Marine Aquarium Maintenance Procedures

  • 01 of 04

    Scheduled Maintenance Tasks

    Fishes in Fish Tank
    Gregor Schuster/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Maintaining water quality in a saltwater aquarium is of the utmost importance for a healthy tank. Aside from the normal day to day upkeep (checking water temperature, feeding animals, overall observations and water top off), saltwater aquariums and all of their components require periodic maintenance and cleaning in order to function properly.

    How often should you perform major cleaning chores depends on your system type. While true Berlin Live Rock and Jaubert/Plenum filter systems need little maintenance, Wet/Dry Trickle and canister filters require more frequent attention. There are a number of factors which affect how often your tank will require maintenance:

    • Filtration type.
    • Biological load on the filtration system.
    • Quantity & types of foods fed.
    • Inclusion of Tank Janitors.
    • Use of toxin (nitrate & phosphate) reducing products.

    Once your tank is cycled, monitoring weekly water quality tests will let you know when a thorough cleaning is a good idea. Over time, you will start to see trends in your test readings as well as observable changes in your tank livestock. Taking a couple of minutes every day to really look at your tank will pay big dividends.


    Take a minute to record your observations of anything unusual in your tank log book.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Testing Your Aquarium Water

    Test your water parameters at least once per week, to begin with. Slight changes in some tests are normal but they may indicate a trend and should be noted. Tests should include:

    Water Parameters

    Record the water test results in your tank log book.

    What are the Normal Sea Water (NSW) values? See the Table of Top Major & Minor Elements in NSW.

    What are the target water test levels? See the Marine Aquarium Water Quality Target Values.

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Cleaning Your Aquarium

    When you decide that a major cleaning is due, take the time (the more you do it, the less time it will take over time) to go through your entire system and do it right. Start from the inside of the tank, then work your way through the rest of the system.

    HINT: Placing a couple of old towels on the floor in front of the tank during cleaning helps protect the flooring from water damage.

    To start with, scrub the algae from the tank walls and submerged equipment.

    • Siphon clean substrate
    • Water change.
    • Top off with new (pre-mixed) saltwater.
    • Retest parameters which were off, previously.

    Add supplements to adjust levels to desired levels as needed.

    Next is your filtration system. This is where a well designed system really pays off. The old adage: "The easier something is to do, the more often it will be done" rings true here.

    • Sump
      • Clean debris from the bottom
        • A turkey baster works great for this.
    • Filters
    • Protein Skimmer
      • Empty collection cup.
      • Adjust air and water flow as needed.
    • Pumps
      • Operating?
      • Normal output?
      • Free of blockages?
      • Clean filters.
      • Check hose connections
    • Lights
      • Clean fixture and bulbs
      • Replace old bulbs.
    • Salt Creep

    Wipe the cabinet and canopy down with a damp cloth, clean the aquarium glass with a glass cleaner or damp cloth and you are done.

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  • 04 of 04

    Scheduling Aquarium Maintenance

    Take a minute or 2 to think about whether or not you should perform this maintenance more or less frequently. The amount of debris in your mechanical filter is a good indicator. When your mechanical filter becomes clogged and overpowered, contaminants will either be forced through or around the filter material, defeating its purpose. Quite often, you can get a pretty good idea of when your filter needs attending to by the amount of water that is coming out of it. If the water flow is slower than it was right after your last filter cleaning, it probably is due for cleaning.

    Schedule your next maintenance.