5 Tips to Clean a Bucket for Aquarium Use

After using a bucket for painting or other projects, it is important to clean the bucket very well before use in an aquarium. Paints and other products can contain chemicals that should not be in an aquarium, not to mention what you would do if the bucket had paint residue left over after cleaning!

1. Rinse out the bucket with water for about five minutes. It may be necessary to repeat this step several times if paint residues are still on the bucket. Use warm water, not hot water…

2. Mix 3 tablespoons of bleach in one gallon of cool tap water (not cold or lukewarm). Pour the solution into the bucket and allow it to soak for at least overnight.

3. Empty the bucket and rinse it completely to eliminate any remaining bleach solution that may have been left behind from step 2. Fill it with plain water, not tap water or aquarium water…you don’t want the chlorine in tap water! Using a drop or two of dish soap in a pinch can help get rid of lingering paint residues. Don’t let the bucket sit with water in it for a long time, or metal parts can rust from the inside out!

4. Let the bucket air dry completely before using it to hold water for an aquarium. It is very important as any leftover soap, bleach, etc., will be absorbed into porous wood and plastic used in an aquarium. And remember, if you’re going to reuse a bucket, do a thorough cleaning before using it again.

5. After cleaning with dish soap, rinsing several times, bleach soak overnight, and two washing water items, the result is a completely clean bucket! It’s now ready for use when needed to hold aquarium water or gravel.

This is the cleaned bucket! It’s safe to use for an aquarium now that it has been thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution, dish soap, and water washings. Now, if only everything in life could have so easy a cleaning process…


Here are some examples of other buckets I’ve used successfully to hold aquarium water or gravel. They do not remain in the aquarium set-up but are only used to transport water, substrate, decorations, etc., back and forth to the main aquarium.

It is a bucket used for mixing concrete to patch a sidewalk in my front yard. After being cleaned with dish soap and water, it is completely safe to use in an aquarium. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s clean enough to put inside the tank and take a drink out of it…but at least the paint residues are gone!

It is a typical plastic bucket used commonly around all types of homes and businesses. It has been cleaned with soap and water but is unsafe to use in an aquarium because of all the residue left behind.

12. Here is a better example of the type of bucket that would be safe to use in an aquarium after it has been thoroughly cleaned with soap and water, rinsed several times, soaked with bleach solution overnight, and washed twice with plain water…the result is a perfectly safe bucket for holding aquarium water or gravel!


Here is another bucket filled with gravel that was used below my big reef tank to help suck up some water about four years ago during maintenance! It now holds some more decorative rocks used around the base of my large reef tank.

It doesn’t hold any water at all! I had to go back and look at this bucket because I’ve noticed it’s been getting cloudy from 4 years of sitting in some dust and dirt under my workbench! Time to find a dustpan and some wet paper towel to clean it up.

This bucket is filled with aquarium water with decorations resting on the bottom for easy placement inside the main tank. I use this “bucket method” when setting up new decorations or transferring any item back and forth between aquariums during maintenance.

It is more convenient than using a net or holding things with gloved hands as I might contact anemones, corals, starfish, etc. That could easily harm me if stung by accident. It also saves wear & tears on the aquarium water pump as I’m not dragging items against a gravel bed or stirring up sand, etc., during maintenance!

It’s always easier to move things that sit on the bottom of the bucket rather than try to pull them through the gravel and cause unnecessary wear and tear on corals and decorative rocks.

Now we can put some fish inside our new aquarium! I had these clownfish living in my main 125-gallon reef tank for more than 4 months…but due to their aggressive nature, they were kept away from other fish by default of being placed into a separate 10-gallon marine breeder box for quarantine purposes.

They needed special attention every few days because it was such a small volume of water compared to my main reef tank…but they were well cared for by my wife! 20. Once transferred into their new home, they happily jumped out of the bucket and explored parts of their new environment for a little bit before finally settling down together near the front glass wall to begin exploring their new home.

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