Looking after aquatic pets, such as axolotls, can sometimes seem complicated. Axolotls are uncommon and delicate creatures that take some specialist knowledge to care for. An important part of caring for an axolotl is knowing how to properly clean its tank.
This article will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to clean your axolotl’s tank to ensure everything is kept in tip-top shape for your beloved animal, and answer most of your tank maintenance questions.
Let’s jump right in!
Table of Contents
- How Often Should an Axolotl Tank Be Cleaned?
- Why Should I Do Water Changes?
- How Much Water Should I Replace During Water Changes?
- How To Clean Your Axolotl Tank (Step By Step)
- What is New Tank Syndrome?
- What If My Axolotl Begins To Get Sick?
How Often Should an Axolotl Tank Be Cleaned?
There are multiple factors at play when deciding how frequently an axolotl tank should be cleaned. The size of the tank, the number of animals in there (such as other axolotls, or fish), how messy your axolotl is, and the effectiveness of the filtration system all need to be considered.
There is an air of subjectivity to how frequently an axolotl tank should be cleaned – like people, some axolotls are just grubbier than others. Larger axolotls in smaller tanks will produce more waste than small axolotls in the same size tank, because of their respective size differences.
Diet can also affect water quality, as an overfed axolotl will produce more waste, increasing levels of ammonia and nitrate/nitrites in the tank. If axolotls are fed too much in one sitting, fed too often, or fed at the wrong time of day, they will leave their food sitting in the water, which also means you have to clean the tank more often.
To keep the tank clean, we suggest you feed your axolotls in small portions frequently. If you live in a hot area (i.e. the temperature is above 50 degrees F), feed your axolotl three to four small meals a week. Whereas, if you live in a colder region, you can feed your axolotl less, as their digestion will slow.
If your axolotl is leaving food when you feed them during the day, try mixing up the time of feeding. If they tend to eat more when you feed them later in the day, they may have a preference for eating at night.
Ensure food is fully defrosted, as frozen food will increase digestion time, increasing the likelihood of overfeeding. If you’re feeding your axolotl earthworms, make sure any soil is washed off before placing them in the tank.
Why Should I Do Water Changes?
Whether you are using a water filtration system or not, it is important to consistently do ‘water changes’ (where you replace a percentage of the water in the aquarium with fresh water to improve overall water quality). This is to ensure that harmful compounds such as ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite don’t build up, as they can make your axolotl seriously ill, and potentially even die.
If ammonia or nitrites/nitrates are allowed to build up to highly toxic levels, they can result in deaths from a condition called “new tank syndrome”. These chemicals are produced by axolotl waste products (i.e. their urine and feces), meaning that it is important to stay on top of your water change schedule.
How Much Water Should I Replace During Water Changes?
As a general rule of thumb, it is best to change 20% of your tank’s water once a week if you have a filtration system. You may also see other owners recommend 25% every two weeks. It really depends on the parameters of your water at the time of testing it.
Don’t just use tap water, though! Straight from the faucet, water contains chlorine and chloramines which can be toxic to axolotls. Instead, treat the water with an aquarium water conditioner, which will help neutralize these compounds.
Before doing any water changes, it is also essential to check the pH of the water – this should fall all within a range of 6.5 to 7.5. Both aquarium water conditioner and pH testing kits can be purchased from your local aquatic pet store.
Never change 100% of the water in your aquarium, as this can kill off beneficial bacteria that are helping regulate water quality by contributing to the nitrogen cycle – i.e. they are making your job easier by doing some of the cleaning for you and keeping your pet healthy.
How To Clean Your Axolotl Tank (Step By Step)
Step 1: Fresh Water Preparation
Prepare your water, to ensure there is no chlorine/chloramines (and never use distilled water!). Calculate what 20% of your total tank volume is, e.g. if you have a 10-gallon tank, then you will have to prepare two gallons of water. Read through your axolotl safe water conditioner instructions, calculate how much is needed, and add this to your bucket of clean water. Wait fifteen minutes to ensure that the conditioner is fully dissolved before adding it to your tank.
Step 2: Removal of Old Water
Remove 20% of your aquarium’s water.
Step 3: Removal of Debris & Waste
In addition to the 20% water change, it’s important to remove any debris or feces from the bottom of the tank.
To do this, you can use aquarium-grade gravel cleaners, which work to siphon out old water and litter on the bottom of the tank without removing any of the gravel substrates. This should be done once a week or every other week.
Alternatively, you can use a standard net or even a turkey baster to suck the waste up and remove it from the tank.
Step 4: Rinse Decorations & Plants
Remove any tank decorations and plastic plants, and clean them thoroughly with a sponge / and or brush.
Make sure that they are adequately rinsed with clean, fresh water and free of any detergents before repositioning them into the tank.
Step 5: Top Up The Water
Refill the tank with your prepared water (additionally, to account for water lost to siphoning and evaporation, it might be necessary to prepare a little excess water).
Step 6: Clean Filter (Occasional)
Once a month, it is necessary to clean the aquarium filter.
This should be done at least a week after the last cleaning, to allow your pets time to adjust to their new conditions. Read through the manufacturer’s instructions and clean accordingly.
What is New Tank Syndrome?
New tank syndrome (sometimes referred to as ‘nitrite peak’) is caused by rapidly rising nitrite levels in your aquarium. Nitrite amounts increase as a result of leftover food, waste, and other organic compound decomposition.
These toxic nitrites can damage your aquatic ecosystem, and make your pet ill.
There are three particular circumstances under which nitrite peak can occur, so increase your vigilance around these periods:
- Soon after a new tank has been set up
- After disease treatment and/or medication
- After changing the filter or over-cleaning the tank.
Symptoms of new tank syndrome include a cloudy or smelly tank, and sudden death of pets. Due to the disease’s quick onset, it is important to monitor nitrite levels (using tests that can be purchased from pet stores, vets, and online). To treat the syndrome, specialized chemicals can be purchased that convert the nitrites into amines that can be used by filtering bacteria.
What If My Axolotl Begins To Get Sick?
First things first, always test the water quality, temperature, and pH as soon as your pet begins to look and/or behave poorly. This will help you quickly identify problems with their environment, or help you rule out certain causes of disease.
The presence of slime in the tank can also be an indication that your axolotl’s health is deteriorating.
However, it is integral that you get an expert opinion on your axolotl’s condition – talk to your local veterinarian, your axolotl’s breeder, or an aquatic pet shop owner if you have any concerns.
Do not try to diagnose and treat illnesses yourself unless you have a wealth of experience, as this can do your pet more harm than good.
Your axolotl tank is a delicate ecosystem, and it is important to clean it with that in mind. There are many types of organisms in there, so cleaning too thoroughly can do far more harm than good.
Our suggestion is to do small cleans frequently, maintain a good filtration system, and always seek expert advice when you feel out of your depth.