This freshwater aquarium setup article explains how to set up a basic freshwater fish tank.  We'll start with a short list of the equipment you'll need and then give you a step by step guide on setting up your first fish tank.

Equipment you will need:

  • Aquarium
  • Aquarium gravel
  • Aquarium Filter
  • Other decorations (such as fake or real plants)
  • Aquarium test kits to test water parameters for PH and others
  • Fish food
  • Gravel Cleaner
  • Fish net
  • Aquarium Magnet Cleaner

STEP 1: Realize the responsibility involved

Learning how to set up a fish tank is not all that difficult, but there are some steps you should follow.  First, you must realize a few things about an aquarium setup.  A 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 freshwater 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.  Setting up and running a fish tank does cost money.  There are recurring expenses such as replacing filter pads, buying food, etc.  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.  Some fish only grow to be an inch or two, whereas other types of tropical fish can grow 20 to 30 centimetres or more in length!  Knowing what kind of fish you want will help you decide the size of the tank they will need.  If this is your first time with an aquarium, it may be a good idea to start with a 40 to 100 litre aquarium setup for now, and stock it with some smaller and hardier species.  The larger the water water volume, the more stable water conditions will be.

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.  Sunlight that enters the room through an unshaded window could affect the temperature of your tank.  This could also lead to green algae problems for your tank down the road.

You will want to place your aquarium on a stand that will be able to hold its total weight.  You also want to be sure that the floor is able to support the total weight of the aquarium and stand.  A good rule of thumb for determining the total weight of a full aquarium is 1kg to 1 liter of water.  For example, a 100 litre tank will weigh approximately 100kg.

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.  A good rule of thumb for the amount of gravel that you will need is 1kg to 5 litres 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. Make sure you have foam between your aquarium and stand.  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 litre bucket for transport to the aquarium.  After adding the gravel you can place your plants and decorations.

STEP 7: Adding water conditioners

We recommend some tropical/cold GH conditional saltsKH powder and some Aqua Plus as the basic water conditioning for your new aquarium.  These should be added initially for the total volume of your tank that only added at the equivalent amount of water replaced when doing water changes.

STEP 8: 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.  To remove the chlorine and chloramine, use something like Aqua Plus 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 9: Set up equipment

Hook up your filter and any other equipment you have, then top off the aquarium water to just under the tank bracing lip.  Place your hood and tank light on the aquarium and then check any power cords to be sure that they are free of water.

STEP 10: Adding fish

Only add a few first initially and then give your tank 3-4 weeks to cycle.  After this period adding a few 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.

STEP 11: Get ready for regular maintenance

Be prepared to spend some time once every week or two to clean your tank.  It depends on the size and stock levels of your tank but 25% water change every 2 weeks is a good general guide.  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 set-up and running!  

Click below for Aquarium Filtration guide

Aquarium Fish Tank Filtration

Have fun, take care of and enjoy your fish!

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