I can't say swapping out the substrate wasn't without some pain but I'm glad that I did it. If I were to do it over I would have setup a spare 20 gallon and moved the fish over there while I was upsetting the tank but other than that I would probably do it the same.
What I did.
1. Vacuum - Vacuum - Vacuum over a period of a week. I worked all of the nooks and crannies and did as much cleaning as I could
2. Two days before - cleaned the filters
3. Day before - I pulled out all of the plants (real and fake), rocks, and driftwood. Vacuumed again
4. Day of - I took out 75% of the water
- pulled all of the gravel off of the first section of the ugf
. I used a
combination of scooping out and moving the remaining gravel onto
the middle ugf
-Pulled the ugf
plate did some vacuuming to clean this area.
-Added a little water back in to replace what I had vacuumed
-Pulled all of the gravel from the middle plate onto the bare bottom
of the tank.
-Pulled all of the gravel to the end of the tank and removed it
-Some more vacuuming and a water replacement
-Removed third and last UGF
plate same way
At this point I had all of the gravel out and a fairly cloudy tank so I did another water change and let things settle. While things were settling I carried all of the gravel outside to the garden (Four - Five gallon buckets)
and started rinsing flourite to go back in. To rinse the flourite I made a 15x15 box out of 1x2 lumber, reinforced the corners, and put a piece of window screen across the bottom. I then washed up some of the flourite and took it back downstairs to the tank. By this time the tank had settled down considerably and I did a quick vacuum to remove some of the deitrus and whatnot that I had not gotten earlier. I could easily see through the tank at this point. Then I added the flourite and it completely clouded the water. So I proceeded to rinse and add the rest of the flourite. I then filled the tank halfway, did a water change, refilled it all of the way, did a 50% water change.
Day After - I ran the filters full blast overnight and cleaned them the next morning and evening. I also did a 50% water change. Water testing showed some ammonia
Two Days After - Another filter cleaning and a major vacuuming of the substrate. Tank was finally starting to clear ! Ammonia coming down
Three Days after 25% water change - clean the filters
Four Days After - Plants back into the tank, some vacuuming, small water change due to the vacuuming.
5-7 - Let the tanks do it's thing for a few days and let the fish recover. I was still testing water - Ammonia was going down, Ph was stabilizing, Nitrates are coming up.
One week after - No fish losses - Small trace of ammonia - Still a very slight cloud in the water a couple of more water changes and some mechanical filtration should finish this up. Plants are starting to take off, Hornwort exploded in growth increasing in size rapidly 10-20% per day. Cabomba caroliniana starting to grow well sending out feeder roots. Added some Annubias, Crypts, and Anacharis.