Planted Tank Maintenance (Simple Guide)

By: Billy | January 16, 2023 | Planted Tanks

Maintaining my aquariums is one of the best parts about having them.

I’d push off maintenance for the longest time because it wasn’t as fun as building a new scape. Or stocking it with new creatures.

I didn’t always feel like that, but it becomes fun when you get into a consistent routine. When I got into a weekly routine, everything else became simpler.

Let’s start with the first thing I always do…

1. Brush algae

I use three items to scrap algae from my tank.

aquarium algae brush

I start by removing the bulk of the algae with this large brush. This makes it quicker than if I used a toothbrush. Unless you’re cleaning a nano tank, then you could probably get away with just a toothbrush.

Then I use a toothbrush for all the smaller spaces my large brush can’t get. So, where does the old credit card come in?

You can use it to scrape the algae that grow close to the substrate. You could probably get away with using a toothbrush, but having a sharp edge works wonders.

Once I get all the algae scrapped off the glass and hardscape, I…

2. Vacuum Gravel

Next, I take my gravel vacuum and siphon out any detritus. If you’re unfamiliar with detritus, it’s a fancy word for organic waste.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “natural waste material that is left after something has been used or broken up.”

So any spots that look like whitish organic waste, use your gravel vacuum to get it out.


Next up…

3. Water Change

I briefly covered it in the “quick tip” section, but I’ll say it again. Don’t do a water change before you scrap all the algae. And that’s because you want to suck out as many algae spores as possible.

You’ll maximize this by scrapping and suspending them into the water column before siphoning the water.

Assuming you get in a weekly schedule, you’ll likely do a 30-50% water change.

If you have a major issue with your tank, you might need to do up to an 80% water change.

Make sure to put some old tank water in a bucket for the next step.

aquarium water change

4. Clean Filter

I use HOB (hang on the back) filters for all my planted tanks.

The reason you want to put old tank water in a bucket is so you can clean your filter media in it without killing the beneficial bacteria.

Do not clean it with tap water. Even worse, do not replace it with a new filter cartridge.

Move your sponge/media back and forth in the water to remove any larger debris. This will clean it without killing the bacteria.

Put your filter back together and into your tank.

aquarium hob filter cleaning

5. Add New Water

Now you can add new water to your tank. Don’t pour it abruptly because it could unroot your plants. Or cause your water to become murky if it hits your substrate aggressively.

Find a spot in your tank that evenly distributes your water (like a hardscape). If you don’t, you can add something to your tank, like…

Literally, anything that will disperse your water.

Those methods above are pretty amateur. The smart ones will invest in a Python siphon and hook it directly to a faucet. This makes water changes an absolute breeze.

If you have a small tank, you could just use a cheap siphon into a bucket.

5. Clean Glass

Chances are you made a mess, and there are now a bunch of water spots on your tank’s glass.

Take a towel (preferably microfiber) and wipe it down.

Nothing fancy about this step. Clean the glass until you’re satisfied.

And you’re done! Your tank is now maintained.

Frequently Asked

Are planted tanks hard to maintain?

I like to set up my aquariums to require little maintenance. Meaning, (1) 30% water change per week. Each maintenance takes about 30 minutes. Once you have a well-balanced ecosystem, maintenance is minimal.

How often should you do water changes in a planted tank?

It depends on your tank size. For reference, I do (1) 30% water change per week on my 20-gallon planted tank. Weekly maintenance is a good idea.


I've been building freshwater aquariums with my dad since a young age. A few years ago, I shifted my focus to low-tech planted tanks. My goal is to share my experience to help make yours easier.