Don’t make it a nightmare

Here’s the scenario. You’re setting up a new cichlid tank or redoing an existing one. You have this great idea for creating lots of unique caves with densely packed rocks. After nearly an hour, you have it just right.

A few days later, you start to do a water change and it hits you. How am I going to clean around and under all these these rocks?

75g tank densely loaded with rocks and decorations. Photo courtesy of the author.

Basically, you have five options:

  1. Vacuum around everything the best you can.
  2. Install a powerhead or two to try and concentrate all detritus away from the rocks.
  3. Move the rocks and try to vacuum under them
  4. Remove some or all of the rocks from the tank, vacuum, then put them back.
  5. Redo the whole thing with less rock.

Let’s look at each option more closely.

  1. Vacuuming around the rocks is the easiest approach and might work just fine if you do two or three water changes a week. Otherwise, depending on your bio-load, this choice will most likely leave you with high nitrates. Eventually, the detritus buildup will become overwhelming because so much of it will accumulate under the rocks where there is little water movement to displace it.
  2. Many hobbyists, including myself, have devised ways to increase water flow near the substrate to prevent detritus from building up under obstacles. You can use powerheads, divert your filter outflow, or some combination of the two. This can work, depending on the tank’s footprint and the rock structures you have. Most likely, however, lots of rock work will limit the effectiveness of this approach.
  3. Moving the rocks as you vacuum and putting them back in place is effective but not time friendly, especially with a large tank and lot of rocks. Another hazard is moving rocks from one spot in the tank to another with the tank floor already nearly covered in rocks. Stacking rocks as you move them so you can vacuum could create some instability.  Regardless, this method will inevitably enable you to vacuum up all the detritus.
  4. Like option 3 above, this is also effective and perhaps more efficient but will still take some time. Furthermore, if there are lots or rocks and the tank is large, you probably won’t get everything put back exactly like you had it.
  5. Options 3 and 4 will eventually get tiresome. Therefore, taking the redo approach is probably a better one unless you have unlimited time and patience. If you don’t have the time and patience, filling that tank full of rocks might well be creating a cleaning nightmare for yourself.

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