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Currently I have 10 aquariums at home plus a handful of outdoor ponds.  I've also cleaned and maintained a lot of aquariums for clients.  When you're keeping up with a lot of tanks, you have to be efficient with your maintenance routine.  Below are three things I do when performing aquarium cleaning that every fishkeeper should pay attention to. I recommend doing each of these tasks on a monthly basis to keep your aquariums looking their best at all times. (Note: These tips assume you are already performing regular water changes: Read my post on why water changes are important)

Perform These 3 Tasks Monthly

Add these three tasks to your monthly aquarium cleaning routine to keep your aquarium pristine.  Its not necessary to do all of these aquarium cleaning tasks on the same day.  If you normally do two water changes per month, you can split these activities up and do a couple with each water change:

#1: Clean the Lid

Dirty Lid
This lid has algae growing on the underside

The lids of aquariums can collect some nasty stuff. I've seen a lot of filthy lids. Rotting piles of fish food, dust, and calcium buildup can collect on the top surface. Fish meal is the primary ingredient in most fish foods. Once wet, a few stray flakes can really stink up a room. Mold, algae, and bacteria can grow underneath the lid where its always wet. In addition to looking gross, this buildup can reduce the amount of light getting into your tank. The result can be your fish and/or plants not looking their best.

Magic Eraser
Magic Eraser

Personally I use a magic eraser to wipe down both sides of my lids every month. If possible I like to take the lid to a sink where I can rinse it off, but a clean wet rag or sponge will work too. If needed, white vinegar will remove a lot of hard water marks and other gunk. Just make sure you rinse any cleaning products off with fresh water before replacing the lid.

#2: Clean the Glass & Rim

This one probably seems obvious but you should clean the (exterior) glass of your aquarium once in a while. A few water marks on the front of an aquarium can make it look dirty, even if you hardly notice them. I apply windex or white vinegar to a rag or paper towel and wipe off the glass. You don't want those chemicals in your aquarium, so don't spray them directly onto the glass.

The rim on the top of your aquarium also needs to be cleaned regularly. This is where water spots will slowly form into big white or yellow sheets of flaky, crusty calcium buildup. I've seen some neglected tanks that had a thick layer of calcium that took a lot of work to remove. This is also another spot fish flakes like to get stuck and start rotting. All of that can be prevented if you wipe the trim clean with a wet rag on a regular basis. If you already have the lid off the tank to perform a water change (and clean the lid), that's a perfect time to go around the perimeter with a rag and remove any gunk.

#3: Clean the Filter

The exact maintenance you perform is going to depend on what filtration you are running. I've summarized below what should happen on a monthly basis with a few of the most popular types of filters.

Sponge Filters:

Sponge Filter

Just squeeze it out. Sponge filters should be squeezed out in a bucket of aquarium water. This is easy to do during a water change. The water should be brown after a few squeezes of the sponge. You can use this dirty water to feed houseplants or your garden. Fish waste is mostly nitrogen, which makes it an excellent fertilizer. You don't need to replace sponge filters unless they start falling apart.

Hang On Back Filters:

Check the flow on your HOB filter, if you have an intake sponge on it, squeeze it out. Clean the filter intake if there is any visible buildup. You don't necessarily have to clean or replace the media inside your HOB filter every month. The filter media should be cleaned or replaced when the flow is being reduced or the filter cartridge is visibly full of gunk. Sponges and ceramic media do not need to be thrown away, they can be rinsed off in aquarium water and re-used for several years. For tips on improving your hang on back filter: read my post on DIY aquarium filter hacks.

Dirty Media Basket

Dirty Media Basket

clean media basket

Clean Media Basket

(My favorite hang on back filter is the Aquaclear line. You can checkout my writeup on why these filters are so great here.)

Canister Filters:

Cleaning a canister filter is very similar to a hang on back, just a little more work. I work with a bucket next to me to load the media baskets into when I open up the canister. Replace disposable mechanical media like poly floss if needed, squeeze out sponges, and gently rinse ceramic media. Biological media baskets usually don't need to be cleaned every month. Consider alternating them so each basket gets cleaned once in a 2-3 month cycle. The frequency at which your biological media needs cleaned will depend on the tanks bioload. Some setups will be able to go 6 months without maintenance, and some will need to be cleaned every month. The goal when cleaning biological media is just to remove buildup, so that the surface of the media is exposed to the water flowing through it.

Keeping your lid, glass, and filter clean by adding them to your monthly aquarium cleaning routine will keep your aquarium looking its best at all times.

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I built this DIY aquarium stand for a 100 gallon aquarium. This was a really simple build that just used 2x4s and a sheet of plywood.
100 Gallon Tank on DIY Stand
100 Gallon Tank on DIY Stand

I built this DIY aquarium stand for a 100 gallon aquarium I bought used and resealed. (You can read my post about how I resealed this aquarium here.) This was a really simple build that just used 2x4s and a sheet of plywood. I'm not much of a carpenter, so I didn't use a router or employ any fancy joinery. My main focus is always the fish and my ability to service the aquarium, so this stand is built with those things in mind.

Tools and Materials for this DIY Aquarium Stand

Tools:

  • Power drill
  • Measuring tape
  • Table saw
  • Miter saw
  • Sand paper
  • Level

Materials:

  • 1 - 2 8ft 2x4s
  • 1 - 4ft x 8ft sheet of 1/2 inch plywood
  • 2 - wood knobs
  • 1 - box of 2.5 inch screws
  • 2 - cans of black spray paint
  • 6 - magnetic cabinet catches

Building the Aquarium Stand

Step 1: Cut the 2x4s

First I cut the 2x4s to make all of the pieces for the frame of the stand. This design uses two rectangles just slightly larger than the dimensions of the aquarium. My aquarium is 48" long x 24" wide, so the frame is about 49" x 25". One of these rectangles is the base of the stand and the other is the surface the tank sits on.

Cut 2x4 Pieces
Cut 2x4 Pieces

Four 32" vertical "guide" pieces determine the height of the stand. Eight 25" upright supports hold the weight of the aquarium. There are two of these vertical supports on each corner. This is important because 100 gallons of water weighs 800 lbs. Add 100 lbs for the aquarium itself, plus 100 lbs of substrate and rocks, the full weight is around 1,000 pounds. Screws alone would not hold that much weight, so vertical 2x4s are needed to support it.

Not pictured above are the four horizontal brace pieces that go across the width of the stand front-to-back. These are the same ~23.5" length as the short ends of the frame. The assembled stand is shown below, which should give you a good idea of how everything fits together.

Step 2: Assemble the frame

Fully Assembled Stand Frame
Fully Assembled Stand Frame

The frame is screwed together with 2.5" construction screws. I pre-drilled all of the holes to avoid splitting the wood. There are two screws at each joint. This should be done using a level on a flat surface so the stand ends up level. Wood glue can be added for extra strength, but I didn't use it on this project.

Screws
Screws

Step 3: Wrap the stand

Assembled Stand
Assembled Stand

I cut down one 4x8 sheet of plywood on a table saw to wrap three sides of the stand. I decided to leave the back open since it sits against a wall. The side panels are screwed into the frame. The front panel is secured by magnetic cabinet catches, so it pops off for maintenance.

Magnetic Cabinet Catch
Magnetic Cabinet Catch

I added two wooden knobs to the front panel to make it easier to remove. This stand could be built using normal cabinet doors and hinges. But I wanted to be able to pull the whole sump out easily for maintenance. Consider your filtration and maintenance needs when designing and building an aquarium stand.

Step 4: Sand and paint

I sanded down and spray painted the stand after assembling it. I used black spray paint to match the trim of the aquarium.

Painted Stand
Painted Stand

Completed DIY Aquarium Stand

After painting, I added a wooden bottom inside the stand so the sump doesn't sit on the floor. This is an optional step. I probably wouldn't have added it if I were using a canister filter. Then I hung the power strip on the left and put a small storage shelf on the right side. Below you can see what the stand looks like with the front panel removed.

Completed Stand
Completed Stand

After a couple weeks I added an LED strip light to the inside of the stand. The lights also wrap up the back side of the aquarium. This lets me see inside the sump when I clean the tank. It also adds a cool back lighting when turned on.

LED Lighting Under Stand
LED Lighting Under Stand
RGB LED Backlight
RGB LED Backlight

Altogether this DIY aquarium stand cost me less than $200 to build. I think custom built wooden stands are the way to go for larger aquariums. You can make a custom stand for your aquarium that will cost less and hold up better than most stands you can buy.

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How to make your own DIY hinged glass lids for your aquarium.
DIY Hinged Aquarium Lids
DIY Hinged Aquarium Lids

I've previously written about how to make some very inexpensive DIY glass aquarium lids. But that design uses a single piece of glass that needs to be lifted off the aquarium for maintenance. For larger aquariums, a hinged design with thicker, tempered glass is more convenient and reliable.

You can buy hinged glass aquarium lids for many standard sized aquariums, but they can be harder to find for some larger tanks. Additionally, the lids available commercially almost all have a dark plastic hinge running across the whole lid. This thick plastic strip blocks light and can create shadows in your aquarium. For my 100 gallon aquarium, which is not a standard dimension because it used to be a reef tank, I made my own hinged glass lids.

Materials Needed to Build Your Own Hinged Glass Aquarium Lids

For this project all you need is:

How to Make Hinged Aquarium Lids

I used a sheet of cardboard as a working surface to glue my lids together. The hardest part about assembling these DIY glass aquarium lids will be aligning the hinges so that they function properly. I recommend using a business card or shim to keep the two pieces of glass evenly spaced while gluing the hinges in place. A small gap should be sufficient.

Since my lids are almost 2 feet wide, I used two 6 inch hinges on each lid. For smaller lids you could use smaller hinges. This is one of the benefits of these DIY glass hinged lids, you can customize their design to fit your setup.

Gluing Hinges in Place
Gluing Hinges in Place

Let the glue cure for a few hours before you attempt to move the lids or bend the hinges. The good news is if you screw up during this process, any stray glue can be removed from the glass with a razor blade scraper once it dries. I used some cheap wooden knobs that I had leftover from other projects as the handles on these lids. A glob of super glue is all you need to attach these to the glass.

Knob Handle
Knob Handle

Once the glue cures your lids are ready to go!

Finished DIY Hinged Glass Lids
Finished DIY Hinged Glass Lids

Check out some of my other DIY Aquarium Lid designs: