In recent years more and more people have started keeping fish in their home aquariums. Actually, taking care of little colorful fishes, watching them swim happily in a beautifully set up fish tank soothes you and helps you feel more balanced mentally. By the way, scientists have proved that fishkeeping improves one’s mental state and helps to overcome depression. And with so many aquarium shapes and sizes, as well as an uncountable number of fishes in various colors and looks available in the market, setting up a perfect aquarium to meet all your expectations is more than simply possible. If you are thinking of setting up a fish tank for the first time, you will find this article very helpful. Here we are going to reveal how to set up a fish tank professionally so that your new fish can thrive in it. And if the assistant in your local fish store has recommended obtaining lovely fishes for your new aquarium, don’t hurry to. You need to carry out a full cycle before you add any fish in the tank, or they will simply die in a short time.

Table of Contents:

Step 1: Planning the Aquarium
Step 2: Preparing It
Step 3: Adding the Water and Substrate
Step 4: Installing the Equipment
Step 5: Adding Decorations
Step 6: Cycling the Tank
Step 7: Adding the Fish

Step 1: Planning the Aquarium

Don’t follow the example of many fish keepers and miss out on the planning of your future fish tank. Particularly what tank you will eventually have mostly depends on the fish species you are going to keep. Decide whether you will have a small species only tank, a larger community one, or a breeding aquarium. Once you have a clear image what fish and invertebrates you are going to thrive, you will realize a tank of what size and shape you need, whether you will have live plants or artificial ones for decoration, what equipment will work better for you, what water conditions you will need to create, etc.
Additionally, particularly during this first step, you must plan out where you want the decorations and plants to be placed.

Step 2: Preparing It

Now, when you picture clearly how your future fish tank will look like, go and purchase the necessary equipment. Before you set up your aquarium, make certain it’s clean. If you have got a new tank, cleaning it with a damp cloth will be quite enough. Remember to never use any household chemicals or buckets you have cleaned with detergent.

Everything is a bit different with used tanks. Let’s see what you can do to have a used aquarium properly cleaned.

Cleaning a Used Aquarium

A previously used aquarium requires more attention than a new one. After you have removed all the debris from it, clean it throughout with a kitchen roll and vinegar. In case the tank is acrylic, be cautious not to scratch it. You’d better use a soft cloth in such a case.

After cleaning the aquarium check for any leakage. Fill it with water with several inches and leave for an hour or so. Then run your finger around the bottom edge to check if it’s dry. If you find out it leaks, reseal it with an aquarium sealant.

Positing the Aquarium

You can’t position your fish tank wherever you like. It’s important to place it near a power supply and away from the sun’s direct rays.

Additionally, make certain the stand you are going to place the tank on is durable and can stand a really heavy tank. Remember that when filled with water, an aquarium becomes very weighty.

So, position your aquarium where it is sure to remain and check whether it’s level or not. Do this with a spirit-level.

Step 3: Adding the Water and Substrate

The next step is filling the tank with water and substrate. What substrate you must use depends on the fish you are going to keep. For instance, if you want to keep catfish, the sandy substrate will be an ideal variant. Generally, it’s recommended to add 1lb of substrate for every gallon of water in the tank. However, if you would like it to be thicker, add more substrate.

Adding substrate

Wash the Substrate

As a rule, the substrate comes prewashed. However, if you don’t want it to make the water cloudy with dust, you’d better wash it. Simply put a small amount of substrate in a bucket and pour cold water in it. Then just swirl it and rinse until the water becomes clear.

Powder-coated gravels and some other substrate types aren’t easy to wash. All that you can do is remove as much dust as possible with less vigorous hand movements.

Once cleaned, add the substrate into the tank. It isn’t necessary to pour the substrate evenly. You can create slopes for aesthetic purposes.

Adding water

Add the Water

Is your aquarium a small one (around 20 gallons)? Is yes, then skip this step and return to it only having ready the fourth and fifth steps.

Whether your tank is a freshwater or saltwater one determines how you should add water into it.

Filling Tanks with Freshwater

Place a bowl or a saucer on the bottom of the tank and then pour water to it slowly. This way you will prevent the gravel from getting disturbed. After filling the tank with enough water, add a de-chlorinator. Strictly follow the label on the bottle to use the exact amount of the liquid necessary for your tank’s size.

Filling Tanks with Saltwater

If you want to set a saltwater fish tank, obtain RO water or use special treatments to fill the tank with water that’s been through reverse osmosis. Adhering to the instructions you will find on the packet, use the salt mix to prepare the saltwater. Adding the water into the tank, do exactly as we have described in the point above.

Step 4: Installing the Equipment

Installling the filter

After you have filled your aquarium with water and substrate, it’s time to set up a fish tank filter. If it’s an internal model, things will be much easier than with an external one. Just assemble all the parts, fasten the media on the back of the aquarium, and make certain the wire reaches the power supply.

External filters are placed within the stand, below the aquarium. A filter of this type carries water out of the tank into the media below and then back to the tank. Installing such type of a filter, be cautious not to mix the inlet and outlet tubes and make certain they have no bends.

An underwater gravel filter must be installed before filling the tank with water. If you have obtained such a filter, install it and only then pass to the third step.

After the filter is successfully installed, place the heater. The latter must be fixed on one side of the tank, while the thermometer must be fixed on the opposite one.

In case you have got other equipment such as stones and lights, air pumps, etc., install them in this phase. Saltwater aquarium keepers must also think about installing a protein skimmer.

Step 5: Adding Decorations

Once all the operational parts of your aquarium have been set up, pass to decorating it with plants, large stones, driftwood, artificial little caves, etc. Here you need to adhere to the initial plan you have schemed. When placing any new item, rinse it at first to remove the dust.

If you have made up your mind to decorate your fish tank with live plants, carry out a little survey to find out in what positions each type of plant should be installed. For instance, the popular aquarium plant Anacharis is better to be placed on the back, while Java Fern looks great when attached to driftwood.

Step 6: Cycling the Tank

Now, when your aquarium looks amazing, you might be impatient to add the fish. However, don’t hurry with this but let your tank cycle. What does the Nitrogen Cycle mean? It means letting the tank build beneficial bacteria so crucial for the health of the fish. This will happen in the following way: the filter grows a culture of bacteria, then it converts ammonia to nitrites. After this, the nitrites will convert to nitrates due to the bacteria cultured. And since the nitrites and ammonia are toxic, it’s important to let the bacteria develop. However, nitrates are toxic for fish, too. But if you carry out frequent water changes, you will reduce the level of nitrates in the tank.

Now let’s see how you can cycle both freshwater and saltwater fish tanks:

Freshwater Cycling

To cycle a freshwater aquarium, apply some ammonia. How much depends on the manufacturer. Just follow the instructions on the bottle. After this, make tests regularly to see the levels of nitrites and ammonia drop to zero (0ppm). Once done, your tank will be ready to welcome fish!

Nevertheless, if you can’t wait, here are several tips to speed up the cycling process:

  • Increase the temperature in the tank;
  • Add a filter from an established aquarium;
  • Raise the oxygen level with an air pump.

Saltwater Cycling

Cycling a saltwater aquarium is not difficult. All that you need is a live rock. The latter is where beneficial bacteria build up easily. For this, pick up light rocks with many tiny crannies where bacteria can grow easily. If you buy this stone, deliver it to your tank as quickly as possible not to let the already built bacteria die.

Anyway, you can use the same liquid ammonia as in the case with the freshwater aquarium to hasten the cycling.

Generally, it takes around two months to have the whole cycling carried out. Remember to change 50% of the tank water once the nitrite and ammonia levels are at 0ppm.

Step 7: Adding the Fish

Adding fish

The most pleasant and expected step – adding the fish to your aquarium. After you have invested so much money and time on setting up your fish tank, you want it to look perfect with many fishes in it. However, you shouldn’t hurry with this, either. Add fish slowly over several weeks or even months. Surely, the number of fishes you can add to your tank depends on the size of the latter. However, one inch of fish for every 10 gallons is an optimal criterion. Let your fish acclimatize in the new tank since everything here is different (pH, temperature, salinity, etc.) from what they had in the tank of the store. For this, adhere to the following points:

  • Switch off the light in the tank and dim the room;
  • Float the bag with the new fish into the tank for about twenty minutes so that they adjust to the temperature change;
  • Cut the bag open and roll it down so that the bag floats;
  • Add half a cup of water from the tank into the bag;
  • Fill the bag with aquarium water slowly;
  • Pick up the fish with a net to add them into the tank;
  • Watch the new fish settle well in the new environment.


Enjoying a beautifully set aquarium

After such a detailed review, you must have a precise image of how you can set up an aquarium. The actual setup won’t take long. Your patience will be tested in the cycling process when you will be obliged to linger with your fish.

So, to appear as a responsible fishkeeper, plan out what you anticipate to get, place the aquarium in a permanent place, see if all the equipment is fixed properly, cycle the tank water, acclimatize the new fish and enjoy a grandiose fish tank!

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