One thing I do not do is net the fish and empty the bowl to clean it. It does not seem to hurt the fish when I net them, still it seems a little rough and I try to avoid doing it unnecessarily, or on a regular weekly basis. I mention this because netting fish to clean bowls is commonly recommended.
Scoop The Water Out With A Jar Into A Bucket
Currently I use a very simple method for changing the water. I scoop the water out of the bowl with an empty glass jar into a plastic bucket.
Proper Disposal Of Water and Waste
I empty the bucket onto the plants behind our home. I do not put the water down the drain or toilet because there is a small possibility that a foreign organism will get into the water system that way. I also do not put the water in storm drains for the same reason.
Some really careful researchers at the local university microwave their water to kill everything before disposing of it. But as I am using common low level aquarium plants and animals it is unlikely that I would put anything in the environment that is not already there.
As you will note, ecologically friendly aquarium keeping is one of the main themes of this web site.
Replacing The Water Without Disturbing The Bowl
To replace the water I poor water out of a bucket onto a little dish held just above the water. That way the stream of water does not disturb the gravel, plants, fish, or dirt.
To Remove Chlorine Let Water Sit
After I have replaced the water I fill up a bucket. I let the water sit for at least 24 hours to get rid of the chlorine. This is probably a bit more than is necessary.
I distribute the water between my two buckets which keeps it shallow, about three inches, and helps get rid of the chlorine. Once again this is probably more than necessary. I think that ten inch deep water which has stood for a day is probably safe. I have never had any problem.
The Actual Cleaning
While I have just told you how to change the water, I really have not gone into cleaning.
To clean the gravel I use a brine shrimp net. I stir the gravel a little to stir up the fish wastes, and then I net the clumps with the brine shrimp net. I sweep the net through the bowl several times, being careful not to lose the wastes I got on the previous sweeps. With each sweep I have progressively more waste in the net. Finally, I empty the net in the bucket with the water I am taking out. I repeat this until I am happy with the level of clean.
A brine shrimp net is used because it has a fine mesh. With a regular net the waste would go right through the net. You can find brine shrimp nets at pet stores. They cost about as much as a regular net. I use mine to catch fish, I do not own a regular net.
Most of the time I do not really bother to clean the bowl, I simply change half the water. I usually figure that dirt is a natural part of the environment in the wild. I mostly clean it for the sake of looks, and as only I look at the bowls I only clean when I have the time. The fish thrive what ever I do, and the standard pollutants, ammonia, and nitrates are either undetectable or well within the safe range when I test them with the kits sold at pet stores.
Cleaning With a Siphon
I used to use a siphon to clean the droppings off the bottom. This works fairly well but I think my present way may work better.
Over the years I occasionally sucked a fish up through the siphon. If the fish simply passed through the siphon I would net it out of the bucket and it seemed to do no harm. The fish seemed fine and did not get sick or die. However, one time I felt a fish go in the tube and tried to stop it. I cut the fish in half with my finger.
Once again I cleaned that way for years and usually it worked very well. I guess one reason I use my present method is that I am not really worried about the dirt on the bottom. Experience has shown it does the fish no harm, I just clean it for looks. So the jar and the brine shrimp net work fine, and may be quicker and safer for the fish.
Aquarium Vacuum Cleaners Don't Work For Bowls
Decades ago when I was keeping standard ten and twenty gallon aquariums I used to use aquarium vacuum cleaners. These are siphons with a stiff cylinder that you put into the aquarium. You put the open end of the cylinder into the gravel, and the gravel rises up into the cylinder but the flow is not generally strong enough to take the gravel into the flexible siphon tube and out of the aquarium. The lighter fish dropping, however, are pulled out by the siphon and this very effectively cleans the gravel. Furthermore, it can not suck up the fish.
I really liked this, and recommend them for people who keep regular aquariums but it did not work for my bowls. The bowls are not deep enough. The depth of the aquarium or bowl should be greater than the length of the cylinder for them to work properly. So if you are keeping a bowl, or bowls you can save the price of the aquarium vacuum, usually between five and ten dollars.
Because I am writing this page I am currently experimenting with another solution. I cut off part of the stiff cylinder so it was shorter than the water depth. So far it seems to be working quite well. I have used it for a week or so and I am quite pleased. I may have a new favorite technique, and I may have to rewrite this page.
Cleaning the Glass
To clean the glass on a glass bowl I use a little piece torn off of a Scotch Pad. I do not use the Scotch Pad with a plastic container because I figure it will scratch the surface. I use a little piece torn off a sponge. I use a new, unused Scotch Pad and Sponge, because many cleaning agents can be highly toxic to fish.
Stock Lightly To Reduce Water Changes
A good way to save time on water changes and cleaning is do not put a lot of fish in the bowl. Feeding them less can also help. If there are only a few fish in the bowl then the bacteria that cling to everything in the bowl can provide biological filtration. They will turn the ammonia into nitrites, and the nitrites into nitrates. The plants, if you have them and there is enough light may use the nitrates as fertilizer and keep that in control. This will allow you to get away with infrequent water changes.
Several decades ago William T. Innes was considered the world's greatest authority on aquariums. His book "Exotic Aquarium Fishes" was the Bible of tropical fish keeping. The neon tetras, Hyphessobrycon innesi were named after him.
In the 19th edition revised on page 9 Innes recommends that a full grown guppy have at least three square inches of surface area per fish in a well planted aquarium without aeration, a little more for similar sized fish. This covers a large portion of the fish I deal with. Innes further says that these are minimums and that two or three times this space is ideal.
I would be careful not to exceed his recommendations, but more to the point if you follow his suggestion that fish should have two or three times the minimum you can greatly reduce the amount of water changes that are necessary.
Normally people tell you not to crowd, because the fish will die, but I have found the fish survived the crowding fairly well. They actually did not show signs of stress. I avoid crowding because it cuts down on the work.
Avoid Breeding To Cut Work
In recent months I have been changing water a large portion of all days. I was doing this because I was breeding salt and pepper cory cats in my bowls. I wanted the corys to grow large so I removed a good portion of the water in which they were growing daily.
As I understand it some fish produce chemicals that discourage other members of their species from growing so they do not over crowd or over grow their environment. Frequent water changes are designed to fool the fish into thinking it is in a much bigger body of water and therefore encourage growth.
If you want to avoid all of this work you might want to avoid breeding. I willing did the extra work because I wanted to prove one could raise salt and pepper corys in a bowl.
I guess it comes down to this, for many of us hobbies are about setting and meeting challenges for ourselves.
To the degree this is true one might want to do the opposite of what is recommended. I try to make my challenges useful to protecting the environment. It is nice if one's hobby makes some contribution to a good cause, like the environment.
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Last Updated December 6, 2006