How to clean an aquarium

How to Clean a Saltwater Aquarium

Cleaning Saltwater Aquariums

Imagine one day you come home from work and decide you’re not cleaning your home anymore.  You realize you’ve spent 646,431 hours of your life cleaning, and you can’t stand the thought of wasting any more time scrubbing another dish or folding another shirt. It’s so infuriating you decide to take it to the extreme and save another 10 seconds of your life by not flushing the toilet after yourself.  Slowly, your toilet overflows, and you notice a green film beginning to settle over everything. You call for Martha, your maid, to see why she hasn’t been doing her job.  You have trouble squeaking the words out when, without warning, a giant air bubble forces its way out of your mouth.  You look up and watch it rise to the top as you realize your home is inside of someone else’s fishbowl.

(I’m working on my next short horror story…How was that?)

Just like when you clean your home, fish need their homes cleaned, too.  We’re here at Parrott Aquatic to show you how.

Cleaning Your Aquarium

As my delightful story concluded, your tank gets dirty because your fish poop in it. Plain and simple. Over-feeding and excessive light can also contribute excess waste in your tank.  When I asked Kinny, Owner & Aquarium Designer at Parrott Aquatic, what general rules he had for cleaning an aquarium he said, “Pretend your home is an aquarium – What do you do?”  He also told me if I used that quote, I had to explain it’s best to avoid any deep clean overhauls on your tank unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ll explain why a little later.



Don’t Leave Your Aquarium Dirty

Filthy Tank
“You wouldn’t live in a filthy home, so don’t make your pets live in a filthy tank.” – Parrott Aquatic

Obviously, you can’t live in a filthy home and neither can your fish. If you don’t clean your aquarium often enough, it could result in some dangerous consequences for your pets. Living in waste-filled environments is toxic and shortens the lifespan of your inhabitants. Excess waste causes multiple chemical imbalances from excess food that wasn’t eaten, waste from fish, and trace elements left in the salt when not replenished during water changes.

Your aquarium’s plumbing is a little less concerning than the tank itself, but it’s still important to keep it in good working order. Think of it like your car. If the guts under the hood get dirty, the car doesn’t operate as efficiently.  When it doesn’t operate efficiently, it wears out faster and must be replaced sooner. The same applies to aquarium plumbing and equipment.

Parrott Aquatic Healthy Tank Standard

Parrott Aquatic has developed a 2-phase, multi-point checklist for cleaning aquariums to ensure your tank meets our Healthy Tank Standard.  After we service your tank, we record all of your tanks vitals and make suggestions towards improvements or solutions to any current issues. We think it’s important for you to know what healthy looks like so you know when to call for help.

  • Healthy fish and coral with good color & non-labored breathing
  • Correct Lighting
  • Correct Water Temperature
  • Correct Water Flow
  • Best Water Quality
  • Tank, stand, and canopy are free of leaks and major scratches


Healthy Aquarium


Inspecting your Aquarium

Parrott Aquatic offers the highest cleaning standard in the industry using the latest technology and the most knowledgeable staff.

We developed our own standard for a happy and healthy aquarium. We use a 2-part, multi-point inspection system to check our aquariums both visually and chemically.



Visual and Chemical Inspections

Visual Inspection

A visual inspection is a primary way we diagnose any issues with your aquarium.  The Pros at Parrott Aquatic can visually identify common issues of the hobby including different strains of algae and bacteria, stress-related outbreaks, and repairs or maintenance suggestions. Below is an example of our multi-point visual inspection for every aquarium we service.

  • Confirm aquarium glass or acrylic must be free of any films or chemical buildup.
  • Clean and confirm no algae is present on the sides of the aquarium.
  • Pump & Sump most be working properly.
  • Skimmer must be cleaned recently.
  • Rocks should look similar to how they were installed.

Chemical Inspection

Parrott Aquatic has a 16-point chemical water test during a routine water change. We check everything from your water’s salinity to its Strontium levels. The first 10 chemical testing points are part of our standard water test. These are checked during every service. Depending on results from the standard test, we may run one or more of the remaining chemical tests. The more we know about your water, the better we can diagnose any issues with your tank. Then we log it.  Logging the results helps us diagnose any future issues.

Standard Water Test

  • Temperature
  • Salinity
  • Ph
  • Calcium
  • Kh
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrite
  • Phosphate
  • Magnesium

Additional Water Tests (as needed)

  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Copper
  • Strontium
  • RO TDS


Aquarium Cleaning Materials

Choose the right cleaning supplies

We know there are a lot of cleaning supplies for your home, but you can keep it simple for your aquarium. We do not recommend using chemical-based cleaners.  If you must, only use them in small quantities and eliminate all risk of introducing contaminants to your inhabitants.

  • RO Water + Damp Cloth: We recommend using this as much as possible instead of using harsh cleaners that could contaminate your aquarium.
  • Magnetic Glass Cleaner: A magnetic glass cleaner is an affordable, user-friendly, 2-piece magnet that sandwiches your aquarium’s glass in-between.  You move the handle along the outside of your aquarium, and it magnetically moves the piece on the inside.  We’ve found that sticking a Magic Erase Bar in-between works even better!
  • Original Magic Erase Bars: Only use the Mr. Clean Original Magic Erase Bar.  The “Original” version doesn’t contain any chemicals like the newer versions do.
  • Ammonia Free Glass Cleaner: Use this on the outside of your aquarium, as needed (very sparingly!). Be sure to spray your cloth with cleaner in a different room from your aquarium so chemicals aren’t accidentally introduced to your tank.
  • Vinegar or Muriatic Acid: Use this to remove buildup in the impeller.
  • Replacement RO: Be sure to keep enough RO water on hand to replace the amount you remove.


Aquarium Cleaning Frequency

Cleaning Aquariums Frequency

There are a lot of parts of an aquarium that get dirty, and it’s important to know what to clean and how often to clean it. Aquarium cleaning is tailored to each tank, and everyone has their own techniques. We encourage you to find what works best for your tank, but if you have any questions, ask us!

Daily Aquarium Cleaning: 

  • Observe fish, plants, and corals are and confirm all are behaving normally.
  • Make sure all fish, plants, and coral have good color and clean scales. Confirm fish fins are free of injuries.
  • Check the water temperature.

Weekly and Bi-Weekly Aquarium Cleaning:

  • Water Change: remove and replace about 10% of your aquarium’s water with RO water every other week. This is a general rule and can be tailored to your aquarium’s needs over time.
  • Clean Inside Glass: Using an original Mr. Clean Magic Erase Bar and a magnetic glass cleaner, gently wipe the inside of your aquarium to remove any buildup.  Be sure not to accidentally pick up any pieces of gravel or debris with your Magic Erase Bar.

Monthly Aquarium Cleaning: 

  • Test your aquarium’s water monthly for nitrates, ammonia, ph levels.
  • Test more frequently if you notice stress in your tank.  Keep a log for future reference.  Be sure levels stay somewhat consistent.
  • Clean filter cartridges or media (cartridges, sponges, carbon packets, filter socks).
  • Review activities for the month and follow up on all activities.
  • Check rock for any unusual algae growth. If necessary, remove algae by hand by carefully scrubbing rock. Be careful not to turn over rocks inside of aquarium and scratching the insides.

Semi-Annual Aquarium Cleaning:

(Read more about Aquarium Check-ups HERE!)

  • Turn off all equipment for a thorough inner-outer tank inspection and cleaning.
  • Wipe down light fixtures, pumps, filters with a damp cloth and RO Water.
  • Inspect the pump and power head to make sure there are no blocks.


Aquarium Cleaning Pro Tips

  • Avoid deep cleaning aquariums if possible because it causes tremendous stress on fish and corals. It requires a lot of meticulous planning and careful attention to ensure no contaminants are accidentally introduced to your aquarium.
  • Don’t ever “top-off” water in your tank as it evaporates.  When aquarium water evaporates, it leaves impurities and imbalanced chemicals in the water. By constantly topping off your water, you are leaving behind all of the chemicals that weren’t evaporated. Eventually, this chemical buildup will cause your tank to crash.
  • Always replace your tank’s water with RO water.


You wouldn’t live in a filthy home, so don’t make your pets live in a filthy aquarium.  Make your tank a better home for your pets by cleaning it regularly. The information above is a compilation of generally accepted cleaning guidelines in the industry and should be tailored to your aquarium’s individual needs.  If you have doubts, hire a professional.  It’s not worth the risk.  Call Parrott Aquatic at (865) 253-2846 to schedule a consultation regarding your tank’s cleaning needs.





Cleaning Aquariums 101



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