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Aquarium Setup: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

So you’re ready to set up an aquarium? We’d be the first to admit, the amount of information out there on the internet is just overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could break it down for you in a way that’s easy to understand?

To create a healthy environment for your new fish family members, we’ve created a step-by-step guide to help you set up your fish tank.

Plus, we’ve also provided vital information surrounding your fish tank. It includes the aquarium nitrogen cycle and must-have products. Let’s get started.

Freshwater & Saltwater Aquarium Setup: Detailed Steps

Step 1: Planning

It is the essential step that many fishkeepers forget, yet it is crucial to having a thriving, successful tank. Before you set up your tank, you have to decide what fish and plants you want to keep in your tank.

Will it be a large fish tank, a smaller community tank with plants, or a breeder tank? The answer to this question requires a different response.

The type of fish you select will help you determine the tank’s size, the aquarium water conditions, the equipment you need, and the styles you’ll need to own.

So make a plan about exactly what it is that you expect from your tank.

Once you have a better idea about the fish species you want to pet, you can move on and buy the aquarium with all its appropriate equipment.

Step 2: Preparing the Aquarium

Once you’ve purchased all the equipment, it’s time to start setting it up.

But before you start pouring water, you have to make sure the aquarium glass is clean. For this, you can buy this aquarium glass cleaner. It’s suitable for those hard-to-reach areas and can clean even the most stubborn areas. It comes with an extended arm that makes scrubbing any deep tank easy.

Caution: When cleaning the Aquarium glass, do not regular detergents and kitchen soap. Any equipment you use to clean the tank (such as clothes and buckets) should be fresh and only used for your tank.

It prevents regular cleaning chemicals and other products from getting into your tank and contaminating the water.

Step 3: Cleaning the Aquarium

If your tank is a used one, then you’ll have to give this a lot more attention. Start by removing any debris from the tank. Soak paper towels in white vinegar to clean the tank.

Clean the outside and inside of the tank. Be careful if you’re doing this to an acrylic tank since they scratch easily, so you’ll have to buy specific clothes that don’t scratch acrylic.

Once you’ve cleaned the Aquarium, you have to make sure it is leakproof. Fill the tank with a couple of inches of water and leave it for about an hour.

Fish tank construction, person adding glue

Now run the bottom edge of the tank with your finger to check for potential leaks. If you happen to find any leaks, patch them up with aquarium sealants.

It is better to find any leaks now that your tank is empty.

Step 4: Placing the Aquarium

Now it’s time to find the correct position for our tank. Make sure to keep the Aquarium out of direct sunlight and near an electrical supply. You have to make sure the aquarium cabinet is strong enough to bear the tank’s weight when full of water.

A 50-gallon tank weighs just 100 pounds without water, But when it gets filled with water (including all the fish and decorations), it will easily weigh around 550 pounds.

It is why it is a good reason to position your tank correctly before filling it because it will be challenging to move it afterward.

Once your aquarium is in its correct position, you’ll have to make sure it’s level. You can do this using a spirit level or with your eye.

Step 5: Adding Gravel in the Aquarium

Now that your tank is ready, it’s time to prepare the aquarium gravel and add water.

The type of gravel or substrate you choose depends on the kind of species you want to keep. For example, the Corydoras catfish will need a sandy substrate. The depth of the substrate also depends on the type of fish you’ve selected.

Experts recommend installing 1 lb of gravel per gallon of water. It should create enough substrate for 1″. If you want a thicker bed, you can go for 2 lbs per gallon to create a 2″ deep bed of aquarium sand.

It is worth noting that the substrate weighs depending on the type selected and depth level, so choose appropriately.

Step 5.i: Washing the Aquarium Gravel

Although the aquarium’s gravel is already in a clean state,

Rinse the gravel before you add it to the aquarium. You can do this by adding small amounts of Tiny bucket and filling it with water. Use your hand to guide the water around the gravel around and keep rinsing it until it’s clean.

If you have too much substrate to clean, you can use a high-pressure hose to speed up the process. Keep pouring the gravel out of the bucket and spraying with the hose until the water is clear.

Now that your aquarium gravel is clean, you can add it to the tank.

Create a small substrate layer in the tank to ensure you don’t scratch the aquarium’s bottom. Now pour the rest of it in. Must raise some of the areas a bit higher to bury the roots of the plants.

It is common to see the aquarium substrate going on a slope; this setting allows you to bury the aquarium grass effectively. It’s time to fill the tank with water.

Freshwater aquarium gravel cleaning

Step 6: Adding Water to the Aquarium (Freshwater or Saltwater)

How you add water depends on whether you’re setting up a saltwater or freshwater tank. This guide covers both types of water.

Step 6.i: Adding Freshwater to Aquarium

To prevent the substrate from being disrupted as you pour the water in, you can use a bowl or a saucer.

Place the saucer in the tank and slowly start pouring the water. When the aquarium is complete, you’ll have to treat the water properly.

Use an aquarium water conditioner such as a de-chlorinator to purify it. Please read the guide on the de-chlorinator to learn how to add it to the tank. The ratio is usually 1 ml of de-chlorinator per 20 gallons of water.

Step 6.ii: Adding Saltwater to Aquarium

Saltwater is usually more challenging to procure than freshwater. For starters, you need to use water that has gone through reverse osmosis and has been de-dechlorinated. The water conditioning requirements for saltwater aquariums are a little more complicated.

Most fishkeepers purchase their reverse osmosis solutions to ensure they’ve always got an adequate supply of saltwater nearby.

To prepare saltwater aquarium, you can use a salt mix and follow the packet’s instructions to ensure you add the correct amount.

Next, follow the instructions above for adding freshwater.

Step 7: Installing the Equipment

Now that your aquarium is full of gravel and water, it’s time to install the equipment to keep everything at the right temperature.

Should align ambient temperature in your room should align with your fish and plant species’ temperature requirements. You probably won’t have to do much. But chances are, you need equipment to regulate the temperature depending on where you live.

Step 7.i: Filtration System

At the bare minimum, most aquariums require a filter.

Make sure to follow the instructions of the filter you’ve chosen. You can choose from internal and external filters.

Internal filters are easier to install in Aquarium, often only requiring assembly of the parts. The filter usually goes to the tank’s back wall, and the wire needs to connect with a power supply.

If you choose an underwater gravel filter, you’ll have to install it before pouring the water.

External filtration systems are more efficient at filtering water.

Caution: Make sure the filtration system is secure and installed in its place before you turn on the power supply.

Step 7.ii: Chiller and Heater

Once you’ve installed the filter, it’s time to establish an aquarium chiller or a heater.

Some tanks require water temperatures to be more relaxed than ambient room temperature.

One way to do this is with an aquarium chiller that takes water from the aquarium sump and then returns it to the aquarium at the desired temperature. Think of it as a ‘refrigerator’ with prices depending on the size you choose.

Our favorite is the JBJ Aquarium Arctica Titanium. It comes with a host of advanced technical features, such as a unique titanium coil design for maximum chilling efficiency. In its default configuration, the chiller draws cool air from the front and removes warm air from the back.

Moreover, it comes with a built-in thermostat and controller that automatically maintains your desired temperature within 1° Fahrenheit.

The ideal way to install a chiller is to embed the feed pump in the Aquarium itself. The feed pump will fit in the room allotted.

We should place a thermometer on the tank’s opposite side for accurate temperature readings to install a heater or a chiller.

Step 7.iii: UV Light

Every fishkeeper will agree that algae, bacterial disease, and parasites are common nuisances they have to put up with regularly in aquarium.

Cloudy or murky water, frequent algae, or persistent diseases in the aquarium are widespread. That is why many fishkeepers install aquarium UV filters in Aquarium.

UV light is a practical addition to any aquarium. It targets the smallest microorganisms in your tank without harming other aquarium inhabitants.

It alters the microorganisms’ genetic material, significantly shortening their life cycle, and limiting their reproduction rate. It dramatically reduces the chance of algae blooming and disease spreading in your fish tank.

An aquarium UV sterilizer does not give you an excuse to ignore common aquarium husbandry.

You still have to regularly change the water, filter, and clean the tank. UV only affects free-floating microorganisms that have yet to attack your fish, substrate, plants, and corals. So you still have work to do!

Step 8: Adding Plants, Corals, and Rocks

Java moss landscape

Now that you’ve installed all the aquarium’s functional parts, it’s time to focus on adding plants and corals if you’re going for a heavily planted tank or a marginally planted tank.

Whatever you choose, you’ll have to follow a tank at the start of the process to help with the aquarium’s layout.

Make sure to rinse all the items before adding them to the tank and then installing them in their appropriate place.

Before adding the plants, it is better to learn about them to ensure your tank looks as visually pleasing as possible.

Always read into the care instructions of each species. For example, some plants need to be buried straight into the substrate. Other plants need only be attached to the driftwood in the tank.

It is essential to start the photosynthesis process for healthy plants, which provide oxygen for your fish. It is where an aquarium CO2 system comes in.

You can buy mini aquarium CO2 kits for smaller aquariums and larger sets for more significant plant collections.

As a general rule, the more aquarium CO2 you have, the bigger and quicker your plant can go.

Caution: Maximum recommended CO2 you should add is 30 parts per million only.

You can choose from three popular choices: aerosol, electrolysis, and pressurized systems. We recommend using pressurized systems since they’re controllable and reliable.

When adding aquarium rocks, make sure to select the suitable options for your water. Some stones can change the water’s pH and salinity parameters, and this can become more pronounced if the water is naturally acidic. Will infest other rocks with nasty pathogens that could be deadly to your fish.

So make sure never to take rocks from a polluted area. While you can remove the toxins from the stones, the risk is too much for your fish.

The following aquarium rocks are considered safe for your fish:

  • Quartz
  • Lava rock
  • Petrified wood
  • Slate
  • Granite

Step 8.i: Plant Fertiliser

If you want to achieve a stunningly green fish tank aquarium in a short period, you’ll have to buy aquarium plant fertilizer. It is essential to rely on the right kind of fertilizer because it will affect how the fish and plants look inside the tan.

There are several top-notch options on the market nowadays when it comes to aquarium fertilizers.

Our favorite is the API Leaf Zone Aquarium Plant Food. It is big enough and should be enough to manage a 10-gallon fish tank. The product is a must-have if you have leafy types of plants.

Step 9: Cycling the Aquarium

Now that you’ve finished setting up the aquarium, it’s time to cycle the water before adding any fish. It is known as the nitrogen cycle. Cycling refers to the build-up of beneficial bacteria that act as a biological filter, crucial to your fish’s health.

Your fish will generate a lot of bioload during a single day. This bioload, or waste, doesn’t have a natural outlet to escape to and eventually becomes exceptionally toxic for your fish.

When this happens, the water’s ammonia levels rise. Ammonia is poisonous to fish, so you must find a way to convert it into harmless byproducts. It is where the aquarium nitrogen cycle comes in.

The bacteria convert ammonia into nitrite and then nitrite into nitrates.

Nitrates are not harmful to your fish in small quantities and if nitrates continue to be a problem for your tank, you can purchase an aquarium nitrate remover such as the API Nitra-Zorb Filter Media pouch.

It can eliminate ammonia and nitrites in your tank if the natural cycle isn’t efficiently doing what it’s supposed to. All you have to do is add it to your tank’s filter, and voila!

We’ve prepared an in-depth guide here on cycling an aquarium. Make sure you read it for more information.

Step 10: Adding Fish to Your Tank

It is the step that you’ve been waiting for so patiently. Now that you’ve established an aquarium nitrogen cycle, you’re ready to introduce fish to your tank.

Not so fast, though!

Make sure to add your fish slowly over a few weeks. It depends on the size of your tank. You’ll first have to acclimatize your fish to your tank.

Acclimation is to get the fish to adapt to their freshwater parameters, so moving to the new tank doesn’t come as too much of a shock.

The water they’re currently living in likely has different pH, temperature, and salinity conditions.

Step 11: Treating Sick Fish (Optional Step)

It is common for fish to get sick now and then, and it’s just as essential to prepare ourselves when the going gets tough. It is where aquarium salt comes in.

The trick is to raise the salinity of the water gradually. It will deprive bacteria, parasites, and fungi of bacteria as osmosis seeks to restore the salt concentration on each side of the fish’s skin. Don’t worry. The pathogens will end up dying sooner than they can affect your fish.

However, do keep in mind that some microorganisms can withstand higher salinity conditions, so it’s not always the perfect solution.

In some cases, you may have to take your fish to a trained doctor.

Wrapping Up

It can be challenging to get your fish aquarium up and running, but the result is worth it.

What difficulties did you encounter along your fishkeeping journey? Let us know in the comments below!