Wednesday, April 02, 2014

5 ways to change your aquarium water like a pro


There are two schools of thought when it comes to aquarium maintenance: those who love it—and those who despise it.

Aquarists that love tank maintenance find the repetition relaxing and feel that being hands-on helps them stay in touch with their equipment and tank inhabitants.

Hobbyists that hate aquarium upkeep, like yours truly, dread the never-ending chores that are required to make a tank look its best.

I love designing, buying and building a new aquarium. Frankly, I love everything that comes prior to the whole maintenance side of keeping a tank. Sometimes I wish I could wave a magic wand over my aquarium and—abracadabra!—the water change and cleaning would be complete.

Until that day comes, I will continue doing what I have to in order to have an aquarium I am proud of.

If you are still performing manual water changes like I am, I'd like to share five tips I've learned over the years that should help make things easier until you discover that elusive magic wand.

A Rubbermaid Brute trash container on a dolly with casters.

#1: Choose the right mixing container

If you have a pico tank or small nano aquarium, using a five gallon bucket to mix your saltwater may be more than adequate. You can purchase five gallon pails at your local hardware store and/or reuse empty salt mix buckets you get from aquarium supply stores like MD.

For larger aquariums, a Rubbermaid Brute Trash Can is probably the most popular mixing container used by hobbyists today. They are sold in 20 and 32 gallon capacities and are usually available at your local hardware store. Using a dolly with casters underneath will allow you to move the container across a room or down the hallway with ease. I use three of these containers: one for storing RO/DI water, one for mixing saltwater and one for the water I siphon out of the tank during a water change.

If you have a mammoth-sized aquarium and require even larger containers to store and mix your water, you've still got options. There are large polyethylene plastic tanks that meet FDA standards for potable (drinking) water you can order online or pickup locally at a farm supply store. They are sold in a variety of shapes and sizes so you should be able to find something that meets your needs if you're willing to shop around.

On top is an unused Hagen Quick Filter cartridge;
the bottom is after mixing two batches of salt in 5-gallon buckets.

#2: Mix your saltwater and keep it clear

Using a powerhead is one of the easiest and most economical ways to mix saltwater.

Just pour RO/DI filtered water into your mixing container, scoop in the appropriate amount of salt mix and drop in a powerhead (along with a heater to make the water an appropriate temperature for livestock).

You may notice residue begin to build up inside your salt mixing container after some time has passed. If this happens to you, or if your saltwater isn't mixing as clearly as it used to, I recommend using an Aqua Clear Powerhead with one of their Quick Filter Attachments. Since I started using this combination inside my mixing container, I rarely find it necessary to clean sludge off the side walls anymore.

The Aqueon Water Changer helps eliminate spills and transporting buckets of water.

#3: Drain your aquarium faster

A standard siphon is usually perfect for nano to mid-sized aquariums (75-100 gallons). They are also useful for sucking detritus out from in between rocks and crevices in larger tanks.

Of course, the flow rate from a standard siphon can be painfully slow, especially when you're performing a water change on a big aquarium. Fortunately, there are a few options that can help speed up the process of draining a large tank.

Using a larger siphon can make a dramatic difference. Siphoning water through 1” vinyl tubing rather than ½” tubing definitely helps speed things along. You can also place a powerhead inside your aquarium to push water out faster. Just attach one end of tubing to the pump outlet. Then put the pump in your tank with the other end of tubing inside your water change container and turn the pump on.

If you have a sump with enough water volume, you can build a manifold and T off the plumbing from your return pump. Run one of the lines to a drain. Use a ball valve to open or close the flow to drain the sump without getting your hands wet.

Cobalt Aquatics MJ Pumps are multi-purpose powerheads
you can use for water changes and a variety of other tank tasks.

#4: Refill your tank without making a mess

Once you've removed the appropriate amount of water for your water change (5-25% is common), what is the fastest, easiest way to replace it with fresh saltwater?

For small tanks, carefully pouring the new seawater water from a bucket is probably easiest (although not necessarily the cleanest) way to accomplish this feat. However, if you need to add 10, 20 or 30+ gallons back into the tank, using a bucket is inefficient and messy.

Using a powerhead (perhaps the one you use to mix saltwater) hooked to vinyl tubing can refill your aquarium or sump quickly without making a mess. I recommend plugging your pump into a power strip to prevent wear and tear. This allows you to quickly de-energize the pump once you have pumped all the water out.

You can also attach a U-tube with directional return to hang on the edge of your tank so you won't have to hold the tubing while the water is being pumped.

You can automate water changes using a SpectraPure
LiterMeter III with a SpectraPure Water eXchange Module.

#5: Automate water changes like a boss

You may have thought it impossible, but you can actually automate your water changes.

By combining a SpectraPure LiterMeter III with their Water eXchange Module, you can set up a system that pulls water out of your tank or sump while replacing it with saltwater from an external reservoir. Every lazy reefer's dream, right?

This system allows you to set up a fixed amount of water being pulled out and put back in. The major disadvantages are the start-up costs and the fact that you'll need a drain close by to dump the water into.

Leo Chen's 150 gallon mixed reef aquarium. Click here to view more photos.

Get inspired!

Whether you love or hate doing water changes, I hope the ideas in this article have inspired you to make things easier on yourself or at least reinforced that your already awesome water change routine is supreme.

For more ideas on how to change your water like a pro, visit your favorite aquarium message board or browse this thread on Reef Central. It's helpful to see how other hobbyists utilize different storage containers and equipment to build their water changing stations.

If you know any tips or tricks that make aquarium water changes less of a hassle, please share your insights in the comments below to help us and your fellow hobbyists out!