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What Every Aquarist Should Know About Aquarium Water Changes

Aquarium water changes play a key role in maintaining the quality of the aquarium eco-system and, ultimately, the survival of your fish. Learn why this should be a regular part of your aquarium maintenance routine.


water xs 15891027If you’re new to the aquarium hobby, one rule that you must know (and follow) is the rule of regular aquarium water changes. Water changes play a key role in maintaining the quality of the aquatic eco-system in a tank that we’ve created. Without it, pollutants such as nitrates, phosphates, and dissolved organic compounds (DOC’s) can accumulate to dangerous levels in the water column. These elevated levels of pollutants will cause pH levels to drop. KH levels can also drop. KH, or carbonate hardness, refers to the pH buffering capacity of water. Having the proper KH, or buffering capacity, is essential to maintaining a stable pH reading in your aquarium.

Maintain Fish Health With Water Changes

bolivian ram xs 12295029Another very important reason for regular water changes is to maintain the health, and ultimately, the survivability of the tank inhabitants. Fish and invertebrates rely on stable water parameters for optimum health. Fluctuations of the proper water parameters, or water parameters that are consistently outside of the proper range, will lead to excess stress on your fish. When fish are consistently exposed to stress, they become susceptible to disease and their overall quality of life and health are greatly diminished.

Cleaning The Substrate Is Important

Tylomelania species - Orange Rabbit Snail 01It should be noted that vacuuming the substrate, whether it be gravel or sand, needs to be included as a part of regular water changes. The reason being that organic waste in the substrate, sometimes referred to as mulm, accumulates and contributes greatly to the amount of DOC’s and nitrate levels in the water column. A regular cleaning of the substrate bed will remove the excess waste of uneaten fish food, fish poop, and other detritus before it has to go through the nitrogen cycle, and, will go a long way towards maintaining proper, and stable, water parameters. Substrate burrowing snails are an excellent way to aid in the removal of excess waste from the sand bed and provide an “automatic” clean-up crew to reduce the maintenance tasks the aquarist has to perform.The reasons for regular water changes are interrelated. Correcting one will have a positive impact on another. Regular removal of excess DOC’s, nitrates, etc. results in the ability to maintain a more stable pH. Having a stable pH reading in the aquarium goes a long way towards reducing stress on the fish, which ultimately prolongs their life. Healthy fish makes for a happy aquarist!

How Often Should Aquarium Water Be Changed?

So, how often should the aquarium water be changed? And how much of the water should be changed? Well, there is no “one size fits all” answer since every aquarium is different. But, assuming your tank is not overstocked, you are not overfeeding, and you have the proper amount of filtration in place, a 20 to 25% water change once a week, or even once every two weeks should suffice. The best way to determine how often and how much for your particular situation, is to perform regular aquarium water tests. If your aquarium water is showing acceptable levels of nitrates after performing water changes every two weeks, then you should be okay to remain with this schedule. Conversely, if nitrate levels are consistently holding at unacceptable levels, then consider changing water once a week.

Clean The Aquarium Filter Too

filter xs_6368101It’s also important to remember that excess waste can, and will, build up in the mechanical filter (such as a canister filter). Depending on the bio-load of the aquarium, cleaning the filter once, or twice, a month should be enough. Just remember to use de-chlorinated tap water or water removed from the aquarium (from a water change) to clean any sponge type pre-filters and other media to prevent killing the beneficial bacteria living inside.

By sticking to a regular schedule for aquarium water changes, and monitoring the results with an aquarium water test kit, you’ll be ahead of the game in preventing the frustration and headaches many aquarists experience by not performing this very important function.  

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