How To Clean Aquarium Glass – 5 Options For A Clearer Tank

An aquarium is only beautiful if you can actually see it. Algae is a pesky problem for many aquarium owners. With some species of algae having a doubling time of 2.2 hours, it spreads quickly. What makes matters worse is that limescale can build up on your fish tank glass as well.

Keep reading for the low-down on how to clean aquarium glass so that your family doesn’t have to squint through grime to see your fish. (It will also allow your fish to see from inside the tank too!)

Is It Safe To Clean Aquarium Glass With Your Fish Present?

In most cases, cleaning your aquarium’s glass with your fish inside the tank is safe. Given how stressful it is on your fish to move them, not to mention the potential change in water parameters, leaving them in their tank is the preferred way to clean their glass.

Even relatively small changes in water temperatures can impact your fish’s health.

That said, if you have an exceptionally tough case of dirty aquarium glass, you might need to use chemicals without your fish present.

We’ll point out the one situation when this will be the case among the different cleaning options we’ll be discussing here.

Option 1: Sponges and Elbow Grease

We’ll let you in on a secret that experienced fish keepers know: If it has to happen, algae is the main culprit in a dirty aquarium.

how to clean aquarium glass

That’s because it’s easy to wipe away algae from your tank. So, if your aquarium glass is becoming covered in a green layer, try using a sponge to wipe the algae away.

You might have to put a little elbow grease into certain spots, particularly if the algae is thick. But overall, this is an excellent, cheap, and effective method for clearing your tank of algae.

There’s no need to purchase a special aquarium sponge for cleaning. However, you must use a brand-new sponge. Otherwise, debris and chemicals from used sponges could harm your fish.

While we’re on the subject of chemicals, an attractive feature of the sponge method, along with many other options we’ll be sharing, is that you don’t need to use chemicals to get your aquarium’s glass sparkling.

Option 2: Keep Your Hands Clean With a Magnet

A downside to the sponge method is that you’ll need to stick your arm in the tank, a messy process and potentially harmful to your fish if you have soap or moisturizer residue on your skin.

So, an aquarium magnet is an excellent way to remove algae and other easy-to-remove debris.

The magnet works by having one rough side, which is the part that goes inside your aquarium glass. From there, you’ll use a smooth-sided magnet on the outside of the tank to direct the magnet, eliminating algae stains.

Using an aquarium magnet is a particularly great activity for kids—they’ll have fun, and you’ll benefit from squeaky-clean aquarium glass.

Once you finish using an aquarium magnet, remove it from the tank and clean it. You also may need to use a sponge or one of the other methods here to touch up with cleaning, particularly around the aquarium’s corners.

Option 3: Remove Tough Algae With a Window Scraper

Certain algae stains cling too tightly to aquarium glass to remove with a simple sponge or magnet. In those cases, upping your game with a window scraper can be an excellent choice.

Another benefit of window scrapers is that they cover a wider surface area. So, it’s an excellent option for giving your aquarium glass a quick clean before you have company over.

As with a sponge, using a new window scraper inside your fish tank is vital. We recommend washing it with soap and rinsing it thoroughly before putting it inside your aquarium, just in case it has any chemicals from the packaging process.

How To Clean Aquarium Glass | Young woman cleaning aquarium with scraper at home

Option 4: Go Hard Core With a Razor

If you’re wondering how to clean aquarium glass to remove limescale, a good ‘ole razor can do the trick. 

Limescale isn’t only an issue in fish aquariums. Anyone with hard water likely knows the impact of seeing white spots or film on their glass dishes after washing them. It occurs because of calcium and magnesium deposits.

In an aquarium, you’ll most often notice limescale’s white film as water evaporates from your tank. But it won’t go away when you top off your tank with water; you’ll need to enlist your muscles to get the job done.

So, choose your favorite razor (but a new one) and hold it at a 45-degree angle against the limescale. Then, gently run the razor around the problem areas. You can also use this method for stubborn algae stains.

If you’re still not able to remove the limescale, an alternative is to drain the water and use white vinegar to soften it before using the razor. It’s crucial to move your fish to a different aquarium before doing this and washing your tank thoroughly after, as the vinegar could kill them.

Option 5: Buy an Automatic Cleaner

Automatic cleaners are the most expensive option on this list, but they’re among the least messy and time-consuming. 

Should you invest in an automatic cleaner, you can set it on one portion of the glass. The cleaner will then work to scrub that side of the glass. Unfortunately, the technology isn’t advanced enough for automatic aquarium cleaners to manage corners.

So, you’ll need to move the cleaner to each of the four sides of your tank every time to give your aquarium a thorough cleaning. 

Be sure to keep an eye on the automatic cleaner’s cleaning pads. Once they wear down, they won’t be as effective at cleaning your aquarium glass.

Maintaining Your Clean Aquarium Glass

Some best practices you can implement to keep your aquarium glass cleaner after you take care of the initial problem include:

By removing excess food, you’ll reduce the amount of food that algae can consume, stunting how fast it can spread. Furthermore, eliminating extra food will reduce overeating in your fish, deterring the potential for nitrite poisoning.  

On a similar note, live plants will consume nutrients in the water that algae thrive off. So, consider switching your artificial plants to real plants like java moss and red root floaters.

Adding algae eaters to your tank can be another excellent way to control future algae from building up on your aquarium glass. Just be sure your fish get along well with them.

How Often To Clean Aquarium Glass

Now that you know how to clean aquarium glass, you might ask yourself, “How often should I do it?”

The frequency that you’ll need to clean your aquarium glass depends on many factors, such as:

  • Your water’s hardness
  • How much excess food is in the tank
  • The presence of algae eaters
  • Whether you have live plants
  • Quality of your filter

Despite your best efforts, it’s normal for some algae and limescale to appear on aquarium glass. So, you’ll need to determine the best schedule for managing it before it builds up too much.

The more consistent you are at keeping on top of cleaning your aquarium glass, the easier it’ll be to remove the grime without having to resort to a method that would require moving your fish.


How to clean your aquarium glass depends on how much buildup has occurred, either from algae or limescale. One of the 5 options we’ve outlined here should help you get the job done. Of course, a little regular tank maintenance will help you avoid undue effort to clean your aquarium glass later.

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