Where to Put Your Fish When Cleaning the Tank?

Feeding is not enough to keep your fish happy and healthy at all times. You must ensure that their tank is properly filled with water and regularly maintained.

Maintaining hygiene and establishing ideal living conditions for your fish calls for regular cleaning of the tank.

While there are ways to clean the tank without having to remove the fish, there will be times when you’ll have to remove it from the aquarium.

So, where should you safely keep the fish when cleaning the tank? Let’s find out:

Where to Put Your Fish When Cleaning the Tank?

If you have to remove the fish, you can keep them in a cup, mug, or small bowl with distilled water.

Never wash the temporary container with soap because even the tiniest soap residue, if consumed, can prove lethal for the fish.

If absolutely necessary, you may also use a large plastic zip bag as a temporary container.

Fill the temporary container with water from the existing fish tank. This way, your fish should comfortably adapt to it with minimal shock.

Once your tank is clean, this water should be poured back into the aquarium along with the fish to ensure the necessary environmental balance.

When you are moving the fish, use a net, bag, or cup to gently catch your fish.

Be extremely careful when doing this because if they’re startled or spooked, they may rush to a side, trying to avoid capture.

This may tear their fins or injure them, heightening their stress levels and making the job unsafe and difficult.

Since the fish won’t be familiar with the new surroundings, if given a chance, it may try to jump out of the temporary container.

To prevent this, keep the container covered by closing the lid or sheltering it in some way. You can use a layer of plastic wrap or a dish or plate on top of the container if it doesn’t have a lid of its own.

When cleaning your main fish tank, place the temporary container in a safe, calm place with a stable temperature.

Areas near vents and direct sunlight are subject to dramatic temperature changes, so don’t place it in any of these areas.

Make sure the temporary home is safe from spills and if you are using a bag, protect it from any tips that may cause it to burst.

Once you’ve placed the fish out of the main tank, do your best to shorten this time and get to tank cleaning immediately.

Cleaning, refilling, conditioning, and retaining the right temperature in the tank takes time. The quicker you can do all this, the better off your fish will be.

Now that you know where to safely keep your fish, let’s take a step-by-step look into how you should clean your aquarium:

Steps to Clean a Saltwater Aquarium

Here are the steps to clean a saltwater aquarium:

Step 1: Arrange the Cleaning Supplies

Saltwater aquariums have special needs. Arrange the following items before you begin with the cleaning process:

  • A plastic bucket of 5 US gallons or 19 liters for tank cleaning purposes only
  • An algae pad to clean the tank glass from the inside
  • If you plan to replace the filter, you’ll also need cartridges, carbon packets, sponges, and other filter media
  • A simple gravel vacuum, such as the siphon-type. Don’t use a battery-operated one
  • A vinegar-based solution or aquarium-safe glass cleaner
  • A thermometer
  • pH strips
  • A hygrometer, salinity probe, or refractometer
  • A different container carrying 10% bleach solution
  • A plastic or metal razor blade

Step 2: Prepare a Saltwater Solution

Keep in mind that the pH, salinity, and temperature of the tank water should all lie within the acceptable range for your fish.

Plan for this a day before you remove your fish for cleaning. Visit a grocery store and purchase reverse osmosis or distilled water.

Pour it in a clean, plastic bucket dedicated to this purpose only. Use a specialized heater to heat this water.

Moving ahead, you’ll need to add salt mix that should be available at any pet store.

How much salt mix to add depends on the amount of water in the bucket.

As a rule of thumb, half a cup of mix for each gallon of water should be fine. When mixing the salt, aerate the water.

The next day, use a salinity probe, hygrometer, or refractometer to check the salinity of the water.

Aim for at least 30 grams per liter salinity in the case of fish-only systems.

If your aquarium contains corals, the salt concentration may have to be at least 35 grams per liter.

The right temperature range for saltwater fish is 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 28 degrees Celsius). You can simply use a thermometer to measure the temperature.

Step 3: Remove the Fish

Ideally, you should keep your fish in the tank while cleaning the aquarium.

If, however, you’re looking for a complete or significant water change or have a delicate, weak, or small fish that you fear getting sucked in a vacuum, you’ll need to remove your fish.

Follow the guidelines stated in the previous section to safely remove fish from the tank.

Step 4: Clean the Algae

Wipe off the algae residue from inside the tank using an algae pad.

Some algae build-up will persist on the surfaces and will be difficult to remove with an algae pad.

You’ll need to scrape off this residue using a plastic blade or a razor blade.

Step4: Remove Water from the Tank

In the case of saltwater aquariums, the ideal practice is to change 10% water every couple of weeks.

This should be enough to remove nitrates from the aquarium. Siphon out the water and let it run into another bucket.

Step 5: Clean the Gravel

Now use the siphon-type gravel vacuum to clean the gravel in the tank. It will suck any leftover food, fish waste, and other debris.

If you decided not to remove fish from the tank, place a fishnet over the end of the siphon.

If your tank is comprised of a sand substrate, slow down the water flow by kinking the hose or placing your finger at the end of the siphon.

To suck up waste without disrupting the sand, hold the hose 2.5 cm or 1 inch from the surface. But stirring the sand to prevent anaerobic zones from forming should be fine.

Step 6: Clean the Aquarium Décor and Accessories

Use a new soft-bristled toothbrush or algae pad to scrub the decorations in the tank.

Alternatively, remove the décor and accessories from the tank and place them in a 10% bleach solution for fifteen minutes.

Then, rinse them and apply dechlor, a dechlorinating chemical for disinfecting a water system.

Step 7: Inspect the Aquarium Surfaces for Salt Creep

Salt creep is the crusty residue left behind once the saltwater evaporates to the top of the tank.

Use a wet towel or algae sponge to clean it off.

Step 8: Add Back the Water

Now pour the premixed water into the aquarium. Do this carefully if you chose not to remove the fish from the tank.

These conditions of the premixed water should match those of the water already in the aquarium, especially the temperature and salinity.

Be careful not to overfill the tank.

Steps to Clean a Freshwater Aquarium

While most of the steps to clean a freshwater aquarium are no different from cleaning a saltwater tank, we’ll discuss the steps that you need to follow to clean freshwater aquariums.

Step 1: Arrange the Supplies

You will use the same supplies as you did for cleaning a saltwater aquarium, except you’ll need the following extra items:

  • Water conditioner for treating chlorinated tap water
  • One-quarter of bleach for 3 to 4 US gallons of water in another container

Step 2: Clean the Algae from Aquarium Surfaces from Inside

You can stick to the procedure mentioned for cleaning a saltwater aquarium.

Step 3: Change the Water

How often should you change the water and in what quantity?

The answers depend on the rate at which the nutrients accumulate in your tank, that is, its bio-load.

Ideally, you should change 25 to 50% of the water every week. However, you’ll need to change the water more often if you’re looking to reduce phosphate and nitrate levels.

Yet, you can stick to less frequent water changes if you do significant water changes of 50% or more.

Step 4: Remove Old Water from the Tank

Refer to the procedure mentioned above.

Step 5: Clean the Gravel

Refer to the procedure mentioned above.

Step 6: Clean the Aquarium Décor and Accessories

Refer to the procedure mentioned above.

Step 7: Add Fresh Water

Pour fresh, treated water that matches the water already in the aquarium. Again, maintaining the correct temperature is crucial.

Use an infrared thermometer to verify the temperature from time to time.

If nitrate concentration is high in your aquarium, consider adding reverse osmosis water. To keep the tank conditions stable, add a freshwater aquarium buffer to it.

Closing Thoughts

By now you should have learned a lot more than your initial query of where to put your fish when cleaning the aquarium.

The best course of action is to adopt less disturbing cleaning practices and to keep the fish in your tank while cleaning.

However, in some situations, it is inevitable to move the fish. If that is the case, depending on the type of aquarium you own, follow the above-explained steps to clean your fish tank.

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