Living aquarium plants can be an effective way to reduce ammonia levels through biological filtration, beyond what a filter offers. However, some tank occupants, such as fiddler crabs, can decimate them, making artificial plants a better option. Vivid plants get dulled over time by brown algae and require careful cleaning to keep your water quality at its best.
Pull the plants
One benefit to using artificial plants is that it's simple to pull out your artificial aquarium plants to clean them. Simply roll up your sleeves and pluck them out any time they start to look a little grungy. Sprucing up aquarium decor can keep your plants appearing vibrant and your tank looking fresh between cleanings.
Grab plants near the bottom and gently remove them from the substrate, being careful not to stir up debris, per Fishkeeping World. Tip the plant back and forth slowly to shake off any gravel clinging to the base. When you pull it out, it's going to drip, so have a bowl handy to place it in as soon a you pull it out of the tank.
Once it's out of the tank, just rinse the plants under tap water, according to Caring Pets. Let the plants soak in plain tap water while you're tending to the rest of the task. Algae builds up pretty quickly on most surfaces in an aquarium, so it could be a good time to clean the algae off of other plants or decorations on your aquarium at the same time.
Do no harm
Avoid the temptation to spray any type of cleaning product onto your plants to release the brown grunge clinging to it. Plain running tap water is sufficient to remove brown algae, food particles, and fish waste that settled on your plants, per Caring Pets.
Chemicals found in household cleaning products could damage your plants and — even worse — poison your fish, even in very minute amounts, according to PBS Specialist Pet Travel. Fish are so super-sensitive to chemicals you might otherwise use for cleaning that even using a sponge, brush, or rag you've used with cleaning chemicals could affect them.
Grab a set of clean rubber gloves and rub any stubborn spots as you rinse the plastic decoration under running water. If you use a brush or sponge to clean your plants, make sure it is new and unused or has been dedicated solely to use for cleaning your fish tank.
Protect the important bacteria
Your aquarium isn't just a home for your fish. It houses bacterial colonies necessary to convert harmful ammonia from fish waste to less-harmful nitrates.
Add a few algae-eating inhabitants to your tank to help keep plants cleaner longer. It's essential to select your new inhabitants based on your aquarium's present ecosystem. Each algae eater has its own specific requirements when it comes to oxygen, water flow needs, socialization, and other aspects of daily life, according to Nualgi Aquarium.
Otocinclus catfish, for example, are pros at removing brown algae and have a calm attitude that makes them good citizens of any community tank. They thrive when they have others of their own kind and grow to only 1.5 inches.
Twig catfish, on the other hand, need pristine water conditions and high oxygen levels to thrive, and are so shy they can be easily bullied away from food sources. Their ability to rapidly clear tanks of green algae can be worth the extra effort if they fit with your tank environment.
Other creatures that can help keep your plants clean include live-bearers such as guppies, mollies, and platies, several species of snails, and shrimp. Consult your local aquarist before adding algae eaters. The aquarium professional will be able to help you find the perfect clean-up inhabitants based on your tank's average temperature, resident species, and average oxygen levels.