Cleaning an aquarium with vinegar

There is nothing more satisfying for a keen hobbyist like me than seeing my fish thrive and happy through clear glass. I never thought I’d be able to do that without hard-to-remove algae or limescale stains ruining my eyesight. Then I discovered a miracle tank cleaning product!

In this guide I will share with you how I keep my tank so clean. And it’s not due to rocket science or expensive chemicals! My pristine tank is due to good old fashioned vinegar. That’s distilled white vinegar to be precise.

Cleaning your fish tank with vinegar is a cheap and extremely effective way to remove tough stubborn algae and water stains from tank glass, ornaments, and even plants.

green spot algae

Most algae are soft and easy to remove simply by gently rubbing them with a sponge. However, Green Spot Algae is much more difficult to change, as it forms rock-hard spots that stick like glue to tank glass, decorations, and even plants.

hard water stains

Hard water stains are caused by minerals (calcium) in the water. As the water evaporates, the minerals are left behind, leaving a white residue on the glass. Those same mineral deposits can also coat filter equipment that isn’t submerged. Vinegar can remove those stains quickly and easily!

And that’s not all!

Using the correct ratio of white vinegar and water to clean your aquarium means you can also use it to sanitize your filtration system without harming beneficial bacteria or your fish. Even better, where other tank cleaning methods don’t last or leave residual blemishes, vinegar is strong enough to remove the toughest stains safely and without risk of damage.

So, if you want a cheap, safe, and effective solution to cleaning your aquarium, read on!

what you will need

Before you begin, you will need to assemble the following kit:

You can find everything you need for this job at your local grocery store or online at the links we’ve provided.

How to do it

Here’s how to clean your fish tank with vinegar. You can use the same basic method described below to clean your tank with the fish still in it or to clean and disinfect an empty tank.

I always use vinegar to clean new ornaments and plants before adding them to my tanks. That way I know any potential bacteria or parasites will be eliminated and my fish will be safe.

Stage 1 – Deep Cleaning Your Tank

You can use this method on glass and acrylic tanks. However, be very careful when scrubbing stubborn stains on plastic or acrylic aquariums so as not to scratch the surfaces.

1. Empty the tank

Start by emptying your fish tank. Transfer the fish to a separate tank, remove plants and decorations, and then empty the tank completely.

2. Loosen stains with water

Moisten a sponge with tap water and use it to clean the inside and outside of the tank. The idea is to loosen and remove some of the algae and loosen the calcium deposits. Use the sponge carefully so as not to scratch the surface, especially if your tank is acrylic.

3. Apply table salt

Take the same biscuit, moisten it and add a little table salt to the biscuit. Clean the entire tank again. Gently scrub the tank, concentrating on stubborn stains.

Let the salt sit for a few minutes, but don’t let it dry out completely.

4. Rinse the tank

For this step, it helps if you can place the tank in a bathtub or outside on the lawn near a faucet.

Connect your hose to the faucet and rinse the tank well.

5. Remove stubborn stains

Skip this step if you have a plastic or acrylic tank.

Use a razor blade to very gently scrape hard algae and calcium deposits from the glass.

6. Clean the tank with vinegar

Prepare a solution of 1 part tap water to 1 part vinegar. Pour the solution onto a clean sponge and use it to scrub the entire tank until any remaining algae and calcium stains are gone.

Don’t forget to clean the glass on the outside as well.

7. Rinse the tank thoroughly

Finally, rinse the tank well with clean tap water. Let the tank dry completely.

Stage 2 – Clean Decorations, Plants, and Peripherals

Now, move on to clean your plants, decorations, and filtration equipment if necessary. When you’re done make sure to rinse everything thoroughly with clean tap water before replacing items in the aquarium.

1. Clean your plants

To remove high concentrations of algae from live plants, prepare a solution of white vinegar and water in a ratio of 1 part tap water to 1 part vinegar.

Let the plants soak in the solution for no more than five minutes.

2. Rinse the plants

Carefully rinse the plants under cold running water to remove loose algae and the vinegar solution. Replace the plants in your tank.

3. Soak tank decorations

To clean resin ornaments, pebbles and rocks, place them in a bucket containing a solution of water and vinegar in a ratio of 1 part tap water to 1 part vinegar.

Let the decoration soak in the solution for at least 10 minutes.

4. Clean stubborn stains

Rinse decorations under clean running water.

Finally, use an old toothbrush to scrub items and remove stubborn stains. At this stage, you may need to dip the toothbrush in undiluted vinegar and focus on the really bad stain areas.

5. Clean filters, aquarium covers, etc.

Use a 1 part tap water to 1 part vinegar solution of water and vinegar and your sponge to gently scrub hard water stains from all items in your aquarium peripherals, including filter housings, covers etc.

To clean and sanitize your filter unit, remove the filter media and place it in a small container of tank water. Disassemble unit and soak parts in a 1 part tap water to 1 part vinegar solution of water and vinegar for 10 minutes.

Rinse all parts of the filter unit thoroughly under clean running water. Rebuild unit and replace filter media.

Clean your aquarium without removing your fish

You can use distilled white vinegar to remove green stain algae from your tank’s glass without bothering your fish or removing your setup altogether.

Simply take an aquarium magnet cleaner and pour a little vinegar on the scouring side of the cleaner.

Now, gently rub the algae patches with the magnet cleaner until the green spots are gone.


I hope you enjoyed my tutorial!

Keeping my aquarium free of hard water and algae stains keeps the tank in good shape and can reduce the damage to your filtration system that calcium deposits can cause if they build up.

Please let me know how cleaning your aquarium with white vinegar went and don’t forget to share the article if you found it helpful.

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