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Aquarium Cleaning Methods - by Carl Strohmeyer


For cleaning your aquarium (freshwater or saltwater) a
Gravel Vacuum attached to a siphon or re-circulating filter works best. These vacuums are quite easy to use; simply push the bell of the vacuum into the gravel and quickly back out. If you are having problems with sucking gravel into the siphon hose, try kinking the hose with your other hand to slow the out flow to keep gravel from being sucked up. Make sure and lift ornaments out of the way and vacuum in as many dead spots as possible. It is important to get as much of this organic “mulm” out of the aquarium as possible as this is what leads to higher nitrates, ph crashes (due to nitric acid production during decay), and poor KH levels.


If you have a planted aquarium, I recommend #00 sand (3-5 cm) mixed with
Azoo Plant Grower Bed, Eco-Complete, laterite or conditioned soil with #3 gravel (2-3 cm) on top. You should not vacuum the sand, as this will tend to be sucked all the way thru the vacuum, and this will also disturb the natural aerobic and symbiotic anaerobic filtration going on in the substrate being performed by the plant roots and nearby bacteria.
If the sand must be vacuumed, very gently push the bell of the vacuum into the sand and quickly back out, kinking the hose with your other hand to slow the out flow to keep sand from being sucked up.


If you have a reef or Nano Reef aquarium with live sand, vacuum very gently as I described for planted aquariums and do not push the bell of the vacuum down into the sand more than ½” to ¾” so as to not add oxygen to anaerobic (de-nitrifying bacteria). However contrary to some information thrown around without much research, vacuuming the layers of sand (or gravel) that contain aerobic (nitrifying) bacteria will NOT destroy the bacterial colonies as research (that really is not that new) has shown these bacteria to secrete a glue like substance to the media they cling to and a gravel vacuum will NOT dislodge these bacteria.
See this article about the aquarium nitrogen cycle:
NITROGEN CYCLE AND AQUARIUM CYCLING; How the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle Works


You can drain this water into a bucket or attach the siphon to a long hose and drain it outside or into a toilet using gravity.
There are other products that hook on to the sink, but these are over rated in my opinion and waste water. It is simpler to just get a long hose and get an adapter and attach your hose to the sick to fill, but drain your water into a garden where it will do some good (unless it is saltwater of coarse). If you do need this type of product you can make a DIY model with a Lee’s Gravel Vac, a garden hose, a faucet adapter from a local Hardware Store, and a water bed pump/drain. Lee’s also makes one that is less expensive than the Python and is exactly the same.

I prefer to leave the fish in during this process, as I feel more stress is added to the fish removing them and then placing the fish back in new water conditions that the fish are not accustomed to. Add water back slowly, and if tap water is used make sure the temperature is similar to the aquarium water already present in the aquarium, you can generally safely add warm tap water to correct this. Although in the Marine aquariums I maintained, I brought my own water and it was invariably colder than the aquarium, but this does not present as much of a problem as many think. If you do some math; Say your aquarium is 78 F and you add 20% water back that is 68 F, that is 1/5th the volume, so 1/5th of a 10 F difference is only 2 F.
What is more important is adding a de-chlorinator to your tap water (if tap water is used) WHILE the water is being added. I prefer
Start Right, this product removes chlorine (and the chlorine ions attached ammonia in chloramines), removes heavy metals, and very importantly naturally stimulates the slime coat in fish vs. products that drop an artificial wad of slime into the aquarium that generally sinks to the bottom anyway.

In some successful aquarium keeping traditions (especially in Germany), no vacuuming is performed. Water is simply siphoned out of the aquarium and new water is carefully added back in. For this method to be successful in fresh water aquariums, you need a healthy growth of plants, good lighting, a thin layer of sand just enough to cover plant roots (not gravel). Good aerobic filtration is also a must.

A new device that performs both water removal and recirculation thru a micron filter cartridge that is easily cleaned is the
Aquarium Cleaning Machine. This new device uses a protected magnet-drive motor to remove or re-circulate your water thru a filter (or both). For saltwater changes, this device is a money saver and fish saver. You can change 20% of your water, then keep re-filtering it thru the micron cartridge using the gravel vacuum do pick up debris. This saves having to use more salt for larger water changes and keeps a healthier aquarium with lower nitrates, as much of the debris is removed from your system before it can go thru the nitrogen cycle (adding to the Nitrate levels).

For the Full article including reasons for aquarium water changes, please visit this article: http://www.americanaquariumproducts.com/Aquarium_cleaning.html

Professional aquarium maintenance experience since 1978 as the owner of one of the larger aquarium maintenance companies in LA, CA.

I have been in the hobby since 1969.



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