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How to Clean Aquarium Plants (Live and Artificial Plants)

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If you are a dedicated aquarist who loves to decorate your aquarium, you want to keep everything as clean as possible. Trust me, I know that plants can look very dirty due to algae or other reasons. The same goes for decorations, but those are easier to clean. The question is, how can you clean aquarium plants?

If plants are covered in algae, then it can become an even trickier job. Simply scrubbing it off won’t suffice, neither will washing it down with detergents because it might make the water toxic for fish. You need to make sure that your aquarium, and the plants in it are regularly cleaned. But then again, don’t try to use detergent, or otherwise, it will kill off the good bacteria growing on these aquarium plants. If at all possible, try to clean these plants in sessions, so it all gets done in an organized way.    

Living aquarium plants can help reduce ammonia levels through biological filtration. The service rendered by these plants is beyond what any filter system can offer. No matter what kind of plant you use, it will get severely riddled with brown or green algae at some point. That is why these aquarium plants need to be thoroughly cleaned. If you take the right precautions you can keep the plants clean and allow them to grow as good as possible.

Cleaning artificial plants the right way

Before we talk about cleaning live plants, let’s talk about cleaning artifical plants. Even if the plants are artificial, it doesn’t mean that these shouldn’t be cleaned with care. Artifical plants have an equal chance of getting damaged by chemicals and excessive scrubbing. The particles of the debris that fall on the plant can be cleaned by shaking the plant off gently. If the dirt is firm or has clung to the plants’ surface, then it can be cleaned by placing the plants in running water.

You can get an aquarium safe algae pad to clean artificial plants. Try to avoid using soaps or other chemicals as that might be lethal to the fish.

The biggest challenge is to remove the overgrowth of algae if there is any. Hair or threat algae, in general, is more difficult to remove. If gentle scrubbing can’t take care of the algae stuck to the plants, I would recommend to use a ten percent bleach solution to soak the plants.

However, a bleach solution can affect the color of the plants and make them fade away. To make sure that it doesn’t happen, you should monitor the length of time you bleach these plants. A ten-minute dip duration is more than enough to make all algae disappear, but if your plants are brightly colored, then you should consider soaking them only for about five minutes.

Allow these artificial plants to completely air dry before you put them back into the tank. The air-drying technique helps to take off any bleach residual that remains on these artificial plants.

How to clean live plants

Live plants, on the other hand, are more difficult to clean because these can be damaged or killed within the process. But the overall cleaning method remains almost the same. If there is debris on live plants, they should be cleaned in the same manner as the artificial plants. You can scrub the excessive dirt off of these live plants or rinse them with the help of clean water.

You can even try the bleach counterpart to cleaning: make a ten percent bleach solution and then soak-off or rinse the live plants with it. There is a chance that the live plants will die due to the excessive bleach action that is done on them, but then again, they are already dying due to the algae overgrowth. Then again, use a 10 percent bleach solution and soak the live plants in it for ten minutes. If algae’s overall growth is low, you can dip it in the bath for five minutes only, and it will do the trick.    

An elaborative presentation regarding various methods that can be used to clean your aquarium plants are described as follows;

Boiling water

Dipping live aquarium plants in hot water will kill them, so this technique is only suitable for artificial plants. Dipping these plants in hot water will kill the algae rather quickly, and it will allow you to scrub off extremely easily once it goes dead. Professional aquarists will always recommend going with this option because this way you do not have to use chemicals. This makes it safer for your fish. If you want to be thorough with this process, then you should follow these requirements.

  • Boil some clean water
  • When the water is thoroughly boiled, remove the water from the stove and then transfer it into some clean container.
  • Now place the fake aquarium plants into the water when it is still hot and allow them to sit for at least ten minutes.
  • Water will do most of the job, but you can still scrub off the remaining algae with the help of an algae scrub.
  • Please wait for the plants to get cooled down completely, and then place them back in the tank.

Bleach solution

You already have an extensive guide about the use of bleaching solutions and how it can be used for the sake of cleaning dirt and debris from aquarium plants. The bleaching solution should be used in extreme cases only when the usual scrubbing or cleaning proves ineffective. There are certain things that you should know about well in advance, such as;

  • The bleach will dull the aquarium plants’ color and affect the aquarium fish’s health if it doesn’t get rinsed properly afterwards.
  • Porous objects that might retain some of the bleach solutions should never be washed with the bleach solution. You won’t be able to rinse off all the bleach, which provides a health risk for your fish.
  • Never try to mix the bleach solution with other chemicals to apply it to aquarium plants.
  • Always use a 10% bleach solution; you can use nine parts water and only one part bleach solution to create the 10% concentration.
  • Place aquarium plants in the solution for no longer than 15 minutes.
  • After taking these out, simply rinse these in clean water and scrub these if needed.

Vinegar treatment

Evaporation of the water from the aquarium can leave watermarks and calcium deposits on the aquarium walls, any décor and on the plants as well. It can be an absolute nightmare, but you can save yourself hours of scraping and cleaning this mess by making a vinegar solution.

The vinegar solution doesn’t harm your fish, but still, you need to be extremely wary when it comes to dumping any amount of vinegar into the aquarium. The following method can be used if you are willing to go through with the vinegar treatment;

  • Take a clean spray bottle and then mix a half cup of white vinegar and a half-gallon of distilled water.
  • You can increase or decrease the amount of vinegar and distilled water used depending on the number of plants that you need to go through
  • Spray this mixture onto the surface and wipe away the calcium with a simple cloth.
  • After doing so, rinse through with clean water.

Scrubbing tools

There are many different scrubbing tools that you can use to clean the fish tank and the aquarium plant within. Bottle scrubbers and toothbrushes are among those that can be used for this job.

Beware of using any scrubbing tool that has ever come in contact with chemicals before. These chemicals can harm your fish and deteriorate the optimum water conditions required by the plants and fish alike. Keep your fish cleaning supplies separate from the house cleaning supplies to avoid the chances of any contamination in the future.

Preventing algae

It is possible that all of this cleaning is heavily wearing down on you, and you want to future proof the outbreak of algae like this. One of the most reliable ways of preventing an algae outbreak in the future is to introduce more bacteria into your aquarium.

These nitrifying bacteria are available at your local fish store and can be found next to the chemical algae remover. This can help break down ammonia into nitrate. Afterwards, perform regular water changes to keep the amount of nutrients in the water low.

Almost every mainstream manufacturer of aquarium chemicals has their own version of anti-algae products. Although these are termed safe to use, you still need to pay closer attention to the overall dosing requirements. If the dosage is extended from the normal limits, then it will surely create a toxic environment for your fish.

That is why it is best if you leave this to a professional to take care of but if you have to go through with it, then make sure that you completely understand the dosing requirements.

If you do end up adding any form of algae-removing chemical, never exceed the recommended dosage. You can also add fast growing plants to outcompete the algae. In my experience it’s always the slow growing plants that collect algae the quickest.

Some additional tips

Buying or placing all kind of beautiful aquarium plants is only the beginning; the real challenge comes after that. What you need to do is to make sure that the plants remain clean through and through. Use the above-mentioned guide that completely explains every step of algae removal and clean your aquarium plants the best way you can. On the bright side of things, make sure that you consistently check on the water quality parameters and never allow it to go out of proportion.   

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