With it being garage sale season, I decided to write a few helpful pointers about recycling used aquariums. I am certainly one who likes to save a buck whenever it is possible so I'd like to share with you some of the knowledge I have gained over the past fifteen years of recycling used aquariums and equipment I have purchased from garage sales.
Things to Look For When Recycling Used Aquariums
Visually inspect the silicone seals of used aquarium. Look at them closely to make sure there are no chips in the silicone, or missing/peeling sections. If you do find problems with the silicone it is best to avoid the tank unless you are comfortable resealing it.
Look for chips in the corner glass. Small chips can be filled with some silicone sealant, but may still pose the danger of causing cuts. Aquariums with larger chips or cracks should be avoided because they are often ticking time bombs - waking up at 3am to find 40 gallons of water all over the living room floor (and dining room, and bedroom) is no fun. Trust me and learn from my personal experience here.
Check the stand. If you aquarium comes with a stand it should be level and square. If it is made of wood, check the wood for rotting or other problems. If it is made out of metal make sure it is not bent or overly rusted.
Smell the aquarium. If you are using the aquarium for fish, you should avoid aquariums that have been used for rodents or lizards (the smell should be evident). I have had a lot of problems trying to recycle these aquariums in the past due to the urine contamination and the cleaning agents the previous owners used.
Check the equipment. You can ask the previous owner to plug in the light and pump to make sure they run. Lime scale buildup can be a nightmare to clean off plastic parts so keep this in mind when inspecting the equipment.
Questions to Ask the Previous Owner about the Aquarium
What kind of animal was kept in the aquarium? An aquarium that we be reused as a fish tank should have only housed fish previously.
How was the aquarium cleaned? If the owner used chemicals to clean the aquarium then it should not be used for fish.
What kind of medication was used in the aquarium? This is not so important if you are setting up a freshwater aquarium, but if you are using this for a reef tank then make sure no harmful chemicals such as copper or malachite green were used.
Does it leak or have any problems with the equipment? It is just good practice to get an idea of what you will be dealing with.
How long has it been since the aquarium was in use? If it has been a long time (more than a year or two) then the silicone and rubber component of the equipment may have dried out. A long period of being in storage will likely lead to reduced life expectancy for the aquarium.
Cleaning your Recycled Aquarium
OK so you found the “perfect” aquarium but it is a filthy mess. What should you do to clean it? The tools and cleaners I usually use to clean recycled aquarium are as follows:
A razor blade window scraper
A razor blade window scraper does an incredible on flat glass surfaces. Just make sure to be careful with the razor blade and avoid nicking the silicone with the razor blade. Green scratch pads can be used in corner near the silicone or on plastic parts that cannot be scraped with the razor blade. I only use plain water to clean the inside of my recycled aquariums to avoid any possibility of contamination. You can use vinegar on the plastic parts that will undoubtedly be more difficult to clean. Just make sure to wipe off the vinegar with a towel wet with water when you are done. After you have it cleaned, make sure to double check for silicone problems and then you can test to make sure it properly holds water. Make sure to fill the tank to the top and make sure to do it outside. Once you are sure that the tank is solid and water tight you can empty it out and set it up in its new place in your home.