How to Clean a Fish Tank with Vinegar

fish aquarium with snippet showing vinegar bottle yellow background for cleaning fish aquarium with vinegar

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If you have wondered how to clean a fish tank with vinegar, or if it is even possible, keep reading for the ultimate step-by-step guide.

When we think of vinegar, the typical first thought is a liquid with a sour taste we use in the kitchen for cooking.

However, vinegar is actually one of the best cleaning agents available, and using it to keep your fish tank looking and smelling fresh is another great option for this miraculous product.

Many aquarium owners wonder how to clean a fish tank with vinegar, and the following directions tell you exactly how to clean your aquarium completely with this powerful substance.

It is quite simple to use vinegar to clean your tank, and the most exciting part is that it can be used regularly to clean everything from the bottom of the tank right up to the waterline.

It is also safe for a glass aquarium or an acrylic fish tank. In fact, it will give your tank glass a beautiful shine when you are finished.

Also, keep in mind if you have an empty tank or even an old tank you have been needing to clean, mixing a cleaning solution of vinegar and water with the proper dilution will have the tank cleaned, sparkling, and ready for inhabitants in a matter of minutes.

If you have specific questions about cleaning your fish tank with vinegar or other questions about your fish environment, they should be directed to your veterinarian.

We do not provide veterinary advice and want you to feel 100% comfortable with giving proper care to your fish.

What is the best thing to clean a fish tank with?

There are many types of cleaners on the market that are specially formulated for cleaning an aquarium.

However, deciphering the multiple ingredient list on each product to ensure they are safe for all fish, delicate plants, and aquatic life you keep in your aquarium can take a lot of time and create confusion.

This makes using vinegar even more desirable, as it will save you time and money, it is easy to find online or at a local store, and it does the job remarkably well!


If you find a recently cleaned fish tank suddenly looks dirty before it should, it may be because water hardness is creeping up over time.

If this happens to you, have your tap water tested for its calcium content to find out how much harder it has become since the last time you cleaned your fish tank.

Having too much built up in your aquatic environment can also cause cloudy water, mineral deposits, and excessive algae buildup and growth.

Can I use white vinegar to clean my fish tank?

There are several types of vinegar available for purchase, such as apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, and red wine vinegar.

However, white vinegar is the best type for cleaning fish tanks quickly and safely for the ultimate clean aquarium.

Types of Vinegar Safe for your Fish Tank

As previously mentioned, there are more than a dozen types of vinegar to choose from when you go shopping.

However, when it comes to cleaning fish tank with vinegar, they are not all created equal.

Out of all the types, only three are safe for cleaning an aquarium due to the high acetic acid in most kinds of vinegar.

Distilled Vinegar

Distilled vinegar is one of the most purified vinegar types with 5-8% acetic acid, a good level for optimum fish tank cleaning. [source]

It works best to clean a fish tank with a low to moderate amount of algae and built-up calcium deposits on the glass.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Used mostly for cooking and health benefits, apple cider vinegar is also a good and safe product for cleaning your aquarium.

It consists of 5-6% acetic acid, which is classified as ‘weak acid’ in concentration form.

It also works best for fish tanks with a low to moderate amount of algae and built-up calcium deposits on the glass.

White Vinegar

This is the best type of vinegar to use for cleaning the fish tank.

It consists of 5-20% acetic acid, which is the highest concentration in all vinegar types, meaning it is the most potent with the strongest cleaning properties.

It easily dissolves caked algae, brine left by hard water, mineral deposits, and other tough stains stuck on the glass.

Removing hard water stains is easiest with this type of vinegar.

What does vinegar do to fish?

The short answer is nothing.

To get more details on why vinegar is safe for fish and makes a great cleaner for their home, read on.

Vinegar has been around for thousands of years and is completely safe for your fish, as well as the living aquarium plants. artificial plants, and aquarium decorations you keep in your tank.

It is a fermented substance made from the juice of many types of fruits or grains.

Distilled vinegar is the most common type of vinegar available on the market today. It is clean and pure.

Is vinegar harmful to fish?

In short, the answer is no, vinegar is not harmful to fish, and it is actually recommended to clean your tank with vinegar.

We have found that using vinegar to clean your fish tank is one of the healthiest and safest methods for your fish.

Although there are other products out there that can be used for aquarium maintenance, most of these do not clean an aquarium quickly or completely enough to remove harmful algae buildup and other tough debris from your tank.

The acetic properties of distilled vinegar will clean your aquarium efficiently and safely until all toxins, dirt, parasites, and disease-causing organisms are removed from every corner of your tank leaving a happy, healthy, and thriving environment with beneficial bacteria for your fish!


Vinegar is very potent when overused; therefore, too much vinegar can burn your fish, plants, or decorations if too much is used at one time or you use straight vinegar (with the exception of resin decorations.)

If this happens, remove the water immediately from your tank to prevent any permanent damage to your aquarium and its inhabitants.

Does vinegar remove fish odor?

Vinegar is a clean, natural way to clean your aquarium and remove fish odor, all without leaving any type of toxic residue that can make potentially create sick fish.

For a clean fish tank that is rid of any foul smells, simply use the proper ratio of clean tap water and vinegar to clean the tank (keep reading for the step-by-step directions.)

For complete removal of fish odor, complete a thorough cleaning of the aquarium glass, clean aquarium plants, and any furniture with the vinegar solution.

Will vinegar kill algae?

fish tank with fish and algae for cleaning fish tank with vinegar

If you clean your aquarium frequently and maintain it properly, the use of clean water alone is enough to kill algae growth.

However, if there is a stubborn algal outbreak in your tank or other substances that need to be removed from the fish tank, using the correct vinegar to water ratio is a safe option as it will not damage any living organisms in your tank while cleaning.

Distilled white vinegar will clean your live plants by removing any build-up on leaves or stems which may contain harmful toxins that could cause their eventual death.

Supplies you need to clean a fish tank with vinegar:

Before you begin the fish tank cleaning, you’ll need to gather the following items and products:


These supplies can be purchased online at the links we provided, at your favorite online store, or at most local grocery or discount stores.

How-To with Step-by-Step Guide

man changing aquarium water using siphon for cleaning fish tank with vinegar

Once you have the necessary supplies gathered up, the following steps will guide you through how much vinegar to use, as well as actually how to use the vinegar solution for a shining clean fish tank.

I also recommend cleaning any new or secondhand decor using this method before putting it into an established fish tank.

Last, if you purchase a new tank from a pet store, or get an old tank or secondhand tank from a friend or pet outlet, this method should be used to remove any potential parasites or bacteria to keep your fish safe and healthy.

I do not recommend using any kind of bleach solution on an old dirty tank, not even for just the first clean. I mention this because it is a common mistake that can put your fish in danger.

The entire process should take less than a few hours, of course, it depends if you have a small tank or one that is larger in size.

Step 1: Deep-Clean your Tank

This method can be used to clean aquariums that are glass as well as acrylic fish tanks.


When cleaning acrylic tanks, use a clean sponge or soft towel and use a gentle rubbing motion to remove tough stains. The surface of acrylic freshwater aquariums scratches easily with a rough surface sponge and overly energetic scrubbing.

Also, it is not suggested to use a paper towel on an acrylic tank because it can also scratch the surface.

1. Empty The Tank

First, transfer your fish to your secondary fish tank, and then empty the aquarium water down to the plants and decorations.

Next, remove the decor and plants, then finish emptying the remaining water so the entire tank is empty.

2. Loosen The Stains

Loosen interior and exterior surface stains on the tank glass with a soft wet sponge. The typical culprits are calcium mineral deposits and algae.

Again, remember not to rub aggressively if you have an acrylic tank.

3. Wipe Down with Table Salt

glass dispenser of table salt for cleaning fish tank with vinegar

Using the same sponge, add a dollop of table salt to it (it shouldn’t slide off easily if the sponge is still damp from step 2.)

Gently go over the aquarium glass again, focusing on stubborn stains.

For particularly tough stains, let the table salt absorb into them for a few

seconds while you continue wiping down the rest of the aquarium glass. Just get back to remove the salt before it is completely dried.

4. Rinse The Tank

This is your first tank rinse to ensure all the table salt and flakes from stains are removed.

The quickest and easiest way to rinse the tank is to set it in a shower with a handheld showerhead.

Other options (depending on the size of your tank) are to set it in the bathtub for a complete rinse, in a farmhouse kitchen sink (they don’t have the middle divider), or take it into the yard and rinse with a water hose.

5. Scrape Off Stubborn Stains

NOTE: This step should be skipped if you have a plastic or acrylic fish tank.

You can purchase an acrylic glass scraper if you have stains that refuse to lift; however, read the directions carefully to avoid damage. An algae scraper can also be used instead of a razor blade.

If stubborn stains remain, use a razor blade to scrape them away. Typical causes are hard algae or calcium deposits that cling to the glass.

6. Clean the Fish Tank with Vinegar Solution

Mix your cleaning vinegar solution.

Combine 1 part straight vinegar to 1 part tap water.

Pour the mild solution over a clean sponge, then wipe down the entire interior and exterior of the tank with it.

To remove algae stain remnants or calcium deposits that still remain, gently rub them with the cleaning solution until they are gone.

7. Rinse the Tank

Rinse the tank thoroughly a second time using clean tap water.

Allow the tank to air dry completely while you clean the plants and ornaments (and filtration system if necessary.)

Step 2: Clean Decorations, Plants, and Peripherals

fish tank decorations on dispaly for cleaning fish tank with vinegar

Follow a similar process to clean the peripherals, plants, and decorations.

1. Soak the Tank Decorations

Start with the decorations so they can be soaking while you clean your plants.

Mix a distilled white vinegar solution with a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 1 part tap water.

Place the resin ornaments, rocks, and pebbles in a bucket or deep dish pan so they are covered with the vinegar mixture. Soak for at least 10 minutes (move on to cleaning your plants while they soak.)

2. Clean Your Plants

It is common for living plants to have a large amount of built-up algae concentration.

Use the same mixing method for the plants (1 part vinegar to 1 part tap water.)

Drop the plants into the solution to soak for up to 5 minutes. It should loosen all the algae by the time they are ready to be removed.

3. Rinse the Plants

Gently rinse off the vinegar and water solution and loosened algae from the plants with cool running water in a sink, shower, or bathtub.

Put them back in the clean fish tank.

4. Scrub Away Stubborn Stains

An old toothbrush works perfectly to remove tough stains from the decorations.

If they don’t seem to budge, set the ornament on a paper towel and pour vinegar (undiluted) directly onto the stain, then scrub some more with the toothbrush.

5. Clean Filters, Aquarium Covers, Etc.

Using the same vinegar and water solution (1 part distilled vinegar to 1 part tap water) and the sponge, clean the remaining parts of your aquarium.

Wipe down all parts of the covers, filter casings, and other peripherals, scrubbing any tough hard water stains to get them to lift.

cleaning a dirty aquarium filter with man's hand for cleaning fish tank with vinegar

If you need to clean and disinfect the filter unit, remove the filter medium, place it in a bowl or dishpan of aquarium water, and disassemble the unit.

Soak the pieces in the same vinegar and water mixture for up to 10 minutes.

Thoroughly rinse the pieces under cool running water in the sink, bathtub, or shower. Put the filter unit back together, and replace the filter media.

6. Put Everything Back in Place

You are ready to put your fish environment back together!

Cleaning Your Aquarium without Removing the Fish

It is possible to clean your tank using vinegar without removing the fish.

However, be sure to skip the white vinegar if you choose this route due to the high acidic water it can create because of the high level of acetic acid it contains.

Using an aquarium magnet cleaner, pour vinegar onto the side of the cleaner used for scrubbing.

male hand cleaning fish tank with vinegar using magnetic algae cleaner

Rub the magnet cleaner back and forth across the algae patches until they lift away from the glass or acrylic tank.

Final Words on How to Clean a Fish Tank with Vinegar

Even if you clean your tank on a regular basis, you will eventually run into some tough stains.

Instead of buying yet another chemical-loaded product designed to clean fish tanks but are often less than effective, add vinegar with the correct ratio of tap water for a mild cleaning solution to dissolve hard water stains, algae build-up, and calcium deposits before they get out of control.

The first time you use vinegar to clean your aquarium you are going to love the ease and the freshness it creates.

You will also love how much money it saves on expensive cleaning products that don’t do the job nearly as well.

My guess is it will be the only cleaning solution you use moving forward.

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