Pond Academy

How to Clean a Pond Without Draining It (in Just 3 Easy Steps)

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Is your pond murky and full of debris?

Then it's likely time for a good ol' fashioned pond cleaning!

But, before you even think about draining your pond, lets look at how you can get it back to clean and clear in just 3 easy steps.

So, let's jump right in! (The content below, not the pond!)

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A common misconception when you notice your pond water is murky is that you need to remove the dirty water and replace it with fresh, clean water in order to fix the problem.

This misconception is, in fact, completely unnecessary in most cases...

And may actually do more harm than good.

Not only will replacing the water actually result in problems in the future as you have disrupted the natural ecosystem of the water, draining the water out of your pond is only used in extreme cases and never in general cleaning.

did you know Did you know...

Billions of good bacteria and microorganisms live in the water in your pond! They reduce the harmful chemicals that can occur such as ammonia and nitrogen.

When you remove water, you also remove these good bacteria and microorganisms – the natural filtration system in your pond ecosystem. When you add water, most often just from the tap, you are compounding problems, as most tap water is chlorinated, a chemical that your fish or your bacteria and microorganisms will not tolerate well.

So, you’re probably wondering...

Is There Ever A Time I Should Drain My Pond?

Let’s help you rule out whether you need to drain the water or not.

First, you never need to entirely drain the water in your pond, especially if you have wildlife. Allow some bacteria to remain in the pond for the health and benefit of the organisms you have in there.

Removing up to half of the water can sometimes go a long way in helping water quality. When you have a very overstocked pond, you may find that your water quality is poor, especially in summer when your fish produce more waste due to their metabolisms being higher.

Good bacteria can sometimes be overwhelmed when too much waste is built up, resulting in poor water quality. A small water change in these conditions may help in improving the water quality of the pond, but you certainly don't need to drain the entire pond.

Lastly, ensure that the water you use to refill your pond has been properly dechlorinated, for the safety of your fish, good bacteria and microorganisms.

If you still insist on draining the water, check out our guide on how to drain a pond (with or without a pond pump).

How To Clean A Pond Without Draining It

clean pond

STEP 1: REMOVE DEBRIS

The first step in cleaning your pond is to remove any floating debris. You should do this regularly not only for the beauty of your pond but also to ensure that you catch it before it sinks down and adds to the sludge at the bottom of your pond (which is harder to remove). This could be leaves, sticks and twigs, larvae or dead insects.

Your best bet is to clean the top of your pond first before you attack the liner and bottom or else you’ll just end up having to clean it again as it sinks.

did you know Pro Tip

Cover your pond in pond netting to ensure the larger debris, like leaves and sticks, can't sink to the bottom. This makes for easy pond debris clean-up!

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There are several pond cleaner products and tools on the market to make debris removal a simple process. We are going to start by cleaning the debris away from the top of your pond with either a pond rake, pond net, or a pond skimmer. I would suggest that with small ponds a simple pond net would suffice. Pond nets are much cheaper than skimmers and are a reasonable choice in keeping your pond free of debris. When choosing a pond net, ensure it has a long handle allowing you to reach over half the length of your pond and has a wide-open basket with fine mesh which will allow you to capture an array of debris.

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Skimmers are automatic systems that constantly keep your pond clean of surface debris and foamy pond water. These resourceful creations go a long way in maintaining the overall health of your pond. They are a great investment if you have a larger pond, are constantly battling with falling debris or have a lot of fish and aim to maintain your water is in tip-top shape for maximum clarity and health. Pond skimmers work around the clock to constantly remove even finer debris that you can’t see.

There are two types of skimmers available. Box skimmers are better suited to larger ponds as they have a higher capacity and remove debris very quickly.

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If you have a smaller pond, perhaps the floating or submerged skimmer is more applicable. It costs considerably less and works great on a smaller surface area.

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Now that you've tackled the top floating debris, we can move onto the debris that has settled on the sides and bottom of your pond liner. You know, that sludgy layer.

It's actually not essential to remove bottom sludge, but it is useful when your fish move into their hibernation period at the end of autumn.

This is typically the time pond owners feel the need to remove the water in order to reach the sludge, but this would only be necessary if you were removing the sludge with a rake or shovel. As we now know, removing the water is dangerous for our pond’s ecosystem so the best way to remove the sludge is with a specifically designed pond vacuum.

Pond vacuums come in a variety of shapes and sizes and good ones come with several attachments that help you reach the difficult spots in your pond.

They allow you to clean the bottom of your pond without removing the water. If your pond is particularly deep, be prepared to pay a little extra for one that has a good suction and perhaps a telescopic handle. Basic models will lose suction the deeper they go so are more ideal for smaller ponds.

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We should note here that if you have a wildlife pond, you may be interested in keeping the majority of your sludge. Sludge provides nutrients to plants and food for microorganisms and insects. If this is the case for you, it would be better if you did not manually remove the sludge with a vacuum at all, but rather added beneficial bacteria as laid out in the next step as a means to remove some sludge, but not all.

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STEP 2: ADDING BENEFICIAL BACTERIA

OK, so we’ve removed any floating debris and as much sludge as we want manually from our pond. Our next step is to add some beneficial pond bacteria in order to maintain a high-quality standard of health.

There are two types of beneficial bacteria that you can purchase that you can try depending on your situation.

Pond sludge removers contain a high concentration of natural bacteria that break down any lingering waste in your pond. They work just like the natural bacteria and microorganisms present in your pond and give your bacterial population a healthy boost whilst wiping out as much waste as possible.

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If you have a wildlife pond, we mentioned above that you may wish to keep the majority of your sludge to provide nutrients to your plants and to feed insects and microorganisms.

In this case, you can simply add beneficial bacteria in order to enhance the natural nitrogen cycle. Problems with sludge occur mainly in ponds that stock fish. Fish produce ammonia and too much causes an imbalance in your pond. If you have no fish in your pond then simply adding complementary bacteria without vacuuming your pond might be a cost-effective and better solution to cleaning your pond.

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Here's how Aquascape Beneficial Bacteria can help your pond.

STEP 3: CONTROL ALGAE, CLEAN WATER

Although algae is naturally occurring and a common occurrence in a healthy pond that provides shelter from predators and is a tasty snack for goldfish, it is good to regularly control the growth of algae in order for it not to cause problems with water quality and contribute to a buildup of sludge.

Algae blooms occur when conditions are ideal for algae to grow and it may take over your pond.

You do not have to remove the water in order to control algae in your pond. A UV clarifier is recommended to remove free-swimming algae as it grows, filtering the water and destroying the algae at a cellular level, minimizing the amount of dead algae that contribute to the sludge on the pond floor.

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If you have a buildup of string algae connected to the pond floor that does not fit through a UV clarifier, then a pond vacuum will do the job.

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A natural approach to controlling algae is by adding more oxygenating plants to your pond. They compete with algae for nutrients and over time gradually slow the growth of algae.

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Pond snails are another effective and natural way to control the growth of algae in your pond. Just keep in mind that pond snails can reproduce quickly. If you have an overabundance of snails they may start feeding on your pond plants.

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These is a more long-term solutions, however, and for quick fixes, a UV clarifier, pond vacuum, and even manual removal with your hands should be sufficient without you needing to remove any of the pond water.

Finally, ensure that you have an effective pond filtration system. Filtering your water by mechanical means helps remove debris and a pond with a healthy biological filtration system will not have water quality issues.

You should not have to clean your filter unless it becomes completely clogged as you will upset the natural bacteria present in your filter box. Keep an eye on your filter as over time you may need to replace parts as they become damaged over time.

Having a water filter in your pond is essential to ensure that the water quality in your pond is optimum and for the overall health of the pond. It will also help reduce the need for regular cleaning as the water is filtered from small debris.

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A combination of your filtration system, a pond skimmer or regular use of a pond net to reduce floating debris, a UV clarifier and regular additions of beneficial bacteria to your pond are the key steps to ensuring a healthy pond and pond life.

With the addition of using a vacuum during deep pond cleans to remove sludge and stubborn algae, you’ll have a complete overhaul of your pond without the need to remove any water.

How Often Should I Clean My Pond?

It’s recommended that you do the major clean of your pond at the end of autumn, and a smaller clean should be performed at the beginning of spring. If you don't have a pond filtration system for whatever reason, then you'll have to clean your pond more frequently (and it will require more manual work). Check out our guide on how to keep a pond clean without a filter if this describes you.

Leaving your major clean until the end of autumn ensures your fish have minimal waste in their habitat moving into winter’s hibernation or torpor period keeping them more comfortable and safer. In fact, it's step 1 in our guide to keeping pond fish alive in winter.

This is especially true in areas where ponds can freeze over, allowing for little to no gas exchanges to occur. Here oxygen levels are reduced and harmful substances slowly rise, and you may discover your fish are sick or even dead by spring.

So, a deep clean at the end of autumn greatly reduces such risks and you can rest assured your pond is thriving all year long.

As a kick-start to the year, the spring clean is not as big as the autumn clean, but by removing old debris and sludge you ensure your fish have the best start as they begin to get more active moving into the warm summer period.

Now is also a great time to supplement your pond with beneficial bacteria, boosting your pond’s ecosystem to allow it to cope with the increase in waste your fish will produce as they are more active.