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  • Writer's pictureStewart Kessel

Items Required for Aquarium Maintenance

Updated: Apr 11

What items of equipment and supplies do I need to clean and maintain my aquarium?

Frequent proper maintenance of your freshwater aquarium is imperative to ensure your fish tank remains in pristine condition, and most importantly, your fish and other livestock remain healthy and disease-free. Have a read of our article How to Maintain a Healthy Aquarium to learn more.

The equipment required to clean and maintain your aquarium is the same, whether you have a coldwater, temperate or tropical fish tank set-up.

Equipment required for Aquarium Maintenance (cleaning)

Essential Items of Equipment & Supplies for Freshwater Aquarium Maintenance

  1. Bucket or other water containers

  2. Syphon or length of hose

  3. Gravel vacuum

  4. Algae remover

  5. Water test kit

  6. Aquarium (fish) net

  7. Towels

  8. Water conditioners

  9. Thermometer

  10. Replacement filter media (filter- & time- specific)

  11. Plant scissors & tweezers (optional for planted aquarium)

As the list above suggests, aquarium maintenance does not need a lot of equipment or supplies, but it is easier to complete when using a few specialist tools.

A crucial point to remember is to have dedicated equipment for your aquarium maintenance. Although it might be tempting to use the bucket you use to wash the car or the garden hose, there is a strong chance that detergents and other materials previously used in these will cross-contaminate your aquarium water with disastrous effect.

1. Bucket or other water containers

A bucket dedicated for your aquarium maintenance is essential for water changes, cleaning aquarium ornaments and decorations (in tank water), and maintenance of the filter and filter media. A general-purpose 14 litre (approx. 3 imperial gallons) bucket is suitable in most cases. Don't go too large as this will be more challenging to lift and move around safely.

PRO TIP: Consider using a garden Gorilla trug. These come in various sizes. If dedicated to the job, they can be an excellent alternative, especially for filter maintenance and cleaning of other items in water syphoned from the aquarium.

2. Syphon or length of hose

A simple length of hosing is all that is required to remove aquarium water during water changes. A bore of 16/22mm is optimum for most situations. The hose length will depend on your aquarium's height to the chosen water container. Remember to factor in the distance required inside the aquarium as well as over the rim or hood. For larger volume aquariums, depending on location, it is often more practical to directly syphon water from the aquarium to an external drain or external flower bed. Hence, you may require a longer hose length.

You can also use the long hose to refill your aquarium with freshwater by connecting directly to a mixer tap or a pump in a water reservoir. But remember the water will need to be the correct temperature and treated to remove harmful materials.

PRO TIP: Add an aquarium inline tap (gate valve) to the hose to restrict or stop the flow during water changes - this not only helps regulate the speed of water changes, but it can also avoid accidental spillages!

PRO TIP: Depending on your aquarium style, use a spare filter intake tube on the end of your hose. When hooked over the aquarium, this ensures the hose remains in place while attending to other maintenance tasks. Just remember to keep an eye on your water levels!

Aquarium water change kit - SKAqiarist

PRO TIP: If you use a bucket or larger water container to refill your aquarium then using a small aquarium submersible pump saves lots of hassle. The pump can be connected to your hose, sit inside your chosen water container and effortlessly transfer water to the aquarium. You can adjust the water flow to avoid undue disturbance of the aquarium décor, and it saves a lot of lifting.

3. Gravel Vacuum

Cleaning your gravel is an essential part of the maintenance routine. A gravel vacuum typically consists of a syphon hose fitted with a larger bore rigid tube fixed to the end. The latter allows the gravel to lift gently whilst syphoning, enabling removal of trapped detritus.

Often vacuuming the gravel also removes sufficient water for the water change, in particular with smaller aquariums. Therefore, depending on your specific circumstances, you may only need to purchase a suitably sized aquarium gravel vacuum with an appropriate hose length.

PRO TIP: Select a gravel vacuum with a priming (siphon) pump to start water flow. Remember to choose one with an appropriate gravel tube length and bore for your aquarium size, and that the hose is sufficiently long to reach your wastewater container.

4. Algae Remover

Removal of algae from your aquarium glass helps keep an unhindered view of your aquarium inhabitants. A wide variety of different tools are available to help remove and clean the inside of your aquarium glass. These include various forms of textured sponges and scrapers.

Popular tools include algae magnetics that allows cleaning of the glass without getting your hands wet! These are best when used daily to avoid algae build-up. Aquarium algae sponges come in various textures and degrees of abrasiveness and are suited for routine maintenance. Other tools such as algae scrapers are more suited to removing stubborn algae growths.

IMPORTANT: If you have a plastic (Acrylic/Perspex) tank, you must use a specialised non-abrasive cleaner.

Whatever you use, it is imperative to ensure you do not trap gravel, sand, or any other hard materials between the glass and cleaning item. Otherwise, this will undoubtedly result in unsightly scratches on your aquarium glass.

PRO TIP: It is a little more expensive than others, but the Dennerle Cleanator algae glass cleaning sponge is incredibly efficient at removing spot algae and also unsightly limescale marks at the water level if you live in a hard-water area.

5. Water Test Kit

Maintaining optimum water conditions is paramount for a healthy aquarium. Measurement of key water parameters during regular maintenance sessions will highlight any underlying issues and enable timely remedial steps.

Broadly the kits are either wet chemistry or test strips.

Wet chemistry kits are where you add liquid reagents to a water sample to observe a colour change. Depending on the specific test you either count the number of reagents drops added to obtain the colour change or with some tests you compare the resultant colour to a chart. Wet chemistry tests generally are more reliable and accurate.

PRO TIP: NT Labs Aquarium Multi-Test Kit is good value for money and unlike some kits includes a test for all the essential water parameters including pH, Nitrate, Nitrite, Ammonia, KH and GH Hardness.

As the name suggests, test strips are thin strips of plastic with small paper pads impregnated with reagents that change colour to reflect water parameters when dipped into the water sample. They represent a quick and easy method to check water parameters, but they can be less accurate and unreliable.

Professional aquarists will invariably use wet chemistry kits because of reliability and accuracy, but test strips for parameters, such as pH, are perfectly acceptable. Using multi-parameter test strips to increase testing frequency can also be an excellent method to monitor for issues, especially when backed-up with a wet chemistry test for any unusual results.

PRO TIP: For those looking for quick tests to supplement the wet test kits, the JBL ProScan Water Analysis by smartphone is an option. This kit offers simple test strips where the analysis is determined using a smartphone app (Android or Apple IOS).

IMPORTANT: Both types of test kits have a use-by date. Use outside of the expiry date can lead to unreliable and false results.

6. Aquarium Fish Net

Perhaps not an obvious choice as an essential item for maintenance, but it is an invaluable tool to net out floating debris when doing routine maintenance on your aquarium. A selection of different net sizes will mean that you always have one available and suitable for whatever the task.

PRO TIP: Consider having a selection of both different net dimensions and coarseness of the net mesh. A good range of choices is available in the JBL Aquarium Nets range.

7. Towels

With your hands in and out of the water during aquarium maintenance, it is a good idea to have a towel handy to avoid dripping water all over the place! You will also need to mop up any spilt water or water splashes on your aquarium and cabinet. A suitably thick and absorbent hand or tea towel is suitable. Again, it is best to have towels dedicated to your aquarium, avoiding any potential conflict with other household members!

IMPORTANT: It is sensible to have a separate towel for drying off your hands during the maintenance process and one dedicated to the final wiping and cleaning of the tanks external glass surfaces. This precaution avoids any nasty surprises if gravel or other sharp materials get trapped in the hand towel that could subsequently scratch the aquarium glass.

PRO TIP: Several companies sell specialised aquarium towels with handy belt clips that mean that the towel is never far away when doing your maintenance work.

PRO TIP: Microfibre cloths are ideal for the final wipe and cleaning of the external aquarium glass. They quickly absorb moisture and easily polish away any watermarks and smears caused by your maintenance work.

8. Water Conditioners

Household tap water typically contains chlorine and or chloramine. Both are toxic to your fish and other livestock, including the beneficial filter bacteria. Therefore, before adding water to your aquarium during water changes, you must pre-treat the water with a reputable water conditioner (de-chlorinator). Typically, water conditioners are sold as liquids with the active ingredients already dissolved. Some brands also include other active ingredients, for example, to remove heavy metals.

PRO TIP: If you are using a hose to refill your aquarium after a water change, add the water conditioner directly to the aquarium before filling but use a dose for the whole tank water volume.

PRO TIP: When purchasing a liquid water conditioner (de-chlorinator), it is often significantly more cost-effective to buy a larger volume container as the calculated cost per dose usually is lower. Powdered products such as Seachem Safe offer even greater value for money. However, the tiny quantity of powder can be a challenge to measure for small aquariums (less than 140 litres) and therefore is best suited if you have a larger aquarium.

Some fish keepers use reverse osmosis (RO) water instead of tap water. Invariably this is because they live in areas with undesirably high nitrate readings in their tap water, or their fish require softer water than their supply allows.

RO water has the advantage of being free from harmful substances such as chlorine or chloramine, but it also lacks any mineral content. A de-chlorinator is therefore not necessary, but remineralisation before use is required. Several methods to remineralise RO water include mixing with treated tap water, adding a mixture of readily available powdered minerals, or using one of the numerous commercial products.

IMPORTANT: Take care to ensure water parameters such as pH, KH, and GH do not fluctuate wildly before and after your water maintenance routines. The change in chemistry will stress your fish and make them more vulnerable to disease.

9. Thermometer

When completing water changes, the water temperature must remain constant. Sudden fluctuations as little as 1 or 2 degrees Celsius can stress your livestock. Fish are poikilothermic creatures, that means the surrounding water temperature, controls their body temperature. Therefore, a thermometer is needed to check the clean pre-conditioned water temperature before added to the aquarium.

PRO TIP: You can use your existing aquarium thermometer if removable, but it is often easier to have a second thermometer to use for this task. A digital handheld thermometer is ideal as it is more robust and easier to use for this type of application.

10.Replacement Filter Media (filter specific)

Depending on your filter type, you may have to complete some specific maintenance during your regular aquarium maintenance sessions. Typically, this would include cleaning any prefilter sponges and replacing filter wool/floss if used.

IMPORTANT: Do not clean any bio-media as this is where a large proportion of the beneficial bacteria will reside. Vigorous cleaning of this will kill the bacteria and result in a filter crash. Typically, you will only need to attend to the bio-media if it starts to degrade or due to a large build-up of detritus the filter flow rate is impeded.

PRO TIP: Always clean the filter parts using tank water removed as part of the water change. Replacement sponges for internal filters and prefilters in external canister filters are only needed if the originals have started to degrade.

In addition to the mechanical prefilter sponges and bio-media, some filter specifications use ion-exchange or super-porous media to 'polish' the water chemistry and remove dissolved chemicals. Generally, these require more frequent replacement or regeneration.

11. Plant Scissors & Tweezers (optional for planted aquarium)

If you have a planted aquarium, it will be advantageous to own some specialised aquascaping tools. Serious aquascapers may have a wide range of plant tools, but for most fish hobbyists with a planted aquarium, the main requirements are a set of long tweezers for planting and a pair of plant scissors used to trim plant growth.

PRO TIP: Specialised aquascaping tools can be very expensive, but it is often a false economy to purchase claimed equivalent cheap options. Medium priced tools like those offered by Tropica offer the best value for money.

Extra non-essential equipment:

Those looking to supplement their aquarium maintenance kit and supplies further may want to consider the following useful, but non-essential items.

12. Battery operated gravel vacuum

Numerous, air, battery or mains Powered Gravel Cleaners are available to help keep substrates free from waste and other detritus. In most circumstances, the simple syphons described above with gravel cleaning heads will suffice for regular maintenance during water changes. However, power-assisted gravel cleaners can quickly remove more significant quantities of detritus without causing substantial water changes.

PRO TIP: One of the best models, suitable for home aquarists is the Fluval ProVac Powered Aquarium Gravel Cleaner. This new main's powered device has noticeably more power than the previous battery-operated model. It is also fitted with a useful water change adapter (beware hose not included) to facilitate water changes using its infernal pump.

13. Tube/hose brushes

If your aquarium has an external canister filter with pipework running from the filter to the aquarium, consider a filter hose cleaner to keep the pipework looking clean and free from algae build-up. The same tool is useful if you have a spray bar to keep this clear of any build-up of grime that may impede the water flow.

Aquarium pipe brush set

PRO TIP: A long double-headed brush such as the JBL Cleany is one of my stock tools and is suited for hoses with bore sizes 12-30mm.

14. Cleaning fluid for aquarium ornaments

If your style of aquarium layout is to have lots of plastic plants and or ornaments, then there may come a time when you want to give them a deep clean. It will require you to remove them from the aquarium and to scrub them with a brush. It is crucial to avoid the use of detergents, but you can use a weak bleach solution. Just ensure you thoroughly rinsed the items to remove any bleach traces before placing them back in the aquarium. Good practise is to soak them in an aquarium conditioner (de-chlorinator) solution for a while before putting them back. An alternative approach is to use one of the commercial aquarium plastic plant and ornament cleaners such as the NT Labs Plastic Plant Cleaner product.

IMPORTANT: Most commercial aquarium plastic plant and ornament cleaning products come with a neutraliser solution. It is imperative to follow the included instructions and use the neutraliser solution where supplied.

PRO TIP: A nail brush and toothbrush, yes you read that right, are ideal tools to use for cleaning aquarium objects. Just be sure to have a dedicated set for your aquarium. Don't be tempted to reuse old brushes lying around the house. If impregnated with soaps or toothpaste, these could cross-contaminate your aquarium. There is no need, as multi-packs of suitable brushes can be purchased cheaply.

15. External glass cleaner

Great care is required when cleaning the external glass surfaces of your aquarium. As suggest in a pro tip above, microfibre cloths are ideal for removing water and polishing away smear marks. Stubborn marks such as limescale may require additional measures.

IMPORTANT: Most household glass cleaners contain detergents and therefore are unsuitable for use around an aquarium.

PRO TIP: White vinegar on a soft cloth can help remove stubborn limescale marks on the external glass surface of your aquarium. Take care not to allow any to enter your aquarium water. Alternatively, commercial products such as JBL Pro-Clean Aqua - Glass Cleaner are an excellent choice for cleaning external aquarium glass surfaces.

Author: Stewart Kessel CChem, MRSC

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