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Basic Steps for Keeping Your Aquarium Water Crystal Clear
Most aquarium owners decide to keep fish tanks in their homes for the beauty and serenity of the fish and bright, beautiful aquatic display. Maintaining crystal clear aquarium water is vital to achieving this goal, as any murkiness hinders this experience (and possibly the health of the fish). For anyone struggling with murky fish tank water, try these suggestions before giving up. For beginners, follow these tips when setting up your fish tank for the first time.
Filtration and Good Bacteria
Make sure you have both an outside hang filter and an under-gravel filter suitable for the size of your particular tank. If your tank is at the upper limits of a particular filter model, consider the next size up. For the outside hang filter, make sure that you position the suction tube close to the bottom of the tank and that there are no cracks or lose components. Also, the growth of good bacteria is vital, and many hang filters have “sponges” in them to help with this process (positioned in front of your standard filter cartridge). For the under-gravel filter, if you cannot find one to fit the exact dimensions of your tank, get the one that covers the most ground. It should have slots to position filter tubs in both back corners, and try to find one where the filter cartridges are easy to pull in and out of the tube-tops for changing.
Before putting new filter cartridges in your tank, be sure to rinse off the carbon! If you don’t, you’ll get a lot of carbon dust in your water. Simply rinse the fresh cartridges under cool water for maybe ten seconds on each side (and rinse the smaller under-gravel cartridges, too). Once your filters are set up with the proper amount of carbon (individual carbon packages come with the filter cartridges—use these as a guide), have a nice bed of gravel in place that is thick enough to cover the under-gravel filter and hold your display items in place, but not so thick that it will trap too must fish waste and hinder filtration. Shoot for maybe 1-2 inches, but this can vary based on tank size. One your tank is up and running, it may take some time for the good bacteria to accumulate—do not get discouraged if your water is a bit foggy at first! Good bacteria is a very important component of getting that “crystal clear” water, and squeaky-clean new fish tanks do not have any to help with this at first.
Regular water changes are important for water quality and fish health. Depending on your fish-to-water ratio, every month to two months is usually appropriate. You might be able to stretch it two-three months if you have a huge tank with only a small number of fish, but I wouldn’t push it. Aim for draining about one fourth to one third of the tank water. Using a suction tube and a bucket is usually the easiest way to do it (any fish store should have a suction tube). You can also use the tube to “vacuum” the gravel to suck out additional fish waste. When you fill up the tank again with clean water, do a touch-test to try to make it the same temperature as the water already in your tank (ideally, you’ll want a proper-sized tank heater that keeps the water around 82 degrees Fahrenheit for tropical fish health). Fill the tank a little bit at a time to keep from shocking the fish, and always be sure to treat the water with drops before putting it in the tank (looks for something that treats for chloramines/chlorine).
Another maintenance component would be the filter cartridge changes. You can typically wait until your filter is starting to over flow out of the tube opening, and then completely replace the cartridge with a new one that has fresh carbon. Avoid scrubbing the filter clean! You might need to clean the inside of the filter where the motor is once in a while to make sure it is functioning properly, but keeping it a little bit “dirty” allows the good bacteria to do their job of helping to keep the water clear.
As far as the glass and other items in the tank go, the easiest way to keep these clean is to have a plecostomus in your tank (sucker fish). The pleco will be able to get areas that you cannot, and it can be difficult to clean the glass yourself without scratching it. Feed your pleco algae wafers if it doesn’t look like it’s getting enough food from tank algae.
TIP: Use ammonia testers to make sure you are not accumulating any ammonia. If you are, consider a more aggressive maintenance schedule and mix the carbon with some white ammonia-neutralizing crystals (similar to carbon only white--usually found at any aquarium store).
Fish vs. Tank Size vs. Food
A very common mistake that leads to aquarium issues is having too many fish or fish that are simply too big for your aquarium size. If you are a beginner, definitely stick with smaller fish, and make sure that you do research on how big certain fish can grow. Most of the time, fish will only grow big enough to fit your aquarium, but this is not always the case. If you are not sure, consult with a professional at your local aquarium store and have your fish tank size (as well as any current fish and their sizes) handy. And be sure that you are not over-feeding the fish. Use good quality flake food that is designed to avoid clouding the water, and only feed what your fish can eat within a few minutes. Always turn OFF the filter until after your fish have eaten the food, and shoot for a feeding schedule that is every-other day as opposed to every day. Most fish are fine and actually healthier on this type of schedule, and you won’t have as much fish waste in the water. Lastly, some fish, such as goldfish and catfish, are notoriously messy (poopy) and will create more challenges for tank cleanliness. Again, consult with your local aquarium store if you are not sure.
This might go without saying, but check your tank daily for any dead fish! A dead fish will funk up a fish tank very quickly!
Good luck with your fish tank maintenance. Please feel free to share any extra tips and comments below!