Planted Tank Cleaning And Water Changes

by | Jun 24, 2019 | 27 comments

cleaning-a-planted-tank-wattley-discusStrategies For Planted Tank Cleaning And Water Changes

Today we’re going to go over some useful strategies on how to do a water change and more importantly, a cleaning for a planted tank where you’re keeping discus fish.

I want to share with you some strategies on how to do a water change and a tank cleaning in a planted tank with discus fish or other heavy protein, eating fish. It can get very messy so I’ve got some strategies for you.

Discus To Gallon Ratios

First of all, my friend gave Posada has shared with us, if you keep discus fish, basically you can keep as many as you like but one discus fish per every 10 gallons is a good ratio. So if you have a 55 gallon tank, five to six discus fish is a good amount. But what do you do when you have a large 130 gallon tank?

How Often Do You Need To Do Water Changes?

Well you develop strategies to clean it effectively. One way is you don’t clean it all at once in one setting because as Gabe also mentioned, a 20% water change once a week is sufficient. When you’re cleaning and you only pull out 20% of the water, that doesn’t give you a lot of time to clean the whole tank.

Clean Your Tank In Sections Each Week

The best way to do it is to do it in sections or quadrants. I typically clean about half my tank per 20% water change once a week. The next week I come back and I do the other side with another 20% water change.

Using Planters For Plants In Discus Tanks

Another strategy that I’ve employed over the years is that if you keep a planted tank with a dirted bottom (you have dirt under the gravel or Turface MVP clay bits). I use worm castings underneath for the root systems to draw out nutrients as well as to get themselves rooted. Also within a dirted system when the proteins and dirt of the tank filter through and dissipate down into the soil that also provides a source of fertilizer as well (I augment with various fertilizers as well).

One of the things that I do is I build a planter in the back of the tank for plants. If you notice I have these rocks holding the dirt underneath the gravel in the planter. And then in front of that is all gravel, or in this case Turface MVP clay bits. And so when the proteins get dropped from the fish and obviously their own waste, I clean the gravel first with a tank cleaner. I use a python tank cleaner and I can get it clean pretty quickly without disturbing the dirt underneath the plants. Then I very lightly touch on the top of the gravel or Turface MVP in and around where the plants are.

The Python Tank Cleaner Is Awesome!

Python sells an amazing tank cleaner! The hose quality is top notch and has good silicone tubing and solid fittings. The sink pump has tremendous suction and will last you a long time. I did purchased a longer cleaning tube from Pyton for the end because I have a deeper tank.

I always fill up the tube in the tank first, then let it drop into the tank, so I don’t disturb the tank or plants as it sinks. I then go back to the sink and turn on the water and start pumping out the water.

The python tank cleaner comes with this green pump and it screws into your kitchen or bathroom sink and it basically will draw the water out of your tank or obviously fill it afterwards. It has this little apparatus at the bottom. When it is open, it’s pumping when it’s closed like this, it’s filling. And so that’s how it works. Really simple.

I have this particular filter on the front of my bathroom sink and this unit screws right in. If you have a different size, you can use the python pump without the brass adapter, but they supply a brass adapter for different sink sizes. So you just screw it right in like so. And then you hook your hose right to the end like so.

Again, when it is pushed up it’s filling your tank and when it is pushed down, it is pumping water out from your tank. Then you turn on your faucet and begin to pump the water right out of your discus fish tank.

The Planted Tank Cleaning Process

Clean The Gravel As Normal

When cleaning your tank, the area in front of the planter is all gravel (clay bits), so I can do a thorough cleaning without stirring up the dirt underneath in the planter. Using the tube cleaner I can just clean the gravel the usual way without stirring up the planter.

Clean The Planter Carefully

When moving towards the planter where you have dirt underneath the plants, you just barely shake and touch up the top of the clay bits or gravel. Notice pulling up the dirt, viscous, and junk is easy without disturbing the plants and soil underneath.

Keep Your Systems Running During 20% Water Changes

One of the Nice things that you can accomplish by only doing a 20% water change once per week is that you don’t have to shut off your systems if they’re below the water level. As you can see, my filters are running, my pump and my Co2 are running, my heaters still plugged in and yet I’m able to go through and make a easy water change, not have to turn everything off, just let everything keep running so long as I keep the water level above the heater as well as the intake on the other side for the canister filter. And so it makes it nice and easy. I can go ahead and very quickly do a nice quick cleaning and water change on my tank and not bother the system much at all. All right, so I go ahead and use prime by Sea-Chem.

Remove Chlorine With Prime Or Age Your Water

Aging your water in your garage and then pump aged water without chlorine (chlorine will dissipate from water over time) that’s the best. According to the bottle, one cap-full for each, 50 gallons of added tap water.

What About Temperature Changes?

Another thing that people often ask is, do you need to check your temperature when you begin to fill up your tank again with, with a thermometer. Now discus fish can handle a significant temperature change. Just like in the rainy season in the Amazon river, when the water temperature cools down quite a bit, they start spawning.

Now some of your tetras and other small fish can’t handle a huge temperature swing but as long as you’re close you should be fine. I mix a little warm water at the faucet in with cold tap water. IYou can feel it with your hand and get the matching temperature relatively close. Just so long as it’s not this massive change in temperature you won’t harm your fish. On a smaller tank, obviously you can change your temperature quite rapidly so you must be careful. With a larger tank, it’s not going to swing that fast.

The Benefit Of Two Canister Filters

Also, I keep two canister filters running and whenever I clean them I only do one at a time. And so I’ll go through and on our next video I’ll go over a canister filter cleaning. I like to do one at a time so as not to disturb the general water table over the tank to greatly.

Once you filled your tank, the best way that I’ve found to roll up your hose and not have water still remaining is to turn off the hot water and leave the cold water running to pumping the remaining water from your hose. That way as you begin to roll up your hose, the excess water is sucked out.


  1. Rick Morrison

    I take out 30 to 50 % 1 or times a week I do have plants but they are not planted, just lead weight , besides that’s its a bare tank 25 amazon swords , water sp.

  2. Brenda Kunneman

    My discus tank has a sump so I do have to turn off the system once it gets below the overflow when doing water changes, but the sump does add a good maybe 10 gallons of water to the system. I have 8 discus in a 74 tall tank with added volume for the sump. I have been doing 50% water changes about twice a week. 70/30 RO mix. My nitrates tend to run 30ppm by the time I do a water change (reads less using strips). Discus are happy and thriving, spawning and everything. Just asking if this sounds right as far as water changes and nitrates go. Maybe I am overdoing water changes?

    • Wattley Discus Admin

      I don’t think you can over do water changes. I do have a couple of questions: (1) Is it a planted tank? Sometimes if your water change is too great on a planted tank you can radically change the water table. (2) Are you actively trying to breed discus? Because the best possible water quality will encourage breeding.
      The reason for this article is for hobbyists who enjoy the hobby without becoming a slave to the frequencies and amount of water changes. Costs of water and time can unnecessarily discourage people from the hobby.

    • Dean A DiLillo

      I am using a constant drip system of 1 gallon an hour in a 100 gallon tank. Overflow through a bulkhead and into sewer. Going to add a pond in the future. I am at 0 ppm nitrates in my tank. They say with this system you can even eliminate the filter. I use a cannisters anyway.

  3. Beth Beardsley

    It is nice to see the practices I’ve been following for years recommended to others. Too many in the hobby are “purists” who insist that this methodology cannot possibly work since I’m not changing 100% everyday but I raised my 3 year old fish to 6 and 7 inches this way. I’ve had a few successful spawns too but as soon as the wrigglers detach and head for the parents they become fish food for the other residents. I just get a kick sometimes at the reaction to “you have discus in a dirt bottom tank???”

    • Wattley Discus Admin

      Agreed! Helping others enjoy the hobby is our goal. W/C every day is great if you run a business selling discus but not for your living room tank. 😉

      • Jerry Sweeney

        Actually happy to see this. I’m in the process of planning a show tank and was leaning toward African Cichlids. The wife wants Discuss which I thought was also a good idea. Then I joined several forums and was seeing people say you had to do water changes everyday. I immediately started having second thoughts. We are planning on a 180 gallon show tank and that would be a lot of work to do 50% to 75% water change everyday or every other day. Not having access to water in the same room as the tank would mean dragging the hose through the house every time. I can handle doing it once or twice a week no problem. I’ll have to stop in and talk to you about how to proceed setting up a tank.

  4. Anthony Trujillo

    I don’t know what’s the big deal I have a 65 gallon tank with 6 disc two clown loaches two allergy eaters and three small Tetris I only change 15 gallons about every 6 weeks and I never have any problems I’ve had the same disk when there were two inches and now there 4 to 5 in large and still growing

  5. K M Haque

    It’s always very much disturbing and boring work for me.But after reading your nice and informative blog I feel so relax and expecting to do it nicely in next time.
    Thanks again for share this nice article.

  6. K M Haque

    You are helping so many aqua lovers with you’r blog .I appreciate you.Keep it man.Love you.

  7. Eddie Anaya

    Your video was very helpful. I have a Discus and community fish tank and my question is whether there is a max lighting I need to use? I currently have LED lighting with multiple colors. If on “white” for example is there a max? My second question is what food do you recommend? I am now using Tetra Color Pallets and Flakes.

    • Wattley Discus Admin

      There are many different lighting options…. If you use a stronger light you can have great success with lower growing carpet plants. But then you need to keep up on the algae cleaning.
      I always say use lots of food options so if you run out they only will eat what you usually feed. Black worms, beefheart, pellets are all good. Some flakes are ok. I would stay away from blood worms because occasionally your discus can get parasites.



    • David William Hughes

      The 1 per 10 gal. Would be for adult, correct?
      I am looking at 20 and 29 tanks..
      Approx. Eight 2 inch fish each for couple months while i watch yonder if they pair up fairly quick..
      If not will then add another tank or 2 and cut fish by 1/3..
      I know extra water change per week is not optional, but want to try as many attempt pairing up with limiting tank size at the beginning..

      • Wattley Discus Admin

        If you are planning on moving them when they get bigger it is not a problem to have smaller discus “grown out” in a small tank so water changes are easier and more frequent.
        The 1 discus per 10g is for a tank that these discus will live out their lives in.

  9. SJ

    Was wondering how often should I clean my canister filter? My clean up crew does a good job cleaning the surface, I do gravel cleaning throughout the week in sections and a water change every Friday.

    • Wattley Discus Admin

      Thanks for the question SJ. It depends on your bio load but normally we suggest having two for tanks over 100 gallons. This way you can cleaning them on a separate schedule.
      Say canister filter one gets cleaned every other month on the 4th Saturday and canister filter two gets cleaned every other month on the 2nd Saturday.
      If you have only one then every month is a good option depending on your bio load. More fish and waste than cleaning should be every 3 weeks minimum.

  10. Cameron Blake Hess

    Thank you for all the amazing informational videos first of all! My question is what are your thoughts on keeping a single discus in a community tank? 55 gal with a few nanos and a single discus is what I had in mind. Thank you and wish you the best!

    • Gabe Posada

      Discus thrive in groups of 3 or better. They are not happy being alone.

  11. Dean A DiLillo

    I presently have a 55 gallon long tank which is being replacwd with a 90 gallon tank as part of my home remodel. I always wanted discus and have built it so the tank is in the wall between family room and office. At about 48 inches perfect for viewing. I live in raleigh and for several years now I have been dripping a half gallon an hour in the tank continuously. The tap water in raleigh is 1.6 sh and is slightly basic. However due to the bacteria etc it ends up being 6.5 in the tank. So with no work at all I attain a 80% water change every week and it only costs me $4 per month. The overflow goes into a tube into my sewer. I am going to divert that water to bog pond or something in my landscape plan. I also will increase my drip to a gallon an hour in the larger tank. Nitrates are so low algae doesn’t seem able to grow. So I have 5 discus fish so far but when my custom low iron glass tank comes in mid February will be adding to it.

  12. Virginia Amos

    I currently have 4 Discus,1 Angel, and 5 Corys in a 75 gal planted tank. Have doing my water changes as usual and they all are doing great except for one of my smaller Discus. He seems to be a very picky eater and I have yet to see him eat good, maybe only a few bites here and there. I spoke with the place I purchased him to see what they had been feeding him and the girl informed me that it took about a week for him to eat when they got him. Anyway, he now looks like he has bloat and I was told by the other dealer where I purchased my other Discus that I could do a salt dip (with Epsom Salt) to help him poop. I had previously looked this up as well. How do I go about doing this (Amount of water and salt…Do I have to keep the water heated in the bucket I put it in…How long do I keep the Discus in this dip? I don’t want to lose my Discus and would like to try to help. Is this something I should try or do you have some other advice?

    • Wattley Discus Admin

      We normally treat with Epsom Salt in the tank along with the other fish. The dosage will depend on tank size. But normally a coupld of tablespoons every day after water changes.
      Continue the treatment until the discus fish passes the blockage.
      The other discus should be fine during the treatment.

  13. Betty Sakers

    I am new to discus and want so badly. I have listenen to your video which is very helpful. When buying discus I have read that you should buy them at at least 2.5 inches because smaller do not do as well. What is your opinion on that?


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