, perform another 50% water change. If toxins are still present after that, prepare a temporary quarantine container for your fish, swap them into the container and completely clean your toxic tank. Once you’re happy that all toxins have been neutralised, redo your old tank back to its former glory and replace your fish.

Be the Hero Your Fish Need:

Compared to other animals, fish are entirely dependent on their owners for care, food, and general happiness. Without you, any fish tank can easily turn into a sad situation. Your fish need their water changed, your fish need feeding 3-4 times per week, your fish need their tank and filter cleaned periodically, your fish (and plants) need a day and night cycle. You are the only thing between them and certain doom.

Don’t be afraid to give them an extra gram of food, or do an extra water change if your tank is somewhat cloudy. Help your fish thrive and they will reward you with their happiness.

Signing off:

Keeping fish is its own reward. A clean tank, healthy fish, and crystal clear water are all something to be proud of. If you stick to a rough routine and follow even half of this guide, you’ll see a huge difference in your tank and in the moods of your fish; frayed fins and broken tails will disappear, colourful scales and shiny bodies will glisten in the light, and many more of your tank’s denizens will be happy to come out and say hello.

Don’t take my word for it; begin a maintenance routine today and get in touch with your results. We love receiving pictures and videos! And if you have any other questions, don’t be afraid to ask a member of our staff. We’ll put you on the right path towards a healthy and happy tank.

Safe swimming, Fin-Friends!