Maintenance is the foundation of a great aquarium system. It requires a schedule and small blocks of time. If an aquarium system was thoughtfully prepared, set up, and stocked, less time is required to maintain it than the time required to maintain a pet dog! There are things that should be checked daily, that take seconds to minutes at most. Other conditions should be checked and remediated weekly, monthly, or even annually. A journal or log book helps immensely to keep track of what has been done and what needs to be done.
- Feed and check animals: Some animals will need to be fed more than once per day and others may need a once daily feeding. A refugium that cultivates copepods and amphipods can benefit a system and an owner by lowering the amount of time spent feeding. Check if all fish appear healthy and are behaving normally.
- Check conditions: All aquariums should at least have a thermometer to find temperature. There are sophisticated aquarium monitoring systems that can report pH, hardness, salinity, and more. Some can even transmit information to an owner via the internet. The more conditions checked daily, the less likelihood of negative surprises.
- Check water flow - Pumps should be checked audibly for water flow. Reduced water flow must be investigated and remediated.
- Empty skimmer - Aquariums with a high bioload of dissolved organic material will require daily skimmer cleaning. The more animals in the aquarium, the more cleanings the skimmer will require.
- Top off water: If a system is tightly closed without much water churning, evaporation may be minimal. Such systems may need filling only once per week. Systems with sump waterfalls will likely require topping more often when in really dry air conditions. Obviously, clean filtered water should be used, not salt water.
- Clean glass: Especially in new systems, algae that grows over the front glass should be scraped away. Magnetic glass cleaners are great for this job. Accumulated algae that is allowed to grow on the glass for longer periods of time if tougher to scrape off.
- Water quality testing and intervention: Water conditions that should be tested weekly in a reef system include: salinity, pH, alkalinity. If the system is new, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, calcium, magnesium, phosphate should be checked.
- Check filtration material: The filtration screens and filler must be checked and cleaned or replaced as needed. This is important to help maintain flow and oxygenation in the aquarium system.
- Change water: Siphoning off water and replacing it with fresh-mixed saltwater is very important to the maintenance of water quality. Most water quality issues can be avoided by following this simple rule - change 5% to 10% of the water weekly. Always use filtered water - either RO or DI - to mix the new saltwater.
- Clean glass and hood: By wiping the good and glass, and some of the underside of the hood, you can avoid salt buildup which gets more difficult to remove the longer it is present on the surface.
- Change water while siphoning debris: If weekly water changes were not performed (vacation or other issues) then change 10% to 20% of the water with fresh mixed saltwater. Again use RO or DI water as the source for the new salt mix. Try to siphon water from the bottom of the aquarium to pick up debris that has accumulated.
- Perform a "deep" cleaning of the filter system: Clean and siphon as much organic material from the sump or refugium areas where it should not be and remove it from the system. This goes a long way to maintaining a high quality marine water system.
- Inspect lights, pumps, heater: Check that the bulb connections are not rusted and that pumps and heater are still functioning normally. Visually inspect all pumps, hoses, cords, and overflows to ensure that nothing is awry. If a pump has a water-cooling feature, be sure that the conduit tube is open. Check heaters to be sure they were not moved and cracked. If the heater is glass, look carefully into it and check for condensation which is an obvious sign of leakage. Be sure that all hose fittings are tight and not leaking. Check air stones in skimmers to ensure they are still working. Visually inspect the entire system.
- Be prepared to replace bulbs. Have replacement bulbs ready and on-hand so that a burned-out bulb can be replaced immediately.
- Change some substrate: Remove some substrate in the sump or aquarium and replace with new materials. The live rock in the sump does deteriorate over time and may need some replacement.
- Check plumbing: Check plastics - hoses and tubes - and be prepared to replace them as needed. Plastic plumbing is inexpensive and does not last forever. PVC piping is very long-lasting but vinyl and thin plastic hose is not. Check all fittings for leakage.
- Check pumps, especially impellers and shafts, when filters are being cleaned to ensure they are not near failure. Visually inspect the entire system and remediate issues as required.