Removing Waste From an Aquarium

Use test strips to ensure nitrates and nitrites are at the right levels.
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Keeping their water crystal-clear is proof you love your fish. Aquarium fish, despite what they put on their resumes, are unable to plug in a vacuum cleaner or spray a little vinegar water on the glass to keep it clean. You'll have to remove impurities for them.


Algae are bad for your aquarium, as they interfere with homeostasis, not to mention aesthetics. Algae grow on glass, decor and plants, ruining the appearance of your tank. To remove algae on the glass, use an aquarium scraper. To clean the decor, remove it from the tank, rinse it well under hot water and return it to the tank. Do not use detergent. To clean leaves on submerged plants, wipe them gently with a linen cloth. Once the algae are free-floating in the tank, a water change followed by a few hours of filtering will remove it. To avoid algae in the future, purchase an algae-eating fish or add an algicide according to label directions.

Solid Waste

Metabolic waste and excess food are big concerns and sources of unpleasant smells. Overfeeding leaves uneaten food that nourishes the ammonia, nitrites and nitrates that can kill your fish; and it means more fish waste. As the fish defecate, your aquarium's filter should remove most waste, but some uneaten food and solid biological waste may still make it to the the tank bottom where it will remain, wreaking havoc with the nitrite and ammonia levels. For these problems, use a cleaning tool that siphons the waste while cleaning the substrate during water changes. If you have a very effective filter, partial water changes are necessary only two or three times a year. If your filter is not doing the job due to overcrowding of the tank or lack of power, you must do a 15 percent to 20 percent water change every two weeks. Change the filter cartridge during the water change.

Microscopic Waste

Ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are byproducts of fishes metabolic waste and uneaten food. These substances are dangerous to the fish in varying degrees of toxicity. Ammonia and nitrites are extremely toxic to fish; nitrates a little less so. Unless you use bottled spring water, use commercial products such as Aqua Safe, Amquel or Stress Coat to remove these products from the water each time you do a water change. Cleaning or replacing your filter cartridge regularly and monitoring the water quality by using test strips to gauge the levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates will keep your water crystal clear. Plants and algae need nitrates to grow. If you have a lot of plants in your tank, the nitrate levels will be just right, but your algae levels may rise unless you are adding an algicide.

Maintaining a Healthy Tank

Some aquarists find that a tablespoon of aquarium salt, not table salt, benefits freshwater fish. Some fish do better with it than others. Though scientists are not exactly sure why salt helps freshwater fish, it is believed the salt provides important electrolytes and iodine. It also keeps parasites at bay, and helps the fish to fight the effects of toxins. Algae does not grow well in the presence of salt.

Keep a small net handy to fish out anything you find floating in the tank, such as pieces of a decaying plant or clumps of uneaten food. Removing waste from your aquarium is an easy task as long as you are vigilant about routinely performing water changes, monitoring chemical levels and keeping algae at bay.

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