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How To Set Up An Aquarium (Easy Guide)

If you intend to purchase fish for your home aquarium, congrats! Fishkeeping is a rewarding and enjoyable pastime. But it does not mean it is without its own obstacles. It is fairly typical for individuals to purchase everything required for an aquarium, including the fish, in a single shopping trip.

There are several problems that might arise from this, but they all begin from bad planning. Bringing home new living creatures, whether a puppy or a fish, involves time and preparation.

In addition, you will save a great deal of time and money if you identify everything you need to get started prior to purchasing an aquarium.

The following information in "How To Set Up An Aquarium (Easy Guide)" by BestForPets (bestforpets.org) pertains to setting up an aquarium step by step.

First Things First: Pick Your Fish

To be clear, you must choose the species of fish for your aquarium. Do not purchase fish at the shop just yet! However, you must know what sort of fish you wish to purchase prior to making any purchases. Start your investigation with the species of fish in which you are most interested.

You may begin reading about a fish before realizing it is not for you. Some fish are not appropriate for novices, some have special tank size requirements, and some do not get along with their tank companions. Not all fish are suitable for all fish keepers, especially novices.

Where to Start?

Popular species like as guppies and goldfish are perfect for beginning fish keepers since they are resilient, entertaining, and can typically tolerate a learning curve. However, if you research guppies and goldfish, you will discover that they are not the best tank companions.

Goldfish have varying temperature preferences and will consume nearly everything, including guppy fry. In fact, if your goldfish are sufficiently large, they will also consume your adult guppies.

If you have no clue where to begin, forums are a fantastic place to start, as are local aquatic stores, where you can see the fish and speak with the personnel. This will significantly assist you in narrowing down your fish preferences and in identifying tankmates.

Now You Need an Aquarium

After identifying the species of fish you’re interested in and becoming familiar with their demands, you should have a decent notion of the tank size they require. Some fish have preferences about the geometry of their aquarium. Weather loaches will have drastically different tank requirements than neon tetras.

Keep in mind that you do not need to immediately purchase a tank that can accommodate the maximum size of your fish, but you should have a plan in place for when the time comes.

This adorable 3-inch weather loach may grow to be a 10-inch monster before you know it, and that doesn’t include its companions, since weather loaches love to be maintained in groups. Don’t set yourself up for tank failure!

Consider the following aquarium components for your chosen fish:

  • Filtration: There are hundreds of filters available on the market, making it difficult to choose the ideal one. The size, kind, and quantity of fish you want to bring home will guide your decision. In a tank containing Neocaridina shrimp, a sponge filter is sufficient. A tank containing four goldfish probably need a HOB or canister filter rated for a larger tank than the one you’ve purchased. In general, you can under-filter your tank, but you won’t over-filter it. Exceptions to this rule include fish that require very slow or mild currents. Betta fish, for instance, cannot tolerate filters with a strong output and often thrive with low-powered filtration. However, you should still arrange for proper filtering.
  • Heating: Imagine that! Not every fish need heaters! Cool and cold-water fish housed in climate-controlled surroundings, such as a home with heating and cooling, typically do not require heaters. Unless you keep your home extremely chilly, goldfish may not require a heater. In contrast, the majority of tetras are tropical fish, thus they require a heater even in pleasant indoor surroundings. Investing in an aquarium thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature while you’re preparing your tank for fish. This will give you ample time to determine how different temperatures in the room where the aquarium will be kept may affect the water temperature, allowing you to make an informed decision about a heater.
  • Substrate: Any fish that feeds or spends time in the lower portions of the water column will have texture and density preferences for the substrate. Since Kuhli loaches prefer to dig, sand and other soft surfaces suit them well. Gravel has been known to become caught in the mouths of goldfish; thus, sand or pebbles that are too big for them to swallow are optimal for their health. Additionally, some substrates can affect the chemistry of the water. Crushed coral, aragonite, and some planted tank substrates can alter the pH of your aquarium. Typically, aquarium gravel and sand are inert and will not affect the pH, although there are exceptions. Ensure that you study extensively the possible effects of your substrate on your water parameters.
  • Tank Support: Technically, this is not a component of your tank, but it is crucial that you pick the proper tank stand. A gallon of water weighs around 8-9 pounds, thus a 10-gallon tank will be considerably lighter than a 75-gallon tank. When calculating the weight of your tank, do not forget to include the weight of the empty tank and any substrate or decorations you intend to add. You cannot just use an old dresser from your garage as a tank stand. Not all furniture is sturdy enough to support an aquarium. The last thing you want is to return home to a wet house and dead fish due to a failed stand.


Fancy Up the Place!

Aquatic plants are a wonderful addition to an aquarium. They aid in the removal of garbage from the water and can enhance the habitat for your fish.

However, certain fish are incredibly destructive to living plants! You may be able to outwit goldfish or cichlids in order to keep them from uprooting and murdering every plant you place in the tank, but certain fish are hell-bent on destroying any plant life you place in the tank.

Knowing what you’re dealing with before purchasing plants will assist you in selecting the best ones. Some plants are resilient enough to withstand the torture of your fish, while others regenerate so quickly that your fish won’t be able to kill it all before it grows again.

Aquarium decor might be a pleasant addition, but it can also serve a crucial function for some creatures. Some fish like spending time in caverns or rocky rocks. During the day, nocturnal fish frequently prefer a dark, calm environment.

Long-finned fish, such as fancy goldfish and bettas, typically require ornaments without rough or sharp edges, which might snag and damage their fins. Some fish enjoy squeezing themselves into decorative objects, but cannot escape without surgical precision. All of these factors should be addressed while selecting aquarium decorations.

Cycle Your Tank

People have been buying fish and immediately placing them in a new tank or bowl for generations, but we now know that this is not the greatest approach. Establishing colonies of helpful bacteria in your aquarium is the process of cycling.

Beneficial bacteria devour waste products, specifically nitrite and ammonia, and convert them to nitrate, which may subsequently be absorbed by living plants or eliminated through water changes.

Both ammonia and nitrite have the ability to harm your fish, causing severe damage or even death. Establishing a tank environment that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria enables the tank to automatically maintain acceptable levels of waste.

How to Cycle a Tank

There are several ways to cycle a tank, but the two most frequent are adding tiny amounts of ammonia to the tank or placing food in the tank and allowing it to decompose, which produces ammonia. This supplies nourishment for the beneficial bacteria, enabling their colonies to flourish and proliferate.

You will need to purchase in a test kit that measures levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and monitor these levels often while your aquarium is cycling. Once your aquarium no longer contains ammonia or nitrite, but does contain modest quantities of nitrate, it has been cycled.

Obviously, you have seen the bottled bacteria or “rapid start-up” goods that claim you can add fish to the aquarium instantly. Some of these items are beneficial, but they cannot replace cycling your aquarium.

If you know someone with an established aquarium, they may be willing to provide you with used filter media to begin the cycle of your tank. Occasionally, your local fish store may offer you used filter media.

Choose the Right Filter Media

The selection of filter media with a large surface area for beneficial bacteria to colonize is a crucial component in cycling a tank and maintaining the cycle. While many filter manufacturers recommend replacing cartridges monthly or even weekly, each time you do so you eliminate a portion of your beneficial bacteria. Selecting durable filter media that requires little replacement will aid in the maintenance of these colonies.

Stock Up

It may take weeks or even months for your aquarium to cycle, so you should begin loading up on aquarium supplies while you wait. Not just fishnets and food, but also drugs with a broad spectrum of activity and water conditioners.

Having these items on hand can save you time in crucial situations, such as when you have a sick fish. It may also save you money, especially if you keep an eye out for bargains and offers rather than waiting until you urgently want the product.

Ok, Now You're Ready!

It’s time to bring your fish home once your tank has fully cycled and you’ve stocked up on all the necessary supplies. Local aquatics businesses, pet stores, and internet retailers all sell fish. Be prepared to prophylactically treat or quarantine your new fish if they have been exposed to a disease or parasite prior to their arrival.

And despite the difficulty, be patient! It might be disheartening to visit the store for the fourth week in a row and find that the desired fish is still unavailable. However, if you’ve already invested so much time and effort into your aquarium, the last thing you want to do is start again with setting up your tank for other species.


It is great to set up an aquarium and bring your new fish home. Nobody will blame you for being a little bit giddy! It sounds like a great deal of planning, and it is. Setting up an aquarium for your fish will be well worth the time and preparation that goes into it.

Providing the greatest possible habitat for your new aquatic companions can be satisfying, and learning about each fish’s own personality and preferences will make the time you spent setting up the aquarium worthwhile.

After reading “How To Set Up An Aquarium (Easy Guide)” by BestForPets (bestforpets.org), you are now ready to set up a new home for your buddy.

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Dr. Deborah Fletcher

Deborah R. Fletcher, DVM, is a skilled veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience dealing with companion and exotic animals. She has experience caring for a variety of animals, including household cats and dogs, reptiles, birds of prey, and even primates. Dr. Fletcher is a valuable part of the BestForPets team, where she contributes to their aim of providing pets and their owners with the finest possible treatment and services.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Deborah Fletcher


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