How do I clean my aquarium with Citric Acid?

NEVER ADD CITRIC ACID DIRECTLY TO YOUR AQUARIUM WATER. A citric acid solution is designed to clean empty aquariums, pumps, and other aquarium equipment in a separate container. The acidic solution helps to remove stubborn calcareous build-up that tends to coat saltwater aquariums and equipment. 

Citric Acid Cleaning Solution: Mix 3/4 cup dry citric acid with 1 US gallon of fresh water.

For cleaning an aquarium, you could technically fill the entire tank up with tap water, then mix in the appropriate amount of citric acid powder.  Needless to say, that is going to require A LOT of dry citric acid granules.

The better approach is simply to mix up a gallon or two of the cleaning solution, then take a citric acid soaked paper towel to cover the aquarium walls.  Let it soak for a few minutes then with a little elbow grease you can scrub the surfaces clean.  Rinse the tank very well thereafter and let it dry before use. 

How do you clean your gear?

Using the same citric acid concentration as described above (3/4 cup citric acid per 1 gallon of freshwater), just soak your aquarium equipment in that solution for 30-60 minutes. The longer you soak, the easier it will be to clean the pumps.  Brush the equipment clean, then rinse it very well before placing back into your tank.

How often should you clean your aquarium pumps?

Remember, a dirty pump does not spin as fast as it normally would which slows down your flow rates. Depending on the severity of the build-up and crust on your pump, these effects can be quite severe slowing your pump down by 50% or more, not to mention the additional stress on the pump motor.  

Shallow Clean: Quick soak and scrub of your powerheads and return nozzles should be performed monthly.  Stuff that is visible in your display and tends to grow coralline algae quickly. 

Deep Clean: Longer soak of ALL your aquarium pumps and filtration equipment should be performed at least 1-2 times per year. This includes the return, skimmer, and reactor pumps down in your sump. You will take all the pumps apart, clean the impellers, pump covers, and volutes to ensure they are spotless. Ideally, your pumps will look as clean as they did on day #1 when you're all through.  Obviously, this will take some effort so take it in strides cleaning only 1-2 pumps at a time.  Keep in mind you can't afford extended downtime in your aquarium. 

**Pro Tip: While often neglected, cleaning pumps regularly is one of the best things you can do to save yourself some money in the long run.  All pumps will eventually wear out over time and require replacement. Keeping your pumps clean will maximize performance and longevity. This means you won't have to buy new pumps anywhere near as often and you can expect the pumps you have to provide the flow you need throughout their entire lifespan. 

Is Citric Acid better than vinegar?

The hobby, in general, has come to prefer citric acid in recent years. While there isn't any concrete science or reason, some hobbyists have reported vinegar deteriorating impeller magnets and epoxy. We have also seen reports of it affecting rubber seals and gaskets on pumps. That said, 100% pure white vinegar has long been a safe substitute for citric acid and has the same effect. A very acidic solution that reacts with the calcareous build-up for easy cleaning. 

How much does Citric Acid cost?

Product Retail Price Gallons Of Cleaning Solution Cost/Gallon Of Cleanin Solution
32 oz BRS Citric Acid $12.49 5.33 gallons $2.34
64 oz BRS Citric Acid $23.99 10.67 gallons $2.25
128 oz BRS Citric Acid $43.99 21.33 gallons $2.06
White Vinegar 64 fl oz $2.25 1 gallons $2.25