Building an aquarium is one thing, maintaining that tank is another. Facts are, keeping an aquarium in tip-top shape with algae-free viewing panes and crystal clear water requires very regular attention. Neglecting frequent tank maintenance tasks, only to find out it has gotten out of control, will always require far more effort to correct and possibly turn a minor annoyance into a threat. If you can force yourself to perform these simple maintenance tasks on a weekly basis, you're going to experience a much higher level of success.

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1. The Water Change

The most critical part of maintaining your aquarium is exchanging the water. This removes waste and helps rebalance water chemistry. A successful water change hinges on high-quality, purified RO/DI water. 

Purchasing an RO/DI system at home is going to be the best investment you can make to help accomplish a successful water change. You won't have to visit your local fish store to buy freshwater; both for mixing saltwater and topping off your tank. You will always be confident the water you're using is purified and free of harmful contaminants, and you will have an endless supply of water available at your demand should the unexpected occur.

Remove and replace 10% of your aquarium water on a weekly basis.

When mixing saltwater yourself, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.  Choose a high-quality salt mix and stick with it, success can be had with all of the available salt mix brands we stock on our website. Consistency is the most important factor when it comes to salt mix and trying to switch things up will be problematic.

2. Test Your Parameters

This is the time to verify your tank is being maintained properly.  We recommend recording all of your test results in a logbook or spreadsheet so you can identify gradual changes over time and have a historical record. Should you find something that needs correcting, catching that sooner rather than later is always a benefit. If you don't take action when parameters fall out of line, you are only allowing the problem to get worse. 

Recommended Weekly Waters Tests

  • Alkalinity
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Nitrate
  • Temperature
  • pH
  • Salinity

Some parameters are far more important than others. Temperature, pH, and salinity are going to be the most critical and you should check these parameters most often. Weekly at a very minimum, and most certainly before and after your water changes. Major elements such as alkalinity and calcium can then be monitored and recorded on a weekly basis.

Should you find something that needs correcting, don't wait and get right on it!  If you stick to these rules, your parameters are far less likely to fall out of range to dangerous levels. A wise aquarist once said, "We keep the water, not the tank".  This simply means that focusing on the water chemistry itself is what you need to do, everything else falls into place.

View our Reef Tank Parameter Chart to learn more about recommended aquarium parameters.

3. Clean Aquarium Glass

Clean your glass regularly, this ensures the algae doesn't stack up and become more difficult to remove. Algae magnets make it easy to clean your glass daily if not every other day.  

Just before doing your weekly water changes, it's a good idea to use an algae scraper and really go to town removing the algae and/or build-up from hard-to-reach places. A scraper will require a bit more effort compared to your algae magnet but it does a better job because you can apply more pressure. You're going to get your hands wet.  

When you get to the corners of your tank, do not allow a sharp scraper or razor blade to come in contact with the silicone seams. This can be risky business and instead, use an algae scrubber or coarse cleaning sponge of some kind. This will avoid any risk of slicing open the silicone causing a tank leak!  

The algae you scrape off will suspend in the water and will be removed by your water change and/or mechanical filtration. 

4. Siphon Detritus and Remove Water

After cleaning your aquarium walls to be free of algae, the next step is to remove a portion of the tank water.  We recommend you clean your send bed and remove any detritus during this time. You can use a bulb syringe to dislodge detritus from the rocks, then use a gravel vacuum and siphon to clean the sand and remove water in the process.

Remy recommends keeping different diameter tubing on hand for performing your water changes.  Large diameter tubing will siphon water faster and be great for performing a quick water change or moving larger volumes of water.  Smaller diameter tubing moves slower and allows you to target particular areas without removing too much water.  Even 1/4" diameter airline tubing is suitable for a siphon and works great on nano tanks and for removing small patches of detritus, cyanobacteria, and other pests.  

Watch Video: Why Water Changes Matter Most for Your Saltwater Aquarium! - Ep: 25 to learn how to perform a thorough water change and clean your sand bed. 

5. Replace Water With Clean Seawater

After you have removed 10% of the water, it is time to refill the aquarium with clean saltwater.  Plan ahead and mix your salt water the day before and be sure it has been heated up to the appropriate tank temperature. Measure salinity in both your display aquarium and clean saltwater mixing bin to verify they match. You want to minimize the downtime at which your tank is turned off so having that water ready to go will help expedite the entire process. No more than 30 minutes is the typical timeframe for a complete water change. 

When filling your tank, you have to be careful not to pump water too fast into your tank and, of course, avoid spills. A fast stream of water will create a sand storm in your tank and possibly damage corals. Use a small pump and length of tubing to pump the water from your mixing bin into the tank. Point the flow of water at a tank wall to diffuse it, slow it down by pinching the tube if you have to.  For smaller volumes of water, you can use a small pitcher to fill the tank manually, pouring the water directly onto your hand will help diffuse the water stream.

Learn More: How To Mix Saltwater For Your Reef Aquarium

6. Remove & Replace or Clean Mechanical Filtration

After you have performed a water change, it's a good idea to just let the filtration run for about 30 minutes before swapping out your mechanical filtration. Mechanical filtration includes your protein skimmer, filter socks, filter sponges, and pads.

First order of business, remove, empty, and clean your protein skimmer collection cup.  Then you want to rinse your filter sponges and replace your filter socks and pads thereafter. 

Remember, no filter sock/pad is better than a dirty filter sock/pad.  This simply means that you don't want to ignore clogged-up mechanical filtration. Should you run out of replacements, either rinse and reuse what you have or remove the dirty one altogether and run the tank without a filter sock until you get a new replacement. When not replaced regularly, the trapped debris in your filter sock will begin to break down biologically and add to the organic nutrient level in your aquarium water.

7. Spray Exterior Glass Panels and/or Lid

Finally, it's time to dry up any water spots from your outside aquarium walls and tank stand with a clean cloth.  Using an aquarium-safe glass cleaner, like Tunze Care Panes, to remove salt creep and smudges can really make all the difference in terms of keeping your glass clear. Saltwater tends to smudge and can be difficult to wipe clean, water spots are just going to happen.  The glass cleaner will make it easy to wipe off spots and get rid of pesky smudges that won't go away.  

Take this time to also check your sump, filtration equipment, glass lid, and take edges for salt creep.  Should you see some crusty residue or salty build-up, just wipe it clean.  

DO NOT USE AMMONIA-BASED GLASS CLEANERS like Windex, it's toxic to fish. Always spray into the cloth and never spray the tank walls directly. This avoids overspray of any kind getting into your tank water.

8. Clean Up Your Mess

Don't leave your tools out. This only causes more work later. Pick up the towels, wind up your siphon tubes and rinse your algae scraper with freshwater. Dry things off if need be and store them away. Keeping a 5-gallon bucket or plastic tote for aquarium supplies is the most common approach. 

Don't let tank maintenance intimidate you. We know it might seem daunting or difficult at first but we promise, it gets easier over time.  As you hone your cleaning skills, the weekly tasks just become routine so long as you do them. A clean and well-maintained aquarium is a healthy and happy aquarium.