Acrylic fish tanks are notoriously easy to scratch, which can ruin the crystal-clear view they’re popular for. Learn how to clean an acrylic fish tank with scratch-free and fish-safe methods!
To clean an acrylic fish tank, you’ll need to use mild soap, soft microfiber cloths, acrylic-safe polishes, and scrapers with plastic blades. Cleaning methods vary, but a gentle touch is key!
If you somehow end up with a scratch on an acrylic tank, consider yourself lucky. You’ll have an easier time buffing it out from an acrylic panel than you would out of a glass panel.
This acrylic fish tank cleaning guide will walk you through the DOs and DON’Ts of the process.
Cleaners & Tools You Need To Clean An Acrylic Fish Tank
Acrylic fish tanks are lighter and less prone to leaks and shattering than glass tanks. They’re also more versatile when it comes to their structural build. The one downfall of acrylic fish tanks is that they’re less scratch-resistant than glass aquariums.
Even the critters inside your acrylic tank can cause scratches. Ultrafine scratches will be masked when the aquarium’s filled with water, but deep ones are harder to conceal.
Using the wrong products, tools, and even techniques when cleaning an acrylic tank can leave behind some very noticeable eyesores. Avoiding scratches is a top priority for most fishkeepers, but there’s one more essential aspect to consider.
Keeping your pet fish safe during and after cleanings is quite literally a life-or-death situation. Acrylic aquariums are built using a porous plastic material.
This means that not fish-safe substances used during the cleaning process can leach into the water once you refill the aquarium. By the same principle, not acrylic-safe substances can deteriorate your acrylic tank.
Let’s get into the basics of acrylic fish tank cleaning!
Choose acrylic-safe cleaners and tools
Your acrylic fish tank cleaning kit should include:
- Microfiber cloths;
- Cotton cloths (as a second choice);
- Mild soap;
- Liquid polish & cleaner designed for acrylic tanks;
- Soft polishing cloths;
- Algae scraper with plastic blade;
- Magnet cleaner pads for acrylic tanks;
- Melamine sponge pads (also known as algae pads).
Depending on its size, capacity and design, an acrylic tank can be quite an investment for a fishkeeper. The visual clarity of an acrylic fish tank, along with the lightweight, strength, crack & leak resistance are its big selling points.
Keeping a crystal-clear acrylic tank scratch-free is definitely worth the relatively long list of basic cleaning supplies. It’s easier to prevent deep scratches than buff them out without jeopardizing the tank’s structural integrity.
Products you shouldn’t use on your acrylic fish tank
Here’s a list of household cleaning products, and tools, that you shouldn’t use on your acrylic fish tank:
- Regular coarse sponges
They are too rough for an acrylic tank’s panels. Even if they don’t leave behind deep scratches, the ultrafine scratches will take away from the acrylic’s clarity.
Ultrafine scratches on the inside panels of your tank can also make it easier for algae to grab on and hold on. Algae will be harder to scrape off, and only buffing the scratches out will fix the problem.
- Most household glass cleaners
If a cleaner isn’t labeled as acrylic-safe, you should definitely avoid using it to clean your acrylic fish tank. Over time, glass cleaners can also make your acrylic fish tank look hazy or foggy. Alcohol-based cleaners, or chemical solvents, can damage your tank’s structural integrity.
The materials used when putting together an acrylic aquarium are porous and can absorb and later leach cleaning solutions into the water. Even in minute concentrations, household glass cleaners can be hazardous for your pet fish.
Using a surface cleaner that is acrylic-safe and fish-safe, like the API aquarium cleaner, is the way to go.
If you’re trying out a new cleaning product, or tool, use it on a small less visible portion of your acrylic tank first. You’ll save yourself from the heartache of a hazy scratch-ridden front panel, in case it turns out to be not acrylic-safe!
Safe Ways To Clean An Acrylic Fish Tank
Acrylic fish tanks can get damaged easier in the cleaning process, lacking the scratch-resistance of glass aquariums.
This doesn’t necessarily make acrylic tanks harder to clean, but it does require a bit of extra caution.
The goal is to prevent scratches that might dampen your tank’s visual clarity. You’ll also need to thoroughly wipe away any acrylic-safe aquarium cleaners/polishes after the clean-up. Use clean water to remove any residue, and pat the cleaned surfaces dry to prevent water spots on the outside.
Basic acrylic fish tank cleaning
What to use:
- Clean water;
- Acrylic aquarium cleaner or a mild soap;
- A soft cloth (microfiber or cotton).
How to do it:
- To clean an empty acrylic fish tank, spray your cleaner or soapy water solution on every side of the aquarium. Don’t forget the inside corners!
- Wipe the cleaner off of all the surfaces you’ve just cleaned, using a soft microfiber cloth.
- Use clean water to rinse your acrylic tank. Make sure to remove all soap/cleaner residue.
- Pat all the panels of the aquarium dry with a clean and soft dry cloth.
- Avoid forcefully scrubbing any area of your fish tank. There are more efficient ways to clean tougher build-ups (more on that below!).
Get rid of build-up debris and lime deposits
What to use:
- Clean water;
- Oxalic acid (a powder cleaner, like Barkeepers Friend);
- A soft cloth.
How to do it:
- Oxalic acid-based powder cleaner comes as an ultrafine powder that is non-abrasive. It’s an excellent mineral deposit remover that you can use without risking deep scratches.
- In an empty acrylic aquarium, you first need to spray the entire area using just clean water. You can also use a soft wet cloth.
- Sprinkle the powder generously on stubborn lime spots and rough patches of debris.
- Rub the powder in using a soft wet cloth or a damp melamine sponge.
- Repeat the process if necessary, but a once-over is efficient enough most times.
- Rinse the acrylic tank thoroughly to get rid of any cleaner residue.
- Pat the tank dry using a clean, soft cloth.
Clean algae off of an acrylic fish tank
What to use:
- Magnetic algae cleaner pads for acrylic tanks;
- A melamine sponge;
- An algae scraper with a plastic blade.
How to do it:
- With magnetic algae cleaner pads
Magnetic or float cleaner pads are among the safest products to use when removing algae from your acrylic tank. Double and triple-check that your magnetic cleaner pads are clean before starting your clean-up session.
Even a sand particle, or a small piece of gravel, stuck on one of the algae pads can severely scratch up your acrylic tank.
Try to keep the magnet pads at least 2 inches above the tank’s substrate layer. They’re tricky to control near the gravel and can stir it up easily. And that’s how you end up with scratches on the inside of your acrylic fish tank!
Magnetic algae cleaner pads are efficient in removing algae nonetheless. As long as you start with clean pads, you’ll have an easy time keeping your tank scratch-free too.
- With a melamine sponge
Melamine sponges make excellent algae removers, especially if you’re trying to salvage a neglected tank that’s covered in algae build-up.
With a melamine sponge, clean water, and a bit of elbow grease, you can remove even the toughest algae patches off of your acrylic tank.
The sponge doesn’t leave scratches behind and can even be used to wipe off the grime from the corners of your aquarium.
Melamine sponges are great to keep on hand as a fishkeeper. You can also use them to polish the outside of an acrylic fish tank, along with an acrylic-safe liquid polish.
- With an algae scraper
Getting rid of tough algae patches from the corners of your acrylic tank is a job reserved for an algae scraper. Extendable scrapers are also safer to use near substrate level, as they don’t stir up the gravel as easily as magnet pads do.
Choose an algae scraper with a plastic blade to prevent accidentally scratching your acrylic aquarium. When scraping algae off, try to keep the blade flush on the surface of the tank. Scraping acrylic panels at an angle can leave behind some pretty deep eyesores.
Like in glass aquariums, keeping algae-eating fish or critters in your acrylic tank is an excellent method of algae control. Put together your own algae cleaning crew by keeping Bristlenose plecos, Siamese algae eaters, or nerite snails.
How To Clean The Inside Of An Acrylic Fish Tank
Typical fish tank maintenance duties are basically identical in both glass and acrylic tanks.
Depending on how heavily your fish tank is stocked and its overall setup, you’ll need to
– Perform water changes periodically (more frequently for smaller tanks);
– Make sure the tank’s filter doesn’t get clogged up;
– Clean/change filter media as needed;
– Siphon the gravel once a month;
– Trim live plants and remove dead plant matter as necessary.
To safely clean the inside panels of an acrylic fish tank and avoid scratches, you’ll need to take some additional precautionary steps:
● Turn off the filter, air pump, powerhead, and all other aerators
The less water agitation, the better! You’ll have an easier time cleaning the interior panels of an acrylic fish tank if you turn off all the aerators temporarily.
This lowers the chances of sand or other abrasive materials getting between your cleaning tools and the panels. You’ll be able to remove debris, waste, or algae off of the tank’s walls without risking deep scratches.
● Make sure your tank cleaning tools are clean of abrasive particles
Check your algae scraper’s blade, magnet cleaner pads, and melamine sponges before starting your cleaning session. Even a grain of sand or gravel can ruin the aesthetics of a crystal-clear acrylic fish tank.
Thoroughly clean your tools before using them on your tank’s inside panels. If you’ve used them to clean anything else, make sure no chemical residue or abrasive powders are left behind.
● Use the right tools to remove algae patches off of different areas
Use melamine sponges to clean the inside walls of your tank near the water surface. That’s where lime deposits and hard water stains will be harder to remove.
Put your magnet algae cleaner pads to work on the largest areas that need to be cleaned. Avoid dragging the pads too close to the tank’s substrate layer.
For the bottom part of the interior walls and the corners, it’s best to use an extendable algae scraper. It’s easier to control in tight spots, and you won’t have to worry about accidentally stirring up the gravel.
How To Clean The Outside Of An Acrylic Fish Tank
Aquarium glass distorts the view of your pet fish. That’s why acrylic aquariums are so popular as stunning display tanks. Protecting the visual clarity on the outside of an acrylic fish tank is just as important as keeping the interior panels scratch-free.
Here’s how you can clean the outside of an acrylic fish tank and maintain its brightness:
● Use acrylic-safe cleaners and tools to clean the outside panels
We’ve already gone over the reasons why household glass cleaners aren’t an option when cleaning the inside of an acrylic tank. The same guidelines apply when cleaning an aquarium’s outside panels.
Use clean water, an acrylic-safe cleaner, or a soapy water solution (with mild soap). Rub in your cleaner of choice using a soft microfiber cloth. Rinse thoroughly with fresh, clean water!
● Reduce static electricity charge using an anti-static polish
Use an acrylic-safe anti-static polish, or cleaner, to neutralize the static electricity charge on the outside of your acrylic tank. This will reduce the amount of dust and dirt particles that collect on the surface of the aquarium.
It’s a simple way to keep your acrylic tank looking pristine between cleaning sessions.
● Wipe the outside panels clean and pat them dry after every clean-up
Make sure you wipe off any cleaner residue using clean water. You should also pat the outside panels dry using a clean microfiber towel to help avoid anesthetic water spots.
You can use an acrylic-safe polish as a finishing touch to make the view even more vibrant.
How To Prevent Scratches On An Acrylic Fish Tank
The lack of scratch resistance is one of the biggest downfalls of acrylic fish tanks. It’s best to learn how to prevent scratches on acrylic before ruining a pricy crystal-clear tank.
Aside from using acrylic-safe cleaning products, tools, and methods, a few other aspects require a gentler touch in an acrylic aquarium.
Here are a few other ways you can prevent getting scratches on an acrylic fish tank:
- When adding substrate to your acrylic tank, place a piece of cloth into the tank and pour the substrate on it instead of directly onto the bottom of the tank. You’ll want to do this from a low distance rather than pouring the substrate from a height.
- When removing gravel/sand from your acrylic tank, use a plastic scoop to remove the gravel from the bottom of the tank. Make sure your scoop doesn’t rub against the interior panels when handling sand/gravel. That can cause some pretty deep scratches.
- Avoid vigorous scrubbing, regardless of what you’re trying to do, whether it’s to remove algae or to get rid of mineral deposits. If you’re using the right cleaner, forceful scrubbing won’t be necessary.
- Use clean fish nets when handling fish because sand can easily get caught in a net. When you’re trying to remove a fish, the substrate often gets stirred up. You can easily drag a sand particle up the wall with a fish net, and scratch your acrylic tank in the process.
If the inevitable happens, you can buff out fine scratches off of an acrylic fish tank. You can use an acrylic scratch remover kit as long as the scratch isn’t too deep. You’ll need to perform the repair on an empty and clean acrylic tank, so your fish will need a temporary new home.
Here’s a video on how you can remove scratches from an acrylic fish tank:
How To Prevent An Acrylic Tank From Yellowing
Realistically, the lifecycle of an acrylic tank is anywhere between 5 to 15 years. Its lifespan will also depend on the quality of the craftsmanship and the materials used.
Even with the greatest of care, acrylic is still a plastic material. It’s prone to yellowing, especially when it’s exposed to ultraviolet lights continuously.
To prevent an acrylic tank from yellowing as long as possible, avoid setting it up in an area where it’s going to be exposed to direct sunlight for hours on end, daily. Overexposure to direct sunlight can also be harmful to your pet fish.
Another aspect to consider is that as an acrylic tank ages, it’s also more likely to weaken and even become brittle. That’s why you should be cautious when buying a used acrylic tank.
In their prime, acrylic tanks are stronger and more resistant to cracks, shattering, and leaks than glass aquariums. But if you’re buying an already yellowing acrylic tank, there’s a good chance you won’t be using it for long.
Cleaning an acrylic fish tank, and keeping it scratch-free in the process, requires a gentle approach, the right products, and a bit of patience.
It’s definitely worth preventing scratches, as they’re the #1 enemy when it comes to protecting the stunning visual clarity of an acrylic aquarium.
Staying on top of your regular tank maintenance routine will prevent you from having to deep-clean an acrylic tank. Basic cleaning of a well-maintained acrylic tank won’t require you to put in too much effort.
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