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How Often Should I Clean My Internal Return Pump and What is the Best Method?

How Often Should I Clean My Internal Return Pump and What is the Best Method?

Let’s be honest… Cleaning a return pump is one of the least glamorous required chores for any aquarist!  Since it is a messy and time consuming process, it is frequently neglected as a result.  However, regular cleaning and maintenance can greatly increase the lifespan of your return pump. Therefore, it is a necessary evil unless you wish to buy replacement pumps on a regular basis!

Why is Regular Cleaning Important?

Pumps have moving components, most notably the impeller. This movement makes heat which causes precipitation, especially when in a supersaturated solution like aquarium saltwater. The most common form of precipitation is calcium carbonate, which can wreak havoc on a pump since it often sticks to the warmest portions of the pump like the bushings, impeller/magnet and bearings.  The problem is that these are areas of high friction, and as such, it is essential to keep them clean from any precipitation. This will ensure that they can spin freely so that your pump can run as smoothly as possible.

Cleaned pump impeller and bushing
Cleaned pump impeller and bushing

How Often Should I Clean My Pump?

Required cleaning and maintenance of your pump will vary depending on your system.  For example, if you have a fish-only aquarium you can probably go 6 months between cleanings. In contrast, a heavy populated reef with lots of elements being dosed will require much more frequent cleanings due to the level of dosed calcium and alkalinity. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend the following:

  • Coral Reef Tank: Every 2-3 Months
  • Fish-Only Saltwater Tank: Every 6 Months

What Do I Use to Clean My Pump?

There are 2 chemicals commonly used for pump cleaning and maintenance: (1) common white vinegar and (2) muriatic / hydrochloric acid.  Both are effective at eating away calcium carbonate and other precipitate. For vinegar, we recommend a 50/50 solution of vinegar and warm water since vinegar is cheap and readily available. You can mix it stronger for faster results or weaker for cheaper results that take longer.  Muriatic / hydrochloric acid is very nasty at full strength and should be diluted at least 1 part acid to 5 parts water. Do not leave the pump in a muriatic / hydrochloric acid solution for longer than 24 hours.

How Do I Clean My Pump?

There are also 2 methods for cleaning your pump. You can either give it a soak in a vinegar or muriatic / hydrochloric acid bath, or you could run the pump in a covered bath of vinegar or muriatic / hydrochloric acid.

Soaking Method:

  1. Disassemble your entire pump.
  2. Gently clean / scrub each part in a sink to remove any algae or slime.
  3. Soak the pile of parts together in a vinegar or muriatic / hydrochloric acid bath for 24 hours.
  4. Inspect all parts to ensure they are completely free of any precipitate.
  5. Rinse all parts in tap water and let dry.
Pump disassembled and soaking in vinegar / acid bath
Pump disassembled and soaking in vinegar / acid bath

Running Method:

  1. Install the pump in a bucket or other container containing a diluted vinegar or diluted muriatic / hydrochloric acid bath.
  2. Carefully cover the bucket or container to make sure you do not get acid on yourself or the surrounding area while the pump is running. (A garage or similar area is usually best for this type of work.)
  3. Turn the pump on and let it run for 1 hour.
  4. Disassemble your entire pump and inspect all parts to insure they are completely free of any precipitate.
  5. Gently clean / scrub each part in a sink to remove any algae or slime.
  6. Rinse all parts in tap water and let dry.

Both vinegar and muriatic / hydrochloric acid are harmless in the reef system (other than slightly lowering pH), so a normal rinse is sufficient prior to returning the pump to service.

Pump running in vinegar / acid bath
Pump running in vinegar / acid bath

Want to learn even more? Visit YouTube for our instructional video.  As always, if you need any additional assistance please contact us and we will be happy to help!

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