How To Clean a Fish Tank: The 9 Essential Tools You Need To Start Using Now

Estimated read time 10 min read

Aquarium Maintenance: The Essentials


As we all can agree aquarium Maintenance is an ongoing battle.

The algae, bukets of water, testing, filter media, cloudy water and on and on. All of it adds up to a lot of time spent scrubbing and sucking tank water out of  a siphon (and spitting it out of your mouth YUCK!)

Most beginners don’t have a proven system or at least a simple guide that you can follow. And ultimately this leads to issues with your water chemistry, clarity and the health of your fish.

Further Reading: If you’re sick of reading the old complicated beginner guides then check out our guide: Best Freshwater Aquarium Setup. Check it out!

And the worst case scenerio is lost fish and frustration, leading you to drop the hobby.

No one wants that, especially me.

Fish keeping doesn’t have to be difficult and I want to help as many beginners to the hobby by sharing a few tips, videos and equipment suggestions for proper aquarium maintenance.

This step by step guide to Cleaning An Aquarium is a great reference guide. The tips, steps and videos will help you get the clean and healthy aquaruim you’ve always wanted. The Best Way To Clean a Fish Tank is by using 9 Essential Tools to help clean and manage your tank.

So, if you did only one thing today, it should be bookmarking this page.

Come back and use this guide often each time you clean your aquarium. If you only read this guide once and never come back, I doubt you will see the success you would like to acheive.

9 Essential Tools For Cleaning An Aquarium

What equipment do you need to clean a fish tank?

The tools and equipment listed below are what I consider to be the 9 Essential Tools needed to successfully undertake a tank cleaning.

Here’s the checklist:

  1. Fish Net
  2. Magnetic Aquarium Cleaner
  3. Aquarium Razor Blade
  4. Algae Pad
  5. Aquarium Plant Trimmer
  6. Python Water Change System
  7. Aquarium Safe Glass Cleaner
  8. Filter and Filter Media
  9. Aquarium Water Conditioners

Each of these tools is not “Required” to clean your aquarium as there are many other tools available.

However, these tools will definitely help make it easier for you to clean and manage your tank if you stick to a regular maintenance schedule.

Below I have provided a brief description of the tool, their function and a video showing exactly how to use the tool.

Note: Before you do any cleaning use a water test kit like this one from API to monitor and test the quality of your water. Record the results weekly and take action if you notice any issues with your water quality.

Okay Let’s Get Started!

Just follow these steps and use the tools in order when cleaning your aquarium.

Step #1 – Tool: The Fish Net (Optional)


Penn Plax Aquarium Fish Net - Aqua Blue Quick Catch Mesh Wire Net Safe for All Fish - 4 Inches
Get The Penn Plax Aquarium Fish Net

Start by carefully removing your fish using a Fish Net.

Be careful to minimize stress to your fish, by having water on standby in a spare tank or bucket to put them in during the tank clean.

Tip: Be sure to fill your bucket or a spare tank with water from the tank you are cleaning.

Fish nets are available in a wide range of styles and design, select one of an appropriate size for both the fish and the aquarium.

Watch this video on how to safely remove fish using a net.

Step #2 – Tool: Magnetic Aquarium Glass Cleaner or Algae Pad

FL!PPER Flipper Standard 2-in-1 Magnetic Aquarium Tank Algae Cleaner Scrubber Scraper
Get The FL!PPER 2-in-1 Magnetic Tank Cleaner & Scrubber Scraper

Begin by giving the glass a good cleaning on the inside with an Magnetic Algae Cleaner. This is pretty straight forward, scrub until all the algae is gone.

There are many varieties of algae scrapers on the market, from long handled scrubbers to Magnetic Glass Cleaner.

Consider the design and shape of the tank that it will be used to clean when selecting a style.

On-going maintenance for a tank can be greatly aided with the addition of a magnetic glass cleaner.

These devices help clean glass by magnetizing from an outside pad to the inner glass cleaner part.

This makes cleaning your glass much easier by eliminating the need to need to place your arm in water when cleaning the tank, which could cause issues with the quality of your water.

Here is a great video on how to clean your glass with a magnetic cleaner.

Step #3 – Tool: Razor Blade

QYOnline Aquarium Algae Scraper, 25.6" Stainless Steel Algae Scraper Cleaning Razor with 10 Blades for Glass Aquarium Fish Tank
Get Razor Algae Scraper

For any tough build up of calcium or algae on the glass just use an Aquarium Razor Blade to scrape it off.

Warning: If you have an acrylic aquarium use a plastic blade to prevent scratching.

Step #4 – Tool: Algae Pad (Cont)

After you clean the glass, remove any décor, plants, rocks that have a buildup of algae.

Using tank water in a separate bucket scrub your décor with an Algae Pad to remove the algae and build up.

Warning: Do not use soap or detergents to clean anything. EVER!

Watch this video about using an Algae Pad.

Step #5 – Tool: Trimmer For Live Plants (Optional)

Jeeco Aquarium Scissor Tweezers Spatula Tool - 4 in 1 Stainless Steel Aquatic Plants Aquascaping Tools Set for Fish Starter Kits & Aquariums Tank
Get Aquascaping Tools Set

Using a Plant Trimmer, trim down any dead or overgrown plants.

Do this instead: If you can manage, trim your plants during your water change (next step) and use your siphon to suck up the plant debris out of the tank as you trim.

Watch this video on trimming your plants.

Step #6 – Tool:  Fish Tank Vacuum, Aquarium Gravel Cleaner

25 Foot - Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System
Get The Python No Spill Clean Aquarium Maintenance System

Start your water change and clean the gravel by using a water siphon to remove the debris that has built up in your gravel.

Vacuum the entire surface of the gravel thoroughly so that all debris is removed.

There are several types of siphons available but they essentially all work in the same way.

I like to use the Python No Spill Clean and Fill Aquarium Maintenance System which allows you to hook up to your faucet to create the siphon, eliminating the need to fill up and carry buckets of water.

It can also be used to fill your aquarium back up – cutting the time needed to complete a water change.

Watch this great video on the Python Water Change System.

Step #7 – Tool:  Aquarium Glass Cleaner

API SAFE & EASY Aquarium Cleaner Spray 8-Ounce Bottle
Get API SAFE & EASY Aquarium Glass Cleaner

Now that you have cleaned the inside of your tank it’s time to clean the outside glass.

Using an aquarium safe glass cleaner wipe down the outside glass.

Clean aquarium glass not only enhances the beauty of your aquatic world but also helps monitor the health of your fish. Discover the most effective tools in our guide to the best aquarium glass cleaner and enjoy crystal clear views of your underwater paradise.

Warning: Do not use soap or glass cleaners. They may contain ammonia, which is toxic to fish.

You can also use a mixture of 1:2 ratio vinegar solution. one part vinegar two parts water. Vinegar works very well to clean the outside of your tank.

Combo this with a water change and you will have yourself a sweet looking tank.

Step #8 – Tool: Filter and Filter Media (Clean Your Filter)

Aqua Clear - Fish Tank Filter - 40 to 70 Gallons - 110v
Get Aqua Clear Fish Tank Filter

This could really be its own guide, but basically any filter containing carbon, ammonia absorbers or ion-exchange resins should be replaced every three weeks.

Warning: Do not clean your filter the same day you do a water change. Doing a water change and filter clean at the same time could remove too much beneficial bacteria. Instead clean your filter at least 3-5 day’s later.

Remove and disassemble your aquarium filter (following the manufactures instructions) and clean the cartridges, tubes, intakes, outputs and canister that house the filter media.

Clean or replace your Filter Media as needed depending on the media you are using, clean any reusable media (sponges) with some old tank water.

When cleaning your filter, keep things simple and use the same bucket of old tank water that you used to clean your décor.

Tip: Using old tank water to clean your filter ensures that you don’t kill off too much of your beneficial bacteria that has developed in your filter.

Using a Filter Brush clean the filter tubing and other parts of the filter assembly that need to be cleaned.  A filter brush can get into the small places where algae and sludge will build up.

Step #9 – Tool: Water Conditioners

Seachem Headstart Conditioning Pack (Box of 3 100ml)
Get Seachem Headstart Conditioning Pack

After you have replaced your décor, reinstalled your filter and filled your tank back up, add your conditioners.

At a minimum after every cleaning you should use:

Seachem Stability: Will help safely establish your aquarium biofilter (beneficial bacteria) in your tank after cleaning.

Seachem Prime: Prime removes chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia, that may be present after adding new water to your tank during cleaning.

Learn more about Seachem Prime in our review.

Some other useful conditioners are;

Seachem Clarity: Will help clear all types of clouding sometimes present after a big cleaning.

Seachem StressGuard: Will help reduce stress and ammonia toxicity whenever handling or transporting fish.

Seachem Flourish Excel: Will provide organic carbon for Aquarium Plants to help promote growth.

That’s it!

I hope you made it this far?

Cleaning a fish tank should be done regularly and carefully to ensure the optimal health of the fish and the maintenance of their environment.

Different tools yield different results, and personal preference and budget will all affect the tools you use.

Complete 30 Day Instruction Guide & Equipment List

Beginners Guide T Freshwater fish tank maintenance. How To Set Up an Aquarium & Keep it Clean Complete 30 Day Instruction Guide & Equipment List

If you really want to put these tools to good use, this guide is an excellent resource. Learn How Clean an Aquarium & Keep it Clean with our Beginners Guide to Freshwater Fish Tank Maintenance.

Here’s what you get:

  • A list of daily maintenance checks that you can do in less than 5 minutes each day.
  • Weekly cleaning routine that will keep your aquarium sparkling clean.
  • Which Monthly housekeeping items you should do each month to keep your tank balanced and healthy.
  • All in an easy to follow step-by-step format so that you focus on enjoying your aquarium.

Once you start cleaning your aquarium the right way, you will have crystal clear aquarium with happy fish that live a long healthy life.