Animals & Pets

July 29, 2014

Healthy Aquariums Through Simple Water Changes And Easy Maintenance

My Background and Experience With Aquariums

At the age of seven, my uncle who kept and bred tropical fish gave me my first fish tank.  I loved my aquarium which was at the side of my bed. At the age of ten,  I traveled to Manhattan by bus and train from Coney Island, Brooklyn to the tropical fish stores on Nassau Street near City Hall.  They had a nice variety of fish and were only pennies each fish in those days.  I loved to visit the Aquarium Stock company on Warrenlens lighs logo Street in downtown New York as young adult too.

At the age of sixteen, I got a job after school in a tropical fish store in New York City and took the subway each day from Brooklyn Technical H.S. in Brooklyn to New York City and then back to my home in Coney.  I started to breed fish as I got older.  I used to keep a fish tank in my office in New York and bred Convict Cichlid’s there too.


My Huge Red Devil, He Knew Me
and Loved Me Like A Dog Would.

As I got older I challenged myself to breed and grow many varieties of tropical fish including all sorts of Angel fish, Tiger Barbs and even Discus fish.  Of course I also bred many varieties of live bearing fish as well.  At one point in my “hobby” I had thirty 10 gallon tanks in my basement and a few larger aquariums in my home.

I also went through the phase of raising some of the larger varieties of tropical fish like Oscar’s and Red Devils and of course made my own large fish food for them.


I also built and sold some of the first High Output daylight balanced Fluorescent lights for aquariums both salt and fresh water and had a website, Len’s Lights.  So maintaining an aquarium is something I have done for the better part of my 71 years.

My Breeding Pair of Discus Fish

My Breeding Pair of Discus Fish

How To Maintain Your Fresh Water Aquarium

It is actually not hard to maintain a happy and healthy freshwater aquarium, but it does take some weekly maintenance to keep the chemistry in balance and the quality of the water high.

Once you have an established aquarium with fish, plants, rocks, decorations, filters, aeration, then you need to keep the water quality where it has to be to maintain life in your aquarium. Obviously mechanical filtration is a must, but many don’t realize that the water quality will become quite poor as the fishes waste and decayed food (which becomes Ammonia) will increase the build up of nitrate (NO3) a harmful chemical that will build up to lethal levels is left unchecked.

In addition the waste will become food for certain types of bothersome algae in your tank and that will diminish the amount of oxygen in the water. The water will basically become polluted, unless you are prepared to do regular water changes.

Think of a water change like you would imagine a hard rain in the Amazon or a flowing river always bringing in fresh clean water. A water change is no different and I do one each week. I have a 55 gallon aquarium with 6 very large angel fish, 2 large Silver Dollar fish and about 15 smaller fish like tetra’s, catfish, barbs.

Because I feed my fish frozen food everyday, either blood worms or brine shrimp, I have to be careful and not miss a weekly water change or the tank will be put under stress.

Even if you have a smaller aquarium, 10 gallon or less, you have to be alert to the water quality and not only the filtration of solid matter or gases in the water. Filtration will not help you keep your PH in check or the water hardness or other chemistry.

Determine one day each week that you will perform your maintenance. I like to do mine on a Friday so I can enjoy looking at my nice clean tank on the week-ends. I use the plastic buckets I bought at Home Depot or Lowes for around $2.50 each. I use one for the water only and the other for the plants and rocks I clean.

Caution, my complete water change is done because I have artificial (Plastic Plants) in my tank that get full of algae.  If you have live plants, you only need to do the simple water changes, every week.


You may have to remove some of your live plants and gently clean them in the sink, but this is usually something you won’t want to do for fear of disturbing the roots, etc.

I use to have live plants, but after trying to fight black algae in my tank, I gave up and went to plastic plants that I can clean easily.

Step By Step Instructions

Mouse Over Images For Instructions
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Simple Water Change vs. Complete Water Change

1-A. Simple Water Change – I am only going to clean the glass in the tank and remove the algae. I then take off the glass cover of the tank and use my gravel vacuum to remove 20-30% of the water with gravel sediment.

1-B. Complete Water Change, I will clean my glass as above and then remove all plants, rocks and accessories that have algae on them and put them in one of my empty buckets.

2-A. Simple Water Change – I will either use the water I remove for my flowers and plants, in and outside of my home. After all it is like liquid fertilizer now and I will remove about 15 gallons from my 55 gallon tank. Thinking Green is a good thing. If you don’t want to bother simply pour it in your toilet.

2-B Complete Water Change you will have better access to the entire aquarium floor, so you will carefully vacuum the entire area, you will see all the sediment being removed as it goes up the tube on the vacuum. I do this until it begins to run clear and I have covered the entire floor of the tank.

3-A –Simple Water Change. I now begin to put the water back into the tank making sure the water temperature is about the same as what it is in the tank. I do this by feel and my experience, but if you are not sure use a thermometer to make sure the water is not too cold or too hot.

See my photo to see the proper way to pour the water back. I use my hand to break the force of the water and spread it out so I won’t disrupt the gravel or plants in replacing the water.

3-B Complete Water Change I will do the same, but we need to clean our rocks and plastic plants in a solution of 1 part Bleach to about 30 parts of water. I actually pour about one cup of bleach in a 5 gallon pail that is filled with my plastic plants, rocks, air stones, tubing etc. Once I have the bleach in, I add hot water to fill the container and let it stand for about 15 minutes or until the algae is gone from the rocks and plants.

4-A. Simple Water Change. Once the water is back in the tank, you can replace the glass top and you are good for another week.

4-B. Complete Water Change I need to clean my plants and rocks. Since they have been soaking in the bucket (I do this in my bath tub) after my 15-20 minutes, I will remove the bucket and pour the water/bleach solution into the toilet and hold my hand on the plants and rocks. I do this so nothing gets poured into the toilet by accident, so do it slowly. I have had a plastic plant go down the toilet so fast, that I couldn’t catch it. Fortunately it was a soft plant and went right down. But be careful. I often take out the heavy rocks and wash those in clear water separately. You can of course dump the water in the bath tub, but then you have to wait for it to go down the drain to refill the bucket.

Now fill the bucket another 4-5 times, swish the plants with your hands a few times to help remove any of the bleach and dispose of the water.


Warning: If you don’t completely remove all the bleach from your plants and rocks, you can kill all the fish in your tank. So be sure you wash everything in clear water completely.


5-B. If you want to clean the rocks and accessories better, you can do this in your sink. I put in a heavy hand towel in the sink to prevent any scratching or damage to the sink from the rocks. I use a small finger nail brush to scrub the rocks and accessories.

6-B. Take the clean plants and rocks and replace them in your aquarium. You may find it easier to do this before you replace the water on a complete change.


Now you have the plants, rocks and accessories where you want them, then you can add the water.


7 – Some people like to change or clean their filters with fresh filter materials and charcoal every two weeks, so you can do this after a complete change if you like. One suggestion is to wait one day on the filter change. After you do your water change. Let the filter clear out any floating material in the tank that is now floating in the water and then do the filter change.

That’s it. You just did what nature did with one of those hard thunderstorms in the Amazon River. You have flushed away all the waste material in the tank, you have diluted any of the harmful chemicals and put your system back in harmony.

Tips: * Don’t be too concerned about the amount of chlorine in the replacement water, I will use a little of the chlorine remover sold in pet shops, but frankly, it should not really be a problem since you are only replacing about 20% of the water.

* I like to put a little salt in the water. I use about 1 tablespoon per 15 gallons of water. Kosher or Aquarium salt serves as a general tonic and stress reducer for freshwater fish. I have used it for years. Do not add salt if you are simply adding water that has evaporated from your aquarium, the salt hasn’t.

* If you are adding a lot of water in a big tank, you may want to use the chlorine remover in the water, small water changes, don’t really need to do this.



  • Your fish will get used to your water changes as they get used to you feeding them each day. They will not get stressed out and will feel better once it has been done. You will see them come alive after a change and in some species this is how you entice them to breed.
  • If you fail to do water changes regularly, the poor water quality can lead to infection on any wounded fish. It will also put stress on fish, which is often the cause of fungus and parasite issues.



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About the Author

Len Rapoport
Len Rapoport
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 40 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.



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