The Minimum Maintenance Tank Guide
Updated: Apr 10
A clean tank is a healthy tank which in turn leads to healthy fish. “Self sustaining” and “maintenance free” aquariums sound like a much needed break in continuous maintenance, but every fish tank needs at least a little bit of regular maintenance. There are, however, ways we can lower and minimise how much maintenance that is required. Here’s our tips on how you can lower your amount of tank maintenance.
The tank set up
Start by considering your tank set up - design your ideal fish tank. Do you want it to look a specific way? Is it going in a certain spot and featuring certain kinds of fish? Pick one of these and stick with it. If you want a specific aesthetic to the decorations then you want to limit the fish selections. If you’ve got specific fish species in mind that you want then do your research and think about how much space they need as well as if they even get along with each other.
Now think about space. Could you take it up a notch? More volume has many benefits. Keep in mind that more water obviously means it’s heavier, so your stand needs to be able to support a larger tank and you need the space in the room for a larger tank. However, “with great volume, comes great flexibility”, that famous quote from Spiderman’s other uncle, the pet store owner. More volume means you’ve got a lower bioload, or a lower amount of waste going into the system that needs cleaning. It also means temperature change is less chaotic, as is pH change and aeration levels, and you’ll also have to change water less often.
Let’s move on to filtration. Typically, you walk into a store, check out the filters, find the filters that match your tank size, weigh up your options, think about the cheapest option for a while then go one up and feel like you got a good deal while not paying for the most expensive. That’s typically though. In this case, we’re going to go for a bigger filter that exceeds our tanks capacity but be careful because a powerful filter can push your fish around the tank and they really don't like this. Instead, opt for a filter that’s aimed at a tank size 150% the size of yours. If you’ve got a 30 gallon tank, go for a 45 gallon filter.
If you’ve already got a filter working in your tank, do you have room to add another one? Never remove a filter and replace it with a completely new one no matter what the packaging says! It will take up to four to six weeks before your filter is up and running because your tank will have to cycle again, if you’ve already got fish in there then this can seriously harm them and leave them open to bad water quality, infections and health complications.
In essence, the bigger your tank, the more filtration you have and fewer fish, and the easier and less frequent maintenance will be.
So that was the set up, let’s talk about the actual ongoing maintenance procedure. The frequency in which you give your filters a rinse will fully depend on how many fish you have, how much they are fed and how much filtration your tank has. Don’t wait until the flow slows to clean out your filter media. This will only increase the work your pump has to do, overload them and cause them to need to be replaced sooner. Remember, you never want your filter media to be pretty and sparkling clean. Good bacteria that support your nitrogen cycle live in your filter media and blasting them clean with chlorinated water will kill the colonies you worked so hard to grow. Instead simply rinse your filter media in waste aquarium water or gently in treated tap water of the same temperature. A healthy filter will not be sparkling clean or odor-free. Rinse until the water runs through easily.
Check Your Water Quality
Once your system is established, meaning no new fish, food or equipment in the last three months then your water parameters should follow a predictable cycle. Your water chemistry parameters will tell you all about the health of your aquarium. Buy a reliable, liquid-based test kit and practice with it a few times to be sure you are able to test correctly. Most of your maintenance will be determined by your nitrate levels. Nitrate is the end of your nitrogen cycle and is toxic to fish when it builds up. Individual species will have different tolerances to nitrate levels, so know in advance what levels your fish can handle.
Since your nitrate has nowhere to go, unless you have a few live plants to assist, you will need to take some old water out and put new water back in. Keep in mind that you will need a lot of plants in order to make a significant impact in your nitrate readings. You will also need to trim plants of dead leaves on a regular basis or your recycled nitrates will turn back into ammonia. Use your gravel siphon to get down into the crevices of your substrate to remove excess waste and other debris. Your captured waste water can be used to rinse filter media and is great houseplant/veggie garden food.
Unfortunately, it is hard to avoid all maintenance on an aquarium. "Self-sufficient" systems only exist in the wild where they have numerous trophic levels and environmental influences. For artificial aquarium environments, you will have to get a little bit wet in order to best take care of your aquatic pets. By taking a few extra steps at the beginning, you can save yourself lots of stress and wasted time, setting up a system you barely have to work on and can spend more time enjoying.
Before setting up your aquarium, determine which is more important: The size of your tank or the species you want. Once you decide, keep a basic shopping list on hand to make sure you have the bare essentials.
Fish Tank Filter - 100 to 200 Liter Tanks (View Here)
Water Test Kit - API 5 In One (View here)
Nitrate Test Kit - API Nitrate Test (View Here)
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