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Q11041 - HOWTO: How to Clean Aquarium Equipment by Robert Farnsworth, Reef Squad
Keeping your aquarium equipment clean is very important for proper functionality and longevity. Marine water specifically can be very detrimental on most equipment if not properly maintained.

All aquarium pumps should be removed and cleaned at least every 6-12 months in order for the pump to function properly. More often, if necessary, as calcium deposits can have a drastic effect on the lifespan and performance of most any pump.

In this article we will cover the key components used in marine aquarium filtration and how to properly clean this equipment, along with a few helpful tips and suggestions to make the job much easier.

How to Clean a Protein Skimmer
  1. Turn off your protein skimmer and unplug the pump from the wall to avoid electrical hazards. Next, drain the skimmer in order to remove it from your aquarium, if applicable. Remove the pump and inspect all plumbing fittings for damage. Any o-rings or gaskets should be removed and inspected for cracks. You can apply silicone-based lubricant to extend the life of o-rings or gaskets before re-installing.
  2. Rinse the collection cup and skimmer body in RO/DI water to remove any sludge. Check Venturi tubes and plumbing parts for any clogs. Rinse clean.
  3. Cleaning the pump is the most important part of this process. While the tips herein apply mostly to submersible pumps, external pumps are maintained much in the same fashion. First, carefully remove the impeller cover and inspect the impeller for any damage. Proceed to soak the pump and all components in vinegar, D-D Ezeclean or a similar solution in order to remove the calcareous buildup.* I typically remove any sealing gaskets or o-rings before soaking. Take caution with impeller shafts as many are made from ceramic and can be fragile. Tooth or other small brushes are great for removing persistent build up and calcium deposits inside the pump.
  1. Finally, rinse all parts thoroughly in RO/DI water and reassemble the skimmer. Keep in mind you may have to let the skimmer "break-in" again after cleaning the body and cup. Most skimmers require a little bit of time, often referred to as the "break-in" period, to begin collecting adequate amounts of foam.
How to Clean a Submersible Pump/Powerhead
  1. Unplug the pump and remove it from your aquarium. Most powerheads allow easy access to the impeller via the front housing. With the Hydor Koralia, simply pull the front casing to access the impeller. Remove the impeller from the shaft or remove the entire assembly and inspect all parts for damage. Check for divots, chips and/or cracks in the magnet as this can be the cause of excessive noise or even pump failure.
  2. Soak the parts in cleaning solution.* Be sure to handle the impeller shaft with care. For best results, soak your pump/powerhead for a few hours or even overnight if you're using a vinegar solution. Basically you want to soak the pump just long enough to remove all the calcium deposits.
  3. Reassemble the pump. Ensure the impeller shaft is aligned properly before you supply power.
How to Clean a Canister Filter
  1. Make sure you have a bucket handy before turning off your canister filter. I usually perform canister cleanings during water changes to make things easier on myself. Some canister filters, like the RENA FilStar, can be disconnected from your aquarium for cleaning and easy access to the media. Other canister filters may require you to physically disconnect the entire filter from your tank to access the media. In the latter case youll want to drain water from the canister filter into a bucket or back into your tank if you want to avoid adding water later.
  2. Remove media trays and dispose of fine filter pads for replacement. Remove and dispose of old carbon media and replace with new carbon media. Fine filter pads and carbon are very important for maintaining good water quality in an aquarium and should be replaced frequently for best results. Canister filters can adversely affect aquarium water quality if the media is not regularly maintained.
  3. Course filter sponges can often be rinsed in RO/DI water and reused. Bio-media, such as ceramic beads or rings, do not need to be replaced. More often than not you can simply leave this media alone. If you feel the need to rinse your bio-media, be sure to use aquarium water only as you can easily kill off beneficial bacteria using tap or RO/DI water. This is where the bucket of tank water will come in handy.
  4. Now inspect the impeller for damage. Canister filters usually have two main parts: the pump head and filter housing. The impeller can usually be accessed through the bottom of your pump head. Reference your canister filter owners manual or contact us if you have questions. Inspect the impeller for damages and clean using vinegar or D-D Ezeclean*, if necessary.
  5. Reassemble and prime your filter.
How to Clean a Hang-on Power Filter
  1. Power filters are probably the easiest filter to maintain. Often all that is required is replacing a manufacturer-specific filter cartridge that fits your particular hang-on filter. Dispose of old filter media and replace with new media every 30 days. More often, if possible.
  2. For a more thorough cleaning I recommend removing the filter from your aquarium. Have a bucket handy to catch any water left inside the filter. Remove all the plumbing parts and pump, if possible. Clean the plumbing parts and pump in vinegar or cleaning solution* to ensure proper functionality. Cleaning your power filter pump and plumbing ensures youll get proper flow rates through the filter cartridges. Oftentimes youll notice a dramatic decrease in flow when cartridges and plumbing are dirty. This is especially true for hang-on filters.
  3. Reassemble and prime the filter as outlined in the owners manual.
Salt Creep Damage Prevention

Salt creep can be devastating to your aquarium in a number of ways. It can cause unsightly damage to your aquarium stand, create electrical hazards and degrade your equipment. I have therefore provided a few tips to avoid excessive salt creep.
  • Wipe down your aquarium daily (or as needed), along with your light fixtures. Salt creep and light fixtures do not mix. Salt transfers electricity and can cause shorts, even failure.
  • Avoid splashes, if at all possible, when plumbing your filters.
  • Always use a drip loop for power cords.
  • Use a salt creep eliminator to thwart corrosion and rust.
How/Why to Clean Filter Socks
  • Change filter socks once per week (or more, if necessary). Waste build up inside filter socks leads to nitrate problems, specifically in the reef tank environment. In addition, build up can clog and inhibit water flow through the filter sock.
  • As a best practice you should keep extra filter socks on hand at all times. I personally rotate 4-5 filter socks but you may use more or less depending on your needs. By rotating several socks, youll always have some clean and ready to replace dirty ones.
  • To clean and reuse filter socks, pour 1-2 capfuls of chlorine bleach into your household washing machine and wash all your filter socks in a single load. Run them through an extra rinse cycle and let them dry out for a few days to let any residual bleach dissipate. Rinse them in RO/DI water before putting them back into your system just to be safe.
For more information on cleaning and aquarium maintenance, click here.

*You may notice references of a vinegar cleaning solution in this article. With tough calcareous build up, an acidic cleaning solution is extremely useful since it easily removes tough deposits. We sell and have tested an excellent product called D-D Ezeclean that makes the job quick and easy. You can also use standard white distilled vinegar. Just be sure to rinse thoroughly no matter which method you choose. I find it takes a little longer to remove the deposits from equipment using vinegar but both ways will get the job done.
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Approved Comments...
Thank You for the information it is very helpful to keep my equipment performing at a peek level. The continued use of these pumps are extreme and it helps to extend there life....Thank You again Frank.... Approved: 2/22/2014
Great informtion that is often overlooked! Thank you for these tips!!! Approved: 3/13/2010
Great information for an information hungry amateur! Approved: 3/8/2010
What is RO/DI water? EDITORS NOTE: RO/DI stands for Reverse Osmosis Deionized water. Approved: 3/7/2010
Very informative. Approved: 3/7/2010
Good article.However in my opinion tap water works perfectly well to clean equipment.Using R/O D/I water seems like a waste of perfectly good water you will eventually throw out once your cleaning is done.CLR and/or Lime Away are great for removing hard water spots and calcerous algae,just make sure everything is rinsed thoroughly. Approved: 3/7/2010
Easy to understand info. Never heard of using vinegar before. Its generally cheap and effective. Interesting about salt creep also. Thank you Approved: 3/7/2010
very usefull. not many people do this kind of practice. Approved: 3/6/2010
Good job Robert. This is a great article for a target audience at the intermediate level. If your advice, and instructions, are followed it will make for a much more successful experience in the hobby. Approved: 3/6/2010
Although I appreciate the topic of the article, most of it didnt apply to my setup. I have a large setup (~500 gal. overall) and I have a large external pump (commercial grade) that doesnt look like can be taken apart (not with ease at least). The Protein Skimmer and Refugium pumps Im not sure they can be dissasembled either. Also, If I (or anyone else) leaves the tank without the pumps running from one day to another (as recommended above for soaking the equipment) not sure if thats going to have a positive impact on a live reef environment... I would like to see added more components for larger setups. Approved: 3/6/2010
this article was very help full in the cleaning instructions,it will make it easier to clean my reef aquarium. Approved: 3/6/2010
I have a 120 gal reef with some major salt creep and my skimmer has all but stopped working and is clogged up somewhere. The power head still puts water through , but by-passes the skimmer body. I have to make this my project this weekend as I go to school during the week. Every one in the tank still seem happy , but I know I have to correct this and your articles give me some insight on how to approach this problem. It was cool to find that this article came to me just when I was about to get on Marine Depots site for help. Thank you for the help and expertise. Kathy Approved: 3/5/2010
Very informative Approved: 3/5/2010
Good content and tips. Approved: 3/5/2010
Hi Robert, I think this is a great article for a beginner aquarist. There is a lot of useful information in it. Thanks for keeping the aquarium hobbyist well informed. Approved: 3/5/2010
Great article Robert! You always have a wealth of knowledge to pass on that makes our hobbie easier, safer, and more fun. Keep up the good work. Cheers Zack Approved: 3/5/2010
Good general information to know Approved: 3/5/2010
Article Details
Created on 3/3/2010.
Last Modified on 3/16/2010.
Last Modified by Keith MacNeil.
Article has been viewed 26724 times.
Rated 8 out of 10 based on 109 votes.
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