How to Set up an Aquarium

Last Updated: 14.12.19


If you think setting up a fish tank only needs a bucket of water and some decorations, you have to read the following article. Some of the basic pieces of equipment needed for an aquarium are a water conditioner, gravel vacuum, water pH tester, heater, and filtration system. 



The aquarium 

Without having any experience, this is the first piece of equipment that comes to everyone’s mind when we talk about a fish tank. Before going to the pet shop, decide how many fish you want to have and choose a properly sized aquarium.

Of course, it is tempting to get a large aquarium so you can have a lot of colorful and beautiful fish. However, think about how much space is available in your house. Despite looking good, a 60-gallon tank is not a good fit for a dorm room.

In case you are just getting started as a fish enthusiast, it is better to purchase a 20-gallon tank. This way it will be less expensive and you can use the rest of the money to get some high-quality supplies. You can always upgrade to a bigger aquarium if you move to another place or decide to keep more fish.


Best aquarium shapes

No matter what the seller tries to tell you, don’t buy a tall and thin tank. It might look nice, but it’s not the best choice. Instead, stick with the classic shorter, longer tank. This type of tank provides more swimming space and a larger surface area for air exchange.



Most of the aquariums available at pet shops are made of glass. However, consider getting an acrylic tank since it weighs less and doesn’t break as easily as a glass aquarium. This might be a better choice for a household with small children. 

Keep in mind, acrylic tanks must have support along the entire bottom surface, not only the edges.



Depending on the aquarium’s capacity, you need to get a proper stand. If you plan on using a particle board bookcase for anything else than a small aquarium, get ready for a small flood. Make sure to purchase an aquarium stand designed to resist the weight of the aquarium. 

Most aquarium warranties are no good if you place on them an aquarium that is too heavy or doesn’t fit well. If your DIY skills are good enough, you can make your own stand using plans that can be easily found online.



Hood or lid?

The light can be sold separately from the lid or they can be joined into one piece referred to as the ‘hood’. The lid covers the tank’s superior part and keeps the fish from jumping out of the tank. Furthermore, it lowers the evaporation level and protects the lighting system from getting splashed.

If the light is combined with the lid, it is generally made of a light plastic, which costs less, is lighter and is harder to break. Glass lids allow more natural light to enter the fish tank, take less time to clean, and have a tighter cover.



Even if the light may be incorporated into the tank’s lid, you have the option of purchasing it separately. Some of the most common light choices are incandescent, mercury vapor, metal halide, and LED bulbs. If you are a beginner, we recommend the fluorescent light as it’s less expensive to run.

Another good choice is the LED bulb. It is becoming more popular because it uses little electricity compared to other lighting options and doesn’t raise the water’s temperature. Always check if the lid includes the light fixture and if it doesn’t, do not forget to purchase one.


Filtration systems

This is one of the most important pieces of equipment. When it comes to the filtration system, ask for professional advice and get ready to spend some money. There are a lot of options available on today’s market so you can get the one that suits you best.

The more experienced fish enthusiasts recommend using a filter with a bio-wheel system. No matter what type of filtration system you decide to purchase, it should always fit the aquarium’s size. Check the filter’s specifications and take one that is capable of filtering the water at least 4 times every 60 minutes. 

For example, a 30-gallon aquarium should be equipped with a filter that has a flow rate of at least 120 gallons per hour. If you have a large aquarium, it is recommended to use canister filters.




Most of the fish species need the water’s temperature at about 73 to 76 degrees F. If the temperature in your house doesn’t always remain around that range, you need to buy a heater. In general, aquarium heaters hang on the tank’s side or they can be sold as submersible models. 

Don’t worry about setting up the heater since most of them have an up and down setting or a numerical one. If you can afford it, take a submersible heater with a numerical setting. It is more expensive but it is worth it. 

When deciding the heater’s size, the rule is to have 5 watts per gallon of water for small aquariums and 3 watts per gallon for big aquariums. However, the house temperature influences the required wattage as colder environments might need a bigger number of watts per gallon.

If you have a tank over 45 gallons, it is better to have two smaller heaters and place them at the edges of the tank instead of using a bigger heater. As a result, there is an improved heat distribution throughout the aquarium.



When it comes to what thermometer you should get, there is no need to get fancy. An inexpensive liquid crystal thermometer that can be fixed to the aquarium’s side and it is good enough for general use. However, if you want to keep or breed more sensitive fish, you should get a submersible thermometer.


Test kits

Regularly checking the water’s quality is important if you want to have healthy fish. You need test kits for nitrate, ammonia, pH, and alkalinity levels. Multi-test strips are accurate enough as long as you follow the package instructions and have them stored properly.

Lately, submersible testing monitors have become more popular among fish lovers so you will have no problem finding them at the pet shop. These monitors have the advantage of continuously monitoring water chemistry. 


Water conditioners

You can’t pour directly tap water into the aquarium. Purchase a water conditioner that will lower the levels of chlorine, ammonia, and heavy metals. Use the water conditioner whenever you fill the tank or doing the monthly water changes.


The siphon

A siphon is one of the essential pieces of equipment because you will use it to vacuum the gravel and change the water. You can get a simple type of siphon which uses gravity or go for the more complex models which use the pressure from the tap.

If you are not on a budget, buy the tap run model since it makes the task of removing and replacing water easier. Gravel vacuums are great for the regular water changing as they clean the waste off the tank’s bottom. Don’t forget to add some dechlorinator when adding tap water into the aquarium.


Algae scrubbers

As much as you don’t like it, there is no way of getting away from it. Eventually, algae will grow in the aquarium so having an algae scrubber is a must. Another good option is to use an algae magnet. This way, you can clean the algae off the tank’s walls without having to put your hand into the water. The algae magnet is usually more expensive, but it is worth it.



When it comes to decorations, you can do whatever crosses your mind. Depending on what you wish, you can get mermaids, shipwrecks, caves, coral reefs and the list just keeps going on. You can get custom made divers to look like you if you want something more unusual.

However, make sure every piece of decoration is safe for the fish and rinse all of them properly before placing them into the aquarium. Because some of the fish like to hide, especially when sleeping, having caves or shipwrecks will make them feel more comfortable.

Another good idea is to have some plants since they also have a functional role. Live plants reduce the quantity of ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite from the water. Also, they are a hiding place and provide food for herbivorous fish. Plastic plants can also give the natural aspect and they are carefree.



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