How to set up the basic freshwater fish tank
STEP 1: Realize the responsibility involved.
Learning how to set up a fish tank is too easy for you, but there are some steps you should follow. First, you must realize a few things about an aquarium setup. In order to have a successful freshwater tropical fish tank you will have to work at it. Once a week, or at most once every two weeks, you will need to perform some kind of maintenance on the tank. Most of the time you will be performing water changes. You will also have to feed your fish at least once a day. There are recurring expenses such as replacing filter media, buying food, etc. Check out the Freshwater vs. Saltwater Aquarium page to get an idea of the setup costs involved. If you are up to the challenge, please proceed!
STEP 2: Decide on an aquarium size.
It's a good idea to have in mind what kind of fish you want to keep before you purchase an aquarium. it may be a good idea to start with a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium setup for now and stock it with some smaller and hardier species.
STEP 3: Decide on the aquarium's location.
Place your aquarium in an area where the light and temperature of the tank won't be affected by external sources such as windows and heater vents. For example, a 55-gallon tank will weigh approximately 550 pounds when filled with water!
STEP 4: Buy your aquarium and equipment.
Now is a good time to decide on the type of aquarium filter you will want to use. You will also need to purchase a heater capable of heating the tank size you have. Buy the gravel, plants, a power strip and other decorations. A good rule of thumb for the amount of gravel that you will need is 1 to 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon of water.
STEP 5: Set up your aquarium and stand.
Wash out your tank with water only! Do not use soap or detergents. Soap residue left behind will be harmful for your tropical fish. If you are going to use an under gravel filter (not recommended) now would be the time to set it up as well.
STEP 6: Wash Gravel, plants and decorations.
Be sure to wash the gravel thoroughly before adding it to your tank. An easy way to do this is to put some of the rocks in a pasta strainer and wash them out in your bath tub. Then place the clean gravel in a clean 5-gallon bucket for transport to the aquarium. After adding the gravel you can place your plants and decorations.
STEP 7: Add water to the aquarium.
To avoid messing up your gravel and plants, you can place a plate or saucer in the middle of your aquarium and direct the water flow onto the plate. Use room temperature water when filling. To remove the chlorine and chloramine, use something like Tetra AquaSafe for Aquariums. Don't completely fill up the aquarium until you are sure of the layout of your decorations. Otherwise, when you place your arm in to move stuff around water is going to spill over.
STEP 8: Set up equipment.
Install your heater but don't plug it in until the thermostat in the heater has adjusted to the water temperature. This usually takes about 15 minutes or so. Place your hood and tank light on the aquarium and then check your power cords to be sure that they are free of water. I would also recommend using a drip loop on all of the power cords to be extra cautious. For more information on safety, read this great article on aquarium electrical safety. Plug all of the equipment into a power strip and then "turn on" the aquarium.
STEP 9. Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more.
I know, you want to add some fish. But, in order to do this right you must wait until your aquarium has cycled before adding any fish. There are ways of speeding up this process. Check out the nitrogen cycle page to learn more about starting the nitrogen cycle and how to speed it up. If you must use fish to cycle, try to get a hardier species like the zebra danio or cherry barb. You may notice your fish tank cycle kicking in gear if you start to get some white cloudy aquarium water after a few days.
STEP 10. Add tropical fish.
Only add one or two fish at a time. Adding a couple fish at a time gives your filtration system the time needed to take on the increased biological load that the new fish introduce. When you bring the fish home let the bag float in the tank for about 15 minutes so that the fish can become acclimated to the temperature and pH of the aquarium water. After 5 minutes of floating the bag you should add some of the aquarium water to the bag so that the fish can become acclimated to the pH level in the aquarium. This will help reduce the amount of stress imposed on the fish. Stressed fish often leads to dead or diseased fish! Don't feed your fish on the first day. They probably wouldn't eat any food on the first day anyway. Let them get acquainted with their new home.
If you're interested in some good and hardy first fish, please read the Good First Tropical Fish article.
STEP 11. Get ready for regular maintenance.
Be prepared to spend some time once every week or two to clean your tank. Performing regular water changes will reduce the nitrate levels and keep your tropical fish happy and healthy.
As you can see, the steps for how to set up a fish tank are not that complex and hopefully you now have your aquarium setup and running! Have fun, take care of and enjoy your fish!
Freshwater Aquarium Setup Comments, Tips and Questions