How to Clean a Small Fish Bowl Properly

Young Boy looking at fish bowl.
Allen Donikowski/Moment/Getty Images

If you keep fish in a small bowl, it's important to clean it because failing to do so can result in fish disease and death. Regular weekly cleaning will help keep your fish healthy and happy in their habitat. Follow these steps to safely and quickly clean a fish bowl.

Items Needed

  • Clean 2-cup container
  • Water bucket
  • Water treatment product
  • Small fish net
  • Hand towel
  • Strainer
  • Paper towels
  • Small brush

Prepare the Water

  • Treat water to remove harmful substances
  • Age water to equalize temperature and pH

Regardless of what your water source is, it should be treated to eliminate chlorine, chloramines, heavy metals and other potentially harmful substances. Maintaining a consistent water temperature is also important to avoid stressing the fish with an abrupt temperature change. Lastly, tap water contains dissolved gasses that dissipate after a short time, often changing the pH of the water, which is another stress factor for your fish.

All of those issues can be addressed by treating your water and aging it overnight. The process is a simple one: Fill a clean bucket with water, add a water treatment product, then let it sit until the next day before using it. If you have a pet such as a dog or small children in the household, put the bucket in a closet to ensure it's not disturbed.

Remove the Fish

  • Use a clean container that is soap-free.
  • Use aged water for a temporary container.
  • Cover the container to prevent fish from jumping out.
  • Reduce the lighting where fish are kept.

Once the replacement water has been aged overnight, the next step is to move the fish out of the bowl. Take some of the aged water and fill a small, clean container that has never been washed with soap. I recommend buying a new bucket and 2-cup container, then mark them "Fish only - NO soap" to ensure they are never put in a dishwater or used with detergents.

Net the fish and place them in the clean container. Fish that normally don't jump will behave differently under stress, so don't assume your fish won't make a break for it. Reducing the light will also help reduce stress to the fish. Place a hand towel over the container to reduce the light and keep the fish from jumping out.

Clean the Bowl

  • Use plain water only.
  • DO NOT use soap or cleansers.
  • Use paper towels to clean surfaces.
  • Use a small brush to clean decorations.
  • Rinse thoroughly before refilling the bowl.

Remove all the decorations and place them on a clean surface or paper towels. Place a clean strainer in the sink, then pour the water out of the bowl into the strainer, catching the gravel at the same time. Set the bowl aside and rinse the gravel with warm water, shaking it several times to ensure all debris is washed out.

While the bowl is still damp, use paper towels to scrub the inside surfaces of the bowl. Do not use soap or other detergents. If there are stubborn stains on the bowl, use a small clean brush to scrub the stains. A new toothbrush works well for this. The same brush can be used to scrub the decorations. Rinse the bowl and decorations several times with warm water.

Final Steps

Place the cleaned gravel in the bowl first, then arrange the decorations as desired.

Next, fill the bowl with the aged water. Adjust the decorations if needed, then net the fish and return them to the bowl. Use a paper towel to wipe away any water on the outside of the bowl and admire your clean fish bowl.

Additional Cleaning Tips

Clean fish bowls weekly for optimal fish health. Feeding your fish sparingly will help keep the bowl cleaner between maintenance days. Overfeeding is the most common mistake all fish owners make, so don't stress about feeding too little.

Another useful tip is to get a couple of distilled water jugs and keep them filled with treated water. That way you always have aged water on hand. You'll find it particularly helpful if you need to do an emergency water change.

If your fish bowl still has lime marks after cleaning, use vinegar the next time you clean it.

Lay the bowl on its side and place enough vinegar in the bowl to cover the stained area. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, then scrub with a clean brush. That will usually remove lime buildup.

For stubborn algae stains on the fish bowl or decorations, use a 10 percent bleach solution. Make the solution by combining 9 parts water with 1 part bleach. Soak the bowl and decorations in the bleach solution for 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse several times with cool water and allow to air dry.