Cynthia owns a beautiful red betta fish. She enjoys sharing fish-care tips for these wonderful pets.
How to Do a Deep Clean of Your Betta's Tank
Betta fish seem to be a very common pet for small children and adults alike. Due to the betta's nature, the tank can be rather small and still be a wonderful habitat for them. My betta fish came to me in the form of a birthday gift a few years ago. Dubbed "Red Fishy" by my son, he has been a wonderful addition to our family. Taking on a betta should not be overly concerning as these fish are easily cared for and very resilient.
In this article, I will show you how to properly clean a fish tank in under 15 minutes. By taking the guesswork out of the fish-tank cleaning process, I may just help you decide to take on a betta fish as a pet. They make a great first pet for children who need to learn the responsibility of pet ownership without taking on a larger pet like a cat or a dog.
Supplies Needed for Cleaning Your Betta Tank
Cleaning a betta fish tank is extremely easy. You will need:
- Fresh water (allowed to sit out in open air for 24–48 hours)
- A bottle brush
- A bowl to hold the accessories
- A bowl to hold your betta (covered with a breathable material)
- Fish net or strainer (optional)
Use Room-Temperature Water
Fill a clean jug with water and allow it to sit out for 24–48 hours to off-gas harmful chemicals and to acclimate to room temperature; exposure to air removes chlorine and harmful chemicals from the water which can otherwise harm fish. Make sure the water is also at room temperature—otherwise, you may run the risk of shocking your betta fish and possibly causing the fish to die as a result.
What pH Water Levels Do Bettas Prefer?
My water comes from a well but betta fish prefer a neutral pH of 7.0 or water that is slightly acidic. With bettas, it is not a good idea to chemically alter the pH level of your fish's water. They can easily adapt to higher pH levels, as long as they are stable. If you have any concerns, you can purchase "Betta Water." I have found that for me it is an unneeded expense. You can also test the pH levels of your tap water if you have concerns about your pH levels.
You will need a large bowl or container for the tank accessories and rocks. You'll also want a bottle brush because they aren't abrasive and are a good choice for cleaning acrylic tanks.
1. Remove the Betta Fish
Before you can clean the tank, you must first remove your fish. You can purchase a small fish net to remove your fish or you can use a small, clean container like I have and scoop your fish out of the tank.
Betta fish can jump out of water, so once you have moved them into another container, place a small card or sheet of paper over the top. This will prevent them from trying to escape.
2. Remove All Tank Accessories
Now that your betta is out of the tank, it is time to remove the decorative accessories that are in your tank and place them in a large bowl. They will need to be cleaned as well as the rest of the fish tank. Getting them out now makes the rest of the process easier. I have a designated plastic bowl that I use for cleaning my fish tank.
3. Remove the Dirty Water
Now that you have removed your betta and any tank accessories, slowly pour out the dirty fish tank water into your toilet or into your garden. The pebbles are fairly heavy and will stay towards the bottom, but use caution as you drain the last bit out so that your pebbles will still remain in the tank. You can use a strainer or fish net if you are nervous about losing any.
4. Remove the Pebbles
Once you have successfully drained the dirty fish tank water, you should be left with either an empty tank or a fish tank with only pebbles. If you use pebbles in your tank, pour them over into the bowl with your tank accessories.
5. Clean the Accessories
Now that your accessories and pebbles are in the same container, you can begin cleaning the accessories. The bottle brush comes in handy for cleaning accessories as it is able to reach areas you would otherwise miss. You should be able to actually feel when your tank accessories are clean (they become slightly slimy to the touch over time as they reside in the tank).
If your accessories have built up a large amount of slime, you can use a fish-safe cleaner (products like Dawn are toxic to aquatic species). Make sure that you have completely rinsed the accessories before you put them back into your tank.
6. Clean the Tank Rocks
Cleaning decorative accessories is slightly easier than cleaning the rocks or pebbles that lay in the bottom of the tank. Using my hands under hot running water, I rub the rocks and pebbles to loosen the slime and food remnants that cling to the rocks. Once I have loosened and ran water through the pebbles, I drain the water from the bowl.
You will no doubt be able to visually see the gunk wash away as you drain the rocks. I repeat the process as long as necessary to remove food remnants and gunk that builds up. Once you are finished, drain any remaining water and set aside.
7. Clean the Tank (Acrylic)
Cleaning the acrylic fish tank is actually a breeze. You may find small shards of rock or pebble remnants. These will need to be wiped out with a towel, using caution as the acrylic is prone to scratching. This is a lesson I learned the hard way.
Once you have cleaned out any shards of the rocks, place the fish tank under running water and begin scrubbing with the bottle brush. The bottle brush works exceptionally well in this application; it will get into the corners with ease. It only takes a few moments to give the tank a good clean. If your fish tank has built up a lot of slime, you can use a small amount of fish-safe cleaner to remove it. Use caution to completely rinse it clean with multiple rinses if necessary.
8. Reassemble the Clean Tank
Now that you have cleaned the tank, accessories, and rocks, you are ready to reassemble your fish habitat. How you proceed is totally up to you. I generally add the rocks first and then add the accessories. Once I have everything placed, I slowly add the fresh water with a blend of the old to the tank. Repositioning the accessories may be necessary if they shift position when you add the water.
9. Put Your Betta Back in the Clean Tank
Congratulations! All the hard work is behind you! Now it is time to reintegrate your betta fish into his or her clean tank. As you can see from the photos above, there is a fair amount of sediment or debris in the container I put "Red Fishy" in while I cleaned his tank. It's okay if you pour this back into the freshly cleaned fish tank as you only want to change 30–50% of the tank water weekly or else you risk shocking your fish (according to BettaAnswers.com). You can otherwise do a deep cleaning of your tank on a monthly basis.
My Betta Fish Tank Recommendation
Betta fish tanks come in all shapes and sizes. I have been through many different fish tanks in the years we have had "Red Fishy" as a pet. I find that a larger fish tank like the one I use is actually easier to clean than some of the smaller ones I have used in the past. With a smaller tank, you will have a harder time cleaning out the corners. It is just a bit awkward to deal with a small tank.
Though Betta fish do well in shallow waters, I prefer letting my fish have ample space to swim. A larger fish tank also allows for the addition of accessories so that your fish has a place to hide if they choose.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What if my Betta doesn’t like his tank?
Answer: If you feel that your Betta does not like his tank, you may want to examine tanks specifics. It is important to note behavior changes, as it could be something unrelated to your tank that is an issue. It is important that if you're not running a tank filter, that you change the water on a frequent schedule.
A Betta in its natural environment is accustom to shallow water. In a tank environment, I do like to provide at least 3 gallons of water. If your using a smaller tank consider a possible upgrade. If you use a bowl, not a tank, these can distort vision for your fish. Checking the PH of the water inside your tank is important to maintain a healthy tank for your Betta as well.
Betta fish do seem to enjoy having items in the tank that they can hide in as well. You may try adding a few aquarium decorations like foliage, or a small cave.
Question: How often should I clean a smaller tank for my Betta fish?
Answer: Smaller tanks will need to be cleaned more frequently, I clean mine weekly or bi-weekly depending on if my son overfed the fish recently or not. With a smaller tank, you may find yourself needing to clean it several times a week.
Question: How can you tell if your Betta likes the tank it's in?
Answer: A happy fish should swim about and zip around from time to time. If you notice your fish is very docile and does not seem to be swimming about much, they may not be too happy or healthy.
Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on December 02, 2017:
KAte, thanks for stopping by! I’ve had red fishy for years now and cleaning the tank and accessories with dawn for all those years never harmed my fish, he remains very healthy and happy. Harsh chemicals would be something I would avoid and suggest others avoid as well. From personal experience Dawn is an effective and animal safe soap and I continue to use it without any issues.
Kate on November 27, 2017:
I've had my Betta for a year and a half now. I was told by a veterinarian to NEVER use soap when cleaning the tank and/or accessories, it will kill the fish.
Marie on September 25, 2017:
You're really not supppse to drain all of the water :x there's still some good bacteria that is vital to an aquariums ecosystem and for the fish
LYNN on August 20, 2017:
In the past 2 months i have purchasef 4 bettas. and the only issue i have is that you have to keep them in separate tanks, bummer. I have a table devoted to my new babies. its my relaxation table.
its pretty simple cleaning the tank and accessories , just takes a long time. im so glad i got these lovely little guys. I have 2 veiltails, 1 crowntail and 1(my newest) he's a dumbo half moon . even my cat likes them. i can't believe how smart they are,. they recognize me. and i swear they understand what im saying to them. thankyou for the articles, i am finding them very informative.
Joe Tomasso on July 02, 2017:
Thank you Cynthia! Very helpful article; I like the part about getting the fish into the clean water (minus the sediment).
Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on June 18, 2017:
Rachel L. Alba I am so glad you found it helpful! Yes they can jump, I always lay something over the container when I move them to clean the tank. I had one of the cute decorative bowls without a top, once I learned we had a jumper my husband quickly got me a better suited tank to keep him in. I love Betta fish because they are really low maintenance, and not expensive at all to keep.
Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on June 06, 2017:
Hi Cynthia. This hub interested me because I had several Betta fish. I got my first ones on a surprise 40th anniversary my girls gave my husband and me. They gave us two red Betta fish. I several after that too. I always was afraid to take them out of the tank. I didn't know they could jump out of the container. lol Now I know. I almost lost them down the sink drain. Thanks for the instructions.
Blessings to you.
Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on April 06, 2017:
Thank you! Red Fishy is an absolute joy and my three year old loves taking care of his own pet.
Cuddle Buns PHubcom on April 04, 2017:
Cute little fish