Aquarium Maintenance and Partial Water Changes


It all started with a goldfish…

It all started with a little goldfish I won at the Sarasota County Fair. I brought it home in the plastic bag. I was thirteen at the time. My Mom was always ready to give me and my brother money when we needed it. I think she would hide away money just for that purpose. She gave me $20.00 to go get a fish bowl and supplies. Me and a friend walked up to the local Kmart and I proceeded to buy a 10 gallon tank. Because I had no idea what was involved with keeping an aquarium, I only got the tank and spent most of the money my Mom had given me. No gravel, no air pump and no filter. I did get fish food. The not so funny conclusion that we know all too well, was that the gold fish died 3 days later.

I am not one to give up on something, so I researched. By the way, no internet to sign on and search google. Research was me walking 5 to 10 miles to get to a pet store, where I was introduced to the undergravel filter. Once I got the tank setup with the underground filter and gravel, suddenly the tank was more attractive to my parents. They even got onboard with the idea of setting it up in the living room. One more trip to the store to get a tank stand. The tank stand was a really simple one shelf wooden stand with a top just wider than the base. It was basically a tv stand. My Mom still uses it for her TV stand today.

Water changes in a 10 gallon aquarium are easier and faster then a larger aquarium. We currently have two aquariums at my house. One is a 90 gallon and the other is a 75 gallon. They both take up the same amount of space, one is just taller. I try to do a 30% change every couple weeks, but there are times that I miss a water changing. When I do miss one, I try to do a 50% change of the water. This last weekend was a 50% change in both aquariums. This is roughly 12 hours of filling the aquarium. I have a RO/DI filtration system that I use to fill the water that I will discuss later. I am sharing for anyone that might want to have some ideas of how to maintain your aquarium.

Water Change and Aquarium Cleaning Tools

I have spent money on cleaning tools that appear to be great ideas, but in the end constantly end up in the garbage. I have had bad experiences with electronic gravel vacuums in the past, and I still buy them. Don’t buy one! It is easier to use a hose and manual gravel vacuum with a ball pump that starts the siphoning for you. I use a three bucket approach when cleaning the aquarium. I use home depot orange buckets, but you can use any as long as they are clean of chemicals and materials that could be hazardous to your aquarium. In addition to the buckets, I have multi-tool tongs. One with grabbers and one with scissors. I tend to have planted aquariums, so having to trim plants is a necessity. I also have a fish net and glass magnet cleaner.

Removing the Aquarium Water and Cleaning the Gravel

I start siphoning water into the first of my three buckets. Once it is filled to a certain level, I switch the hose to the second bucket. I then proceed to pour the filled bucket directly into the toilet. For those that don’t know, it manually flushes the toilet. I do this until the aquarium water level is just above the filter intake tubes. I use both canister filters and undergravel filters. “Real Aquarium Enthusiasts” are shaking their heads and saying “Bad. Bad. Bad.” I have found that the combination maintains a healthier aquarium. Because I use Undergravel filters, it is important to shove the head of the gravel cleaner deep into the gravel at the ends and near the water uptake tubes. This helps remove some of the debris caught in the gravel filter. During this time I use the magnet cleaner to remove any algae that may start building up on the glass. As long as you do water changes regularly and have good water flow through the tank, you shouldn’t get a lot of build up. At this point your aquarium should be looking cloudy. Don’t worry it clears up fast if you have good filtration in place.

Note: I do not remove the fish during the cleaning and water changes. There is enough water and filtration that the fish are usually in clean conditions. The tank also has a lot of hiding places for the fish. If I am doing something that will stress the fish too much, I will move them to the other aquarium for a little while. You will see from the pictures, that my glo fish have ended up in the 90 gallon aquarium. Their tank has some serious cleaning issues that I am dealing with. I moved them not to stress them.

Cleaning a Planted Aquarium

If you are new to a planted aquarium, I hate to brake it to you, but your beautiful plants will look different in 6 months. They will start to shred in some places, grow in others places that you didn’t plant them. If you are lucky, your fish will not use them as part of their food source. I spend about 35 minutes trimming plants and running the fish net up and down the aquarium to remove floating plant debris. The pictures I have included are from what I like to call my jungle tank. Because I know that plants will eventually go wild on me, I tried a different approach to systematic planting. I planted the tank to be wild. I only trim the plants just to be able to see the fish. I did not try to sculpture out the perfect water garden. I piled driftwood on top of each other to create a cave like set of roots filled in with moss. It has been a good and awful experience. I will discuss the good and bad in another post. For now, just know you need to spend a lot of time to keep your planted aquarium a beautiful garden.

Original Planting
5 Months After Initial Planting

RO/DI Filtration and Filling the Aquarium with Water

I used to use a small tub that I would fill up with water and add water conditioner. What a pain, and how very tedious to check the water every time you filled the tub for the correct chemical makeup. Three years ago, I changed to a filter system. I bought an iSpring 75GPD 6-Stage Reverse Osmosis RO DI. It came with a 2.5 gallon tank. Do the math! Fill with a rush of 2.5 gallons, then trickle filtered water for the additional 30 to 40 gallons. Most people then buy a tub and stockpile the water so as to not have to wait to fill the aquarium. I have a laundry room that is filled with chemicals. I didn’t think having a big drum of water for aquarium fish would be good for this environment. So here is what I did. I bought a 20 gallon pressurized water tank. I split the output of the RO/DI unit so that I could get water at the sink and from a 40 foot tube that has a shutoff valve with additional tubing after the valve. I can now run the RO/DI filtered water directly to the aquariums in other rooms of the house. After the initial 20 gallons is rushed out of the tube, the water trickles as fast as 75gpd can run. It takes about 4 hours per aquarium to fill if done on different days. I also replaced the single Deionization filter with a dual canister add on deionization unit. The deionization chamber changes colors as it becomes depleted. You can see the difference in colorization in my unit. Last, I have two TDS Meters to test the dissolved solids in the water. I always want to see 0. I have placed two, because I wanted to monitor the quality of the water between the first 5 stages and the last stages. I do this to make sure I know when to change out the filter media in the first stages.

I know my system is not perfect, but I have been successful with this setup. My fish have been healthier since changing to the filtered water. If you have questions, please leave comments and I will get back to you with answers.


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