The Qualities of a Good Aquarium Cleaning Brush Kit

It's easy to cheap out on aquarium cleaning brushes, but it makes sense to spend a bit more for quality

It’s easy to cheap out on aquarium cleaning brushes, but it makes sense to spend a bit more for quality

While there are certainly sexier marine aquarium topics I could be writing about, I’d like to dedicate today’s post to one of the more mundane, albeit essential, elements of our hobby—aquarium brushes. This subject came to mind recently after I threw my ten-thousandth brush kit into the trash because, once again, the brushes had begun to fall apart.

Now, I’m a well-known cheapskate (or as Caribbean Chris is fond of pointing out, I’m “a whole rink full of cheapskates”), but even I understand—and often preach—that buying the least expensive aquarium equipment often ends up costing you more in the long run. Still, for some inexplicable reason, I continue to cheap out on everyday tools like aquarium brushes, scrapers, tongs, algae magnets, and the like. This has not served me well.

A quick, completely informal audit of aquarium brushes sold online revealed prices ranging anywhere from well under $5.00 for three- to five-piece assortments from various manufacturers to over $16.00 for a five-piece Tunze kit. There might be higher-priced kits out there as well, but as I said, this was a quick audit.

So, is it really worth paying the long dollar for something as commonplace as a set of aquarium brushes? The answer is possibly yes. But whatever the price, you should look for the following characteristics when comparing different brush kits:

A wide range of brush sizes

Let’s start with the most obvious: Every aquarium system presents a vast array of tubes, pipes, valves, and nozzles—all of different diameters, of course—that require cleaning. So, the greater the variety of brush sizes in the kit, the better.

Flexible but not flimsy

When it comes to flexibility, an aquarium brush needs to perform a certain balancing act. On the one hand, the brush must be supple enough to conform to the inside contour of pipes and tubes at elbows or bends, but on the other hand, it must be sufficiently rigid to a) return to its original shape after being bent and b) provide at least a modest degree of scrubbing strength, for example when cleaning tank corners, overflow boxes, protein skimmer chambers, etc.

Minimal bristle loss

Better aquarium brushes hold on to their bristles, even with fairly vigorous use. Low-quality brushes, on the other hand, tend to shed bristles like clumps of hair in a roller derby match every time the part of the wire securing them is bent or flexed significantly. As a result, you’ll find loose bristles drifting around you tank, settling on your corals, etc. It’s this trait more so than any other that leaves me disenchanted with “bargain” brushes.

Maintenance tip:

While we’re on the subject of aquarium brushes, if you’re looking for an easy way to clean gunk buildup from the inside of a long tube or pipe and all you have on hand is a set of short-handled brushes, try the following:

  • Select an aquarium brush that just fits the inside diameter of the tube.
  • Cut a section of heavy-duty twine (or flexible airline tubing) so it’s several inches longer than the tube to be cleaned.
  • Tie one end of the twine to the brush’s handle.
  • Thread the other end of the twine through the tube until it emerges at the far end.
  • Grip the end of the twine and pull the brush all the way through the tube.
  • Repeat as necessary.
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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.

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