How to Keep an Indoor Fountain Clean: The Complete Guide 

My cousin has a beautiful indoor fountain at her place, but a few days ago we noticed that it seems to be gathering dirt and is becoming very grimy. Since there aren’t any specialists nearby who could take a look at the fountain, she asked me to research a bit and find out how indoor fountains could be cleaned and maintained. So here we are with a complete guide on keeping an indoor fountain clean. 

So, how can you keep your indoor fountain clean? To keep the indoor fountain clean, one must use distilled water, ensure that the fountain’s pump is cleaned regularly, and drain the fountain occasionally to clean with a soft sponge and soapy water.

Indoor fountains are a pleasurable addition to any space, be it a home or an office. They are simply lovely to look at, and create a lively and refreshing ambiance. However, just like any other fixtures, indoor fountains also require maintenance and need to be kept clean. While fountains certainly look beautiful and provide peace and serenity to the place, unclean or algae-infested fountains are just as disgusting to look at and can ruin the value of the entire environment. Many people may wonder why fountains get so unclean, particularly indoor ones, since it is just water that is flowing in the fountain, but water also tends to get dirty over time and minerals can also accumulate in it. Thus it is important to keep the fountain clean, and there are various things one can do to ensure the same. 

What makes an indoor fountain unclean and how to fix it? 

There are many factors such as mineral content in water, weather, climate, functioning of filter and pump, etc that determine the level of cleanliness in the water fountain. As it is indoors in this case, outside elements like falling leaves, high winds, extreme sunlight and threats like rodents are not an issue. However, there are separate challenges with keeping indoor fountains clean.  

  • Many make the mistake of using tap water in the indoor fountain. In the short run, this is not a problem, or if it is only being used as a temporary substitute. However, in the long run, tap water ends up staining and dirtying the fountain due to the presence of pollutants in the water. Tap water contains minerals such as manganese, chlorine, lithium etc which can cause discoloration and accumulation of dirt and chemicals on the surface of the fountain. The right thing to do from the beginning is using distilled water, which is free of such harmful pollutants, in the fountain. While distilled water costs more, it is a much better and viable option for those who want to keep their fountain fresh and clean. 
  • The use of chemical cleaning liquids and materials may sometimes be necessary in cases of extreme dirt accumulation in the water fountain, but most of the time it is better not to use such substances. Harsh chemicals can cause corrosion and damage to the surface of the fountain base, and should hence be avoided. To clean the indoor water fountain quickly and effectively, one can use vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar, which has germ-killing properties and is anti-bacterial. Plus, it does not contain harmful chemicals. The idea is to take one to two cups (depending on size and structure of the fountain, bigger and wider ones will require more vinegar) of vinegar and add it to the fountain. It may smell a bit for a while, but that will dissipate soon and the fountain will stay clean for longer.  
  • Sometimes people keep part of the fountain pump above the water surface, but that is not the appropriate practice. The fountain pump does not need to breathe and on the contrary it will dry up and may burn out. One needs to keep the pump submerged continuously to keep it functioning and to hence keep the fountain clean.  
  • It is also often wrongly assumed that the pump should be kept switched off for a certain duration to save power and avoid overworking the pump. However this is not a good practice as not only does it actually cause the pump to wear out quicker, but it also reduces the functionality of the pump and prevents it from keeping the fountain clean. Plus, keeping the pump off for long periods of time allows grime to gather inside it, and then that needs to be cleaned separately. So, do not keep the pump off for long periods of time. 
  • While cleaning the water fountain, what many people forget is that any stones, pebbles, and accessories in the water fountain will also need to be cleaned thoroughly and separately from the fountain base. It is a good practice to drain the fountain and then take out all pebbles, accessories etc from it, clean each of those separately, allow them to dry and then pop them back in the cleaned fountain. That way you don’t end up risking the dirty stones polluting your freshly cleaned fountain and making it messy all over again.  
  • In indoor water fountains, what often happens is that there is a lack of natural air and environment for the fountain to breathe. The fountain basin and fixtures can become a little stagnant due to lack of exposure so it is also a good practice to air the fountain base if possible. At any rate, if the fountain is fixed indoors, you can always use solar light and artificial air to freshen it up a bit, but you can still leave the stones, accessories and pump outside for drying naturally. If the fountain can be moved, let it air dry outside after cleaning, before adding water to it again.  
  • An important thing to remember with respect to keeping indoor water fountains clean, as well as general maintenance of the same, is that it is an indoor fountain and should hence be kept indoors as such. It is not a good idea to put the fountain outside in the garden or yard and hope it functions fine nevertheless. Some users do that and then face the consequences, as even if the pump doesn’t malfunction, outside dirt, grime and dust may fall into the fountain, birds and other animals could misuse it, and exposure to elements like hot sun and rain will ultimately ruin the fountain.  
  • It is always a good idea to change the fountain water regularly, about twice a week or at least once weekly. Even pure distilled water can become dirty and stagnant to some extent, and your work will just be doubled if you don’t change the water often.  
  • Sometimes despite best efforts there is algal growth observed in indoor fountains. While very little sunlight can also lead to stagnant water, exposure to long hours of sunlight for the fountain can also lead to dirt and grime particles in the water forming algal bloom which can spread quickly if left unchecked. In severe cases, chlorine tablets will have to be added to the fountain to kill the algae, or vinegar may also do if the condition is not so bad. Vinegar is also really good to clean metal parts of fountains like brass that would get damaged by the use of hard cleaning chemicals. As vinegar is more natural than, and not as acidic as other cleaning material like CLR (Calcium Lime Remover), it does not cause any erosion or fading of color and material, thus cleaning effectively. Afterwards however, the fountain will have to be emptied and cleaned thoroughly to ensure no algae remains behind. 
  • Other than using distilled water, using hydrogen peroxide now and then is a good way to keep the fountain clean. While this does not protect against particle accumulation and mineral buildup, it will act anti-bacterial and fight growth of algae, thus keeping the fountain fresher and clean for longer. Another great thing about hydrogen peroxide is that it is not harmful to pets such as birds, dogs and cats that might be fond of drinking from the fountain, so you can safely use it to clean the fountain.  
  • While using a soft sponge is recommended for cleaning the fountain and fixtures once it is drained, some parts will be harder to reach with the sponge, particularly ridges, hollows and various shapes in the build of the structure. For this, you can use a damp, soft and clean rag to get into the corners properly and clean them. Alternatively, use a toothbrush so that you don’t miss the little nooks and crannies where dirt can accumulate. This will ensure better cleaning of the indoor fountain. Try to avoid using abrasive materials and rough fabric to clean the fountain, as these may chafe the surface of the fountain and cause damage. 
  • If for whatever reason there is, you are unable to use distilled water in the fountain, you may find that the use of tap water has caused buildup of some white layer on the surface, which is unsightly as well as unclean, as these are lime deposits. Fortunately, the solution to this is simple enough, provided you catch the issue at an early stage- Calcium Lime Remover is something that is easily available in stores as well as online, and can help remove these deposits easily. However, if lime deposits are left as they are over a long period of time, they may get stuck to the fountain base and may not be possible to remove.  
  • A common error many people make in cleaning and maintenance of their indoor water fountain is while washing the fountain structure. Leaving the cleaning liquid/ product dissolved in the water of the fountain is a terrible thing to do, as it just leads to more build-up and may leave chemicals in the water, leading the cleaning effort to waste. Even though it requires effort, it is always advisable to drain the fountain once again so that the cleaning material is rinsed out and fresh water can be filled in the now-clean fountain.  
  • Another common slip people tend to make is letting the water fountain get dirty to the point that the water is obviously murky, smelly and stagnant and stains are visible on the sides of the fountain. While it may seem more effective to deep-clean a very dirty fountain once in a long while rather than maintaining a clean one regularly, it is actually not so. Once the stains set in, they can be hard to remove and will need lots of scrubbing as well as the use of various cleaning chemicals. Moreover, after a certain point of time, the smell of the stagnant water may be hard to get rid of, and can persist; ruining the aesthetic value of the fountain, particularly as it is indoors and there is no moving air to detract from the smell. It is advisable to create a cleaning schedule that you will attempt to adhere to as much as possible, as maintenance of fountain cleanliness is preferable to actual cleaning.  
  • Now, about indoor fountains that are made of material other than stone and washable bases, for example having a copper lip or glass-front façade- you obviously cannot use the same cleaning methods for these portions of the fountain, as the glass might break and surfaces like copper might lose their sheen and quality. Take care not to let water rest outside on metal surfaces to avoid risk of damage. Wipe clean with a soft cloth, and use appropriate polish to keep the surface clean and shiny. For glass, most often the glass part is removable, so it is advised that you remove it and clean it separately with soapy water, allow it to dry, and then wipe over with a dry cloth to eliminate smudges and water marks.  
  • Cleaning the pump is very important to ensure that the fountain remains clean for a longer period of time, but how exactly does the cleaning procedure work? Well, the first thing to do after removing the pump from the fountain is to open it by taking off the back- you’ll find that maximum pumps have a hatch at the back to open. Then you can see the exact nature of grime buildup inside the pump. What works best to clean most of this off is putting the open pump under running water, as the force of the water is enough to remove much of the dirt. The rest can be cleaned off using a toothbrush or a small detailed brush. Then you can simply rinse the pump once more, allow it to dry, put it together and insert it back in the water.  
  • To ensure even better cleaning of the fountain, it can be a good practice to clean the tube connecting the pump. While it is difficult to reach inside the tube, running some fast-flowing water through it can also help greatly.  
  • There are many high-powered drill brushes and specialized tools available in the market to clean surfaces and fixtures such as fountains. These brushes come in varying sizes and you can power them to different speeds and intensity, but the fact is that unless the indoor fountain is very large and covers a great surface area, you probably won’t need these fancy supplies. Mostly all you need is a simple toothbrush to get into the smaller corners and twists, and regular cleaning will anyway ensure you don’t need to scrub a lot. 
  • Some indoor fountains are actually solar-powered, and will need plenty of sunlight to run. However, this exposure to continuous sunlight can also lead to algal bloom as well as evaporation of fountain water. The key is to observe a bit and place the fountain in optimal concentration of sunlight if it is solar-powered, say from a window that is partially shaded. As too much sun is avoided, chances of algal growth also go down and the fountain remains cleaner.  
  • Something to keep in mind if you have pets in the house where you also keep the indoor fountain is that the interaction of the pet(s) with the fountain will also determine its cleanliness. Some birds love fountains and may enjoy getting sprayed by the falling water, or taking a bath in the fountain basin. This is generally not a problem, but you might then need to drain and refill the fountain more often, say weekly, as bird feathers or droppings may accumulate on and in it. If you have cats or dogs and they are able to reach up to the fountain, there may be animal hair in the fountain too, which you will accordingly have to clean.  
  • If you use bleach to clean your fountain of algae, be careful to use only a couple of drops of bleach and never any more, certainly not once a week even if the algae persist. Using more than that might actually cause the algae to multiply, and can also cause irreversible damage to the color and finish of the fountain base. Similarly, using too much chlorine will take away the stagnant smell but leave the fountain smelling strongly like a swimming pool and can cause watery eyes to people who go near. Avoid excess of bleach or chlorine because it could not only hamper the actual cleanliness of your fountain, but it could also be harmful if you have pets such as cats or dogs that have a tendency to drink out of the fountain.  
  • If you find distilled water too expensive and not viable to use, you can always use tap water and then use a filter pitcher, easily available in stores as well as online, to purify the water. This might seem like a big expenditure, but it is a fair investment to make, particularly if you really want to reduce the instances of calcium and mineral deposits in the fountain. The filter won’t eliminate such things completely, but will slow the process down and make cleaning easier. Occasionally, you could collect the water accumulating from your dehumidifier (which most people have when they keep indoor water fountains), and fill that in your fountain, as it is quite pure in content.  
  • Sometimes, low water level in the fountain also appears as a cleanliness issue, but it isn’t so. How exactly does this happen? Well, when the fountain splashes a bit too much, or it is very hot and fountain water evaporates, there isn’t enough water and the pump is no longer completely submerged. The pump then starts making noise and this is often associated with dirt accumulation inside it, which makes people think it is a cleanliness problem. Fortunately it is easy enough to check if the pump is under water or not, before taking the pump out and opening it up. However if your pump hasn’t been cleaned in over a couple of months, it could very well be a combination of dirt and low water levels.  
  • A useful trick to keep the indoor fountain clean for longer is to use a small fishing net to cover the top of the fountain. The size of the net would depend on the surface area of the fountain of course, but such nets are easily available and are affordable options to trap dirt and debris from the fountain. This will save you some of the cleaning process and will prevent much of the surrounding dust and dirt from falling into the fountain.  
  • In case of larger or more spread out indoor fountains, consider fitting in an additional pump in order to keep the water clean throughout and to avoid putting too much of a load on the original pump. Not only does the presence of two pumps ensure that the water in the entire fountain is circulating, it also distributes the accumulation of dirt and grime, leaving less to clean.  
  • There are many cleaning supplies in the market that have been made to be safe for pets such as dogs, cats and birds. However these solutions are mostly not safe for fish if you may have any in your fountain, and can make them ill or even kill them if added in the water. If you have fish in the fountain bowl, consider the cleaning options you have. Thankfully, vinegar is perfectly safe for fish and is even beneficial to their health. So do keep in mind that you can only use vinegar to clean fountains with fish, and not other solutions, no matter how organic they claim to be.

Recommended products for cleaning indoor water fountain

Although it has been observed that natural products like vinegar and household items such as liquid soap and mild detergent are good enough to clean indoor water fountains, twice a year or so it may be a good idea to use stronger cleaning solution for a deep-clean. Of course, any of these should be used in moderation, if not in small quantities, depending on the size of the fountain and the nature of dirt build-up. Here are a few recommendations- 

  • EasyCare FounTec Algaecide and Clarifier– This is a light solution that only needs to be added in a couple of drops to the fountain (perhaps a couple drops more if the fountain is large-sized) and the best thing about it is that it is completely safe for pets, so you don’t have to worry about your cats, dogs or birds getting sick after drinking from the fountain. This solution is also known to clear moderate algae growth, remove bad smell, and keep mosquitoes away from the fountain. Plus it can be used in both indoor and outdoor fountains, which makes it a great choice. Buy it from Amazon here
  • Sanco 88002 Bird Bath & Fountain Maintenance– This is a very affordable product that you can add occasionally to your indoor water fountain to purify it and reduce the chances of stains and mineral deposits. This one is also safe for birds and animals, which makes it a viable option for pet owners. If used in larger quantity, it can also remove existing stains and spots to a large extent, but it is advisable not to do so and instead use this as part of preventive measures to keep the fountain clean. This solution has to be added to a freshly cleaned and filled fountain for it to be the most effective, so it is less of a cleaner and more of a maintenance product. Amazon has it here.  

Related Questions

What are some factors to keep in mind when choosing an indoor fountain? 

Not only should the style and design of the fountain match your home or office décor, the size should also adhere to the amount of space you have. Weight is also important as surfaces like wood will be able to take only light weights such as fountains made of fiberglass and not metal.  

How best can one accessorize their indoor fountain while keeping it simple? 

Glass pebbles and colored stones are easily available, and are a quick and easy way to make your fountain look pretty. You can also pop in figures such as dolls, gnomes, fairies etc to be creative. Consider getting a fountain pump fitted with LED lights that change color for a more attractive look. 

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