A beginners guide to setting up an aquarium

Having a fish tank in your home has proven effects in reducing stress and improving mental health. So it is no surprise that more and more people are choosing to set up an aquarium in their own home. When it comes to fish keeping there are such a range of species, colours and sizes available so there is something suitable for every experience level, home and space. But if you are thinking about setting up an aquarium there a few things you need to know to ensure it is a smooth and stress free process for both you and your future pet.

Choose A Fish Tank

When choosing a fish tank it is important to do a bit of planning and research into what species of fish you want to keep inside it. This is so you select a tank that is most suitable for the needs of your fish. As different species of fish need different amount of room and also produce different amounts of waste. But in general the larger the fish, the more waste it produces and the larger your tank will need to be. A good way to think about it is to buy a as large a tank as you can reasonably fit and afford. Keeping a bigger tank has a larger water volume which dilutes toxins better, making it more forgiving of mistakes.

Picking A Substrate Or Gravel

Your substrate or gravel is an important part of setting up an aquarium fish tank. It can certainly add to the look and feel of the tank set up but it also gives beneficial bacteria a place to live, and it provides a venue for your live plants to grow in. Gravel is probably the most popular substrate option for many fish keepers. The variation in shapes, sizes and colours make it suitable for a variety of setups. You can also use sand which is easier to maintain since unlike gravel, dirt particles will not seep through into the sand; it will stay on top, making it easier to clean.

Making The Water Safe

All tap water must be dechlorinated before it can be added into your fish tank. Choose a dechlorinator to remove chlorine, phosphates and nitrates to make the water safe for your fish. If you don’t, your fish will experience damaged and burned gills and this could even be fatal.

Aquarium Filtration System

An aquarium filter is an absolute essential. It is the heart of your tank, not only keeping your water clean (mechanical filtration) but also neutralises the harmful chemicals your fish produce like ammonia (biological filtration). Your filter must stay on permanently for it to work. Before adding fish to any aquarium the filter needs to be ‘cycled’. Once cycled this will prevent harmful chemicals from killing your fish and clean dirt, waste, remove harmful bacteria and maintain essential water flow in your tank. Find out more about how to cycle your aquarium below.

Fish Food

A quality fish food will result in healthy and brightly coloured fish. Most fish will be more than happy to nibble on high-quality flake food with goldfish having their own special flakes. A quality food like the Tetra Colour Tropical Granules is suitable for a range of community tropical fish. But If you are planning to keep bottom feeding fish such as catfish you will need to get sinking pellets or algae wafers as they sink quickly to the bottom of the tank.

Water Test Kit

Testing of your overall water quality is very important and often overlooked. Your aquarium water may visually appear to be healthy and clean, but this may not actually be the case. Testing your water is simple and is the key to long term success whether you are going to purchase test kits and do it yourself, or bring a water sample to the pet store to be tested. You will need to use it regularly to check for any chemical imbalance that could affect the health of your fish.


A simple heater can be used to accommodate any fish, as they usually range from 18-34 degrees. Aquarium heaters are automatic and don’t need any maintenance. Submersible heaters are extremely easy to use! The only thing you need to do with your heater is to set the initial temperature you want the tank water to be. These heaters will turn themselves on/off when they need to, hence no manual adjustment needed. A heater is essential if you want to keep tropical fish but you won’t need it if your pet fish of choice is a cold-water fish such as a goldfish.

Aquarium Lighting

Lighting brings out the natural colours of your fish and is essential for live plant growth. LED Lights are a popular choice as they are extremely energy efficient. Most of the beginner’s fish tanks have the light integrated inside the lid, which makes them a fantastic option if you don’t want the hassle of choosing the right light.

Add Plants And Decorations

Once the aquarium is half full, you can add plants (live or artificial) and/or decorative rocks or ornaments. Before adding any of these items, be sure to rinse them thoroughly. There is a range of fish safe tank decorations available for purchase. Caves like the Aqua One Log Ornament are great decorations to add the tank, as these can also provide homes. Certain species of fish like catfish will actually claim these homes for themselves.

When placing plants, it’s a good idea to locate larger ones to the rear of the tank, smaller ones toward the front. This ensures an open swimming area for your fish. Plants are functional decorations; it is difficult to make a mechanical filter control a plankton bloom, but live plants make it easy. For some fish, plants actually help them stay healthy. However, live plants get gobbled up quickly by some types of hobby fish such as goldfish. Aside from plants, you can add driftwood or other decorations specifically designed for freshwater aquariums.

Cycle Your Tank

One of the most important things to understand about an aquarium is the nitrogen cycle. In order for your fish to stay healthy your aquarium must have a good nitrogen cycle. This process may take several weeks or months to complete. The nitrogen cycle is a process that breaks toxic nitrogen waste products in an aquarium into less harmful components. For this cycle to develop, beneficial bacteria that feed on these waste products need to grow in the aquariums filter system. Introducing fish to an aquarium without a healthy nitrogen cycle in place is a bad idea. As buildup of waste chemicals can put major stress on the fish, even potentially killing them. The best way to cycle your tank is to add a very small amount of fish food to the water each day, which releases ammonia into the tank as it decomposes.

Fish are known to have a tranquil, calming effect on anyone who watches them glide serenely through the water. This is why an aquarium makes such a great addition to the home. Plus generally speaking, fish are easier and less expensive to feed and care for than other pets. But they do require a bit of research for first time owners in order to set up a successful aquarium.

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