How To Clean A Betta Fish Tank & How To Go Longer Without Doing It

For a beginner betta owner cleaning your fish tank for the first time can be frightening. Especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. And if you don’t have a complete understanding of what to do, you may end up killing your betta. But don’t worry, this guide is going to take you through the necessary steps. After reading up on how to clean a betta fish tank you’re going to be an expert! And you’ll never have to worry about cleaning your tank again!

The Complete Guide On How To Clean A Betta Fish Tank

The two most important things to cleaning a betta fish tank effectively are preparation and knowledge. Before you learn the knowledge, here’s what you’ll need to prepare beforehand.

Preparing To Clean Your Betta Tank

There are a few steps you’ll need to take when preparing to clean your tank. And if you do these beforehand it’s going to make cleaning your tank a lot easier.

Step 0 – Testing Water Chemistry

Before anything you should test the water chemistry in your tank. Knowing how much ammonia, nitrite and nitrates are in the tank can help you understand how much water you should remove. To test the water chemistry you just need to use the API Master Test Kit like so:

how to use the API Master Test Kit

As you can see, it’s as easy as just following the instructions on the bottle! And once you’ve followed the instructions, you just need to look at the results.

API Master Test Kit Results

As you can see, luckily my tanks ammonia levels are 0ppm. However, if they were higher I know I’d need to perform a water change.

Step 1 – Gather Everything You Need

Of course, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to gather all the tools you require. The last thing you want when you’re in the middle of cleaning is a piece of equipment that you’ve forgotten.

The main things you’re going to need are:

  • An algae scrubber (preferable magnetic)
  • Razor/Plastic Razor
  • A gravel vacuum
  • Water Conditioner
  • A toothbrush (or something similar)
  • A large bowl or container (for any decorations)
  • Gloves

Once you’ve gathered all the things you’re going to need, it’s time for step 2.

Step 2 – Washing Hands And Putting On Gloves

Next, it’s time to make sure your hands aren’t going to contaminate your aquarium (and vice versa). The first thing you should do is wash your hands thoroughly. And if you’re using soap make sure that you’re scrubbing it off afterward. You may think washing your hands isn’t necessary if you’re wearing gloves as well. However, it’s just an extra precaution and it doesn’t do any harm.

Once your hands have been washed then add your gloves. Remember, you may think you don’t need gloves, but anything on your hands could do a lot of damage to your betta. In fact, here are some of the reasons you should wear gloves when cleaning your bettas tank.

Bacteria Is Rampant In Your Aquarium

Your bettas tank doesn’t just hold him. It’s a whole ecosystem that is designed to sustain itself. And in that ecosystem, there are millions of bacteria, some of which can cause nasty problems for you. If you have any open cuts or sores on your hand this is especially important. While a lot of people do risk putting their hands in their tank without gloves it’s definitely not recommended.

To Stop The Water Becoming Contaminated

Another big reason to wear gloves is to stop the water from becoming contaminated. If you have any residue on your hands from ANYTHING, it’s likely to come off in your tank. Even if you can’t see it on your hands. This alone could introduce dangerous bacteria to your betta that might end up killing him. If not, it could result in other bacteria breeding and infecting your betta as well.

As well as this some liquids that linger on your hands are just going to outright kill your betta. Even in tiny amounts. For example, if you’ve filled up your car and splashed a tiny bit of gasoline on your hand, that is going to be enough to cause serious damage to your betta. And that’s after you’ve wiped off what you can noticeably see.

You’re Not Going To Spread Any Bacteria Around Your House

And lastly, if you wear gloves you’re not going to be spreading bacteria around your home. If you have bacteria from your aquarium on your hands, anything you touch until you wash your hands again is going to be contaminated with the same bacteria.

A very common pair that I like to use are Coralife Aqua Gloves. They go all the way up to your elbow, so you never have to worry about getting water on your skin, or infecting your tank with bacteria from your skin!

Step 3 – Turning Everything Off

Lastly, before you start cleaning your tank it’s time to turn everything off. This includes the lights, heater, filter, air bubbler and anything else that is in your tank. Once that’s done make sure you move them away from your aquarium (unless they’re made to be submerged). Obviously, the main reason to do this is for your own safety. Even though they’re made for water, it’s still better to be safe than sorry.

And secondly, while some equipment is made to go into your tank other parts aren’t. You don’t want to accidentally knock something that isn’t supposed to be submerged into your tank and end up breaking it.

You won’t have to keep your equipment turned off for that long, and you’ll minimize any risk to you and your fish by leaving it turned off for a short amount of time.

How To Clean A Betta Fish Tank

Now that you’ve prepared everything it’s time to get to work on cleaning your betta tank. Once you know how to do it step by step it’s not going to be nearly as daunting, and you won’t be afraid to do it next time.

Step 1 – Removing Algae 

The first thing you should do is start removing algae from the sides of your tank. This is where you’re going to need your algae scrubber and razors (for stubborn algae).

For the least amount of intrusion you should use a magnetic algae scrubber, but failing that a long-handled one is also a great choice. Begin going over your whole tank removing as much algae and grime from your tank as you can. Normally just using a scraper alone is enough. However, if it’s not then you should use a razor to scrape off any buildup that is hard to remove.

However, it’s extremely important that you use a plastic razor on acrylic tanks. This way the sides aren’t going to be scratched. But if you’ve got a glass tank then a standard razor is going to work just fine.

Once you’ve removed as much algae as you can it’s time for the second step.

Step 2 – Cleaning The Gravel/Removing Water

The next step is to clean the gravel in your tank. Ideally, you should use a gravel vacuum to do this because it’s going to have two benefits. First of all, it’s going to help make your gravel clean and remove any debris, feces and old food waste that may be stuck in it. Secondly, it’s going to remove some water from your tank. You should aim to remove between 10-30% of the water depending on how big your tank is. The smaller the tank the more water you should remove.

To use a gravel vacuum you just need to place the siphon slightly above the gravel. Make sure the other end of the vacuum is placed in another container or bucket, otherwise you’re going to end up with water all over the floor.

The gravel will start getting sucked into the siphon along with any debris and water. However, while the water and debris will end up in your container, the gravel itself will be too heavy.

You should continue siphoning your gravel until enough water has been removed from your tank. And if you think your gravel vacuum is too strong then partially cover the end that’s in your bucket with your thumb. When you do this you’ll be able to control how fast or slow water is leaving your tank.

If you think you haven’t removed all of the debris from your gravel don’t worry too much. You can vacuum the gravel again after a week to remove the rest of it.

And lastly, if you have sand in your tank instead of gravel, then it’s still going to be a similar process. However, you’ll have to hold your siphon higher to make sure the sand isn’t being sucked up!

Step 3 – Cleaning The Filter 

Now you just need to clean the aquarium’s filter. Before cleaning your filter you should decide whether it needs cleaning or whether you’re better off replacing it. And to do this it depends on the type of filter you have, how big your tank is, how messy your fish are etc.

If you decide to clean everything at once the most probable outcome is a huge ammonia spike that would be extremely dangerous for your betta.

For the sake of this article, we’re going to only talk about cleaning the filter.

  1. Take some water out of your tank and place it in a bucket or container. You’ll need enough to rinse your filter in.
  2. Turn off your filter ready to remove the filter media
  3. Once you’ve done this take your filter out of your filter and begin rinsing them in the container. the mechanical media should be wringed out a couple of times, the biological media generally just needs to be swished around, and the chemical media, if you’ve had it a couple of weeks should just be replaced. And remember, all you need to do is swish them around in the water and remove any large debris from them. If you’re washing a sponge filter you should also give it a couple of squeezes.
  4. If you have a HOB filter or something similar, I also like to use the mechanical media to clean any grime out of there before giving it a good rinse.
  5. Once the inside is clean replace all the to their original positions. And turn your filter back on.

(Remember, if you don’t have a filter in your betta’s tank, it means you’ll have to clean the tank A LOT more frequently.)

Step 4 – Adding Water

And of course, the final step is to add new water back into the tank. When you’re doing this, make sure that you’re matching the tanks temperature and that you’re using water conditioner to treat the water, otherwise the chemicals in will kill your betta.

Then all you have to do is fill your bucket, let the water conditioner work it’s magic (Which is instant) and then add the new water to your tank!

Why Do You Need To Clean Your Betta’s Tank?

You may think you don’t need to clean your fish tank. Oftentimes you can look at it and the water appears crystal clear. While this is normally a good sign, what you can’t see is the amount of bacteria that is in your tank. So even if it looks clean, it could be an incredibly toxic environment for your betta. Here are some of the main reasons to clean your tank regularly.

To Keep Ammonia, Nitrites And Nitrates Low

If you’re not sure what the nitrogen cycle is then here’s a simple guide.

  • Any biological waste in your tank is broken down by bacteria and becomes ammonia. Ammonia is toxic and if it stays in this state it will poison your betta
  • Another type of bacteria begins breaking down the ammonia. Once it’s broken down it becomes nitrite. This is still extremely toxic to your betta.
  • And lastly, another type of bacteria breaks down the nitrites into nitrate. While nitrate is still dangerous at high levels, it is safe at low levels. And it’s normally found in low levels in a healthy aquarium.

However, it’s often the case that even the bacteria in your tank can’t quite keep on top of removing all the ammonia and nitrite from your aquarium. And that’s why frequent water changes are a part of cleaning your tank. With the old water full of ammonia being removed, clean ammonia free water can be added. Diluting the remaining ammonia and making it manageable for the bacteria to carry on the cycle.

blue betta splenden

To Replace Minerals And Nutrients

A lot of minerals and nutrients your betta need are in the water itself. However, because the water is contained and there’s no new way for water to be introduced, eventually all those minerals are going to be used up. Unless you perform a water change when you’re cleaning your tank! When you do this you top up the amount of minerals in the tank and in turn, help keep your betta healthy. To learn more about this then this article will tell you everything you need to know about choosing water for your betta!

To Remove Waste

And lastly, the most important reason you’re going to clean your tank is to remove any waste. Most fish waste and debris sinks to the bottom of your tank and just sits there. While your filter does a good job at sucking some of it in it can’t get it all. That’s why cleaning your tank regularly and vacuuming the substrate is so important. It’s going to allow you to remove most of the organic waste from your tank as well as any debris and old food that has fallen in too!

When To Clean A Betta Fish Tank?

Another common question other than how to clean a betta fish tank is how often should you clean your bettas tank?

And there’s no definitive answer. The truth is it’s all going to depend on your setup. Such as how big your tank is, how good the filter is if your housing your betta with other fish etc. But the truth is you shouldn’t need to do a full clean that often. You should be focused more on how often you’re going to need to change the water and vacuum the gravel.

The smaller your tank the more often it’s going to need to happen. For example a 5-10 gallon tank should have 10-20% of its water removed every week. A bigger tank won’t need to do it as often. And remember, you shouldn’t be housing your betta in a tank smaller than 5 gallons.

You may not know this but any tank under 5 gallons is unsuitable for a betta or any fish. Here’s everything you need to know about the ideal sized tank for your betta.

Tank Maintenance

There are some things you can be doing often that will help you know when to clean a betta fish tank.

If you’re scraping the algae off your tank every week, cleaning the filter, vacuuming the gravel and performing water changes then you’re going to reduce how often you’ll need to give your tank a thorough clean.

Checking The Water Chemistry

Another way to know when to clean a betta fish tank is by checking the water chemistry. You can buy testing kits that test the levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. As well as this you can normally take samples of water to an aquatic store to be tested.

However, if you don’t want to do that then remember that ammonia should be at 0 ppm (parts per million), nitrites should be at 0ppm, and nitrates should be below 20ppm.

Should You Ever Remove Your Betta While Cleaning His Tank?

You should do everything in your power to avoid removing your betta from his tank. Moving him around and placing him in different tanks is going to stress him out. Not to mention it’s also going to shock his system. The only time you should move your betta out of his aquarium is to put him in a quarantine tank.

Instead of removing your betta from the tank to clean it, you should be aiming to be as non-intrusive as possible. And the real trick is to perform small water changes and gravel vacuums often, rather than removing everything from the tank.

Tank Mates That Can Keep Your Tank Clean

If your tank is big enough then you can always buy tank mates that are going to keep your tank clean. While all living animals are going to contribute to the amount of waste in your tank, some of them can reduce algae buildup and actually enjoy doing so! If you feel like you’d like another pet to help out, why not try adding some shrimp, snails or catfish such as corydoras and otocinclus catfish to your tank!

Betta fish care is tricky, but with proper guidance, you can succeed! Click here to read a comprehensive guide! 

Why Does Bettas Tank Get Dirty So Fast?

It can often feel like you’ve barely left your betta fish tank alone for a minute before the water starts to look cloudy. It is really important for the health of your fish that you don’t let the water become dirty, but why does it happen so fast?

Dirty Gravel or Decorations

One of the most common mistakes that fish tank owners make is introducing elements that are not sufficiently clean. New gravel, aquarium stones, or even decorations can introduce a lot of sediment that will make your tank water appear cloudy. Even worse, they might accidentally bring harmful bacteria into an aquarium.

Make sure to properly rinse and clean any new decorations, particularly gravel, that you plan on placing inside your betta fish tank.

You Don’t Have The Right Filtration

There are different kinds of filters that you will need for a betta fish tank, and not having the right one can lead to your water becoming dirty very quickly. Mechanical filters will remove debris, chemical filters absorb impurities to make the water clearer, and biological filters introduce helpful bacteria that break down waste.

Some betta owners don’t use a filter at all because a filter can interfere with a betta’s ability to swim in a small tank. Without a filter, however, you will need to constantly replenish the water in the tank to keep it clean.

Your Filter Needs Cleaning or Replacing

Even with the right filter in the tank, the water will eventually start to become cloudy or dirty over time. This is because the filter media inside your filtration system gets clogged or used up and needs cleaning or replacing.

The Water Quality Has Changed

If the PH balance or the temperature of the water in your betta tank has changed, it can affect the amount of bacterial growth that is occurring. Cloudy, white water is often a result of unexpected changes to the water conditions.

Algae is Growing

Clouds of green in your water usually mean that algae have started to grow, and you won’t always see it on the glass of the tank first. Excess light or too many phosphates in the water often lead to algae growth.

You’re Overfeeding Your Betta

If the water in your betta fish tank is getting dirty too quickly, it might be because there is too much biological waste building up. Betta fish don’t actually need to eat too much at one time, and any excess food will collect on the bottom of the tank and start to decay. This is a very common cause of dirty tank water.

The Tank Is Too Small

A tank that is too small will always become dirty more quickly. A smaller tank means that the water becomes contaminated faster, and waste build-up is more of a problem. A single betta fish should not be kept in a tank that is smaller than 5 gallons.

How Do You Keep The Tank Cleaner For Longer?

If you don’t want to be constantly changing your bettas water and constantly wiping down the glass, there are a few things that you can do to keep the tank cleaner for longer.

Get A More Powerful Filter

The best thing you can do is get a more powerful filter. I always recommend HOB filters for small tanks, so you can maximise the amount of space inside the tank. Then just load your HOB filter up with extra biological media which will keep the ammonia at bay for longer. You should also look for a filter that turns over as much water as possible per hour. The more water that the filter can clean per hour, the longer the water will stay clean for.

Change Your Filter Media More Regularly

You may have the right filters in place, and you’re just not cleaning and replacing the media often enough. Chemical filter media generally needs to be changed every 1-4 weeks, and if you clean your sponges, they can last for a lot longer before they need to be replaced.

Reduce Light Levels

If algae are your main problem, then you might want to think about reducing the amount of light that your betta tank is in. Moving the tank away from the window, or lowering the amount of artificial light that you are exposing the tank to, can help to slow the growth of algae.

Don’t Overfeed Your Betta

And of course, make sure you’re not overfeeding your betta. If you’re overfeeding not only is more food going to be wasted, your betta will also poop more. Both of which will lead to ammonia building up in the tank

How Often Should You Clean Your Bettas Fish Tank?

No matter what else you do, you will need to be cleaning your betta’s tank relatively frequently. Every day you should be checking to see how the tank and the water look, monitoring the water quality and inspecting your filters to make sure they are still working effectively.

Each week, you should be wiping down the sides of the tank with a clean cloth and scraping off any algae, taking out any dead leaves from plants or other large waste matter, and replacing about 10%-20% of the water.

Once a month, you should vacuum your aquarium gravel, replace a greater volume of the water, and thoroughly inspect your filter media. This is when you may need to clean or change your filter sponges and/or replace your chemical filters.

how to clean your bettas fish tank infographic

Full Recap On How To Clean A Betta Fish Tank

  • Before cleaning your tank make sure that you’ve washed your hands and put gloves on. This way you minimize the chance of transmitting bacteria to your tank and vice versa.
  • Make sure you turn everything off when you’re cleaning your tank. Do this as late as possible, and make sure that you move all electricals that can’t be submerged away from the tank.
  • When cleaning your tank you should remove the algae off everything and then vacuum it off the substrate. This will save you time.
  • Sometimes you may need to use bleach on decorations. If this is the case then use 5% bleach to 95% water.
  • You should avoid cleaning your filter and tank at the same time. Otherwise, you’re going to destroy all the beneficial bacteria in the tank.
  • Cleaning the tank is going to keep ammonia nitrite and nitrate levels low, replace minerals, and remove any excess waste.
  • You won’t have to thoroughly clean your tank very often, but you should perform a water change weekly/bi-weekly, depending on the size of the tank.
Tropical Fish A-Z
About the author

Hey! I'm Antonio!

Betta fish keeper for over 6 years now! Since owning a betta I've also housed all kinds of tropical fish, and have seen all manner of problems and how to look after them!

If you need any advice you can always message me or better yet join the Facebook group where a community can answer your questions!

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