How to Set Up an Aquarium _ Step By Step Guide

How to Set Up an Aquarium | Step By Step Guide

If you’re planning on building a home aquarium, there are a few things you should know before you start. Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, you’ll want to make sure that your tank is set up correctly. Setting up an aquarium can be a daunting task. You have to think about all the aspects that go into making your fish and plant tank a thriving environment. Here’s everything you need to know about setting up your own aquarium.

How to Set Up an Aquarium

Step 1: Plan Your Aquarium

Most people miss out on this step. If you want to have an incredibly successful thriving aquarium, so this step play’s a vital role. Before you begin to look at the aquarium or tank, you need to decide what species you want to keep in your aquarium. Is it going to be a small species only aquarium, a large community tank, or a breeding tank?

The type of invertebrates and fish that you choose to keep will determine the size of your aquarium. Water conditions within the tank, the equipment you want, and the types of plants you want. Sit down and set a plan about exactly what you need from your aquarium. Once you know the species you like to keep, you can move on the purchasing the tank and best equipment.

If your aquarium is small in size, you may want to use a piece of paper, the same size as the bottom of your aquarium, and plan out where you want your decorations and plants to go to ensure you have enough space.

Step 2: Prepare the Aquarium

Once you have bought all equipment, you’re ready to set up an aquarium fish tank. However, before start adding any water, you should make sure that the tank is spotless. If you purchase a new tank you will need to use a damp cloth to wipe off the dust it’s gathered.

Never use detergents or soap to clean your tank. It’s essential to remember that any equipment you use for your aquarium should be new and used for your tank, so you don’t get any household chemicals or other products in your aquarium.

Cleaning a used Aquarium

If you’ve purchased a used tank, you will need to give it more attention. Remove any debris from the aquarium, and use kitchen roll and vinegar to clean the tank. Clean both inside and outside of the tank. Be careful doing it if you buy an acrylic aquarium.

Acrylic can scratch easily, so you’ll need a specific cleaning cloth for an acrylic aquarium. Once you’ve cleaned the used tank, you will need to check it is leaf proof. Fill it with the water and leave it for one hour. To see if there are any leaks run a finger around the bottom edge. You can use a tank sealant to reseal the aquarium if you do find any.

Positioning your Aquarium

It’s time to get the tank into the right position and place it somewhere out of sunlight, and near a power supply. If you made sure that the stand you’re putting your aquarium on is substantial enough putting water in the tank can add a lot of weight to the tank.

This is another reason to have a tank in the right position before filling it because it will be challenging to fill more afterwards. Once your tank in the right place, you need to make sure it’s level. You can do this using two ways using a spirit level. You can fill it with an inch or two of water and see if it’s level with your eyes.

Step 3: Add the Water and Substrate

Now your aquarium is clean for the set up, in the correct level and position. It’s time to prepare the substrate and add water. This kind of substrate you select is down to your personal preferences. It will sometimes determine by the type of plans and fish you want to keep. Such as a lot of catfish need sandy substrate.

Moreover, the amount of substrate required will depend on how thick you want it. A rule of thumb to follow is 1lb of substrate per gallon of water; it will be useful to make one thick bed. If you need it thicker, 2lbs per gallon will make a two-bed of the substrate.

Washing Substrate

Although the substrate comes prewashed, it will likely be dust and need to be rinsed. So it doesn’t cause your tank to be cloudy. You will need to rinse the substrate before you add it to the aquarium. You can this by merely putting in a bucket and fill it with cold water. Use your hand to swirl the substrate around and carry on rinsing it until the water is running as possible.

However, if you have a lot of gravel to clean, may you want to consider doing this outside with a high-pressure hose. Keep pouring the water spraying again until the water is clear. Some substrates don’t do well being washed this way, and water gets cloudy. Try to remove as much dust as possible and use less vigorous hand movements. Now substance is clean, and you can add it to the aquarium.

Start off adding a thin layer to make sure you don’t scratch the bottom of the tank and then pour the rest in. after pouring think about whether there’re any areas you like to raise a higher, perhaps to bury the roots of plants into. It’s common to see aquarium gravel running in a slop, from the highest point to the lowest point at the front. You can fill the tank up with water.

Adding Water to Tank

If you’re using a small tank, carry out step four and five before adding water. The way to add water depending on whether you’re setting up a saltwater or freshwater tank.


To prepare sand or gravel from disturbed as you pour water in, you can use a saucer or bowl. Place the saucer to tip the water in, and start pouring water in. when the aquarium is full, you will need to add de-chlorinator to the water.


You need to use water that has been through reverse osmosis also make sure you have used a de-chlorinator too. To prepare your saltwater, use a salt mix and follow instructions on the packet to ensure you add the right amount.

Step 4: Equipment Installation

All installations depend on the brand you have chosen. You will have opted for an internal or an external filter. The internal aquarium filters are relatively easy to install, start by assembling parts. The filter needs to go on the back wall of the aquarium, and wires require a power supply.

However, if you choose an underwater gravel filter, you will need to install it before adding water to it. Try to make sure the filter is installed correctly before you turn it on at the power supply. Moreover, external filters have space for more forms of filter water effectively. External filters sit within the stand, below the tank. An external filter carries water out of the tank, and to filter to clean in, after that sends it back to the tank.

Make sure that the outlet and inlet tubes are straight with no bends or kinks so the water can travel out of into the tank. Many external filters need to be full of water before plugging them into the power supply, which gets the water moving through the filter.

If you have chosen saltwater or tropical set up, you need to install the heater when you completely installed the filter. Various heaters are pretty self-explanatory and come with a dial on top to select the perfect temperature. They have a line that defines you’ve far to submerge the heater. Place your heater on one side of the tank, and install a thermometer on the opposite side to ensure the tank is heated the tank consistently.

However, if you buy any other equipment which requires installation, such as stones, lights, and air pumps, you must do this now. If you set up a saltwater tank, you will need to install your protein skimmer and any other equipment you purchase.

Step 5: Add Decorations and Plants

When you finished setting up all the operational parts of the aquarium, you can make your tank more elegant by adding some decoration pieces and plants. You may like a heavily planted tank or might want a natural-looking tank with large stones, driftwood, and a few plants. You might want to make a theme based on any movie.

Whatever you select, make sure you follow the pan made at the start to help with the layout of your tank. Rinse every item to remove any dust before putting it in, and place it in the appropriate place.

However, when you position your plants, you will find some plants such as Anacharis do good as background plants, and some do great in the front. So, research the placement of plants to make your tank as visually possible. You will need to make sure you follow the advice for every species. Many plants can be buried straight into the substrate; anyhow a few plants need to be attached to driftwood before adding them to the aquarium.

Step 6: Cycle the Aquarium

After setting up an aquarium when it looks ready for fish, you will need to be patient and wait until your aquarium is cycled before you add any. Various fish stores highly recommend leaving your aquarium only for a few days before adding fish, well it’s not advisable.

Cycling the aquarium means you are building up a bacteria bed in the biological filter, which is essential for the health of your fishes. Your filter will grow the culture of bacteria which converts ammonia into nitrites. Then it will culture bacteria which converts nitrites to nitrates. In the end, both nitrites and ammonia are toxic to fish, so you must run a full cycle to allow these bacteria to develop.

Nitrates are toxic to fish at high levels, that’s why it’s essential to carry out regular water changes to remove them. Anyhow, we highly recommend the cycling tank without fishes, so they’re not exposed to any toxins.

Step 7: Adding your Fishes

Add fishes is a last step of aquarium set up, make sure you add fishes slowly over a few weeks. The amount you add depends on the size of your tank. Start by adding more than one inch of fish per 10 gallons. The reason for acclimation is that fishes are sensitive to any changes in their water. So move them comfortably and slowly from one tank to another.

The water they’re currently in is likely different from your tank temperature, salinity parameters, and pH. If you need to be on the safe side, you can store fish in a separate aquarium for weeks to observe them. Some people like to do this to ensure they’re not showing signs of disease.


If you take five simple steps away from this should be:

  • Plan out what you need from your tank before you purchase anything.
  • Before filling it, place the tank in its permanent position.
  • Make sure your equipment is installed before switching anything on.
  • Acclimatize your fish slowly, so they never become stressed.
  • Ensure your tank is cycled before adding any inhabitants.

Setting up an aquarium is a great way to enjoy the company of fish and other aquatic creatures. You don’t need to be an expert to set up an aquarium, but you do need to have some basic knowledge about the creatures that you want to keep in your aquarium.

We hope you feel confident about how to set up an aquarium. Whilst it sounds like a lot of steps. everyone shouldn’t take too long. They can be split up over a few days or a week if you don’t have a big chunk of time.


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