How to Clean Heavy Salt Off an Aquarium

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"Salt creep" is a common saltwater aquarium problem. The buildup of salt residue on the aquarium glass and equipment can cause serious damage to equipment and leave your tank looking murky. One of the most difficult elements to control in a saltwater aquarium is the pH of the water. Using cleaning products on your aquarium glass will disturb the pH and may result in the loss of your precious fish; however, you can clean the salt creep off your glass while maintaining the pH of your tank.

Things You'll Need

  • Soft, dry cloth
  • Paper towel
  • Putty knife
  • Vinegar or salt creep remover
  • Sandpaper, fine-grit
  • Muriatic acid, 10 percent solution
  • Gloves
  • Wipe down your tank daily with a soft, dry cloth. Wipe the lights, cables and pumps that are not submerged. Wiping down your aquarium equipment will prevent the buildup of salt that leads to corrosion.

  • You need to change the water in your aquarium from time to time. When you are cleaning your tank, take this opportunity to remove salt creep from the glass that is usually submerged. Wipe the glass clean with a paper towel. For heavy deposits, use either a salt creep removal product from your pet store or regular household vinegar to break down salt buildup. If you have tried the vinegar without success, try soaking loose pieces in warm water and vinegar. Wash the tank thoroughly before refilling.

  • Remove stubborn deposits with a putty knife. Place the putty knife against the glass at a 45-degree angle. Gently scrape off the salt residue. Wipe off any remaining buildup with a paper towel.

  • Use sandpaper to clean heavy buildup. Some deposits may have become etched into the glass; for these deposits, empty the tank and sand the deposits with a fine-grit wet/dry sandpaper that will not damage the glass. If you are still having trouble, wet the deposit with vinegar and then sand it. Wash out the tank before reuse.

  • For extremely heavy salt buildup on your aquarium glass, as a last resort, clean it with a 10 percent solution of muriatic acid. Don protective gloves when working with the acid, and use it only in a well-ventilated area. Wet the salt deposits; splash the muriatic acid over the salt creep. Scrub off the salt creep and muriatic acid solution. Wash the tank thoroughly before refilling.

Tips & Warnings

  • Salt is an essential part of your saltwater aquarium. If you can, scrape the salt back into the water. If you are removing salt with paper towels, you will need to check the pH of your water and add salt if necessary.
  • Dissolve salts in water before adding them to your aquarium. You can purchase aquarium salt from your local pet store.
  • Keep tabs on the specific gravity, which measures the salinity of your saltwater tank. Controlling the amount of salt you have in the water will help to prevent salt creep in the first place. Use a hydrometer to measure salinity in your tank. Take a reading before cleaning your tank. When refilling your tank, ensure that the salinity of the fresh water matches that of the old.
  • Replace evaporated water with fresh water, not saltwater. Salts stay behind when water evaporates. Keep water levels up to prevent salt buildups.
  • Do not use glass-cleaning products on the inside of your tank.
  • Always ensure that the tank is clean and free of harmful chemicals before refilling.
  • Use due caution when working with muriatic acid. Wear protective gear and work in well-ventilated areas. Store away from animals and children.
  • Salt buildup can erode electrical components and cause electrical shorts in your aquarium; keep them clean and free of salt deposits to avoid the potential for electrical shocks.

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