How to Set up a Fish Tank? Step by Step Guide

When it comes to starting a new aquarium, the amount of information available on the internet might be daunting. Wouldn’t it be great if an expert aquarist could guide you through the entire process? Follow along as I give our best tips for creating the ideal environment for your new pet fish.

With a vast number of tank sizes to pick from and a multitude of fish in all different shapes and colors, there is something for everyone who wishes to discover the world of aquariums.

We’ll go over how to set up a fish tank in this article, covering tank preparation, equipment installation, tank cycling, and fish acclimatization.

Necessary Items for Aquarium Set Up

1. Size of Aquarium

When you’ve decided on a final location to place your aquarium, measure the available area to see what size aquarium you can acquire. Many novices start with a 10-gallon fish tank, but larger aquariums are favored in general because firstly; more water volume helps to dilute the hazardous waste compounds produced by your fish’s feces, and secondly; you can keep more fish without overwhelming them. Certain pet store companies in the United States, such as Petco, hold discounts three to four times a year where cheap fish tanks are sold for $1 per gallon in size. I don’t recommend rimless aquariums or tanks with low iron glass to novices because they are much more expensive.

Size of Aquarium

The bonded seams in acrylic aquariums are significantly stronger and less likely to break, thus while being more expensive, they are perfect for very big volume tanks. Additionally, they weigh less and have higher thermal insulation. A Styrofoam can be used to assist level the aquarium and the surface it stands on since acrylic tanks (and rimless tanks) are intended to be supported on their full bottom panel.

2. Lid

Many people attempt to cut costs by forgoing an aquarium hood or top, but many are unaware of how much money a tank cover actually saves over time by reducing heat and water loss through evaporation and preventing your fish from jumping out. (These worthwhile advantages are yet another reason why Ido does not advise beginners to use rimless, lidless tanks.)

Acrylic covers are more expensive and droop into the water with time. The material’s elasticity is particularly inconvenient if you try to build a hinged flap for feeding fish because it becomes distorted over time. Lexan polycarbonate sheets do not absorb water as rapidly as glass and are occasionally used for handmade aquarium lids, but they are still more expensive.


Glass lids are inexpensive and relatively transparent for viewing. Typically, the glass top comes with a plastic strip in the rear that can be adjusted to cut holes for filtration, airline tubing, and electrical connections. Make sure the apertures are as tight as possible so that fish and insects cannot escape.

3. Lighting

Lighting is mostly an issue for individuals who keep live aquatic plants. If you don’t have any aquarium plants, you can use a fish tank kit with a built-in light or a suitably sized aquarium hood with a built-in light. Install an LED planted tank light with a power outlet timer if you’re growing aquarium plants to keep algae at bay.

4. Filter

Don’t let the internet persuade you to begin with a canister filter if you’re new to keeping fish. They are more challenging to maintain and clean, and they aren’t always the “greatest” filter available. For those who have never tended a fish tank previously, I frequently suggest a hang-on-back (HOB) filter. Each month, they are simple to clean and offer a lot of customization options. Although sponge filters are a very affordable and dependable alternative, setting them up for the first time by yourself can be a little challenging, and many people forget to install a check valve to prevent flooding.

There are countless articles on the internet that go through the best filters for newbies.

4. Heater

While some fish species, like goldfish, and white cloud mountain minnows, can survive cooler temperatures, most freshwater pet fish prefer warmer, tropical temperatures between 74 and 80°F. If your home is below this range, you must get an aquarium heater to prevent your fish from becoming ill. Additionally, purchase a thermometer to let you determine whether the aquarium heater is turned on or off and whether it is working properly.


Choose a fish tank heater with around 5 watts (W) of heat per 1 gallon of water as a starting point if you need to heat the water up to 10°F above room temperature and have a tank cover that keeps warmth and avoids evaporative cooling. If you have a 5-gallon betta fish aquarium that meets those specifications, for example, you may get a 25W heater. If you keep the same betta tank in an office building or a school classroom with a lot of air conditioning, you should replace it with a 50W heater.

5. Decorations and Substrates

Some of the most popular options for substrates include aquarium gravel, sand, and plant substrate. After being dusted with dust, rinse the substrate, rocks, driftwood, and aquarium decorations in water to prevent hazy water. (Avoid washing anything with soap or cleaning agents since the residue could harm fish.)

Decorations and Substrates

Aquarium backgrounds are ideal because they conceal all the tangled wires and tubing and shield the fish from any unsettling shadows cast by the wall behind them. You can purchase a fish tank background from the pet store, cut out a piece of colored poster board or a black garbage bag, or simply paint directly on the tank’s back panel. Because algae are less obvious against a dark background and fish and plants stand out better against it, I prefer deeper hues like black (rather than blue).

Because fish are very inexpensive pets, many people believe that aquariums and fish tank accessories will be similarly inexpensive. If you want to buy brand-new aquarium supplies, expect to pay at least $200.

How to Set up your Fish Tank?

You can start setting up your fish tank once you have purchased all the equipment you need

Before you begin adding water, be certain that the tank is clean. If you have a new tank, simply wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove any dust that has accumulated. Never clean your tank with soap or detergent and the residues can harm the fish.

Remove Aquarium from its Packaging

After carefully removing it from its container, your tank should be placed in a safe area. If you need to, make your point right away. If you can easily access the back of the tank, add your aquarium’s background. Before using your tank, make sure the light is turned on and plugged in. You could also want to clean the interior of the tank with a moist cloth that is free of any chemicals or soaps to make sure there is no dust.

Cleaning Substrates and Decorations

Rinse your chosen substrate and any ornaments you have purchased thoroughly in some hot water (without any chemicals or soaps). This will guarantee that they are free of paint and dust. To prevent damage to the tank bottom from the gravel hitting it too forcefully, add the gravel gently and carefully before placing the fish in the tank.

Adding Water

Use a saucer or basin to keep your gravel or sand from getting disturbed when you add water. Place the saucer where it will be most convenient to tip the water into it, and then slowly begin to pour the water in. To avoid any substrate cloudiness, you can also use a hose. You’ll need to add a de-chlorinator to the water after the tank is full. Pay attention to the directions on your bottle. The ratio is typically given to you in milli liter per gallon, for instance, 1 milliliter of de-chlorinator per 20 gallons.

Adding Water

Turn on Equipment and add in Treatments

Turn on all of your tank’s electrical equipment at this time (do NOT do this beforehand as this will damage your electrical equipment). You can turn off the light for the time being if you like. In general, you should only leave your light on for up to eight hours per day to avoid encouraging algae growth.

Read all of the guidelines on your treatment bottles to ensure you are adding the correct dosage to your tank. At this point, include all therapies. To cultivate beneficial bacteria, it is critical to use a water conditioner and a biofilter product.

Plants and Decorations

After you’ve configured all of the tank’s operational components, you can focus on making it look exactly like you imagined. You can go with a densely planted tank or a more natural-looking tank with large stones, driftwood, and simply a few plants. You might also create a theme based on a film.

Plants and Decorations

Whatever you do, stick to the design you made at the start of this procedure to assist with tank layout.

Fish Tank Cycle

Let your tank cycle and create a strong biological filter before adding any fish. It might take a month to finish this. To begin the cycle, add a small amount of fish food to the water. This will break down into ammonia and trigger the action of items that support bacteria.

The risk that your tank may have “new tank syndrome,” which is a dangerous accumulation of ammonia and nitrites, is decreased by allowing a healthy environment to grow.

Add some ammonia to your tank to start the process; it costs between $2 and $3 and is widely accessible in practically all fish retailers. Follow the directions on the bottle; some may advise increasing a big amount at first, while others may advise adding a specific dose each day.

Once a week, conduct tests on your tank to check the levels. You’ll notice an increase in ammonia and nitrite levels, followed by a decline. Your tank is fully cycled when they drop to zero (0 ppm).

Adding your Fish

The number of fish you can introduce depends on the size of your tank; you must increase them gradually over a few weeks (or months). When first starting off, only add one inch of fish per ten gallons of water.

Add Your Fish!

Acclimating your fish is the next phase. Fish should be moved from one tank to another with caution since they are sensitive to changes in their water. This is why acclimatization is required. It’s likely that the water they’re now in differs in salinity, pH, and temperature from the water in your tank.

I recommend quarantining your fish in a separate aquarium for a couple of weeks to observe them before moving them to the main fish tank. this will ensure that they are not showing signs of disease.

Keep Testing the Water

Due to the waste that fish produce, some ammonia may resurface when you add fish to your new tank. While the tank settles, keep a watch on the beneficial bacteria as they continue to consume ammonia. Maintaining the safety and health of your fish family can be accomplished by reacting to changes.

Some Tips for Setting up a New Fish Tank

Maintain Balance Before Adding Fish

It’s normal to be eager to stock your new aquarium with fish once you’ve finished setting it up. However, it’s crucial to proceed cautiously and with patience. Keep in mind that an aquarium is a living system, and it takes time to create the equilibrium that will ensure the well-being of its residents. Just a few fish should be introduced at first, and you should wait a week or two before introducing more so that the vital bacteria that filter the water have time to develop. Only add more fish if the ammonia and nitrite levels in your aquarium water are zero.

Your Fish Might Hide at First, Don’t Worry

Your first fish may hide a lot at first. That’s natural; don’t be worried. Most fish find it frightening to be captured in a net at the store, put in a bag, and then land in a new spot. Make sure the aquarium has enough ornaments to give them a sense of security. Fish hide because they fear there may be a predator nearby if they don’t see other fish swimming about. Do not be alarmed; they will emerge as you add additional fish and decorations.

Clean your Fish Tank Regularly

Though not immediately, regular cleaning of your fish tank will eventually be necessary. It’s best to let it a few weeks to get used to things and find their equilibrium. For the first month or so, avoid moving the gravel when changing the water because doing so could upset the good bacteria that are attempting to establish themselves. The same is true for your filter; if hang-on filter cartridges need to be gently rinsed, do so. Otherwise, try to avoid disturbing the filter material and wait a few weeks before changing it.

Clean your Fish Tank Regularly

 Decorate your Fish Tank

Decorating your aquarium makes your fish feel more at ease, and it’s also enjoyable! Some fish like open water to swim in, while others require protection to relax and display their best colors. Conduct research to determine what type of habitat your fish prefer, and then decorate your aquarium accordingly. The first fish to inhabit the aquarium will grab the nicest areas, so gradually add decorations with each subsequent fish purchase to give the newcomers their own space.

Stock your Fish Slowly

If you prematurely overstock your aquarium with fish, they can die. The easiest way to prevent “new tank syndrome” is by properly setting up your tank’s cycle. This calls for getting a colony of bacteria growing in your filter before you add fish so that the bacteria will be ready to absorb the waste as soon as the fish are added.

This fishless cycling can be done by introducing maturation agents to the water, which introduce live bacteria and their food and make the water safe. If you introduce too many fish too soon, the bacteria won’t have time to grow, and the water will be contaminated with ammonia and nitrite.

Don’t Overfeed

One meal a day is normally sufficient if you are keeping an eye on your water quality or filling a fresh tank. You shouldn’t increase feeding until your tank has been operating without issues for a few months, and even then, feed sparingly and frequently.

Joining a Fish Club

Have you ever thought of joining the neighborhood fish club? Even if some clubs might seem a little dated, they all have knowledgeable fish keepers in common. A reputable club will have years of collective expertise in fishkeeping. They are also a great place to find fish that have been raised at home and unusual species.

If you specialize in that type of fish, you might join a national club that only serves it. Choose from cichlids, goldfish, catfish, livebearers, or killifish, to name a few, and you’ll find a group of passionate and affable fish lovers.

Be Prepared for Anything and Everything

If you maintain fish at home, you must be ready for everything. A net is definitely necessary because there are a variety of situations where you might need to transport fish.

If you keep tropical fish, it’s a good idea to have a backup heater, and if you frequently have power outages, think about getting a battery-operated air pump to give your fish their daily dose of oxygen.

When the aquatic stores are closed in the evening, we frequently visit our fish then. In case you come across a sick fish, make sure you have adequate frozen food and meds. To carry fish to and from stores, spare fish bags are a good idea, and polystyrene transport boxes are excellent, even for the short-term storage of fish.

Invest in Quality Equipment

Since fishkeeping is a long-term project, you need to invest money in the right tools. It would be devastating if filters or heaters failed, therefore they must be sturdy and dependable. Pay attention to PFK and other newbies’ advice and buy reputable brands. A product may ultimately turn out to be a false economy if it struggles to fulfill its original purpose or is challenging to utilize.

Invest in Quality Equipment

Maintaining your Equipment

The longevity of your equipment may be shortened by debris and algae. Maintain filters, including the impellers, shafts, inlets, and outlets, with regular cleaning. Sponges will last longer if you wash them frequently in tank water because they shouldn’t ever become so clogged that they collapse and lose their shape.

For optimal light penetration, keep light tubes, reflectors, and cover glasses clean.

Test Water Regularly

Bad water conditions are to blame for a great number of health issues. Test the water if your fish start to act sick. Even tiny underlying amounts of ammonia or nitrite can make your fish sick and stressed, so anything above a value of “0” is unacceptable.

To see if the pH has deviated from the norm, check it. Ammonia can become more hazardous as the pH rises, and it can become dangerously acidic as the pH falls. Your fish may not respond to medication if you treat them but continue to subject them to unfavorable conditions.

If your fish get sick, It’s important to use medications properly; we shouldn’t take any chances. Most are made of potentially carcinogenic substances that, whenever possible, should not come into contact with our skin. If you’re using malachite green or raw formaldehyde, wear goggles and a mask in addition to latex gloves to protect your hands.

The Bottom Line on How to Set up a Fish Tank?

I’m hoping you feel secure enough to put up your first fish tank at this point. Despite the fact that it can appear like there are many of them, none of them should take very long. In case you are pressed for time, spread them out over a few days or a week.

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