Set Up an Aquarium

How do I setup an aquarium for the first time? What equipment will I need?

Equipment you will need:


Aquarium gravel (1 to 2 lbs per gallon for aquariums up to 29 gal. over 29 gal 2 to 5 lbs)

Aquarium filter(s), undergravel and or outside filters

Replacement filter media

Air pump (sized to your aquarium)



Other decorations (such as artificial or real plants, rocks, decorative bubblers, etc.)

Aquarium water test kits to test water and monitor the aquarium nitrogen cycle (Optional)

Fish food

Aquarium vacuum (Optional but recommended)

Fish net (sized to the aquarium) (recommended a small and large net)

Aquarium Glass Scrubber

2 to 5-gallon bucket (dedicated for aquarium use only)

Pasta strainer (for cleaning the gravel)

A New Aquarium setup

This article will only point out a few things that are important to keep in mind when you are about to set up a new aquarium. For more details, we recommend that you do some research from the Internet or check with our staff for available books. The staff members can also answer your questions and cover the basics. They can also advise you and decorating your tank depending what species of fish you want to keep in your aquarium. By spending some time researching and reading up on the subject you can save yourself a lot of problems (and money!) in the long run. Many new aquarists lose interest in the hobby when all the fish in their newly set up aquarium suddenly develops problems and start losing fish. These losses can be prevented. Another point to keep in mind, is the larger the aquarium the easier it is to maintain. Larger aquariums have more tolerance when a problem starts up.

Location and surface

If you plan on using electrical equipment, e.g. air stones, lights, filters, heaters etc. in your aquarium it must naturally be placed where you have access to electricity. Placing an aquarium where it will be exposed to sunlight is not a good idea since this will promote excessive algae growth. It is also important to keep in mind that a filled aquarium is really heavy and normal furniture may be not be strong enough to keep it up. An average a 10 gallon aquarium may weigh up to 70 lbs depending on gravel, filters, lights covers and other decorations. Getting an aquarium stand or special aquarium furniture is recommended for mid-sized aquariums and bigger. (Special Note: a gallon of freshwater weighs about 8.35 lbs US)


Everything that will go into your aquarium should be thoroughly washed to prevent disease and pollution from entering your aquarium. Use warm to hot water and light bleach solution rather than detergents, and meticulously rinse away all traces of bleach afterwards. Also if your water comes from a municipal source it too contains slight amounts of chlorine. We recommend the use of a de-chlorination product with any water changes and setups. Gravel must be rinsed well unless you want the water to get cloudy from debris contained in the gravel. Use a paste strainer to wash the gravel under running water. Living things such as plants can be dipped in saltwater to kill of external parasites and bacteria.

Water treatment

If you use chlorinated tap water you must add a de-chlorinator before you use it for your aquarium since chlorine and chloramines damage the gills of your fish and kills of beneficial bacteria. You can purchase a de-chlorinator intended for aquarium use in your local fish store. A less expensive way of treating the water is to mix a lot of air into it when you pour it into a bucket (e.g. by tilting the bucket) and then leave it to rest for 24 to 48 hours. If possible introduce aeration to accelerate the de-chlorination of the water.

Filling the aquarium

Do not begin filling your aquarium anywhere else than in its intended place because it will become really heavy, a gallon of freshwater weighs about 8.35 lbs US. Also the possibility of causing a leak is greatly increased due to stress on the joints. Although leaks in new aquariums are uncommon, it is a good idea to fill the tank with water to check before decorating. If you are setting up an undergravel filter place it in the bottom of the tank and set the tubes in place then add the gravel. When you have added the gravel, place a dish or similar item on top of the gravel and pour the water onto the dish instead of directly onto the gravel. This will divert the water and stir up less debris. Fill the aquarium half way up, place any plants and decorations and then proceed to fill it all the way up. (A brief note, not all garden rocks or decorations can be used in an aquarium. They may leach unwanted chemicals or minerals into the water causing toxic conditions to occur and harm or kill your fish. If it is not intended for use in an aquarium don't use it unless you test it.)


Connect all your equipment and leave them running for 24 hours. This will give you time to make sure that everything works as it should. Check your water temperature and adjust the heater so it's between 72 and 80 degrees. When using an undergravel filter system it will take up to a week to establish the biological filtration bed. Outside filters usually will start working with mechanical filtration immediately.


Cycling is the process where you cultivate large amounts of beneficial bacteria in the aquarium. These bacteria will help you keep the water quality up by converting dangerous fish waste into a less dangerous substance and maintaining an aquarium without these helpful bacteria is really difficult. Many beginner aquarists are not aware of the necessity of cycling and this is one of the main reasons behind sudden fish death in newly set up aquariums. Normally when you first start up an aquarium using new gravel and filters it's a good idea to sprinkle some flakes of food in and wait 24 to 72 hours or longer before adding fish for the first time. However, in most cases you can wait 24 hours and then put in a few fish. It's important to go slow. A few fish at a time will allow for the aquarium to cycle properly. Also do not feed your fish immediately. They probably not eat until they start feeling comfortable in their new home. Feeding your fish small portions of foods two or three times a day and what they can eat in five minutes is better than one large feeding. Any uneaten food adds to the strain of cycling the aquarium.

Acclimating your new fishes

Start by introducing a small number of fish and then gradually introduce more and more fish over the course of several weeks. This will prevent the water quality in your aquarium to drop sharply. When you arrive home with a bag of fish, leave the bag floating in the aquarium to prevent sharp changes in temperature. After 15 to 20 minutes, open the bag and pour some aquarium water into it. After an additional 15 minutes, open the bag again and add some more water. This process will give the fish a chance to gradually grow accustomed to the water chemistry in your aquarium. Wait for 15 more minutes before you use a net to catch the fish and let it into the aquarium. Discard the bag with the pet shop water.

Maintaining your aquarium

Now that you have the aquarium setup and running it is important that you start and keep a regular schedule of water changes. Removing a percentage of volume of water does several things. First, it takes care of evaporation loss. As water evaporates it leaves behind minerals and salts that are present in all water. Second, biological materials such as, fish waste, leftover food, bacteria and other biological material accumulate and will eventually contaminate the water to the point where it will not support life are removed . Siphoning out approximately 10 to 20% of the water once a week or 25% every 3 to 4 weeks with gravel cleaning, refreshes the tank and water. Fresh clean water (if chlorine is used in your water, make sure to age the water for 24 hours or use a de-chlorination chemical.) The replacement water will help reduce the mineral and salts and biological materials in your tank. It will also help insure that your fish have a good environment to grow. Replacement water should be at the same temperature as the aquarium water. Schedule to clean any outside filtration system once every two to four weeks as required.

Also get into the habit of checking the fish, temperature and electrical equipment daily.

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Animal Island Pets
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