Cleaning a dirty fish tank can take a lot of elbow grease, but the right equipment can make the job easier. A clean aquarium will create a better environment for your fish, invertebrates, and plants, so it’s not only important to clean properly, but also to create a consistent and workable cleaning schedule.
The best aquarium cleaning supplies won’t just handle grimy glass, but also help you clean out algae, eliminate waste from your aquarium’s substrate, and properly condition your water for optimal clarity and the health of your tank’s residents.
Some of our favorite cleaning solutions provide useful alternatives to traditional cleaning products, such as Fritz Aquatics’ Aquarium Glass & Acrylic Cleaner, which works like a traditional glass cleaner, but cuts out the toxic ammonia. We also have recommendations that will automate some of your aquarium cleaning duties, or even allow you to clean the inside of the tank from the outside.
Here are the best aquarium cleaning supplies.
Best Spray Cleaner
Fritz Aquatics Aquarium Glass & Acrylic Cleaner
Fish and invertebrate safe
Can also be used on household electronics (TV, tablet, etc)
Works for both glass and acrylic tanks
Pairs well with magnetic cleaners
Safe for fresh or saltwater tanks
Only available in 8-ounce bottles
Rather than use any old glass cleaner, which may contain ammonia that is toxic to your fish, you can opt for a “fish-safe” alternative. Fritz’s Aquatics Aquarium Glass & Acrylic Cleaner works on all types of aquariums—acrylic and glass tanks—cleaning dust, fingerprints, and water spots without any harmful chemicals. Fritz’s Glass Cleaner also works well in tandem with magnet cleaners, lowering friction and helping them slide more smoothly.
Simply spray Fritz’s cleaner directly on your aquarium’s glass or acrylic, and wipe with a cotton or microfiber cloth. Or, it can be used on the inside of empty tanks.
Price at time of publish: $10
Best Glass Cleaner
Algae Scraper for Glass Aquariums, Fish Tank Cleaner
Easy to use
Works on glass
Available in multiple lengths for different tank sizes
Replaceable scraper blade
Cannot use on acrylic
Blade requires caution around fish or invertebrates that cling to glass
What’s great about the Pronetcus Algae Scraper is that it’s a reliable, reusable tool that’s available in a variety of lengths to fit your tank best. Rather than a disposable cleaner, this will become a primary tool in your kit.
However, it’s critical to know your aquarium’s primary material and only use this scraper on glass. Plastic acrylic requires different tools and can be damaged by the wrong ones (trust me, I learned the hard way with a very large public aquarium tank).
The Pronetcus Algae Scraper uses a replaceable, 2.5-inch razor blade (an allen wrench is included for loosening and tightening the blade bracket), which is mounted to the end of a rod. The rod is available in 16, 21.65, and 26-inch lengths.
Price at time of publish (16-inch): $13
Best Acrylic Cleaner
Continuum Aquatics AquaBlade P Acrylic Safe Aquarium Scraper
Made for gentle cleaning of acrylic
Can also be used on glass tanks
Durable fiberglass handle
Available in three different lengths
Requires effort to effectively clean
Since acrylic is a softer material, you must use more delicate tools when cleaning the sides of your aquarium. Never scrub your acrylic tank with an abrasive cleaner! You will scratch the material and cause the tank to become cloudy over time.
The Continuum AquaBlade is the perfect cleaner for acrylic surfaces, with a plastic blade for scraping away algae deposits. Similar to our glass scraper recommendation, the AquaBlade comes in several different sizes, including a handheld scraper, in addition to 15-, 24-, and 35-inch versions. The handle is solid fiberglass, so it won’t break when you apply the necessary pressure to scrape clean your tank walls.
Price at time of publish (15-inch): $19
Best Automatic Cleaner
AquaGenesis Robosnail Automatic Aquarium Glass Cleaner
Prevents algae buildup with daily cleaning cycle
Maintains clarity of front pane
Good for owners with limited mobility
Finicky to install and program correctly
Can’t be used with glass more than .4 inches thick
Can’t be used in tanks with animals that attach to glass, like snails and starfish
Automatic aquarium cleaners aren’t quite as advanced as a Roomba yet, and some aquarium cleaning tasks remain stubbornly manual. For most people, the AquaGenesis RoboSnail won’t be worth the hassle. But if you want to maximize visibility across your aquarium’s front viewing pane and struggle to keep it clean, then this automatic cleaner can help.
The RoboSnail uses powerful magnets to pull a cleaner across the inside of the glass. Once properly programmed (a process that involves setting up a black tape barrier for the RoboSnail to learn its boundaries), the RoboSnail will clean the glass on the front of your aquarium every 24 hours, maximizing your visibility and preventing algae buildup. After cleaning, it returns to a docking station mounted on the front corner of your aquarium and recharges before the next day’s cycle.
While the RoboSnail is good at its one task, there are several caveats to its use. It won’t work on glass or acrylic that’s more than .4 inches thick. It also can’t be used in a tank with animals that cling to the glass, since an obstruction like a starfish can decouple the interior cleaning mechanism from the exterior robot cleaner, causing your RoboSnail to fall off.
For most situations, we recommend manual cleaning, but the AquaGenesis RoboSnail works well for its specialized purpose.
Price at time of publish: $140
Best Gravel Cleaner
Python No Spill Clean and Fill
No need to create gravity-fed siphon
Great for cleaning lower surfaces
No dirty water bucket needed
Not ideal for smaller tanks
Requires sink hookup
When it comes to cleaning your aquarium, your substrate is the most common place for waste to hide. Don’t just stir it up and think your filter will do the rest. A quality gravel siphon is a must for all fish tank owners, and Python is the brand most trusted by amateurs and professionals alike. Python hoses are even used in public aquariums to take care of their smaller systems.
The Python No Spill Clean and Fill system uses suction from a nearby faucet, eliminating the chore of getting a siphon started by hand, or worse, by mouth. The Python hose system makes it easy to fill or drain aquariums. By attaching the gravel tube, you can easily suck waste out from your substrate.
The Python No Spill Clean and Fill is available with multiple hose lengths—25, 50, and 100-foot configurations—so you can run it between your sink and aquarium.
Price at time of publish: $57
API ALGAE SCRAPER For Glass Aquariums 1-Count Container
Effective at removing stubborn algae
Thick handle holds up to effortful cleaning
Hook on handle for hanging
Pad angled inward for easiest cleaning
Separate cleaning brush needed for glass and acrylic tanks
Only available in one size
While a scraper cleaner works well for removing algae film from a glass or acrylic surface, more substantial algae deposits are best handled with manual scrubbing. The API Algae Scraper uses a thick, coarse algae pad to buff out deposits, clearing the way for a scraper to handle day-to-day buildup.
With a total scraper length of 17.5 inches, the API cleaner is a good size for most home aquarium tanks, though we’d prefer it came in a few different sizes. The API Algae Scraper is available in versions for both glass and acrylic aquariums.
Price at time of publish: $9
Best Magnet Cleaner Glass
NEPTONION Magnetic Aquarium Fish Tank Glass Algae Scrapers Glass Cleaner Scrubber
Clean without getting hands wet or disrupting fish
Interior component floats for easy retrieval
Available in three different sizes
Impossible to apply extra scrubbing pressure
The NEPTONION Magnetic Aquarium cleaner uses a Velcro-like scrubbing surface on the interior glass of your tank, which you manipulate with a handle rubbed around on the outside surface of the tank. A powerful magnet holds the two together, while the outer half of the cleaner glides across the glass on smooth velour.
This magnet cleaner is especially useful because of its ergonomic handle and three available sizes. However, it shares a downside with all magnet cleaners: since you’re manipulating the scrubber from the other side of the glass, there’s no way to apply extra cleaning pressure.
The NEPTONION Magnetic cleaner is meant for glass aquarium tanks.
Price at time of publish: $7
Best Magnet Cleaner Acrylic
Aqueon Aquarium Cleaning Magnets
Comes with two different scrubbing pads for glass and acrylic surfaces
Four sizes available
Scrubber sinks, so you have to get your hands wet to retrieve if it detaches
While we prefer the ergonomic handle on the NEPTONION magnet cleaner, there’s no denying the Aqueon Algae Cleaning Magnet’s versatility, since it can be used on either glass or acrylic aquarium surfaces. The Aqueon comes with a cleaning pad for both types of aquarium pane.
Unlike the NEPTONION, the Aqueon’s scrubbing half is designed to sink if detached, which is more inconvenient in most scenarios, but might be preferred if you have a very large tank and don’t want your scrubber floating away.
The Aqueon Algae Cleaning Magnet is available in four sizes.
Price at time of publish: $7
Best All-In-One System
GreenJoy Aquarium Fish Tank Cleaning Kit Tools
All the basic tools required for cleaning
Includes two different net sizes for removing fish when replacing water
Algae scraper rod comes with multiple attachments
For glass aquariums only
Gravel siphon requires manual pumping
The Greenjoy Aquarium Fish Tank Cleaning Kit comes with a scrub brush, plant fork, glass algae scraper, gravel rake, net and a gravel siphon. This system is designed for glass aquariums, so be sure not to scratch up your acrylic tank!
The kit’s included cleaning rod has four different attachments, allowing you to scrub, scrape, lift plants, and sift through gravel without the need for multiple tools. A gravel siphon—one of the most useful tools for fish owners—is also included, making this cleaning kit a great all-in-one solution.
Price at time of publish: $17
Best Water Conditioner
API Tap Water Conditioner
Works with any tap water
Available in a wide range of bottle sizes
Concentrated formula provides good value
Requires measuring out small amounts of conditioner
After you’ve done all your cleaning, you’ll likely need to add new water to replace the water removed. Water conditioners, or dechlorinators, remove harmful chlorine from your tap water. The best water conditioner is API’s Tap Water Conditioner, which works reliably to remove chlorine and chloramine.
API Tap Water Conditioner is especially useful because it is available in a wide variety of formats, with 1-, 1.25-, 4-, 8-, 16-, 32-, 64-, and 128-ounce bottles available from a wide range of retailers.
Price at time of publish (16 ounce): $7
The bare minimum you’ll need to maintain a clean aquarium is a good scrubbing cleaner and a gravel siphon. We prefer the API Algae Scraper, which is also available in a version designed for acrylic tanks. Our favorite gravel siphon is the Python No Spill Clean and Fill, which eliminates the need to create a manual siphon effect, using your sink to easily clean, fill, or drain.
What To Look For When Buying Aquarium Supplies
Freshwater vs. Saltwater
All of the above items can be used in both saltwater or freshwater tanks. Virtually all aquarium cleaning supplies are not specific to either type of aquarium.
Instead of a distinction between freshwater and saltwater cleaning products, the primary divide in aquarium cleaning supplies is between cleaners that can be used on glass and on acrylic. For example, glass can be scraped clean with razor blades, which would only damage an acrylic surface. The more porous plastic acrylic tank walls may also absorb impurities from certain cleaners, clouding your tank’s viewing panes over time. That’s why the most important consideration when looking for a cleaning product is whether or not it will work with the material of your tank.
You should not have to remove your fish during your maintenance routine. By sticking to a routine schedule, you can perform smaller cleaning cycles that do not affect your fish.
Never remove more than 50% of the water at one time when cleaning your tank. If you remove more, you could seriously impact your fishes’ water chemistry, specifically their pH and temperature. Always check your water temperature before performing water changes to keep their environment consistent.
You certainly are not required to get one of everything listed above! Your first priorities in tank maintenance should be an algae scrubber, gravel siphon and water conditioner. Remember, algae mostly bothers people, not fish, so don’t hold yourself to a spotless tank standard. Gravel siphons will keep your tank much cleaner by getting into the substrate where lots of debris can hide. Don’t forget to move your décor when you vacuum, as you’d be amazed how much waste can hide under there.
Finally, adding water conditioner when refilling a tank is absolutely necessary whenever tap water is used. If you are using Reverse Osmosis or bottled water, you may not have to use conditioner, but there will be other considerations.
How do you use an aquarium gravel cleaner?
Gravel cleaners take a bit of practice. Before you start vacuuming, remove all of your décor items and any plants that are not rooted in substrate. Lots of debris can end up under these items without many owners realizing it.
Once everything is removed, turn off your filter. Hook up your gravel vacuum and submerge the larger diameter hose in your aquarium. Pay attention to the open end so no fish or wayward invertebrates get sucked in. Place the end of your vacuum tube in a collection waste bucket that you can use to rinse your filters.
If you are using the Python system we recommend, hook it up to your sink and start the water running to get a siphon started. Traditional gravel siphons use a squeeze bulb instead, which requires manual pumping to generate the siphon action.
If your gravel siphon can’t reach the bottom of your gravel, then your substrate is likely too deep. Allow the siphon to lift the gravel slightly and then pull the siphon up. This will allow the cleaned substrate to fall back to the bottom of the tank. Move along your tank in a zigzag pattern until you have cleaned all of the gravel. Your siphon should be the correct size so you do not remove more than 50% of the water while siphoning your entire tank.
How do you use a magnetic glass cleaner?
To use a magnetic glass/acrylic cleaner, place the side with the scrubbing pad in your tank, facing the glass. Then attach the magnetic handle from the outside. It may take some practice to get everything to line up correctly. As with all scrubbers, be sure to check your scrubbing pad for any debris before attaching it to your tank wall, since gravel or other coarse objects stuck in the scrubber pad could damage your glass or acrylic walls. The easiest method for separating the exterior handle and the interior scrubber is typically by twisting—rather than pulling—them apart, lessening the magnetic contact surface area.
Is vinegar safe for cleaning aquariums?
Vinegar for cleaning aquariums can be used only if the tank is empty. Using it in a tank with live animals can severely alter your water’s pH and stress out your tank inhabitants. If you are switching out systems, here are some methods you can use to clean out your tank.
How do I clean my filter?
Hang-on filters, internal filters, and canister filters should be cleaned regularly. Although many filter materials say they need to be replaced often, you should never replace your filter media until it is about to fall apart. The best method of cleaning a filter is to collect a bucket of waste tank water from your gravel siphon, take your filter apart and gently submerge the components. Swish them around in the wastewater and replace them in your filter. Resist the urge to clean them too thoroughly using chlorinated tap water. If your filter is about to disintegrate, replace only 50% at one time to preserve your biological filtration.
Why Trust The Spruce
Dr. Jessie Sanders is a practicing aquatic veterinarian with 10 years of experience working with aquariums and fish tank owners. She has firsthand experience with all the cleaning tools recommended in this roundup. Dr. Sanders has used a wide variety of cleaning products and techniques in both her personal aquarium tanks and large public aquarium systems. This has given her thorough experience in separating legitimately useful tools from gimmicky gizmos. Dr. Sanders’ recommendations are those tools that best ensure that your tank is a happy and healthy environment for its fish, plant, and invertebrate residents