Can You Clean a Fish Tank With Vinegar? Is It Aquarium Safe

In this article, you’ll learn a step-by-step way to clean your tank with vinegar safely.

You’ll also learn which types of vinegar are best for cleaning your aquarium.

Lastly, you’ll learn about a few benefits of using vinegar.

However, before we start, you must understand one thing.

Vinegar is not safe for fish and can kill them. ?

While it may be safe to clean an empty tank with vinegar, it is not safe to use vinegar in an aquarium with fish.

Everything in this article assumes you are cleaning an empty aquarium without fish.

Let’s begin.


What Is Vinegar?

In chemical terms, vinegar is called acetic acid. In reality, vinegar has a fascinating history.

Since it is made out of alcohol fermented in oxygen by acetobacter, the alcoholic sugar in beverages is fermented, thus creating a sour taste and intense aroma.

Some claim that it was accidentally created when a negligent worker left a barrel of wine in the storage for far too long.

I can’t blame the worker, though; who wouldn’t get tipsy while working with alcohol.

Anyway, it turned out to be for the better sake of the world, so he is probably forgiven.

Now, it is used for various purposes and made with a lot more ingredients other than alcohol.

Vinegar is also interestingly implicated in cleaning jobs, but can it clean the filthiest and slimiest? The real question remains, Can you clean a fish tank with vinegar?

Maybe you can, and maybe you can’t; you will have to read the entire article to find out.

Will Vinegar Kill Your Fish – Is It Aquarium Safe?

You know already that vinegar is called acetic ACID, which means that its pH falls under 7.

As living beings, fish have specific pH and temperature that their skins can tolerate.

If, by any chance, excess vinegar is poured into the tank, it might lower the pH below 6.5, which becomes harmful for your fish.

Since we don’t want your fish to be hurt by acidic water, let alone die. We would advise you to keep your fish in another tank while cleaning their current home with a vinegar solution.

To stay on the cautious side.

So, relocate your fish before cleaning out their tank. It’s not only a tip but also a sincere concern from the pet lover inside us all.

Which Types Of Vinegar Are Safe To Clean A Fish Tank With?

A long time has passed since the invention of vinegar, and with time a lot more variations in this acidic fluid have come up.

Some of the variations are best for cooking. Others are better left for cleaning purposes.

The main three types of vinegar deemed appropriate to clean a fish tank with are these:

1. White Vinegar

White vinegar, as depicted by the name, is “white” or see-through.

In most cases, it contains around 5 percent acidity as compared to added water. The acidic content of this vinegar is appropriate for fish tank cleaning.

But there is another advantage as well, white vinegar being see-through does not contain any color. The colorlessness of this cleaning liquid will ensure that your aquarium does not get stained by it.

Hence it might be the perfect vinegar to clean your fish tank as long as you move your fish to another aquarium or bowl first.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made from apple sugars fermented with yeast and then bacteria to be ultimately converted into acetic acid but with the sweet scent and color of apples.

Since the chemical end product of apple cider vinegar is the same as white vinegar, it will provide the same cleaning properties.

But it might give your tank a sweet scent which can be good if you can’t stand the strong smell of white vinegar.

In short, it is safe to use to clean your fish tank as long as you throw caution to the wind by moving your fishes in another tank first.

3. Distilled Malt Vinegar

Distilled malt vinegar is obtained from barley and is less acidic than white and apple cider vinegar. Thus the cleaning job it will provide to your fish aquarium might not be satisfactory.

However, distilled malt vinegar is safe to use to clean your fish tank.

It will impart a strong odor and might stain your tank with its vibrant color as well. So, you might want to consider the first two options.

Benefits Of Using Vinegar To Clean The Fish Tank

Below are just some of the benefits of using vinegar to clean your tank;

  • Vinegar is safer than soap
  • It is eco friendly
  • It is a naturally occurring acid
  • It will not erode the metallic parts of your fish tank
  • It will most definitely cut through the slime layer on your aquarium and get it successfully cleaned
  • It is a common household item, so you won’t have to run around the supermarket to find it. You only need to visit your pantry
  • Vinegar will most definitely kill all the bacteria in the fish tank creating a clean and safe home for your fish.
  • All the algae, brines, and grime will be removed from the fish tank by acids inside vinegar cleaning solutions
  • You can easily make a vinegar cleaning solution at home by using water and vinegar from your pantry.
  • Lastly, it is super effective and easy to handle.

How Much Vinegar Is Needed To Clean Fish Tank?

The amount of vinegar required to clean a fish tank properly mainly depends on the fish tank’s size.

However, there is a proportion by which cleaning legends swear by, one part vinegar to one part water.

Create a solution with 1:1 water and vinegar and soak your fish tank in it for a few hours.

Tip: Fill your fish tank to the brim with water and vinegar solution for the best results.

Cleaning A Fish Tank With Vinegar – Step by Step:

So there are a total of seven steps that you need to follow to transform your mucky algae-filled fish tank into a spectacularly clean fish manor.

While seven steps might seem like a lot, they only require a tiny bit of effort on your part.

However, we assure you, your fish will be very content in their renovated clean home after you are done following our step-by-step tutorial on cleaning a fish tank with vinegar.

Step 1. Remove Your Fish, Equipment & Empty The Aquarium

Let’s reiterate the point we have been repeating the entire time.

The first and probably the most crucial step for you to follow is to remove your fish from the tank.

And don’t you throw them in a bag, place them in a tank or bowl filled with water from the original aquarium.

Once your fish are resting safely in another bowl, you need to remove other equipment from the tank as well.

Any decorations or equipment should be removed safely and moved onto a clean surface.

Before moving onto the next step, make sure that your little aquarium is empty.

It is crucial and ensures that every nook and cranny of that aquarium is competently cleaned.

Step 2. Add A Small Amount Of Vinegar To The Tank

Once everything is out of the tank, you can move onto acquiring your choice of vinegar.

Tip: Use distilled white vinegar. It has shown tremendous results in cleaning algae off of your fish tank.

Next, pour the water and vinegar solution into the tank.

You don’t have to fill the tank to the brim with the water and vinegar cleaning solution. Just pour enough, so you have enough to go around the entire tank.

But if your initial solution is less in quantity than desired, don’t worry; you can always add more as you go along the process.

Now, some might suggest you start scrubbing the tank immediately after pouring your vinegar cleaning solution into the tank.

But it’s best if you let the solution sit in for a while.

This will help eliminate all the stubborn grime and algae and will save you a lot of effort while scrubbing.

Step 3. Start Cleaning The Inside Of The Tank Glass

Once a few hours have passed for the vinegar solution to sit in the tank. You will notice a few loosened ends of algae threads, and that’s when you know it’s time for you to dive in “metaphorically.”

Get a scrub or a sponge and get ready to battle with dirt. Go team clean.

Use the scrub or sponge, whatever is handy at that time, and try to remove as much dirt as you can from the surface of the fish tank.

If you have followed our steps to the tee till this one, this step will be easy.

But if you were eager enough to start scrubbing right after you poured in the vinegar solution. Then you might have to put in a little extra effort and strength in removing the algae and grime from the surface of your fish tank.

Don’t stop cleaning until you have removed every bit of algae and mineral deposits from that tank.

Once you are satisfied with the scrubbing and cleaning job you have done, you can move onto the next step.

Step 4. Remove Hard Water Buildup

Hard water is an excellent environment for fish to live in, but unfortunately, it leaves mineral deposits behind.

As we all know from third-grade chemistry, hard water contains chelates and ions, most of which are calcium. If you don’t clean your fish tank often, the build-up from hard water can turn into limescale deposits.

If, even after scrubbing and sponge cleaning, your fish tank has spots of hard water stains or limescale residue, then you are going to have to remove that as well.

You can gently use a razor blade or an algae scraper to not scratch the tank surface for removing the calcium deposits.

Even though hard water stains are not detrimental to your fish’s health, it doesn’t look great and can create an obstruction when trying to view your aquarium.

So, you should scrape it off as well.

Step 5. Allow Time To Dry

Before leaving it to dry, you must rinse the aquarium with water to remove any leftover vinegar or dirt particles inside.

Then wait until your fish tank is completely dry but don’t be alarmed as it can take quite a while to air dry.

Don’t be impatient here; waiting a few hours allows any residue to evaporate away.

If you are in a hurry, maybe use some reinforcements of your choice(towel, dryer).

Once your aquarium is dry, move onto the next step.

Step 6. Set Up Your New Aquarium & Wait For The Cycle

Just as you were cleaning the tank, you can also clean the decorations and equipment with the same cleaning solution.

Once your tank, decorations, and aquarium equipment is cleaned and ready to go, you can start setting it up again.

You can either go all creative DIY and move the setting around or add some new decorations. This step depends on your imaginative power.

You can use live plants, gravel, or even rocks in your aquarium from the enormous amount of things available.

Once the decorations are in and the equipment is restored to functionality, fill the aquarium with water.

And lastly, reintroduce your fish to their newly cleaned aquarium.

Can You Use Vinegar To Clean Other Fish Tank Equipment?

You can use vinegar to clean all aquarium decorations and equipment.

Just be sure that all the vinegar has dried before you place anything back into the aquarium.

Cleaning An Acrylic Fish Tank With Vinegar

An acrylic fish tank is only slightly different from a glass one. But it requires extra care and a touch of gentleness while cleaning.

As for the pending question, acrylic tanks can withstand the acidic nature of vinegar, so yes, you can clean them with vinegar solutions.

However, you need to remain vigilant and make sure that the vinegar to water ratio always remains high in the water compared to vinegar.

Because if the solution gets highly acidic, it might damage the surface of your acrylic fish tank.

You can apply the entire process of cleaning a fish tank described above only with a few alterations.

Since acrylic tanks are a bit more delicate and require gentle care, you might have to watch the force you apply while cleaning.

Moreover, instead of using a scrub, you must resort to using towels or anything gentle on the surface.

Note that acrylic tanks scratch easily, so be cautious while using a razor blade to remove any calcium or hard water deposits.

Do not use synthetic or highly acidic cleaners to clean acrylic fish tanks because they can damage the surface.

Also, do not use coarse sand to scrub off any dirt as that can cause scratch marks. The rest of the process is the same.

Cleaning The Outside Of Your Fish Tanks Glass With Vinegar

Even though the outside of your fish tank is not exposed to hard water, it can accumulate air-based dirt on its surface.

This dirt might not seem substantial enough; it too needs cleaning to give your fish tank a thoroughly cleaned look.

In the case of glass tanks, you can use the same vinegar-water solution to clean the outside surface of your fish tank.

Just dip a small part of your sponge or cloth in the clean solution and gently clean the dirt off the surface.

You can even clean the outside surface without removing the fish if you remain careful and make sure none of the solutions enter the tank’s inside.

The removal of dirt from the external surface will give your fish tank a shiny, cleaned look.

Can You Use Vinegar To Clean Aquarium Gravel?

Yes! You can use a 1:1 solution of water and vinegar to clean aquarium gravel.

However, you might need to remove gravel from the fish tank first. Add your gravel into another bowl, add in vinegar solution and leave it for a few minutes.

After about 5-10 minutes, rinse off the gravel, and it will be ready to be placed back in the aquarium with its fish friends.

Note: Keep in mind that your gravel will have a lot of beneficial bacteria, and using vinegar will kill off any live bacteria in your gravel. If you plan on using the same gravel in your tank, it’s best to rinse it with old aquarium water and reuse it.

You worked so hard nurturing that beneficial bacteria you don’t want to lose it all.

Cleaning Fish Tank Rocks With Vinegar

Yes, again, you can most definitely clean fish tank rocks with vinegar. Just be sure to follow the safety protocols of keeping your fish away from the rocks while cleaning them.

Like the gravel, you will need to remove the rocks from the fish tank and place them in a separate bowl.

Then add the 1:1 vinegar-water solution and let it sit for a while. After a while, remove the solution. If you want extra cleaning action, then maybe scrub the rocks.

Lastly, rinse the rocks with normal water, and once rinsed and dried, they will be ready to be placed in their tank.

Cleaning Your Decorations & Plastic Plants With Vinegar

It’s as if vinegar and water solution works best for cleaning everything fish-related. Decorations and plastic plants have no beef with vinegar; hence you can also wash them with the same distilled white vinegar solution as your fish tank and other accessories.

Remove the plants from the aquarium and gently clean them with a sponge or a cloth dipped in the vinegar cleaning solution.

After cleaning any debris off of them, rinse them with water, let them dry and place them back in their fish tanks.


Is It Safe To Use Vinegar To Clean A Fish Tank With Fish In It?

No, it is not safe to use any acidic cleaning solution, even vinegar, to clean a fish tank while still fish in it.

And here is why, just like all other living beings, fish also have homeostatic conditions to maintain.

One of the main components that keep the internal and external health of fish perfectly coordinated is pH.

The pH might be the most important homeostatic condition other than water for fish. All the cleaning agents, including vinegar, are acidic.

Even when vinegar solution is created by adding in water, the true nature of the solution remains acidic.

The addition of acidic solution in a fish tank can alter the pH of the water. The altered pH of the aqueous environment can cause detrimental effects on their skin and inner organs.

Thus, it is not safe to add vinegar in water with fish; it is best to remove your fish from the tank first.

Will Vinegar Kill Algae?

Algae in aquariums can be found on tank surfaces as well as plants. Since vinegar is acidic, it contains the ability to kill algae.

But the amount of vinegar to be successfully clean depends upon the type and amount of algae present.

The process is the same: make a vinegar solution and water and add it to the surface where algae reside.

With plants, pour the solution on them carefully and do not leave the vinegar solution plants for more than five minutes.

Your live plants might get damaged if they are left soaked in the vinegar-water solution for an extended period.

Although artificial plants can survive a bit acidic environment better than live plants, their color might get affected if left for a more extended period.

Jack Dempsey
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