Help me eliminate frustrations involved in cleaning aquariums!
July 31, 2007 8:54 AM   Subscribe

How do I make aquarium cleaning and water changes effortless? I'm interested in longer setups for each task that will make possible a graceful execution of the entire process.

(skip ahead to bold part if you don't want to read background)

I'm considering the purchase of a new aquarium (50 gal+, freshwater) and I wanted to develop good routines for its maintenance. Halp!

In the past, the hardest part of maintenance for me has been adding fresh water back into the aquarium. I would fill a 3 gal bucket at the sink with a rubber hose, haul it up some stairs, and wait for the dechlorination drops to work and for the temperature to even out. Then, the excruciating part, suspending a heavy bucket at an odd angle while pouring the water gently and slowly into the tank. It's uncomfortable, graceless, and is just such an unpleasant experience that I'd rather neglect the tank than do it sometimes.

My only idea is to siphon it back into the tank from higher up, but I don't relish the idea of buying a shelf high enough and sturdy enough to support the weight. Plus, the room is fairly cramped and I don't think such a shelf will fit anywhere. I've also considered drilling a hook into a ceiling beam so I can just hang the bucket on a chain, but I don't have a drill or any confidence in being able to install such a hook. Is there an easy way to pump it into the tank from the floor? Any other way to transport the water into the tank? I'm not adverse to spending a bit at Home Depot or even a bioscience catalog if I need specialty apparatus.

I'm pretty confident I can be good about cleaning the gravel with a vaccum siphon. I read about using a turkey baster to start the water going, and this is just the sort of tip that makes it really painless and removes any frustration from a part of the process. I would appreciate any other such tips that will reduce any potential irritation I might have with the process. Maybe some ways to attach hose to the lip of the bucket so I don't have to juggle two things at once?

Just to be clear, I'm looking for technical advice and setup design on transferring water and aquarium cleaning that avoids having to carry water weight for long periods, intense concentration, messes, need for coordination, etc. More effort in the setup for less effort in execution. Take me through each step of a practical implementation.

Ideally, I picture myself turning valves on hoses and watching water fill or drain into receptacles like a scientist instead of the brutal Fantasia bucket nightmare it is for me now.

Thank you so much in advance. I want to be a great caretaker for my fishies and I know I can be if I find ways around the many frustrations that I've encountered.
posted by cowbellemoo to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What you need is a python

it's fantastic. I actually have a home made version that i rigged up using a water mattress fill and drain kit and some rubber hosing. i make sure the water coming from the tap is the right temperature and i dose the tank with dechlorinator before adding water. It makes maintenance so much less painful - I'll never go back to lugging buckets.
posted by sid at 9:01 AM on July 31, 2007

Seconding - the python looks like the way to go. As sid indicates, we used a similar gadget for our waterbed back in the day. I drained/filled ours over the courses of several moves and never spilled a drop of water anywhere.
posted by jquinby at 9:07 AM on July 31, 2007

posted by evilelvis at 9:08 AM on July 31, 2007

Python python python python python. It changed my life, I use it for my 58 gallon and it is the most amazing thing ever.
posted by internet!Hannah at 9:08 AM on July 31, 2007

Nthing the python. It will do exactly what you want, no more bucket-lugging, ever.

I noticed in your description that you refer to carrying the water up some stairs- with a 50 gallon tank, you need to put some thought into tank placement, to make certain that the weight will be borne by the structure. One gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds- and don't forget the weight of the tank itself, the gravel, and the tank stand (which itself needs to support at least 500 pounds, or you are asking for trouble.)
posted by ambrosia at 9:23 AM on July 31, 2007

Hehe, well that does seem pretty handy. I have a few follow up questions:

1. Can it be adapted to faucets that don't have the screw attachment threads? If not, how long is the hose? (nearest 'normal' faucet with screwable head is 50-60' away from where the tank will be)

2. Is it safe to pump that chlorinated water into the tank even if the de-chlorine drops are already in the tank? I don't know the specifics of how it harms fish, but it makes me anxious to think about a poison in the same tank with fish, even if for a little while.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:27 AM on July 31, 2007

1. I haven't actually bought a python (I just have my DIY one) but I believe that it comes with adapters for different faucets. You can get them in lengths from 25' to 60' I believe. If you go the DIY route, there is no limit to the length of hose.

2. I've never had any mortalities that could be attributable to this. As far as I know the dechlor acts almost instantaneously. One thing to remember is to dose the whole tank, not just the volume of water you're replacing (ie, if you are putting in 10 gallons of water into a 50 gallon tank, you need to put in enough dechlor for 50 gallons, not just 10).
posted by sid at 9:31 AM on July 31, 2007

I'm pretty sure that pythons come in 25 foot increments, up to at least 75 or 100 feet.

I initially felt a little anxious about putting tap water right in the tank too, but the chlorine/chloramine remover I use works instantly, and my fish have never seemed to react at all to that part of it. (The gravel vacuum, they're not so crazy about.) I've been using a python for three years now with no problems at all.
posted by ambrosia at 9:44 AM on July 31, 2007

you need to put some thought into tank placement

I've given this some thought, and it's most of the reason that I'm thinking of a tank between 50-60 gal (smallish) with a base built especially for the tank. (I haven't gone shopping yet, but I remember seeing such tanks at the store).

The tank will be against a wall on the second floor. Directly under the tank is a wall that separates the downstairs bathroom from the kitchen (running perpendicular to the wall the tank will be against if you could see through the floor top-down). The wall below is built directly on the foundation. Does that sound sufficiently stable? How can I tell if the spot is load-bearing?
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:47 AM on July 31, 2007

You can buy Pythons in ridiculous lengths, and even buy extensions, so don't worry about that too much. Adapters are available, too.

Don't sweat the dechlorination so much. The main things is that you match water temperature from the sink when returning water, and just dose the whole tank with a dechlorinator.

Also, I recommend that you look into Prime as a dechlorinator. It's more expensive per oz., but it requires very little to dechlorinate a large tank. I think it actually works out to like a cap full per 50 gallons. Since you do have to use the larger amount of dechlorinator when changing water with a python (dosing for the whole tank as was mentioned above), this will keep you from running through bottles of the stuff.

As far as the upstairs thing goes, that sounds reasonably sturdy, but I can't talk as I've never had the cajones to keep anything larger than a 20 gallon upstairs. If you think about it, the most a 50 gallon will weigh is 500 lbs, and I know people who keep furniture weighing that much upstairs, so it seems like it could be alright. I wouldn't try anything larger, though.

On a derail note, what are you stocking your tank with? :)
posted by internet!Hannah at 10:07 AM on July 31, 2007

Add an algae-eater to the population. It looks like a miniature shark, with a remora-like mouth, and it sucks the algae off the tank sides before it even gets visible, keeping the glass and water clear.
posted by KRS at 10:08 AM on July 31, 2007

I had a pleco (what they call a "pleco" anyway) who recently died (3 yr 'survivor') in my 10 gal tank. I lurved him lots and I may get a dwarf variety for the new tank. Plecos are absolutely beautiful when swimming, but spend most of their time hanging on the glass or in a cave. I wanted a bit more activity.

I was planning on lots of smaller fish, with tetras (or similar) at the top and corydorus (so cute!) on the bottom.

I had a trio of corys before, but they died within a week. I think that a bigger tank will be more forgiving all around. Better chemistry, easier to regulate the temperature, more room to hide so they're not stressed. I'll do anything for a nice big school of corys to watch.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:07 AM on July 31, 2007

The most important thing to regulate in a fish tank is the ammonia cycle. You can do this with a combination of natural plants, water changes, and making sure you don't overfeed. Do some reading on natural aquarium regulation.

That being said -- the python rocks. We only have a short one for my GF's 30 gallon tank, but we just run a regular garden hose to the front door, run the python inside from the front door, and just leave the old water in the front flower bed. Bonus: Extra fertilizer.
posted by SpecialK at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2007

Thanks again everyone!
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:05 PM on July 31, 2007

I don't have a Python, but I use a regular garden hose and Hoselock tap adaptor to get water into the tank. My setup has a separate filtration tank situated directly under the actual tank. I use this for replacing water, and thereby don't have to worry so much about dechlorination or exact temperature matches. The filtration tank holds the pumps, heater, and all the filter media, which leaves more room in the actual tank for fish.
posted by roofus at 1:31 AM on August 1, 2007

A friend of mine kept a 200 gallon tank in his second-floor condo in a 100+ year old building. I'm not saying that's a good idea, but after seeing that in action I definitely wouldn't sweat a 50.
posted by nev at 6:42 AM on August 1, 2007

I had a trio of corys before, but they died within a week.

Funny, I have nothing but 2 corys in a 10 gallon tank, where they have existed in a state of benign neglect for more than 5 years. I attribute it to them being completely non-stressed and the fact that I feed them only once a week, but really I have no idea how they've survived.
posted by nev at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2007

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