This is an 11 step guide to setting up a freshwater aquarium in your home.
Equipment you will need:
- Aquarium gravel
- Aquarium filter
- Replacement filter media
- Other decorations (such as plants)
- Chemical test kits
- Fish food
- Aquarium vacuum
- Fish net
- Glass Scrubber
- 5-gallon bucket
- Pasta strainer
1 – Realize the responsibility involved.
A freshwater tropical fish tank is just like having a dog or a cat when it comes to the amount of effort on your part. In order to have a successful 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 tropical fish at least once a day. If you are up to the challenge, please proceed!
2 – Decide on an aquarium size.
It’s a good idea to have in mind what kind of tropical fish you want to keep before you purchase an aquarium. Some tropical fish only grow to be an inch or two, whereas other types of tropical fish can grow 12 or 13 inches in length! Knowing what kind of tropical fish you want will help you decide the size of the tank they will need. If this is your first time with an aquarium, I would recommend going with a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium for now.
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. You will want to place your aquarium on a stand that will be able to hold its total weight. A good rule of thumb for determining the total weight of a full aquarium is 10 pounds per gallon of water. For example, a 55-gallon tank will weigh approximately 550 pounds when filled with water!
4 – Buy your freshwater tropical fish tank and equipment.
Now is the time to decide on the type of filtration 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.
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.
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 bathtub. 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.
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. Doh!
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. Hook up your filter and any other equipment you have, then top off the freshwater tropical fish tank water to just under the hood lip. Place your hood and 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. Plug all of the equipment into a power strip and then “turn on” the aquarium.
9 – Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more.
I know, you want to add some tropical 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. If you must use fish to cycle, try to get a hardier species like the zebra danio or cherry barb.
10 – Add tropical fish.
Only add one or two fish at a time. Adding a couple tropical 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 tropical fish. Stressed tropical fish often leads to dead tropical fish! Don’t feed your tropical 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.
11 – Get ready for regular maintenance.
Be prepared to spend some time once every week or two to clean your freshwater tropical fish tank. Performing regular water changes will reduce the nitrate levels and keep your tropical fish happy and healthy.