How Do You Clean Live Aquarium Plants? 4 Easy Methods

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aaliveplants PetAquariums How Do You Clean Live Aquarium Plants? 4 Easy Methods

Everyone is always excited when they buy everything for their first aquarium.

However, later when problems arise, the true aquarium lovers are separated from the wannabes. Especially if you have live plants. If you already have live plants in your aquarium, just planted some, or you are getting ready to, you will eventually ask,

How do you clean live aquarium plants?

You clean live aquarium plants by:

  • Rubbing algae or other buildup off the plants with your hands.
  • Using an algae pad or assigned toothbrush to scrub them.
  • Soaking your live plants in the proper mixture of bleach before you scrub them.
  • Quarantine your live plants.

First, let me explain each of these methods in more detail and then I will talk more about algae, its dangers, and why it needs to be cleaned…

Rubbing Algae with Your Hands

Always remember to unplug anything electrical, like your tank heater, before placing your hands in the aquarium water, unless you like your hair standing straight up…

  • By far the easiest way to clean algae from your live plants is to simply reach into your tank and rub the algae off with your bare hands. Just make sure you wash your hands really well before you dip them into your tank. Your fish might not like the leftover cheese from the pizza you just had for lunch.
  • You need to make sure you are gentle when you are grabbing your plants. Just make sure you grab them by the stems with one hand and gently try to rub the algae or other gunk off, usually with your other hand and thumb.
  • Start as gently as you can at first and gradually add more pressure if the algae don’t come off. If you feel like the algae or gunk is stuck to hard, then be patient and try a different method.
  • It is a good idea to use an aquarium vacuum while you are doing this to suck up any removed algae or gunk that is floating around in your water. The more often you clean your plants this way the more efficient and effective it will be.
  • If you wait too long in between cleanings, the more algae or other gunk will build up on your plants, making it harder to use your hands. It may even get to the point where you need to use one of the other methods listed below…

Using an Algae Pad or Used Toothbrush to Scrub Them

  1. Okay you already tried to use your hands, but the algae and gunk was attached to strongly to your plants. You may have even ripped one of your plants leaves completely off. That’s okay, you live, and you learn.
  2. Now you should try a toothbrush or algae pad before you succumb to chemicals. I believe that chemicals should be used last when it comes to live plants so you reduce the chance of foreign substances entering your aquarium.
  3. Remove your live plants one at a time. Remember you already tried removing the algae or other buildup by hand so there shouldn’t be any snails or other creatures attached to your plants when you take them out. You can place the plant in your sink, bathtub, bucket, or any container large enough to hold the plant and catch any water.
  4. If you remove too many live plants from your aquarium at once your fish might get suspicious and start freaking out. So, if you can’t afford the pet psychiatrist, you should only remove one plant at a time.
  5. Make sure you have a toothbrush that is set aside to be used only for cleaning your aquarium plants.

You never want to use a toothbrush that was used for anything else because, as we said above, you are trying to avoid adding foreign elements to your aquarium.

That just means anything that isn’t already in your aquarium because it may harm your fish as well as your live plants.

You were being very gentle with your hands and the algae didn’t come off, so you want to be extra gentle here because you’re using a toothbrush or algae pad.

Just start with as gentle a scrub as possible and slowly build up the pressure until you get the algae or gunk to fall off. You can fold the algae pad to get into all those tiny, hard to reach, spaces in your live plants.

You can also use one of those tiny cute travel-size toothbrushes that look like they are made for miniature people or elves.

It is always a good idea to rinse your plant off really well before you place it back in your tank to grab another. No sense in letting loose algae sneak back into the tank.

Remember to stay ahead of the algae and gunk buildup by cleaning your plants often by hand and you won’t reach this point but even if this doesn’t work, now on to the chemicals…

Soaking Your Live Plants in the Proper Mixture of Bleach and Water

To soak your plants in bleach, you want to mix bleach and water together with only 5 percent of the mixture being bleach and the rest water. This is about 2 tablespoons of bleach for about a gallon of water.

You want the mixture to be strong enough to clean algae and gunk but not so strong that it harms your plants.

If it is your first time you can even put one plant through the whole process and leave it for a day or two to see how it turns out before you clean the rest of your plants.

Make sure you don’t use any weird types of bleach-like gel or scented because they can be very hard to rinse off and can leave a film on your plants.

Soak your live plant in the bleach solution for five minutes for hardy, less sensitive plants. Soak sensitive plants for only a couple of minutes…

After you remove your plant from the bleach mixture, try to remove any visible algae or gunk buildup.

Next, let your live plant soak again in conditioned water. This is water mixed with an aquarium water conditioner. Make sure the water conditioner you mix in the water has a dechlorinate in it. The mixture ratio should be printed on the conditioner container.

Last but not least, rinse your live plant off again with some lukewarm water, and then let it soak in some lukewarm water for a few minutes. Then, (ugh) I know it can be tedious but it gets easier and faster with practice, rinse your plant off again in lukewarm water to make sure there is no bleach residue left on your plant.

Many people will just tell you to soak the plant in bleach but if you go the extra mile and soak it in the conditioned water it will help ensure that more bleach is removed rather than just rinsing it off.

Remember, if you stay on top of cleaning the algae or gunk of your live plants with your hands then you won’t have to go through this extra trouble. You will have more free time to enjoy your life and watch ‘Finding Nemo’ again.

For plants that are discolored, sick, or have a disease you should quarantine them…

Putting Your Plants in Quarantine

Clean with vinegar for an easy solution – Vinegar is especially useful to remove calcium deposits from your plants. Some plants have trouble with vinegar so be careful here.

You can always do one plant first and wait a couple of days to see how it reacts. You should mix a half cup of white vinegar with a half-gallon of water.

Take one plant at a time and let it soak in the mixture for about 5 – 10 minutes. Male sure you thoroughly rinse the plant off before you put it back in the aquarium.

Apply a salt and lemon juice paste to silk plants – Mix one teaspoon of salt with 3 teaspoons of lemon juice.

Remove one of your live aquarium plants and gently scrub your mixture all over the plant.

Let it sit for a few minutes and then rinse it off before returning it to your aquarium.

Remember to rinse thoroughly when using any of these methods.

Spray Your Plants with Hydrogen Peroxide Remove one plant at a time, spray it with hydrogen peroxide, and let it soak for 10 – 15 minutes.

Rinse your plant off thoroughly and place it back in the tank. If you like this method better than bleaching, you can always use this method instead, but bleaching is recommended first.

Always remember to wash your hands before placing them in your aquarium.

Dip Your Plants in Potassium Permanganate – For Potassium Permanganate, you will have to visit your local pet store or order it online.

Just type in ‘aquarium potassium permanganate’ online or you might not get the right kind.  It should come with directions but mix 10 mg per liter of water.

You can soak the leaves of your plant into the mixture, but you can not soak the roots this time.

Potassium Permanganate is more dangerous than bleach or hydrogen peroxide so be careful and only use this method if the others don’t work.” You may even consider replacing your aquarium plants.

You can always try one plant and wait a few days to see how it reacts. Again, rinse off very thoroughly to keep the potassium permanganate out of your aquarium.

Potassium permanganate is so strong that it can kill parasites and live snails that are stuck to your plants.

Other Related Questions

How to Clean New Live Aquarium Plants? – You should really do a bleach cleaning or peroxide cleaning as stated above.

A lot of people like to quarantine their new plants just to be on the safe side. This is only practical of you have space, but you don’t have to.

It is recommended to use the potassium permanganate wash as described above before putting new plants in your tank.

Do aquarium plants need to be quarantined? – Your Live plants are pretty safe if you buy them online form a reputable dealer. Just use the potassium permanganate wash as described above.


Cleaning your live aquarium plants can be monotonous at first but with a little practice, it becomes easier each time. It is a very important part of your overall aquarium maintenance so just do it and keep doing it. It is worth it.

Some of the health benefits of having an aquarium with live plants are:

Stress Reduction

Blood Pressure

Quality of Sleep

Anxiety Level

Alzheimer’s Relief

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Pet Aquariums

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