Setting Up A New Fish Tank- Beginners Guide to Set Up Aquarium

How to set up a new fish aquariumHere is how to set up a new fish aquarium. The very first thing you need to know is – Do not buy your fish at the same time you get your tank and supplies. This is the biggest mistake most people make when buying aquarium set-ups.

You and your family are in the store looking at all the beautiful fish and decide an aquarium would be perfect for that corner spot in the living room. You’re right.

Although it would seem to be the thing to do, now is not the time to buy those awesome fish. Your new fish tank needs to be prepared so you can introduce your fish in a healthy manner that will give you years of enjoyment.

Very few people think they need to learn how to set up a fish aquarium, and unfortunately not many store employees instruct them differently. They happily bag up the fish along with all the supplies and send the new fish owners on their way. Those fish usually do not make it past the first few days.

Setting up a new aquarium will add beauty and enjoyment to any room in your home. There are a few things you need to know to get started right and avoid the disappointment and heartache of losing all your work and money by moving too quickly.

Keeping an aquarium is a great hobby. It can also be a fascinating learning experience. It can be an ideal way for children to learn about both biology and responsibility. Of course, adults will have a lot to learn as well.

An aquarium provides relaxing entertainment. You and most everyone you know will find themselves watching the fish, almost hypnotized at times. Psychologists say that a fish aquarium is also great for personal therapy and an effective way to relieve stress.

Setting up an aquarium in your home isn’t too difficult. You should realize however, that as with any pet, an aquarium is a big responsibility. If you want to have a great looking aquarium and happy healthy fish it will take some work on your part. Fortunately, if you know what you are doing, you can enjoy your fish for years to come with minimal work.




Things You Will Need to Set Up a New Fish Aquarium

Aquarium- The size tank you pick for your family aquarium. Please decide beforehand what types of fish you’d like to house in that tank and be sure it is of adequate size for the adult version of those species of fish.

Hood and Light Set Up- You will need a hood to cover the top of your aquarium. This will keep the fish from jumping out of the tank and also helps control odor in your home. Your hood should contain a light kit. If your hood does not have a LED Light you can purchase a clamp on light bar separately.

Gravel or Substrate- Enough gravel of the color of your choice and in an amount suited to the size of your new tank. I prefer to use 2 lbs of gravel per gallon of water. This gives me about 2 inches of substrate on the bottom. I use a lot of live plants and they need a deep base to root in.

Filter and Replacement Cartridge- A good filtration system made for the size tank you have purchased.

Heater and Thermometer- If you have decided on tropical fish, you will also need a heater and a thermometer. The new adhesive style thermometers work best and last a long time. General rule of thumb for heater size is 3-5 kilowatts per gallon of tank water.

Aquarium Water Test Kit- A complete water testing kit. You will need to keep a close eye on your water quality. Your fishes health depends on it.

Water Treatment Chemicals- If you have city water with chlorine you will need to buy an additive that will take out the chemicals in the water, or buy distilled water for your tank

Net- A fish net that is long enough to reach the bottom of your tank and large enough for your largest fish.

Glass scrubber- A good fish tank scrubber is a must. I prefer to use the magnetic aquarium cleaning brush. The magnet brush lets you clean the tank without your hand getting in the water.

Large Plastic Bucket- I personally like to use a 5 gallon bucket. I use it to do water changes or temporarily house fish during tank cleaning.

Colander or Strainer- I use a strainer to clean the gravel or substrate.

Decorations and/or plants- This is the fun part. Decorating your tank is the best part of setting up a new tank. Keep in mind the type of fish you are going to be adding to the aquarium. Try to decorate according to their natural environment. Add Lots of colorful live plants. I would choose live plants over plastic.

Aquarium Vacuum Pump- This is a must have to keep your aquarium clean. You will have a lot of food and bio waste collecting in your substrate. You will need to remove this bio matter. The best way to clean your aquarium is using a vacuum pump to suck the debris from your substrate.

Dedicated Rags and Towels- Make sure to use towels and rags that have never been used for any other purpose. This is to prevent cross contamination from home cleaning products and soaps.

There are some kits you can purchase that will include all the above for ease of purchase. When you get your new supplies home and set up the tank you will need to rinse the rocks well before adding them to the bottom. Be sure your tank is where you want it to be because once it is full of rocks and water it will be too heavy to move without breaking the seal on the glass bottom and possibly the glass itself.

First Step to Setting Up a New Fish Tank- Prepare Your Tank

Once you have purchased your new tank, clean it! Before you bring it into the house you should rinse it out with the water hose outside. Use a new rag to remove dust and debris. Don’t be concerned about water spots at this time, there will be a lot more of those to come during set up.

If your aquarium is acrylic be very cautious as it will scratch easily.

When setting up a used tank you’re cleaning process may be more time-consuming and demanding. If the water scale is built up fairly thick you may have to use a scraping razor for glass tanks. Then use a vinegar water mixture to clean tank. Do Not Use Harsh Chemicals!

The next step is to get tank set in place of where it is going to be set up. Make sure that you are setting the aquarium in an area that will allow you easy access to all sides of the fish tank. This will be helpful for future cleaning and maintenance. Make sure that tank is not in direct sunlight and that it is level.

If you are using some type of decorative aquarium background now is the time to install that per manufactures’ recommendation. Install background before adding water. It will be much easier to work with and remove air bubbles.

Clean and Prepare Your Substrate and Decorations

Once your aquarium is clean and your background is installed it is time to clean everything else that is going into the tank. The gravel or substrate is typically colored rock.

You will need to rinse residual dye and dust from substrate. The easiest way to do this is to use a strainer of some type. I used a kitchen strainer. Rinse any artificial decorations, large rocks or driftwood.

Pour some gravel into the strainer and rinse thoroughly. Once you rinse it you can start putting it in a clean bucket. After you have rinsed all of your substrate you can add it to your tank.

Now it time to start adding water. Add about 1/4 of a tank of water at first. Make sure you have no leaks. Make any adjustments and arrangements to you substrate and decor at this time.

Tip- Put a bowl in the aquarium and pour water into the bowl so you don’t disturb your substrate.

After making all arrangements you can fill your tank to about 50% full. Let it set for a few minutes and check for leaks again. Once you are sure there are no leaks go ahead and get you’re cleaning brush and clean the inside of the tank wall that are submerged under water.

Install Your Water Circulation, Aeration and Filtration Systems

Add your circulation, aeration and filtration devices at this time. Install your aquarium heater at this time if you are using one. When you install these devices it is best to run your cords and tubes to the corners. For bubbling devices you can run the tubes under your substrate to keep them less visible. You want to make sure the water in your tank is turned and circulated well to mix the oxygen levels evenly throughout the fish aquarium.

Install any live plants. I highly recommend lots of live plants. The more live plants you have the healthier your tank will be. More live plants reduces the maintenance load drastically. Plants keep your water cleaner and less polluted. The more aquatic plants your aquarium has the more fish you can add.

Checking and Treating Your Water Quality- Cycling Your Tank

You are now finished setting up your new fish aquarium. Now you can fill your tank to the required level. Turn on your filtration system and any other electronic devices you added.

Now you will need to treat your water. Using your water testing kit, measure your current water conditions and log them in notebook. This way you know your tap water readings straight from the tap. This will help you gauge your plan of action for future water changes.

There are two ways to cycle your new tank, the fish less method, and the fish method. The fish less method is the best way as it is the only way to insure your fish do not die in the cycling of the new tank.

Research both methods carefully before making your final decision. Whichever way you choose you should still wait at least a week before attempting to add any fish to your new tank.

Cycling your fish aquarium means you are allowing the nitrifying bacteria in your bio filter to grow. This is a necessary step in starting the Nitrogen Cycle. There are products out there that speed the process up. It is advisable to use the non fish cycle method. But if you use the fish cycle method you run the risk of the fish dying.

If you would prefer to have fish in your tank during the cycling process, I would recommend you get some cheap feeder fish such as fishing minnows from a bait store or comets from a pet store. Both fishes are used to feed other fish. It usually takes about 30 days to truly cycle your tank. In this process you may get cloudy water. Don’t panic. Let nature take its course.

If you have plenty of live plants it will speed the cycling process up much faster and keep your water readings more stable. This is why I can’t stress enough about having a lot of live plants. Plants can be expensive at the pet store. I suggest you order online.

In my case I have a 60 gallon aquarium that has local native wild fish in it. We rescued these fish after a hurricane. We found them in our yard and they were soon to be coon or owl bait. A few weeks later I found a pond and grabbed some live aquatic plants from the pond and added them to my aquarium.

How to Add Fish To Your New Aquarium

This is the part you have anxiously been waiting for. Now that your new fish aquarium is set up and the tank has cycled it is time to add your fish. You must acclimate your fish before adding them to the tank.

How to acclimate your new fish into you new fish tank


Hopefully you have the confidence and knowledge of how to set up a new fish aquarium. Just remember to plan accordingly for both your set up and it’s cost. Owning a fish aquarium is a rewarding and entertaining hobby. There is something that is so calming and peaceful watching your fish in their habitat.

Make sure you plan everything from start to finish

Make sure your location you want the tank is suitable

Make sure your pumps and filters are set up correctly

Always allow your tank to cycle before adding fish.

Remember to acclimate your fish properly.

Let us know in the comments below if you have any further questions or when you get your new fish tank set up. We would love to hear your story.