How To Set Up an Aquarium The Right way


Once you’ve bought your new aquarium it’s perfectly normal to be excited and in a real hurry to get everything going so that you can have some fish and a cool new piece in your house. But the initial setup is the most important thing to get right.

Maintaining an aquarium isn’t all that hard anymore and they are actually pretty low maintenance. But if you skip steps or are in too much of a hurry with the setup, it can cause serious problems down the line.

Every aquarium is different to some extent, but the basic critical steps are the same. If the provider of your aquarium kit differs in some way on the step I outline here, always go with your manufacturer, since their gear may have special features or concessions.

Rinse and Repeat

One of the first things you should do is also the first thing people forget to do. You need to thoroughly rinse the stuff you are going to put into your aquarium. That includes the gravel, rocks, and ornaments that you so carefully picked out. Although aquarium-safe products are sealed to protect your fish from toxins, they may have picked up all kinds of nasty stuff on the shelf or during shipping and handling. Best to give them a clean.

The gravel needs to be rinsed until it no longer clouds the water you are using to rinse it. If you just put it in your tank, the water will be completely murky and that dust goes straight into your new filtration system, not to mention your fish’s gills.

NEVER use any cleaning product such as soap or detergent. You’ll have a tank full of sick or dead fish in no time. Not fun for anyone.

Now is the time to put your gravel and other decorations into the tank, arranging as you want it. Remember, create spots for fish to hide and to leave spots for real plants if you plan on creating a planted tank.

The Flood

After you have done all the needed cleaning, you can finally put some water into your aquarium. We don’t want to fill it up all the way though. Fill it about a third of the way so that all the substrate is covered.

To stop the newly-placed gravel from being spilled out of the way you can pour the water over the back of you hand, a plate, or any other object that can diffuse the flow.

Just use clean, room-temperature water. The bucket or container that you use must be thoroughly rinsed and preferably must never have have contained cleaning chemicals or other potentially poisonous substances. I usually recommend that you buy a bucket specifically for your aquarium and only use it for that purpose.

This is a good time to add your water dechlorinating substance that will neutralize chlorine and bind heavy metals in tap water that may be bad for your fish. All tap water must be treated this way before being put into the tank.

The Forest for the Trees


Whether you have fake or real plants, this is the time to plant or place them, given that you left room for them before. At a third full, there should be enough water to support the plants.

Keep in mind that your fish will like to swim through the plants or hide under leaves, so place them accordingly.

Now you can fill your tank up until an air gap between the cover and water surface is all that’s left.

Filter Feeders

Now you should set up your filter. There are many different filter configurations, so it’s best to follow the manual. Some filters are plug and play, others need some assembly and insertion of filter media.

If your tank is going to need a heater, add it now as well. Before you put it inside, set it to the desired maximum temperature, based on the fish you plan on putting in your aquarium.

Soul Cycle

So now we have a tank full of water, heat, and filtration. All the aquascaping has been done. All we need now is fish, right?

Not quite, the most important part of your aquarium ecosystem are the various colonies of bacteria which break down harmful waste from the fish into harmless chemicals. These bacteria need to be in the water or the fish will soon get sick and die.

In the past you would start a tank with a few hardy species of fish. Their waste would kickstart the bacterial growth and they would then tough out the water chemistry changes until it stabilized. At that point you could then fill up the stock to the tank’s recommended capacity.

These days you can buy a bottled mix that lets you simply add the right starter bacteria to the tank. Add this mix and you’ll soon be able to add fish. I recommend that, even if you add this quickstart mix, you should let the tank run for a day or two before adding live animals to it. This lets you monitor the tank to make sure everything works in terms of filtration and heating.

You can also use some test strips for water parameters to make sure the tank has the right water quality before adding any fish. You don’t have to be an expert to use these. The kits will measure all the important chemical factors and will have a clear marking to show whether that level is too high or low in your water.

If the reading is off, you can Google how to raise or lower that particular level or ask your local pet store if they have products that can help adjust that level.

Ready to Rock!

That should be it! Before you add any fish to the tank, be sure to read my short guide on the right way to do that. After all, we don’t want your new pets to be introduced with a shock to their new home.