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Fish Aquarium Setup


Fish Aquarium Setup


Get your tank fish-ready by following these steps: 

  1. Determine the size and location of your aquarium. Be sure it's near a power source, but out of direct sunlight and drafts.
  2. Place your rinsed-out tank on an aquarium stand designed to support the weight of a filled aquarium [one gallon (4 L) of water weighs about eight lbs. (3.6 kg)] If using an under gravel filter, place it in the bottom of the tank now.
  3. Pour rinsed gravel into tank. Use 1.5 lbs. (.7 kg) of gravel for every gallon (4 L) of tank to make a 2"-3" (5-8 cm) layer on the bottom.
  4. Fill 1/ 3 of the tank with water treated with dechlorinator.
  5. Place decorations, thermometer and plants in desired locations. If necessary, connect air pump and air-line tubing to appropriate attachments.
  6. Fill remaining 2/3 of tank with dechlorinated water.
  7. Place heater where water flow from the filter will mix the heated water throughout the aquarium.
  8. Follow manufacturer's instructions to set up filtration (a filter should be able to process all of the water in the aquarium 5-10 times per hour).
  9. Place hood/light on tank and plug in (light should be on for 8-12 hours a day).
  10. Run filter for 24-48 hours and adjust the heater to the appropriate temperature for the species of fish you will be adding.
  11. For the next 24-48 hours, watch for tank cloudiness. If it does appear cloudy, use a tank-clarifying product.

Adding Fish 

After you have properly set up your tank, follow these steps:

1. Test the water's pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. If levels are elevated, perform a partial water change.

2. Determin how many fish your tank can handle.  Keep in mind the following:

  • One gallon of water for every one inch of full-grown tropical fish
  • Two gallons of water for every one inch of full-grown goldfish
  • Remember to always account for the adult length of fish to allow for growth

3. Only add 2-3 fish, but don't forget to:

  • Take fish home immediately after purchasing
  • Float the bag of fish for in the tank 15 minutes to allow water temperatures to equalize
  • Remove the bag and slowly pour the fish into a net over a bucket (this is to prevent adding the water in the bag to the aquarium)
  • Carefully add the fish to their new home

4. Feed the fish two hours after they have acclimated. It is very important not to over-feed your fish, as this is one of the most common mistakes. Feed twice daily and only as much as can be consumed in five minutes.

5. Retest the pH, ammonia, nitrite levels 48 hours after adding your fish.  Test for each of these at least every other day for the first four weeks after setting up your aquarium.

6. Over the next few days, watch the tank for cloudiness.  If it becomes cloudy, use a tank-clarifying product.

7. Six days after the tank setup, do a 10% water change and test the water quality levels.


Maintaining a healthy environment for your fish is an ongoing commitment. You can keep your aquarium in great shape with minimal effort by following this schedule:


  • Feed fish twice daily (only as much as can be consumed in five minutes)
  • Check water temperature
  • Check general health of fish


  • Remove 10% of the water and replace with dechlorinated water
  • Test for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate
  • Scrub for algae (if necessary)


  • Perform a 25% water change/gravel vacuum and replace with dechlorinated water
  • Perform filter maintenance (i.e., replace filter cartridge, replace carbon, rinse pre-filter, etc.)
  • Scrub tank for algae
  • Remove plastic plants/decorations and clean (if necessary)
  • Replace air stone if used (allows for more efficient operation and makes the air pump last longer)
  • Prune live plants (if necessary)

Always wash your hands before and after handling fish or cleaning the aquarium.


Aquarium Cycling 

Your aquarium is a delicately balanced ecosystem dependent on the nitrogen cycle. By breaking down the unhealthy elements within the water, this cycle helps generate the "good" bacteria your aquarium needs. Critical to the health and survival of your fish, this cycle is a vital part of every aquarium. The first cycle can take 4-6 weeks to complete. Here's how you can get the cycle started:

  1. Start slowly and let the tank run at least a day before adding any fish.
  2. Add a few hardy fish such as danios, gouramis, or livebearers that can withstand the presence of ammonia and nitrites. Never add more than three fish to your aquarium per week.
  3. Seed the aquarium with bacteria by purchasing a cycling aid product.
  4. Do not overcrowd your tank. This is sure to lead to toxic ammonia levels.
  5. Do not overfeed. This is the most common cause of fish loss.
  6. Frequently test levels of pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Do a partial water change if the levels are elevated.
  7. Be sure water is at the right temperature for your fish.


Water Test Log

When preparing your aquarium, it's important to closely monitor water quality. The chart below will help you gauge where your levels should be as well as understand the results.

pH Level -- NORMAL RANGE: 6.5-8.2
This is the measure of the activity (power) of the hydrogen ions in the water. The stability of the pH is related to water alkalinity and hardness. Rapid changes in pH are detrimental to fish.

Chlorine and Chloramine -- NORMAL RESULTS: 0.0 mg/L
These are added to city water supplies to make the water supply safe for human consumption. Be certain to always use a dechlorinator when adding water to an aquarium because any amount of chlorine is toxic to fish.

Ammonia -- NORMAL RESULTS: 0.0-0.25 mg/L
Aquariums with properly operating filtration systems should have no ammonia present (after they have been cycled). In new aquariums, Ammonia Removers can be used to lower ammonia levels, along with partial water changes.

Nitrite -- NORMAL RESULTS: 0.0-0.5 mg/L
Nitrite reduces the ability of the fish's blood to carry oxygen. You can remove excess nitrite from an aquarium by performing a partial water change. Adding salt to the water at 0.1-0.3% (1-3 teaspoons of aquarium salt per gallon of water) also reduces nitrite toxicity.

Nitrate -- NORMAL RANGE: 0-40 mg/L
If nitrate levels exceed 40 mg/L, water changes can be used to lower the concentration. High levels of nitrate can also cause increased algae growth.

Hardness -- NORMAL RANGE: 100-250 mg/L
Water with high hardness usually has a high pH. Softening the water will lower the pH. Most fish will adapt to moderate hardness levels.

Alkalinity -- NORMAL RANGE: 120-300 mg/L
With low alkalinity water, your aquarium may experience sudden and deadly pH shifts. Increase the alkalinity of the water to stabilize the pH.

Temperature -- NORMAL RANGE: 74-82° F (23-28° C)
Use an aquarium heater to maintain stable water temperatures. Rapid temperature changes are harmful to tropical fish


This Care Guide contains general information and helpful tips for the proper care of your pet, but is not comprehensive