To achieve a successful tank, one must be consistent with tank maintenance. Consistency is what helps keep the tank balanced. Maintenance generally includes draining water out of the tank and replacing it with optimal water, removing any algae from the tank, trimming plants back if need be and refilling Co2.
Why and when do we need to change our water?
We change water to make sure there is not a buildup of any harmful chemical compounds. If we are not dosing fertilizers, then it generally a build of Nitrates that force us to change out the water. Some tanks have such a balance that they only need to process water changes once a month. The goal with these tanks is to keep Nitrates low, somewhere around 20ppm. If we are doing PPS-Pro or the EI method, we change water weekly to reset nutrient levels in our tank. It is suggested, unless you are running a shrimp only tank, to process 50% water changes on a fully stocked aquarium once a week. In a nutshell, processing a water change of 25-50% once a week in any planted tank is going to help keep your plants and livestock happy.
When performing tank maintenance, first drain your tank to level when scrubbing the glass won't cause water to slash out. Then scrub all the algae off your glass or acrylic tank. If you are using an algae scrubber make sure that it ok for glass or acrylic. When scrubbing everything down, we are going to be kicking up algae and any spores into the water column and we want to remove as much of that as we can with our water change. This is why we do not remove all the water needed first, then scrub as the algae will just resettle and spawn again. Once we get everything we can off the glass, take a toothbrush or metal brush to any hardscape that might have algae on it. You can use a toothbrush to get into their hard to reach areas and even an old plastic gift card to help scrap the glass. Lastly, with the water level low, we can spot treat hair algae with Hydrogen Peroxide and/or Seachem Excell (glutaraldehyde). Remember that this will just kill the hair algae but not remove it, so we'll need to scrub that again once the hair algae is dead. We know it's dead as it will turn a reddish color versus a greenish or black color. I also use tweezers to get any larger pieces of debris or algae that might be stuck in a cornder or hard to reach areas.
Next on the list of maintenance is trimming. While we are working on our tank it’s a good idea to pinch off any old or dying leaves. Removing dead leaves will allow the plant to focus its energy on healthier leaves rather than sustaining a dying leaf. We also want to be aware of any taller growing plants as they can block needed light on lower plants. We also want to make sure that no plants have grown or are blocking any inlets or outlets of filtration. Trimming plants can excite new growth and can help stemmed plants become bushier. Keeping out plants pruned helps keep out plants healthy and remove any old or decaying preventing more algae.
Not that we’ve got everything clean up up, scrubbed down, and trimmed, we’ll want to drain up to 50% of the water. While draining the water we want to kick up as much detritus and mulm by either waving your hand above the substrate’s surface, or by using a turkey baster to shoot water into hard to reach area. Siphoning carpeting plants is always a good idea as fish waste can get stuck in the root system making it hard to see, but also kind of toxic to the balance of the tank. And it's always a good idea to suck up any plant matter that might be floating at the surface after our trimming. The big thing is to remove as much organic matter than it just sitting around our tank. Decomposing organic matter can cause algae, and the less of it we have in our tank, the happier it will be.
RO or RO/DI Water
What is RO/DI water? RO/DI is filtered water and is short for Reverse Osmosis and Deionized water. Reverse Osmosis (RO) the reverse of osmosis is often used to partially clean-up tap water to make it roughly 90-99% pure H2O. It removes nutrients, chemicals, bacteria and viruses, from our water. The Deionization portion (DI) filter changes positing hydrogen and negative hydroxyl molecules for positive and negative contaminate molecules in water. Di filtering and other processes are simply referred to as water polishing. Depending on the filter, the end result is almost 99.9% pure H2O and this is not good for our tanks. We need to remineralize the water back up to a proper GH and KH to make it suitable for our tanks. A lot of pro aquascapres keep their GH and KH pretty low, around 4 for their GH, and 2 for KH. However, this can change drastically depending on the system you have designed. So while we are processing our water changes with RODI water, we are simply want to make sure our GH and KH are back to where they need to do.
It is also good to once I a while check up on our Co2 canister to make sure that we are not getting close to a refill. The last thing we want is to be caught without Co2 on hand. One can go a few days without Co2 but only is light intensity is reduced. It’s ok to do, but not idea. Again, consistency is key.
I used this term, filter rinse, instead of cleaning your filter because we don’t want to clean out a filter. We simply need to rinse it out with tank water and remove any plant or organic matter that might have built up in the sponges (mechanical filtration) or trays. I tend to once a month open my filter, rinse out my filter sponges and biomedia trays, wipe down any brownish algae that might be growing inside and then put it all back together. We don’t want to do is take it over to our sink, and with chlorinated water, clean everything. This will eliminate all of the good bacteria that is helping keep our fish safe from toxic organic compounds. Just remember that when rinsing everything out, just use tank water and scrub with an aquarium sponge.
My maintenance routine
Here is my process. I turn off everything but my aquarium light. I then remove just enough water with a siphon as to prevent splashing as I work in the tank, no more than that. I then start scrubbing any green dust algae on the glass with a scrub pad or old plastic gift card. If there is some hardscape that I can not remove like wood or stone, I scrub and/or spot treat inside the tank. From there I remove any dead or dying foliage from the tank by cutting with scissors or pinching. I also trim back and stem plants that have grown out of control and replant the stems if needed. I clear away anything that is blocking my intake out outflow for my canister filter and every 4 week open my canister filter and clean out any detritus or dissolving organic matter. Once all of that has been done, I remove the rest of the desired water trying to suck up any leaves that might be floating in the tank from trimming (s-repens leaves, I am looking at you!) and I wave my hand at the substrate to kick up any decaying organic matter that might get stuck in my carpeting plants. I do recommend siphoning your substrate as waste can build up in it causing issues with water quality. I then fill my tank back up with RODI water. Using a dinner plate or splashing against some of your driftwood can help ensure you again are not kicking up or disturbing your substrate. I use 100% RODI water because I live in a city with terrible TAP water. I treated it to get back to a GH of around 4 and a KH or around 2 which gives me a PH of roughly 6.6-6.8. Once the tank is filled back up, I turn everything back on like the heater, canister filter, powerheads, etc. For all size tanks, I highly recommend a siphon that connects to a water spigot or faucet as it can make changing water a lot easier than carrying buckets around. If you are changing large amounts or RO water, I recommend a rolling trashcan with a submersible pump. That way you can roll your RO water right up to your tank and pump it in.
This overtime will become clockwork for you and you won’t have to think about it. My water changes take me an hour max on a 30gal tank, sometimes less if I am just cleaning glass and changing water. Ultimately your tank maintenance will reflect on how well your tank performs. Good tank maintenance promotes healthy plants which fends off algae blooms and organic decaying matter promotes algae.