Cleaning Fish Tank With Vinegar: A Detailed Guide

The aquarium is the home and the happy place for your pet fish, and so it has to be super clean and bacteria-free. You have to periodically clean the fish tank and disinfect it to keep your fish alive. At the same time, you cannot use a random cleaning agent for the task. 

Cleaning agents like soap can leave traces on the tank glass. When the residue mixes with water, it causes irritations and infections in fish. Synthetic chemicals cause more harm than good. You can avoid this problem by using a vinegar solution instead.

Vinegar is a great choice for cleaning fish tanks. It is cost-effective and safe to use. Vinegar solution easily removes algae and calcium deposits from fish tanks without leaving any chemical residue. 

Let’s find out more about vinegar and its types and how to clean the fish tank with vinegar. 

What Is Vinegar and How Is it Used?

Vinegar is a common ingredient in many kitchens and is used for cooking and flavoring foods. It is a sour-tasting liquid with acetic acid as one of the components. Vinegar is derived by fermenting or oxidizing sugary solutions or alcohol. 

There are around a dozen types of vinegar available in the market. However, not all vinegar is good for cleaning fish tanks. For example, malt vinegar is used to flavor fish and chips. But it is not a worthy cleaning agent. 

The brown color of malt vinegar leaves stains after cleaning. In fact, it also releases a strong smell that can affect your fish. On the other hand, distilled malt vinegar is white in color and can be used for cleaning. 

Vinegar Solution Useful for Cleaning Aquarium Tanks 

The following types of vinegar are safe and effective in cleaning aquariums. These have varying concentrations of acetic acid and should be chosen depending on the extent of calcium deposits in the fish tank. 

Distilled Vinegar 

Distilled vinegar has 4 to 6% acetic acid. The vinegar safely cleans the fish aquarium by removing algae and hard water deposits. It is suitable for glass fish tanks with milder or lesser deposits. 

White Vinegar 

White vinegar is stronger than distilled white vinegar. It contains acetic acid in 5% to 20% concentration. This solution is used to clean aquariums with large mineral deposits, brine, and stains caused by hard water. 

Try to use white vinegar with less than 10% or 15% acetic acid to prevent a strong smell from staying in the tank after cleaning. You can check the vinegar bottle label to see how much acetic acid it has.

Apple Cider Vinegar 

Apple cider vinegar is more popular as a cooking ingredient. Nevertheless, it is useful to clean a fish tank with less hard water stains and deposits as it contains 5% to 6% of acetic acid. 

Apple cider vinegar can be used to clean fish tanks without moving the fish in it to another tank. 

How Much Vinegar Do You Need to Clean a Fish Tank?

When using the vinegar method for cleaning aquariums, you can choose how much vinegar you want to add. Pure vinegar or straight vinegar (without being diluted by water) can be directly used for cleaning hard stains. 

If you find the smell too much to handle, use a 1:1 ratio and prepare a vinegar water solution. Half a gallon of vinegar is enough for a small tank, and a large tank needs about one gallon. Make sure not to add additional cleaning agents or liquid soap. The harsh chemicals harm the health of the fish. 

Cleaning an Acrylic Fish Tank with Vinegar

Cleaning an Acrylic Fish Tank with Vinegar 

The process of fish tank cleaning depends on the material of the tank. For example, acrylic tanks are different from regular glass tanks. Cleaning tools like a razor blade or even a scrubber will scratch the surface and damage the tank.

However, you can use vinegar to clean the tap water stains and algae in acrylic tanks.  

  1. Pour vinegar onto a soft towel. 
  2. Rub it against the tank walls and bottom. This will loosen the stains and make them easy to remove. 
  3. Wipe the entire fish tank with the vinegar-soaked towel. 
  4. Let it sit for a couple of minutes if the strains are hard. 
  5. Remove the stains using an acrylic glass scraper. You should not use any other tool in acrylic tanks.
  6. Spray water into the tank after a thorough cleaning. 
  7. Next, let it dry in natural conditions. 
  8. Don’t use paper towels to wipe the surface, as it can cause scratches on the glass. 
  9. Add water to the dry and empty tank and introduce the fish back into the aquarium. 

Can You Clean the Fish Tank with Fish in it?

Yes, you can safely clean the fish aquarium without removing the fish. 

However, you should be extra careful and take the necessary precautions. Too much vinegar will affect the pH levels in the water. This can cause the fish to feel stressed and affect their skin. It can also lead to the death of fish. 

Here are a few tips you can use to protect your fish while you clean their tank:

  1. Use apple cider vinegar or diluted vinegar with 5% acetic acid. 
  2. Buy a magnetic algae scraper to remove the algae without placing your hands into the tank.
  3. Add a few drops of vinegar to the inside of the magnetic scraper.
  4. Slowly move it along the sides of the aquarium glass walls. 
  5. Repeat the process to clean the entire tank without removing the fish or inserting your hands into the aquarium.
Step-by-Step Process of Cleaning the Fish Tank with Vinegar

Step-by-Step Process of Cleaning the Fish Tank with Vinegar 

Cleaning a fish tank is a simple yet lengthy process. Start by making a list of items required for the job. Then you have to deep clean the fish tank and the tank decorations separately. 

List of Ingredients

  • Distilled white vinegar 
  • Tap water 
  • Table salt 
  • No-scratch scrub brush 
  • Algae scraper or Razor blade (old) 
  • Toothbrush (old) 
  • Clean sponges 
  • Water hose 

Process of Cleaning the Tank  

Step 1: Empty the Fish Tank 

  • Shift the fish to another aquarium or fish bowl. Even a clean bucket will be enough to temporarily house the fish. 
  • Remove the tank water, decorations, and other fish tank equipment. 
  • Empty the fish tank completely. 

Step 2: Loosen the Stains 

  • Wet the no-scratch scrub brush with tap water and gently move along the interiors of the tank.
  • This loosens the mineral deposits and algae in the tank. 
  • Don’t put excess pressure when using the scrub brush. 
  • You can also use a clean sponge and dip it in water-vinegar solution if you are worried about scratches.

Step 3: Table Salt Scrub 

  • Wet a clean sponge and add one to two tablespoons of table salt. Don’t use any other type of salt or scrubbing ingredients.
  • Repeat the process from step 2 to cover the entire surface of the glass fish tank. 
  • Pay more attention to areas with extra hard stains. 
  • You can add more salt if required. 
  • Let the tank sit for three to five minutes. However, make sure the tank doesn’t dry out completely. 

Step 4: Wash the Tank 

  • Take the fish tank outside or into an open space where it will be convenient to wash. 
  • Use a water hose or garden pipe to rinse the tank until no traces of salt are remaining. 
  • You shouldn’t see any white residue in the tank.
  • Inspect the fish tank to see if some stains remain. This is not uncommon, as hard water deposits are tough to remove. 
Wash the Tank

Step 5: Get Rid of Stubborn Stains 

  • Soak the stubborn stains in vinegar and water solution to loosen them. 
  • You can use a vinegar-to-water ratio of 1:1 to prepare a cleaning solution. 
  • Then, use an old razor blade or algae scraper to remove the remaining algae and stains. Don’t use a razor blade in acrylic tanks.
  • Be gentle yet firm to get rid of the deposits without scratching the tank’s surface. 

Step 6: Disinfect the Tank with Vinegar 

  • Pour the remaining vinegar solution into the tank. 
  • Wipe all parts of the aquarium completely using a sponge soaked in this liquid.
  • You should wipe the inside and outside of the fish tank with vinegar to eliminate the minutest traces of algae and deposits. 
  • Vinegar is also a disinfectant that kills harmful bacteria and viruses in the tank. 

Step 7: Final Rinse 

  • Rinse the fish tank with tap water once more. 
  • Drain the water from inside the tank (you can use a wet vacuum pump for this or scoop out the water manually).
  • Leave the aquarium tank to dry thoroughly. There should be no traces of water or white residue when the tank is dry. 
Process of Cleaning the Decorations

Process of Cleaning the Decorations 

When your fish tank is drying, you can tackle the aquarium decorations like artificial plants, aquarium gravel, etc. 

Step 1: Clean and Rinse the Plants 

  • Take a separate bowl and mix 1:1 water and vinegar solution.
  • To clean aquarium plants, soak them in this bowl for five minutes. Don’t leave them longer than necessary. 
  • Rinse the artificial plants under tap water until the algae are gone. There shouldn’t be any vinegar smell, either. 

Step 2: Clean and Rinse the Decorations 

  • Use the same vinegar water solution to soak the other decorations and gravel for ten minutes. 
  • Take a toothbrush and dip it in pure or undiluted vinegar. 
  • Scrub the tough stains to remove them completely.
  • Rinse to clean aquarium gravel and decorations and get rid of all traces of dirt and vinegar. 

Step 3: Clean the Filters 

The final step is to clean the filters in the aquarium. However, don’t do this until two weeks. When you clean a fish tank and its components and change the aquarium water, you are getting rid of bacterial and germ colonies in the tank. 

The beneficial bacteria necessary to create a healthy environment for fish are also removed along with the dirt particles and algae stains. This can negatively affect aquatic life and trigger ammonia spikes in the water. 

The change in pH levels means you need to add some vinegar to the ammonia-rich water to restore balance. You can prevent this by cleaning the filters a week or two after cleaning the tank. 

Here is how you can clean the fish tank filters:

  • Disassemble the parts of the filter and soak them in a vinegar water solution for ten minutes.
  • Use a sponge to get rid of the debris and dirt. 
  • Rinse each part of the filter under running tap water. 
  • Reassemble the filters and put them back in the aquarium. 
Clean the Filters


How much vinegar should I add to my fish tank?

You can add one ml of distilled white vinegar per gallon of water to sustain the pH levels in your aquarium. Make sure the vinegar is spread evenly in the fish tank. However, it is a temporary solution to maintain pH levels and should not become a regular practice.

Is vinegar an acidic solution?

Yes. Vinegar is very acidic with 2-3 pH levels. Apple cider vinegar has more alkaline qualities than pure vinegar. 

Will vinegar kill the fish in the tank?

Vinegar can kill your fish if it is used in excess. However, it is safe to use vinegar for cleaning the fish tank as long as you rinse the tank thoroughly afterward and monitor the pH levels. 

Can you clean an aquarium with vinegar and baking soda?

Yes, you can clean an aquarium with vinegar and baking soda. Proper dilution of vinegar helps in effectively removing the stains. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and eliminates bad odors from fish tanks. Don’t scrub roughly when using baking soda, as it can cause scratches on the surface of the tank. 


Cleaning the fish tank is a recurring process. The task becomes easier, when you use a safe and efficient cleaning agent such as vinegar. 

You can space out the process by cleaning the outside tank walls weekly with a sponge dipped in a diluted vinegar solution. Vacuum the aquarium gravel whenever you change the water.

Clean the filters once a month by soaking them in a water-vinegar mix, and wash the artificial plants when algae are visible on them. This ensures that the ecosystem is maintained in the tank while also keeping it clean and free of infections. 

Leave a Comment