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Betta fish are awesome pets that can live for many years if given the right care. Their beautiful fins and spunky personality make them fascinating to watch, and a well-planned aquarium can make a great display feature in your home or office.
One of the major pitfalls for new fish keepers is learning how to clean the aquarium. You may be wondering whether you’re cleaning enough or too often, or if you’re even doing it right. Well, if that’s you, you’ve come to the right place, because this guide will teach you everything you need to know to clean your betta fish tank like an expert!
Let’s get our hands wet and learn how to clean betta fish tanks!
- Regular betta fish tank cleaning is essential for a healthy pet and a beautiful display tank
- Clean your betta fish tank when your water parameters deteriorate. Monitor your water chemistry with a test kit to work out the perfect cleaning schedule for your tank.
- Aquarium maintenance can be stressful for your fish, so work efficiently but gently when you clean your betta fish tank.
- Never remove your fish during regular cleaning and maintenance. Leave your betta to swim in the remaining water while performing a water change.
Why Do I Have To Do This?
Many fish keepers make the mistake of waiting until their betta fish tank looks bad before cleaning it up, but fish tank cleaning is about more than just aesthetics. Betta fish need a clean and safe environment to live a long and healthy life.
Cleaning a betta fish tank is the perfect opportunity to change out some of the old aquarium water and improve the water quality and parameters in your tank. You might not see the difference in your tank’s water, but your fish will definitely feel it!
When To Work On Your Aquarium
Weekly clean ups and water changes are generally a good idea, but in some cases that might not be enough. Meanwhile, other tanks might only need to be cleaned every second week. So how do you know how often to clean a betta fish aquarium?
Regular Testing for A Science Based Approach
Use your water test kit to take the guesswork out of the equation and give yourself the confidence that you’re caring for your pet just right. If you don’t already have a test kit, pick up a set of test strips or a liquid test kit.
The most important parameters to test for are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH. Test weekly, at least for the first few months after setting up your betta’s tank.
Suggested Betta Fish Water Parameters
- Ammonia: Zero parts per million (ppm)
- Nitrite: Zero ppm
- Nitrate: Up to 20 ppm
- Temperature: Bettas are tropical fish. Use a heater to maintain warm water temperatures of about 78 – 80 °F
- pH: 6.5 to 7.5
Water changes should be done based on your water parameters. While there are many blogs and pet sites that will tell you to just make a water change every week or bi-monthly, it’s not the best idea to just go off a rigid schedule. Your water changes should be based on your parameters.
You should know over time with your test results, your tanks nutrient accumulation. This is especially true if you have a heavily planted tank where, depending on the type of plants you have – you may not need to do water changes as often and may actually need to dose nutrients instead!
The Nitrogen Cycle – Watch Those Nitrates
The chemistry of your betta fish tank water changes over time as fish poop, uneaten food, and dead plant matter accumulate in your aquarium water. Unfortunately, water quality gets worse, not better, and it can become dangerous to your fish if you go too long without water changes.
Your ammonia and nitrite levels should always read zero, but your nitrate levels will rise and your pH may drop. Nitrates may be impossible to see or smell, but they make a big difference to your fish. Long-term exposure to high nitrates will stress your betta and even cause serious health problems in some cases.
Clean your betta fish aquarium and perform a partial water change if your nitrates rise above about 40 parts per million or your pH drops below 6.5. Slightly higher nitrate levels aren’t the end of the world, but try to maintain your levels to the ones we mentioned earlier.
As a biofilter cycles, ammonia will rise until sufficient nitrifying bacteria are present to consume the ammonia and convert it to nitrite. Ammonia levels will then begin to decrease while nitrite levels increase. Nitrite levels will continue to increase until sufficient bacteria are present to consume the nitrite and convert it to nitrate. Unless many plants are present, nitrate levels will rise slowly until a water change is performed.Source – Florida Department Of Agriculture
Of course, you want your betta fish tank to look great so that you can enjoy watching your fishy friend. An awesome fish tank also makes any room look so much better if you ask me!
You can clean your betta fish tank to remove unsightly algae even if your water parameters are still safe. However, invading your betta fish’s home to clean too often will cause unnecessary stress on your pet, so it’s best to get on top of the cause of excess algae growth rather than continually clean it.
How To Clean Betta Fish Tank – In 8 Simple Steps
The best way to clean a betta fish tank is during a partial water change. Continue reading to learn all the steps to clean your betta fish aquarium like an expert!
- Gravel vacuum, also known as an aquarium siphon (mini size)
- Algae scraper
- Small brush, e.g. soft toothbrush
- Two buckets
- Heater (if not using tap water and you need to prep the water overnight)
Cleaning Procedure Overview
Basically, you’re going to be removing dirt and water from your betta tank, cleaning the glass and ornaments (if necessary), and then replacing the water you took out with clean new water that has been treated to make it safe for your fish.
You’ll be doing all this with your fish in the aquarium, so you’ll want to work gently to minimize stress on your betta.
It might take 30 minutes or more if this is your first time cleaning a betta tank, but don’t worry, you’ll get much faster with a little experience!
Step 1: Get ready
Start by collecting all the tools you’re going to need and put them all together. That way, you won’t need to go searching for bits and pieces halfway through the cleanup.
- Pro tip
You’re probably going to spill a few drops of water, so move any photographs, electrical devices, or anything else around the tank that you don’t want to get wet.
Step 2. Prepare your replacement water
Next up, it’s time to prepare some fresh water in a bucket to replace the amount that you’re going to remove. Many fishkeepers add water straight from the tap before adjusting the temperature and adding water conditioner, but I prefer to get the replacement water just right before adding it to the tank. You can do this by adjusting the temperature in the faucet and using a thermometer to measure the temperature. Aim to match your temperature in the bucket to the display within 1 degree.
You might be using tap water, well water, remineralized RO water, or rainwater, but no matter the source, it’s a good idea to get this water up to the same water temperature as your betta tank water. That way, you won’t cause unnecessary temperature stress for your pet. For sources like RO or rainwater you will likely need a heater to heat up the water to the target temperature.
It’s a good idea to test the parameters of your source water before you add it to your tank to give you some baseline readings. Remember, tap water and well water should be treated with a water conditioner, so follow the instructions on the product you have and mix it into the water in the bucket.
- Pro Tip – How much water to change out
You’ll need to do a little math to work out how much new water your tank will need. Use your nitrate levels to guide you in this step. For example, a nitrate level of 20 ppm can be brought down to 10 ppm by performing a 50% water change (if your source water measures 0 ppm nitrates).
However, 25-30 percent water changes are less stressful for your fish. Therefore, a 25% water change when your nitrates get to about 15 ppm is a better choice.
Step 3: Cut the Power
Your next step is to switch off all your electric aquarium equipment because working with electrical equipment and water is never a good idea. While quality aquarium filters and heaters pose little danger, there’s always a chance, so what risk it?
Oh, and you also risk damaging your equipment if it runs out of the water, so double-check that everything is switched off.
- Pro Tip – Cleaning and Maintaining Equipment
A clogged aquarium filter will not work effectively. Many aquarium filters are easy to clean and service at home, but it’s a good idea to consult an aquarium specialist if you’re not comfortable with DIY jobs.
I also recommend keeping a spare heater and filter at home in case you get a serious malfunction, especially if you live a long way from the nearest fish store.
Siphon out of the tank as long as the end of the hose is lower than the height of the submerged tube.
Step 4: Clear the glass
There’s nothing worse than a betta tank that’s covered in algae! Fortunately, soft algae are easy to remove from aquarium glass, but you need to take care to avoid scratches. Use a purpose made algae scraper for the best results, although you can also get great results with an algae cleaning pad, a razor blade, or an old credit card.
Glass doesn’t scratch easily with these tools, but trapping sand or gravel between your cleaning tool and the glass will leave nasty and permanent damage. Acrylic tanks scratch easily, so use a cleaner specifically designed for this material to avoid damage.
Cleaning the Outside of Your Tank
You’ll also want to clean the outside glass of your betta aquarium whenever necessary. You can do this at any time, so don’t wait for your weekly water change if you see a smudge or some dust on the glass.
You can use warm water, but I find a weak solution of vinegar and water works great for cleaning glass! Simply spray some vinegar water on the glass and wipe it down with dry paper towels to get your betta aquarium looking brand new.
- Pro Tip – Buy Right
Look for cleaning equipment designed for small aquariums. Large gravel vacuums and magnetic glass cleaners are awkward to use in small tanks.
Step 5: Tidy Up the Hardscape and Decorations
Over time, dirt and algae can collect on the rocks, driftwood, and ornaments in your aquarium. Clean these items with a soft brush like an old toothbrush.
Items covered in stubborn dirt can be removed from the tank and cleaned separately, just don’t use any harsh chemicals that could be toxic to your betta.
Cleaning Artificial Plants
Artificial plants are a great way to create a more natural look in your tank. However, you will want to clean them and remove algae on a regular basis. Silk plants are the best choice because hard plastic fake plants can damage your fish’s fins.
You can soak your silk plants in mild vinegar water or a dilute mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide to clean off stubborn dirt. Test a small portion of your decoration to make sure they won’t bleach, and be sure to rinse your silk plants carefully before putting them back in your tank.
- Pro Tip – Loosen Dirt Before You Siphon
Clean your glass and hardscape before you remove water from your tank. That way, you can suck up the loosened dirt and algae with your gravel vacuum when performing the water change.
Step 6: Siphon
Grab your second bucket and set it next to your betta tank. The bottom of the bucket should be lower than the bottom of your betta fish tank so that your gravity siphon will keep running. Place the end of your gravel vacuum’s hose in the bucket to catch all the water you’re going to suck out of the tank, and then start the siphon.
Suck up water from the substrate level of the tank to remove waste and organic material from between the particles. You’ll notice plenty of debris coming up into the pipe of your gravel vacuum, and that’s OK.
Remove enough water to where you can reach the betta tank without causing any water to spill out. Move on to steps 5 and 6 if you’re going to be cleaning your glass and decorations. Otherwise, continue to remove the same amount of tank water as you will be replacing.
Pro Tip – How to Start a Siphon
Gravel vacuums with built in pumps are the easiest to use. Simply put the pipe section in the water, the end of the hose in the bucket, and squeeze the pump a few times to get the siphon running.
You can start a siphon with standard gravel vacuums by submerging the pipe of your vacuum under the water to fill the thicker pipe section. Once full, lift the pipe section out of the water with the open end facing upwards, watch the water travel down the hose, and then submerge the pipe in the tank before all the water runs out.
If you’ve been quick enough, water should continue to sip
Step 7: Rinse the Filter
Algae often grows on the outer walls of submersible and hang-on-back filters, and this can be cleaned using an aquarium sponge pad.
Cleaning the inside of your filter is not something you need to do too often, but your filter media will clog up with waste eventually, which puts extra strain on the pump in your filter and reduces its effectiveness.
Cleaning your filter media is easy. Simply rinse it out in the bucket full of water that you removed from the tank. Do not wash your filter media in tap water or use any sort of soap or detergent. Remember, your beneficial bacteria live in the filtration media, and killing them would disrupt the nitrogen cycle in your tank!
If you use a cartridge based system, replace it at least monthly. If you have separate chemical filtration replace it at least monthly. Sponges can be cleaned out at any time as long as you clean them in used aquarium water to maintain the bacteria colony.
Step 8: Refill the Aquarium
After removing the old water, and cleaning the glass, equipment, and ornaments, it’s time to add new water to the aquarium.
Adding water to the aquarium too fast will make a big mess. It blows the substrate all over the tank, uproots plants, and kicks a bunch of dirt back up into the water. Pouring water slowly is tough, though, especially when that bucket starts to feel really heavy!
Use a small jug or a large, clean cup to pour the water into the tank in a slow and controlled way. If you have a large rock or other hardscape decoration in the tank, aim the jug over that to prevent a stream of water from reaching the substrate. Alternatively, float a plastic fish bag on the surface of the tank and pour the water onto that to slow the flow.
For larger setups, a return pump is great to use. You can attach a spray bar to diffuse the the water or use the other methods mentioned above.
Useful Tips – How to Minimize Maintenance
Let’s face it, cleaning aquariums isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. Follow these handy tips to minimize the amount of cleaning and maintenance required in your tank.
- Up your filtration
Your betta fish tank needs a filter and a heater. An air powered sponge filter is great for a small tank, but HOB and canister filters work too, just make sure the water flow stays gentle.
- Grow some live plants
Fast growing stem plants are the best for soaking up nitrates, but they need regular trimming in a nano betta fish tank. Choose smaller species of Anubias and Cryptocoryne plants for minimal maintenance. They’re not as effective as fast-growing species, but they look great and they will help.
- Avoid overfeeding
Whatever food your betta fish doesn’t eat will simply go to waste and rot in your tank, causing increased nitrate levels and poor water quality. The correct portion size for one betta fish is roughly equal to the fish’s eye size.
- Balance your lighting
Use weak lighting and set your lights on a timer for about six hours per day. This will minimize the growth of algae in your tank. Live plants may require stronger lighting, but healthy plants will mostly outcompete nuisance algae.
- Avoid bowls or tiny tanks
Pick out a tank that’s at least 5 gallons to create an awesome home for your fishy friend. Maintaining high water quality in tiny aquariums can be tough, and your fish will definitely appreciate more room!
- Clean up crew
Once your tank has matured for at least a few months, you can consider adding a Nerite snail or two to clean the glass for you. These beautiful creatures love to snack on algae, and they don’t breed in fresh water.
For larger tanks with enough room, add a few more snails or consider a small school of otocinclus catfish. They’re more sensitive than snails, but they’re awesome little fish!
Do not remove your fish when cleaning the tank. It just puts a whole lot of unnecessary stress on your betta and can cause injuries. Stressed fish often develop illnesses that can affect them days or even weeks later.
Save your fish net for removing plant trimmings from your tank or for cases when you need to acclimate new fish or move them between your quarantine tank and display aquarium.
Lastly, Betta fish can be very inquisitive and territorial, so take care not to suck your fish into the gravel vacuum. It happens!
How often should I clean my betta fish tank?
As a general rule, you can clean your tank lightly once per week. However, its best to do water changes based on your parameters and using water tests to determine if you need to make a water change. Typically, most tanks will need to do water changes once a week or bi-monthly. Tanks with lots of plants may be able to go longer without.
How often do you change water for betta fish?
Each tank is different, so there’s no right or wrong answer. The parameters of your source water (tap, well, rain, etc.) and the amount of fish you keep make a big difference to your water quality.
I recommend a chemistry-based approach. Monitor your water parameters and design a schedule that keeps your nitrate levels below 40 parts per million while keeping your water changes to 30 percent of your tank volume or less.
How do you clean a betta fish tank for beginners?
The best way to clean a betta tank is to clean the glass with an algae scraper and suck out 20-30% of the water from your tank with a gravel vacuum. Suck up the water from the bottom of the tank to remove debris and waste on the substrate.
You can remove dirt and algae from ornaments with a soft toothbrush. Lastly, refill the tank with clean, dechlorinated water.
Is Dawn dish soap safe for betta fish?
Never use soap to clean the inside of your fish tank. Soap residue is potentially harmful to your fish and could disrupt the balanced ecosystem within your tank. Remember, your betta fish shares its home with beneficial bacteria that are crucial for maintaining safe water quality.
How often do you change the water in a betta fish bowl?
You should not keep a betta fish in a bowl, as such a small tank would require frequent cleaning, resulting in serious swings in water quality and high stress for your fish. Pick out at minimum a tank size of 5 gallons from your local fish store or order a complete tank setup online to keep your pet much happier and healthier! That being said while you have a fish in a bowl you’ll want to make water changes every 2-3 days.
How long after cleaning can I put my betta fish in the tank?
You should not remove a betta fish from its tank while cleaning. It’s much safer to leave your pet in its home and work around it gently. If you’ve already taken your betta out of the tank, you may need to acclimate your pet slowly to avoid a temperature shock when returning it to the tank.
Betta fish are great low maintenance pets that can live for many years with regular tank cleaning and water changes. Follow this guide’s recommended steps and tips to keep your pet healthy and your tank looking great.
How often do you clean your betta aquarium? Share your routine in the comments below!
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I’m thrilled that you found Aquarium Store Depot! Here you’ll find information on fish, aquariums, and all things aquatics related. I’m a hobbyist (being doing this since I was 11) and here to help other hobbyists thrive with their aquariums!