Though the saltwater aquarium hobby certainly has its share of costly, high-tech equipment and gadgetry, not all the tools we use are quite so complicated. In fact, one aquarium-maintenance workhorse not only costs next to nothing, but is also about as low-tech as you can get. I’m talking about plain ol’ distilled white vinegar.
There’s no beating white vinegar—a solution of acetic acid and water—when it comes to cleaning up those stubborn calcium deposits that gradually form (along with salt creep—but that’s another topic) on every aquarium surface exposed to air and saltwater spray. It’s also great for dissolving the coralline algae that tends to encrust submerged equipment. Let’s face it, we love having that beautiful pink and purple stuff when it’s growing on the rocks, but we don’t necessarily like it coating all our equipment and interfering with its function.
So many uses
The following is just a sampling of the equipment and components that are prone to getting coated or clogged by calcium carbonate or coralline algae buildup—and hence could benefit from cleaning with white vinegar:
- Hoses and pipes
- Powerheads and pumps
- Overflow boxes and siphon tubes
- Protein skimmer components
- Filter intakes and return nozzles
- Chris’s knuckles and fingernails
- Aquarium covers and canopies
- Plastic tank rims
You’re soaking in it!
With apologies to “Madge” (okay, now I’m dating myself), the easiest way to clean small, submersible components is to fill an appropriately sized container with white vinegar and let them soak for a few hours. As the components soak, the weak acid will gradually dissolve away any calcareous buildup.
If the buildup isn’t especially thick, a more dilute solution of one part vinegar to one part water may do the trick (and help you stretch your vinegar). For more stubborn deposits, a soak in full-strength vinegar followed by a little brushing and scrubbing will usually get the job done.
IMPORTANT: After soaking, scrubbing, etc., be sure to rinse the components thoroughly with tap water.
Power to the pumps
For cleaning pumps and powerheads, Chris recommends placing them in a bucket or similar container filled with a 1:1 vinegar/water solution, plugging them in, and allowing them to run overnight. This approach will dissolve buildup in those little nooks and crannies that you can’t realistically access with aquarium brushes and will help keep your pumps operating at peak efficiency.
When soaking is not an option
When it comes to larger calcium-encrusted items, such as aquarium covers and canopies, soaking may not be practical. In these cases, wiping the encrusted surface with a clean rag soaked with vinegar (ring out the rag just enough so that it’s wet but not dripping) is the next best thing—though it may require a little extra “elbow grease.” After the vinegar-soaked rag does its job, follow it up with repeated rinsing wipes, using a rag soaked (but not dripping) with clean tap water, to remove any residual vinegar.
What tricks do you recommend?
White vinegar is just one example of an inexpensive household item that can be re-tasked as an aquarium-maintenance tool. Do you know of any similar tips or tricks? Share them with your fellow salties by commenting below!