How To Start An Aquarium – Beginner Friendly Guide

Starting an aquarium is a task that needs patience and attention to detail. So let’s see what you need to do to get that job done.

  • Wipe down the fish tank to remove debris and dust with a damp cloth free of chemicals and soap
  • Fix the stand and place the aquarium in position and check for leaks
  • Clean the ornaments, put them in the tank and fill it up
  • Fix the filter (and heater) accordingly, and then add the water conditioner and biofilter
  • Let the tank cycle and check for toxicity

We will look at the equipment you need to put together the tank and get it functional. This is quite the list, and you want to make sure that you have them all before you get started with the process.


What You’re Going to Need

  • Damp cloth
  • Fish tank
  • Aquarium stand
  • Background for the fish tank (optional)
  • Ornaments
  • Rocks
  • Gravel
  • Colander with bucket or plastic pan
  • Plants (live or plastic)
  • Plant fertilizer (for live plants)
  • Filter
  • Heater (if needed)
  • Water conditioner
  • Biofilter

Step 1: Remove Tank/Aquarium from the Box

You start by removing the tank from its box and keeping it in a safe place. If you need a stand for the fish tank, get that in order after setting the box aside. If you have or need a background for the aquarium, you should have bought it already.

Also, check the aquarium box to see if it came with lights. It probably did. Check those lights and see if they are working fine. If they are good to go, take a damp cloth that doesn’t have any chemicals and wipe down the aquarium to ensure no debris or dust inside the tank.

Step 2: Put Your Tank/Aquarium in Position

The next step is to place the aquarium stand in place. Make sure the stand is even with a carpenter’s level if you have one. Suppose you don’t have it, no problem. You can check it by adding a couple of inches of water to the tank. Please take a few steps back and check the water level to make sure it is even.

Not balancing the aquarium can be very dangerous. Placing it on an uneven surface might cause leaks or cracks, if not worse. And if you don’t have a warranty, that’s another problem you will face if something goes wrong.

Now, place the fish tank against a wall by leaving enough space, which is about 5 inches from the wall, so that the filters fit snugly at the back. Doing this will make it easy to maintain the tank since you will be able to access the filters quite easily.

Then, add the backdrop to the fish tank. You want to make sure the tank is in a good place because if you’re going to move it later on, you will have to disassemble it completely.

Step 3: Rinse All Gravel and Ornaments

Wash the fish tank, which includes the ornaments, rocks, and gravel, with lukewarm water before placing them in the tank. Make sure you don’t use any chemicals or soap to clean them because that is highly toxic to the fish that you will be adding in a moment.

You must also remember to place the rocks in a colander on a bucket or plastic pan and then add the water. Then you must stir and drain them. Do this a few times till the water is cleared of all debris.

Step 4: Fill Your Tank

Once the fish tank is ready for water, you must start filling one-third of it with dechlorinated or distilled water. Next, wait and check the bottom of the tank or the stand to see any leaks. This means looking for running water on the sides or beading at the bottom.

If you notice any of these symptoms, drain the tank and return it immediately because fixing a leak is impossible. You also can’t be sure that it’ll work. So, that’s a waste of both time and energy.

If there are no leaks, fill up the rest of the tank with water. At this point, you can also add plants to the tank. Ensure the water is not too cold for live plants and place the roots right under the gravel.

If you plan on adding live plants, you must keep them moist until it is time to place them in the tank. You can do so by keeping them in a wet newspaper. And make sure they are aquatic plants and keep their fertilizer handy so that the roots grow properly.

Step 5: Turn on the Filter (And Heater If Applicable)

This is an important step. You must follow the manufacturer’s instructions, so we haven’t done this until now. If you need to add a heater, the same rule applies. Please place it in the tank without plugging it in. Pick the spot depending on the heater type.

If you have a clip-on heater that is not submersible, you must let it hang vertically such that it is near the filter’s outflow. If you have a submersible one, you must keep it at the closest point to the filter’s inflow. This makes it easy for the heated water to spread across the tank. Once again, you must check for leaks here.

After placing the heater, wait for a minimum of 20 minutes. This gives the thermometer in the heater to adjust to the temperature of the water. This way, it does not overheat.

Then, you must run the heater and make sure it is installed in the right spot so that, once again, overheating is not a problem. Finally, check the manufacturer’s instructions to adjust your aquarium’s temperature to keep the heater running smooth. The ideal temperature range is usually 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 6: Add in Treatments

Once the heater is in place, you want to add the treatments to ensure that the tank is healthy for the fish. The correct dosage will be written on the treatment bottles. This is the time to add the water conditioner and a biofilter.

These products are readily available to be bought in the market and ensure that there are good bacteria in the tank.

Step 7: Let the Tank Cycle

Now, you need a biological filter and let the tank start cycling. You might have to do this before you add the fish. But, first, add some fish food to the water so that the ammonia and treatments that will promote the growth of good bacteria have something to work with.

Once you have a healthy environment for the fish, you will be able to avoid problems like New Tank Syndrome. That is the name given to a condition where there is a buildup of toxic nitrites and ammonia in the fish tank.

Once the cycling is complete (which might take about four weeks), you are ready to take a sample of about 100 ml of the water and get it tested. This will let you know if the water is prepared for the fish.

You should look for GH, pH, and ammonia levels in the water and make sure they are optimal for the fish.

Then you must spend some time acclimating the fish before you add them to the fish tank. Make sure you don’t add the water they came with to the tank. This disturbs the water chemistry.

Then add the canopy and the lights to the aquarium, and you are almost ready.

Step 8: Keep Testing Your Water

It is natural for new fish tanks to be a bit cloudy for the first couple of days. But, after that, there’s no need to do anything about it. This is the result of the growth of good bacteria in the tank. So, it will be gone on its own. Just make sure you check the hardness and pH levels in the tank.

After about four weeks, you will also need to test the water for nitrites and ammonia. When you see that the levels are zero, you can add the fish.

How the Fish Tank Cycle Works

This is a necessary process that you should know about before adding the fish to a new aquarium. And there are three different ways of doing it.

Method 1: The Safest Way

  • Step 1: Add the fish food to the tank.
  • Step 2: Add the water conditioner.
  • Step 3: Add the biofilter so that the good bacteria start growing.
  • Step 4: Test the water after letting the tank cycle for four weeks.
  • Step 5: Take a 100 ml water sample and get a test done to check for toxicity.
  • Step 6: Add fish to the aquarium.

Method 2: 50-50 Way

  • Step 1: Add the fish food to the tank.
  • Step 2: Add the water conditioner.
  • Step 3: Add the biofilter so that the good bacteria start growing.
  • Step 4: Test the water after letting the tank cycle for one to two weeks.
  • Step 5: Take a 100 ml water sample and get a test done to check for toxicity.
  • Step 6: Add fish to the aquarium.

Method 3: The Right Now Way

  • Step 1: Add the fish food to the tank.
  • Step 2: Add the water conditioner.
  • Step 3: Add the biofilter so that the good bacteria start growing.
  • Step 4: Test the water every day for about two weeks while the tank is cycling.
  • Step 5: Take a 100 ml water sample and get a test done to check for toxicity.
  • Step 6: Add fish to the aquarium.


Q: How Long Do You Have to Wait to Put Fish in a New Tank?

A: As you now know, the tank needs to have the right water chemistry for the fish to be happy and healthy in it. That means you need to make sure that the aquarium has the right amount of GH, pH, and ammonia levels before the fish are added to the water. For this purpose, you have to wait while the tank is being cycled.

As mentioned above, there are three ways to do this. Each varies only in one critical aspect: the amount of time you need to wait. You can pick the most suitable one for your needs, but you must test the water accordingly. The best way to do this is to wait for four weeks before adding fish to the tank.

Q: How Do I Start My Aquarium?

A: In a nutshell, there are a few ways to do this. You must pick the right spot for the aquarium. Then you must wipe it down with a damp cloth and set it up on its stand. Step three is to add substrates and the filter. After that, fill the tank and add the heater (when applicable).

And finally, add in the treatments, which include the water conditioner and a biofilter, and let the tank cycle. Then, make sure you test the water for toxicity and are ready to use it.

Q: How Do You Prepare Water for a Fish Tank?

A: If you’ve gone through step 7, you already know it.

Final Thoughts

Setting up an aquarium is not a difficult job. But you have to do it with a lot of care. If you miss out on any detail, your fish will be in grave danger. So, make sure the equipment is cleaned with a damp cloth without soap or chemicals. This way, all the debris, and dust will be out.

Check for leaks and add all the equipment. Then you must add the treatments and let the tank cycle. Once it is free of toxins, you can add the fish. Sometimes, it is as simple as that.

Jack Dempsey
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