Improve Water Flow

This is Day 6 of the 31 Days to Build a Better Saltwater Aquarium Challenge. How are you doing so far? Today’s task is to Improve the Water Flow of your tank.

Improve water flow

Flowing water is the life-blood of your tank and is critically important. I

Look closely and critically at the water flow in your tank. Are there dead spots? Do you have enough flow? Dead spots, in your tank, are areas of low flow. You’ll notice them because those are the areas where problem algae can get a foothold in your tank. Take a look at the image below. While the sandy area near the plate coral in the front of the picture looks good, you can see that further back in the tank, the gravel is covered by red slime mold (cyanobacteria). I don’t know for sure–this wasn’t my tank–but I bet that is an area of low flow. This might be caused (or exaggerated) by insufficient water flow from having pumps that are too small or pumps that are partially clogged with debris.

possible dead spots

We’re going to start out by cleaning the pumps. Then after we’re done, we’ll place them back in the tank and position them to minimize any dead spots.

Time to clean those powerheads

Powerheads are essential pumps for creating the water movement you need to sustain coral life in your tank and keep problem algae from getting a foothold. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given your pumps a proper cleaning in quite some time. The performance of your powerhead pumps will deteriorate over time if you don’t keep them clean. Macroalgae, coralline algae, aiptasia anemones (if you are so lucky) and even hard deposits will form on the powerheads, decreasing the water flow.

Luckily, you’re committed to building a better aquarium. Before we get started, take a moment to observe the water flow in your tank. Is there a way for you to get a sense of the velocity of the water flow in the tank? How much are the soft coral polyps swaying? Can you see bubbles flowing? I want you to get a sense of how much water movement there is now so that you can feel good about the improvement you made once you’re done cleaning. Have a sense of it?

Good, let’s get started. You need a toothbrush, a bucket and a big jug of vinegar.

  1. Disconnect the powerhead and take it out of the tank.
  2. Bring it over to a slop sink and run it under hot water.
  3. Use the toothbrush to scrub off any algal growth or hard deposits.
  4. Once you’ve given it a good scrubbing with the toothbrush, fill the bucket with enough vinegar to submerge the pump. The key is that you want to have a small enough bucket that you won’t need a vat of vinegar to fill it, but large enough that it won’t spill out when you plug the pump in.
  5. Soak the pump for a few minutes in the vinegar.
  6. Repeat this process for any other powerheads you have.
  7. Now plug the pumps in and let it run them in the vinegar for 15 minutes (or longer depending on how much build-up you have).
  8. Give them one last scrub with the toothbrush.
  9. Dump out the vinegar.
  10. Rinse the pumps and bucket in the sink.
  11. Fill the bucket with freshwater and run the pumps for 2 minutes in the freshwater.
  12. Return the powerhead pumps to your tank.

Once the powerheads are up and running again in your tank, take a moment to watch the water flow. Are the pumps performing better than they were before you cleaned them?

Chances are, you’re noticing a powerful flow of water you hadn’t seen in a while.

If you notice any areas of low or no current in your tank, see if a small adjustment to the direction the pump is pointed will fix it. If that doesn’t work, consider upgrading your powerhead to a larger size, or adding a new powerhead.

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Check out the next day here.






6 responses to “Improve Water Flow”

  1. Stella

    Any good articles on pump placement?

    1. Stella, this article from Advanced Aquarist is helpful but broader in scope than just placement:

  2. Chris

    I have 3 power heads in my 75 gallon tank, one on each side and one is n the back. Is there a more preferred way of directing them? I always seem to have dead spots (mostly on the back wall)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris. Good question. Is there a way for you to aim the powerheads to eliminate the dead spots–like pointing one towards the back wall? Are you able to ‘bounce’ the flow at an angle to get where you want it to be?

  3. John

    I have 3 power heads, all clean now

    1. John, good work. sounds like great flow

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