Cleaning Your Fish Tank With Vinegar – Can You Use It?

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Do you want to kill your fish?

Probably not, but you could if you use detergents or even common dish soap to clean your fish tank.

If you want to know what is safe to use then read on…..

Distilled White Vinegar is very safe and effective to use for cleaning your aquarium glass stains and hard water deposits. It is mildly acidic and won’t be harmful to fish. The reason it’s effective is that it contains acetic acid, a mild acid that breaks down the calcium and hard water deposits on the glass. Vinegar can also be used to clean off aquarium equipment like heaters, filters, pumps, and filter tubes.

Can you use apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar has become very popular for weight loss and other health benefits, but can be used for cleaning too. Apple cider vinegar is made by crushing down apples and extracting the liquid, adding yeast to ferment. They then add bacteria to turn the alcohol into acetic acid. So it’s really about the same substance just distilled from different sources.

How much vinegar should you use to clean a fish tank?

You can use straight vinegar, but if you’re not into vinegar smell, you’ll probably want to use 1 part water to 1 part vinegar. Mix up about a ½ gallon or so. That should be enough for most cleaning jobs.

You can also use vinegar to clean your fish tank equipment. Just put the dirty equipment in a bucket and fill enough to cover the equipment and let it sit for 24-48 hours. You may have to scrub a little and then rinse off with water. The equipment should be good as new.

What else works well?

Another product that works really well is called barkeepers friend. Many aquarists feel that this stuff works even better than vinegar. The main ingredient is oxalic acid produced from plant/vegetation waste. It does not contain chlorine so, it’s perfectly safe for use on a fish tank.

It’s different from Comet or Ajax because Barkeeper’s Friend is acidic based while Comet and Ajax are alkaline bleach based. An acidic based cleanser is more effective on rust and hard water.

It also works great on stainless steel, porcelain and anything with rust or hard water stains. You can get it at places like Home Depot or Amazon. Just follow the instructions and wet down the area first and pour on the powder. You won’t need gloves to apply it.

If you’re going to use this on an acrylic aquarium, then use the Soft Cleanser or non-abrasive Spray & Foam.

Vinegar is also good for cleaning tank equipment like:

  • Heaters
  • Thermometers
  • Hoses and Pipes
  • Filter Intakes
  • Aquarium Covers
  • Powerheads and Power Pumps

Use a bucket and fill enough vinegar to cover the entire piece of equipment. Then let it sit overnight. You may have to brush off the gunk and rinse thoroughly before returning it to the tank.

It’s best to have a dedicated kit complete with brushes for every type of equipment. A really nice kit to have is the Tunze Cleaning Kit. It comes with three different types of brushes, a small bottle of citric acid, attachable towel, and an instructional DVD.

How to Clean an Empty Fish Tank

First, wipe down the tank with a moist sponge. Make sure it’s a new sponge not used. Any cleaning chemicals can affect the water parameters and obviously, that’s not too good for the fish. Put more water and some table salt on the sponge. Wipe some more all around the tank. Rinse out the tank with water from the hose. Use a razor to scrape off tough areas. Put some vinegar on a newspaper after you have wiped it down with a sponge and wipe the tank down both inside and out with it. Do not scrub or scrape with salt on an acrylic tank. Let it sit awhile and then use a razor to scrape off the hard calcium deposits and algae.

Watch this video tutorial from Rachael

How do you clean an acrylic tank?

Since acrylic tanks scratch easier, you can’t use a normal rough scrubber or razor blade. Instead, use an acrylic friendly scraper. You can use vinegar for acrylic tanks as well. This works pretty well at getting stains and algae off the sides of the fish tank. Instead of using a normal glass cleaner on the outside, a good product to use is a plastic polisher like Novus 1.

How Do You Clean The Fish Tank With Fish In It?

For this, you would use a magnetic algae scraper. One half goes on the inside of your fish tank and the other half is held outside of the fish tank. The two halves are held together with a magnet. You just slowly move the scraper around in small circular motions and remove the algae from the inside of the tank. Then you want to clean the gravel using a gravel vacuum siphon. This also doubles as a water change since you will be removing some water in the process. After that is done, you will want to put water back into the tank to fill it up. Don’t pour the water directly in as that will disturb your fish too much. Use a plastic water sieve and pour the water into that. Make sure and put some water treatment in the tank afterward to remove the chlorine and other chemicals. The water will be a little dirty for a while but should clear up after you turn on the filter and heater.

Using Vinegar to Lower The pH of Your Aquarium

You can use some vinegar to try and lower the pH of your water if the pH is rather high. The thing is it’s only a temporary fix. What happens is the bacteria in your tank will absorb the vinegar and you would have to keep adding vinegar to keep the pH low. A better solution for high pH is to add some driftwood or cholla wood, or peat moss which you can get online. This is a more natural solution. Keep in mind that they contain tannins and will color your water yellow or brown or black temporarily.

Can You Use Vinegar to Clean Fish Tank Decorations?

You’re probably cleaning off algae from fish tank decorations, so vinegar wouldn’t be the most effective. A more effective method would be to put the decorations in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Boiling water will effectively kill the algae and you can just scrub off the dead algae after. You can also use hydrogen peroxide to kill off the algae. Remove the decorations and spray 3% peroxide solution. Make sure and rinse real good and let them dry out before adding them back to the tank.

Buying a Used Tank

You might be thinking of going on Craigslist to buy a used tank and save some money. This can work, but you need to know how to get it ready before actually using it. First thing is to check for leaks. You probably want to do this at the place of purchase. Simply fill the tank with water and check for any leaks. If everything looks ok, then you’ll probably want to take it home and clean it according to the instructions above. Mostly it will be hard water deposits and calcium that can be cleaned off easily. If there are algae, then spray it down with hydrogen peroxide 3% solution and use an algae scraper to remove it from the glass. You can get it to look like brand new.

Be careful what you use to clean your fish tank. Don’t use soaps or detergents!

Once regular dish soap is on the fish tank, it’s very difficult to remove. Even a little soap can be deadly for fish. Any products like glass cleaner or lime cleaners are very toxic. Glass cleaners contain ammonia which is obviously lethal.

NEXT: Is Tap Water Safe For Tropical Fish?




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