Rebuilding an old abandoned 29g

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wgoldfarb

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Location
Washington, DC
Up until 3 years ago I had a 29 gallon freshwater planted tank, and was an avid fishkeeper. I am originally from Venezuela so I had stocked the tank with fish from home: Black Bar Endlers (P. wingei), Venezuelan Pygmy Cories (C. habrosus), Red Phantom tetras (H. sweglesi), Green Neons (P. simulans) and a handful of small Otos (O. vitattus). Since I was a beginner and I had a medium-low LED light fixture I got a "beginner" plant package with an assortment of easy plants (planted on a substrate of Laterite topped with pool filter sand). Everything was going well. Soon I upgraded my light to a better, brighter fixture to give myself more options on plants, and I was even starting to use the Estimative Index to dose nutrients.

Then, for reasons explained in my introductory post, the tank sat abandoned for 2 years. I won't repeat all the details here, but you can imagine what I found when I finally returned home after 2 years of no maintenance whatsoever. Obviously all my poor fish died (and most of my plants), and the whole thing was overrun with slimy growths of many different colors. Part of the water had evaporated, so a lot of those growths had become dried and encrusted all over the tank walls, hoses, etc. Amazingly, the light, heater and filter were still running. As explained in the other post I was unable to clean the tank at the time, so I turned off the light, heater and filter, but had to leave the mess unattended until now.

I am now finally able to take care of the tank again, so I will rebuild and restart my 29g. Since I now have a bit more knowledge than when I first started and a better light fixture, my options for plants are broader so I am aiming for a more densely planted tank than I used to have. I will also relax my requirement to only have fish from home to give myself more options for stocking.

Still, choices for plants and fish will come later. My first step is to clean the swamp that currently sits inside my tank, so I have a clean slate to rebuild. I know I will have to ask lots of questions for that!

In a moment I will start by posting photos of what my tank used to look like before I abandoned it, and what it looks like today.
 
Here is an early picture of my tank before I abandoned it. The picture isn't great, but will give you an idea of what it looked like. If I remember correctly at this point I had already added Otos, Red Phantoms and Green Neons, but the Cories and Endlers were yet to come:

20150824_103722.jpg


And now, please brace yourselves, as I am about to post pictures of what the tank looks like now. As they say on TV, sensitive viewers may wish to look away :oops:

The few inches of water left... probably full of decomposing dead fish and plants. And no, the dark water isn't caused by tannins... it's just disgustingly dirty and murky. You can barely see inside!
before 5.jpg


A view from the side:
before 4.jpg


A detailed look at the substrate from the other side. That sand used to be natural color, a sort of tan or beige (you can see a sliver of the original color in the picture above):
before 01.jpg


I worked up the courage to remove the lid and take a look inside:
before 3.jpg


And another look inside:
before 2.jpg
 

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I started by taking apart the filter and heater and spent all afternoon cleaning those. By the time I took the pictures above I had already removed the hoses and filters, and did not think to take a picture of what they looked like.

The filter intake, hoses and spray bar were just as encrusted with dried stuff as the walls of the tank in the images above. I doused everything in a solution of 50% vinegar and used the metal edge of an algae scraper to scrape as much gunk as I could. I then soaked everything in 50% vinegar for a bit, scrubbed some more, and repeated the soak/scrub cycle until everything was clean (I used a snake brush to clean inside the hoses, intake and spray bar, which thankfully weren't as bad as the outside). I have a metal mesh at the filter intake which had stuff embedded in the mesh. That took a lot of soaking, scrubbing, brushing, and using my kitchen faucet's spray hose to finally get the mesh clean.

The heater gave me some pause. I have an inline Hydor heater which I know has a glass tube inside. The instructions specifically say NOT to use any cleaners or solvents, so I was reluctant to use vinegar or descaling solution. Luckily the heater and attached hoses sat inside the closed cabinet all the time (underneath the tank -- you can see parts of the home-made cabinet in the images above) and the darkness must have prevented algae from growing. The hoses were clean on the inside, so I hoped the inside of the heater was clean as well. I ran lots of warm water through the heater, and then ran a thick snake brush inside a few times. The brush came out clean, so I'm hoping that was enough. I'll guess I'll find out once the system is up and running again. If anyone has a good way to clean the inside of an inline Hydor heater, please share! At first I was careful not to move the temperature control knob out of position, and given thestill-limited mobility of my fingers this was tricky. But then I realized I was going to have to cycle the tank again and will have to increase temperatures anyway, so I stopped being so careful :)

It took lots of vinegar and elbow grease, but the results look good (when I was taking this picture I noticed small amounts of what appear to be hard mineral deposits near the elbow of the spray bar, which weren't visible when the spray bar was wet. I guess I will need to soak it in vinegar a bit longer):
IMG_20211112_010150__01.jpg


Of note, the water that initially came out of the heater and attached hoses smelled mildly of sulfur. More on this in a moment.
 
I just cleaned out a 50 gallon tank that had been in constant use for about 2 years, I wanted to replace everything in the tank since all the fish inhabitants got so big I had to move them to a 90 gallon tank. I will say that I was shocked at how dirty my 50 gallon tank was even though we were supposedly cleaning it EVERY WEEK I'm sure you know you can't use soap and water because it's almost impossible to get rid of soap molecules and they are bad things for fish water. I used a number of Magic Erasers, a Razor blade (in areas where you don't see very much to get rid of algae and dried up salt/mineral deposits. It is an acrylic tank so it scratches easily. I soaked some areas in bleach but that didn't help so i soaked them in salt and that actually did act as a "grit" but it scratched pretty badly. I probably spent close to 15 hours cleaning it so it appeared nearly new. It was NOT an enjoyable experience. I think the first thing you want to do is to fill up the tank with water and just let it soak for a day or two to loosen up everything - that should help remove the big nasty stuff then you can clean the details with a magic eraser.

But I don't know how much a 29 gallon tank costs in DC in the midwest you can get one for $50 or so (no stand) by itself at Petco or Petsmart, One of those two stores does offer a "dollar a gallon" special on their tanks periodically which would probably make it cheaper than all the stuff you're going to have to buy to clean this one, On yours I would be worried about the seals being damaged and the tank leaking so you may want to pick up some silicone and re-caulk the edges - that would make it look nice and clean too.
 
I then turned, with a lot of anxiety, to the filter (an Eheim canister). It was full of water, so I placed it on the sink, and opened the valves on the quick-connects of both the intake and outflow hoses to let all the water out.

Remember the mild sulfur smell I got from the water on the heater? Well, the water inside the filter also had a sulfur smell, but there was nothing mild about this one. I'm not chemist or biologist, but I'm guessing it was a buildup of hydrogen sulfide from the death and decay of beneficial bacteria, or perhaps produced by anaerobic bacteria that took over the filter once the oxygen was depleted and the BB were gone.

I carefully opened the filter, removed the basket with all the filter media and set it aside. I rinsed the canister with tap water and started wiping it with a paper towel soaked in vinegar. At this point I noticed that the paper towel was wiping off a thin black residue or film that was all over the inside of the canister. Given the sulfur smell, I feared the film could be a colony of anaerobic bacteria, which freaked me out, mainly because hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic and flammable. I did not want any trace of those bacteria in there. I know that getting chlorine anywhere near a tank, let alone a filter, is one of the very first "thou shalt not" commandments in fish keeping, but my BB were all dead anyway and I was freaking out about these bacteria.

So I sinned. Twice.

First I wiped the inside of the filter with those chlorine wipes used to disinfect counters, but the bottom of the filter has a lot of small raised parts, nooks and crannies, and my limited dexterity made it very difficult to wipe the tank thoroughly. Paper towels continued to come out black, so I relented and went even further: I poured pure bleach into the canister :oops: (Kids, don't do this at home!). I swished the bleach thoroughly over all inner surfaces of the filter and hoses, and poured it out. Success! The next paper towel I used to wipe the canister had no trace of the black film. I then washed and rinsed the canister and hoses thoroughly with tap water. I also intend to overdose prime the first time I fill the tank to get rid of any possible traces of chlorine.

The filter motor and impeller were surprisingly clean. Eheim motors and impellers are on the lid of the canister at the top, so it was not submerged in water. It had no algae or film of any kind. I took it apart for good measure and cleaned it well with tap water, vinegar and a brush.

At the start of the process I thought I would try to rescue the filter media. But it all looked incredibly gross. To make matters worse the non-ceramic filter pads were completely black (they are usually white) and given the possible presence of hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria I decided to play it safe. I followed JennySolano's advice and simply tossed all the media out (I triple bagged it, and tossed it in the trash). I cleaned the basket with chlorine wipes, washed it and rinsed it thoroughly. New media is already on the shopping list.

So, I now have a (hopefully) clean filter which is (hopefully) free of evil bacteria:
IMG_20211112_021624__01.jpg
 
I'm sure you know you can't use soap and water because it's almost impossible to get rid of soap molecules and they are bad things for fish water. I used a number of Magic Erasers
Yes, I knew about soap and water, but thanks for the reminder anyway. :) I hadn't though to use magic erasers, what a great tip! I will definitely keep them handy!

On yours I would be worried about the seals being damaged and the tank leaking
I hadn't even thought about the silicone seals! Ugh. I'm guessing whatever gunk got in them will be impossible to remove. At this point you and JennySolano might be right: it might be much easier and cheaper to just toss this one out and wait for the $1 dollar/gallon sale (or the upcoming Black Friday) and get a brand new 29. Hmm...
 
It's almost 3 am here, so time for a break. Tomorrow I will tackle the tank lid and make a decision about tossing or cleaning the tank itself.

Incidentally, if anyone thinks I should do more to ensure I have no more hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria (if that is indeed what I had), please let me know. I don't know how hardy they are, but certainly a quick bleach rinse should kill them?
 
Today wasn't as smooth as yesterday. First I wanted to clean the lid using the vinegar soak + scrubbing that I used yesterday. The lid is a hinged glass lid, with a plastic section in the back that can be cut to make openings for hoses. When I picked up the lid the back plastic section shattered! Somehow the plastic has become extremely brittle, I'm not sure why. I cleaned the glass but without the plastic section the lids are useless, as they leave a huge uncovered section at the back.

Instead of getting a new lid, this is a great excuse for a quick and simple DIY project I've been wanting to do: a sliding tank lid (instead of hinged). I have made a simple shopping list, and will include my project here when I do it.

Following Jan's advice I googled the $1 per gallon sale. Turns out Petco is no longer doing those. :( They now run what they call "50% off select tanks" but I don't know when it will happen again (one of these just ended, apparently) and don't know if it will include 29 gallon tanks. For now I will plan on cleaning what I have, just in case. If it works I can use the money I would have spent on a new tank towards lots of fish and plants :)

To bleach or not to bleach?
So as my first step I will fill the tank with tap water and let it sit for a few hours (or overnight), as suggested by Jen. It will soften all the crud, and will let me make sure there are no leaks. I am tempted to pour some bleach in there for a few moments just before I empty the tank, for two reasons: 1) to kill whatever nasty bacteria might be lurking in the water or under the substrate (particularly after my experience with the filter); 2) I noticed black spots inside the water changer hose. I don't know what they are, but in the off chance they might be mold I figure the bleach will kill it on its way out of the tank. Needless to say I will rinse tank and hose aggressively afterwards. The only two places this might be an issue (i.e. bleach remaining behind and leaching out later) are the silicone seals in the tank and the piece of driftwood. Any thoughts?

I want to try to save the driftwood because I love the piece, it's rather cool-looking (you can see it in the picture on my second post, above), so if the bleach will be an issue I might remove the DW before adding the bleach and deal with it separately. If a quick "bleach rinse" isn't a big deal with the DW, I will leave it in to kill at least some of whatever might be lurking on it.

So, is this quick bleach "dosing" a bad idea? Or can I do it as long as I rinse thoroughly afterwards? And if so, do I leave the DW in?
 
It has token some time to read this complete thread (you know I'm as fast as a snail), first of all I don't know what this "bleach" does be, it should be a chemically pure substance I would say, perhaps these that are availables for household in drugstores aren't suitable, I wouldn't treat the driftwood with the bleach, better pouring some boiling water on it, and, what do you want to do with the gravel or substrat? I would take it out of the thank and clean it. Moreover I thing you are exaggerately freaking out about these bad hidrogen-sulfid producing bacteria, they are already dead and wont cause any more problems for your tank, in addition you have to cycle the tank again and some little organic substance will be needed for this anyway, dont be so extremely accurate when cleaning I would say (be carefull with the silicon), after having cycled you will see what remains to be done but I'd say that wont be too much, I see you have already done most of the work, you are already on the right rail, in a flash you will be astonishing about all your undewater creatures of the new you'll see, greetings again mon vieux, still waiting for hearing your latest news.
 
I then turned, with a lot of anxiety, to the filter (an Eheim canister). It was full of water, so I placed it on the sink, and opened the valves on the quick-connects of both the intake and outflow hoses to let all the water out.

Remember the mild sulfur smell I got from the water on the heater? Well, the water inside the filter also had a sulfur smell, but there was nothing mild about this one. I'm not chemist or biologist, but I'm guessing it was a buildup of hydrogen sulfide from the death and decay of beneficial bacteria, or perhaps produced by anaerobic bacteria that took over the filter once the oxygen was depleted and the BB were gone.

I carefully opened the filter, removed the basket with all the filter media and set it aside. I rinsed the canister with tap water and started wiping it with a paper towel soaked in vinegar. At this point I noticed that the paper towel was wiping off a thin black residue or film that was all over the inside of the canister. Given the sulfur smell, I feared the film could be a colony of anaerobic bacteria, which freaked me out, mainly because hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic and flammable. I did not want any trace of those bacteria in there. I know that getting chlorine anywhere near a tank, let alone a filter, is one of the very first "thou shalt not" commandments in fish keeping, but my BB were all dead anyway and I was freaking out about these bacteria.

So I sinned. Twice.

First I wiped the inside of the filter with those chlorine wipes used to disinfect counters, but the bottom of the filter has a lot of small raised parts, nooks and crannies, and my limited dexterity made it very difficult to wipe the tank thoroughly. Paper towels continued to come out black, so I relented and went even further: I poured pure bleach into the canister :oops: (Kids, don't do this at home!). I swished the bleach thoroughly over all inner surfaces of the filter and hoses, and poured it out. Success! The next paper towel I used to wipe the canister had no trace of the black film. I then washed and rinsed the canister and hoses thoroughly with tap water. I also intend to overdose prime the first time I fill the tank to get rid of any possible traces of chlorine.

The filter motor and impeller were surprisingly clean. Eheim motors and impellers are on the lid of the canister at the top, so it was not submerged in water. It had no algae or film of any kind. I took it apart for good measure and cleaned it well with tap water, vinegar and a brush.

At the start of the process I thought I would try to rescue the filter media. But it all looked incredibly gross. To make matters worse the non-ceramic filter pads were completely black (they are usually white) and given the possible presence of hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria I decided to play it safe. I followed JennySolano's advice and simply tossed all the media out (I triple bagged it, and tossed it in the trash). I cleaned the basket with chlorine wipes, washed it and rinsed it thoroughly. New media is already on the shopping list.

So, I now have a (hopefully) clean filter which is (hopefully) free of evil bacteria:
View attachment 147640
🤢 It would have gone straight in the bin along with my stomach contents! Well done for ploughing through and getting it sparkly clean!
 
Thank you for the encouragement :) I agree things are going well!

I don't know what this "bleach" does be
Bleach is a common (powerful) household disinfectant, made mostly of Sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl). It kills most viruses and bacteria on contact. In Spanish it's called "cloro" or, when used as a laundry product, "blanqueador". I recall seeing it in Germany... if I remember correctly, it was a blue bottle described as "Chlor" or "Bleichen" or something like that... but I may be wrong on this :) It is probably being used widely now as a disinfectant because of covid?

what do you want to do with the gravel or substrat? I would take it out of the thank and clean it.
I think the sand is beyond any hope of rescue. It is riddled with algae and other unidentified "stuff". I don't think it's possible to clean it. It's all discolored, I don't think it will ever look clean again. I will probably just get some pool filter sand at Home Depot and have brand new, shiny clean sand!

I thing you are exaggerately freaking out about these bad hidrogen-sulfid producing bacteria
You are probably right! Still, I was quite surprised by the strong sulfur smell. The gas is toxic and flammable, and it was a bit scary to have it build up inside my filter. I'm also guessing I will find pockets of it in the sand once I start to take it out, which is why I though of adding bleach. But perhaps you are right.
 
After doing lots of other chores and procrastinating tending to my tank, I finally got around to it.

I filled it to the brim to soften all the crud stuck to the walls, and to see if there are any leaks. For now there are no leaks anywhere 👍 I will let the tank sit for a few hours and then empty it.

When I started filling it the water that was sitting there stirred, and again I felt the sulfur smell, which could mean the same bacteria or decomposition that was in the filters is in my tank. I know I am probably being overly paranoid but I think I decided to put in just a little bit of bleach and let it sit for a couple of minutes just before I empty the tank. That will also take care of some black spots I noticed inside the water changer hose.

I changed my mind about the driftwood. I took a closer look at it and it is falling apart in some places (pieces peeling off), completely covered in algae (or something else?) and looks awful. I don't think I have any hope of rescuing it and make it look nice again. My wife goes on long walks every morning along the Potomac River and she said she will be on the lookout for nice pieces of Driftwood to replace this one.

So, once the tank has sat for a few hours I will put in a cup of bleach (which in 29 gallons is a solution of around 0.25%), let it sit for a couple of minutes and then empty the tank completely. A while back I read somewhere that a good way to get the substrate out of the tank is to suck it along with the water while siphoning water out, so I will probably try to do that into a large bucket. Then I will take the DW out and toss it along with the sand, get the bottle of vinegar and the magic eraser (thanks Jen for the tip) and start scrubbing.

Here is the filled tank (angles look weird because I used a wide angle shot to get the entire tank in the photo).
IMG_20211113_163828.jpg
 
To bleach or not to bleach?
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous algae,
Or to take tools against a wall of grime
And by opposing clean it. To bleach—to clean,
No more; and by a clean to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That glass is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To bleach, to clean;
To clean, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that cleaning of bleach what dreams may come,
When we have wiped down this mortal silica,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of such long plants.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The observer's wrong, the proud owner's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd tanks, the cleaner's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare broom? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after cleaning,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose seen
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

(Yes I did translate to be or not to be into fish tank speak)
Hopefully your bleaching goes well! That tank is truly filthy, and in this case I would go against hamlet' choices and clean.
 
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous algae,
Or to take tools against a wall of grime
And by opposing clean it. To bleach—to clean,
No more; and by a clean to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That glass is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To bleach, to clean;
To clean, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that cleaning of bleach what dreams may come,
When we have wiped down this mortal silica,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of such long plants.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The observer's wrong, the proud owner's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd tanks, the cleaner's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare broom? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after cleaning,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose seen
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

(Yes I did translate to be or not to be into fish tank speak)
Hopefully your bleaching goes well! That tank is truly filthy, and in this case I would go against hamlet' choices and clean.

That. Was. Brilliant.

I wish you could see the grin on my face right now. Your post made the entire tank ordeal worth it! English is not my native language, so I haven't really studied Shakespeare much, but I felt I had to craft a reply worthy of your efforts. Here is my attempt, although it pales in comparison to yours!

(With apologies to the Bard)

Now is the aquarium of our discontent.
Made glorious fish tank by this ton of work,
And all the growths that lour'd upon our glass,
In the deep bosom of the filter buried.
Now is our water bound with victorious fish,
Our bruised scrapers hung up for monuments,
Our chlorine dosings changed to merry cycling,
Our dreadful algae to delightful plants.
Grim-visaged murk hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of pouring chlorine bleach
To fright the souls of fearful microbes,
He capers nimbly around pristine water,
To the lascivious pleasing of a loach.


Thank you, Tacocat, for making my day!

(Edit: since there are many nationalities here and not everyone is necessarily familiar with Shakespeare, that was from Richard III, act 1, scene 1).
 
Last edited:

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