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My wife has had an aquarium for about a year and a half. Nothing fancy 20 gal. tank with a couple of Swordtails, 3 or 4 Danios, and two snails. The other night she decided to clean the tank and do a full water change. She had been wanting to change the look of the tank (we have had some pretty natural elements in there for a long time). She decided to add a lot more brightly colored decorations. She changed the old neutral substrate out for some new brightly colored substrate; she also added new brightly colored plants. Basically everything old was taken out and replaced. We rinsed and washed everything as we did when we first got the tank. We did a full water change using distilled water (we've done this several times and never had a problem). We added some Tetra Cleaning Bacteria to the water. We then added the fish and all seemed normal. The next morning all of the fish were huddled in the corner closest to the heater. Since they were close to the surface I believed that maybe they were lacking O2 (even though we have three bubblers in the tank). So I removed a little bit of the water to allow the filter to agitate the water a little more. By the afternoon two fish were dead. This morning they were all dead. I told my wife that we may have changed too much too fast....and that the substrate may have hidden some goodies that the fish needed. I'm looking for any advice before we buy new fish.
 

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Sorry for the loss of your fish and snails. It is usually a very bad idea to do a complete water and substrate change because now you are in New Tank Syndrome territory. Even with the addition to the bacteria, it's a great chance that those many changes are what killed your fish and the snails. The fish and other occupants could have experienced pH shock. Lots of things went wrong here.

Were the plants plastic or live plants? If they were plastic plants did you rinse them first? Did you rinse the new substrate before you put it in the tank? Was the temperature of the water the same as what the fish and snails were in?

It's never a good idea to remove all of the old substrate at one time because you need some of that beneficial bacteria to remain in the tank. Some of the old plants should have remained as well and no more than one half of the water should ever be changed at one time unless you have old substrate still in the tank. One half removal of the water should be the rule here unless you need to make a tank repair.

Did you use some kind of cleaner to clean the glass after you took out the water? It may be OK to use distilled water for maybe doing a partial water change or topping off the tank when its low but I personally would never do a complete water change using distilled water only. Fish and snails all need the benefits of having some type of natural mineral mixed in with the water and the new environment that you put your fish and snails in was just too sterile in my opinion. You perhaps should use the distilled water for your steam iron and leave it out of your aquarium.

If it were me then I would remove about half of that water and add either tap water or well water. I personally use a product called NovAqua for a water conditioner and that should be added to the aquarium water before you add new fish and snails.

Mistakes happen in this hobby all the time and I have made my share and then some. Please remember to acclimate your new fish and snails to your newly cleaned aquarium by first acclimating the fish to the temperature of the water that they are going in by first floating the unopened bag in the aquarium that they are going in. Wait a few minutes and then open up the top of the plastic bag that the fish are in and carefully pour in about a cap full of water conditioner to the bag of fish. (Make sure that you prevent the bag from filling up with aquarium water until you complete the acclimation process!) Add a small amount of aquarium water to the bag after you add the water conditioner and repeat the adding of a small amount of aquarium water to the bag containing the fish about 10 minutes later. Wait another 10 minutes or so and then add the fish to their new home.

Good luck!
 
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