Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #5

The #5 Mistake – Not Understanding Filtration

Mastering the ins and outs of filtration in aquatic systems can seem a daunting task for new owners, but we’re going to make it SO EASY!! To start out, there are three types of filtration going on in your fish system:

  • Mechanical (floss, sponges, pads) – These components remove particulate from your aquarium. They need to be cleaned regularly to maintain water flow rates throughout your aquarium.
  • Biological (bioballs, ceramic media, strapping, floss, sponges, media bed) – These provide housing for your good bacteria that keep your nitrogen cycle running smoothly. They need to be cleaned carefully so you do not remove too many of them.
  • Chemical (UV, carbon) – These components change the action of particulates in your water. UV lights kill algae and carbon will alter any chemical treatments added to your tank. UV light has NO EFFECT on bacteria or parasites living on your fish.

When you clean your tank, understanding what each part does will illustrate how to clean it. Mechanical filtration can be cleaned fairly thoroughly. Chemical filter components need to be replaced regularly for proper function. Biological filtration needs to be cleaned with old tank water and not until sparkling! 

Watch our video on how to properly clean your fish tank and media.

Combo Filters

These filters come with a combination of filtration types, usually sponges (mechanical/biological), carbon (chemical) and zeolite (chemical – ammonia scrubber). You do not have to use all of the components! Our office just uses the sponges; carbon is not necessary and an ammonia-scrubber isn’t needed for established, well-maintained systems.

Floss Cartridges

These are the most useless filters in the aquarium hobby. They are not meant to last and hemorrhage money. Switch them out for a sturdy sponge that you DO NOT need to replace every month. Only replace your filtration when it is about to fall apart.

Pressurized Filter

This is the most common type of filtration used on outdoor fish ponds. These units contain many small plastic beads used to house good bacteria for ammonia conversion. They need to be backwashed on a weekly basis to make sure the media is not compacted. Once compacted, these units need to be cracked open and cleaned.

To keep your fish happy and healthy, it is important that you do your maintenance regularly! Here’s a handy checklist to make sure you do everything on a regular basis: For Fish Tanks and For Koi Ponds


How to Clean a Fish Tank

Sounds simple? Do it right and keep your stress minimal!

Cleaning the glass

  1. Wash your hands and arms to your elbows.
  2. Unplug filter and lights. If you have any UV lights, unplug those too. Close any valves if you have a sump so it doesn’t overflow.
  3. Remove any synthetic decor and scrub it with hot water and a designated toothbrush.
  4. Clean the glass with an appropriate acrylic-safe or glass scrub.
  5. Use a gravel vacuum to get into the substrate crevices. Do not remove more than 50% of the tank water at a time. Your fish can stay in the tank, just don’t suck them up!

    Scrubbing decor separately using hot water and toothbrush
  6. Remove filter media and rinse gently or squeeze in collected bucket of waste water. Do NOT use tap water. The chlorine can kill your good bacteria. Your filter media does NOT have to be pristine and sparkling. Again, super clean media will reset your biologic filter to ZERO. You do NOT have to replace your filter media every month. If your filter media is falling apart, do not replace more than 1/4-1/3 of the total media at a time. We recommend using sturdy sponges over floss.
  7. Use your waste water to feed your plants. The nitrates make great fertilizer!

    Using a gravel siphon to clean substrate
  8. Re-fill your bucket with tap water. Bottled water can be missing buffers and/or minerals. Make sure it is the same temperature as your tank! An infrared thermometer is great for quickly comparing two temperatures.
  9. Add dechlorinator to your bucket of water and decor that treats chlorine AND chloramine. Chloramine is a more stable form of chlorine mixed with ammonia! Allow a few minutes for the dechlor to do its job.
  10. Replace your decor back in your tank and pour in your treated water. You may need to adjust your decor after adding the water.
  11. Prime your filtration by pouring some tank water into the filter base. Plug in and adjust flow accordingly. Open any valves you previously closed.

    Gently rinse filter media in waste water
  12. Turn on your lights and replace any covers. Watch your tank for a few minutes to make sure everything is working properly.
  13. Wash your hands and arms!

Watch this video for the entire process.


Top 5 Fish Mistakes – #1: Too Many Fish

Top 5 Fish Mistakes – #1: Too Many Fish

When you picture your ideal fish tank or koi pond in your mind, you see it teaming with life. So thick with fish and colors, but hold on. Did you ever consider that your fish might need a lot more room than you are considering? Sure, it may look great, but you will be sacrificing fish health over aesthetics.

Consider a fish’s natural environment out in a lake or the ocean. Compare that vast space to a confined structure like a pond or tank. You lose considerable water volume and potentially acres of natural filtration. When we confine fish to a tank or a pond, you can only hold as many as your filtration allows. If you have a lot of filtration, you can have a lot of fish, but your fish may still not like it. If they feel overcrowded, it will cause stress and secondary disease. It will depend on the species of fish you have and your filtration capabilities to determine how many fish your system can handle. When in doubt, always err towards the side of fewer fish rather than more.

But what about that 1” of fish per gallon rule? Well, I challenge you with the three following species:

fish comparison

All three live in very similar environments, but have very different body shapes. You could pack 10 little tetras into 1” of goldfish, and the same goes that you could pack 10 goldfish into 1” of koi! And this rule assumes that your filtration is well established, receiving regular maintenance and all the fish get along!

So I’m going to throw out the rule that sets any guidelines whatsoever. The best thing to do is start with a few fish and slowly increase your numbers. Get the opinion of an expert in the field or whatever species you are interested in keeping. Read books on which species get along with each other and know if they will want their own territory or need buddies nearby. Watch your water quality and fish health. If your ammonia starts to go up with an established tank, you are past capacity. If your fish all show vague clinical signs or one gets picked on by its counterparts, see if some more room will settle everyone down.

Remember, less fish can lead to better fish health, but make sure you know your species well. For example, koi like friends. We have one hospital tub that everyone acts normally when there are 7+ fish in the tank. 7 or less, everyone stops eating and just sits on the bottom. Add some new fish and everyone is back to normal.

Don’t forget to plan ahead! Let’s take our three example species again:

Neon Tetra: Starts around 0.5” and can get up to 2”

Goldfish (variety dependent): Starts around 2” and can get up to 12”

Koi (variety dependent): Starts around 6” and can get up to 24”-28”

If you plan on keeping your fish for their entire lives, you better make sure you have room or can upgrade their tank when the time comes. Think you’ll run out of room? Get rid of fish sooner rather than later. It is much easier to find homes for smaller fish than big fish. Ask your local fish organization if they can help you find a new home for your pet before you run out of room and filtration.

For more information, watch the entire webinar: Click Here