We explain what’s required to create the perfect tank.

Congratulations – you’re ready to become a fish parent! There are a lot of options for setting up your aquarium, with many different sizes and pieces of equipment available. An ideal beginner aquarium is one of the new ‘all in one’ aquariums made by a number of manufacturers. These come with lights and filters built into the aquarium and they are easy to set up. If you are going to keep tropical fish then you will need to purchase a heater as well.

Which aquarium is right for you?

In order to enjoy your new aquarium for a long time, you should be sure about the appropriate size, furnishing (for example, if it needs its own stand) and position you’re going to have it in. The size of the aquarium determines the type and number of fish that can live in it and also affects the amount of time that you should plan for the ongoing care of the aquarium.

Where to put your aquarium

A quiet, low-traffic area out of direct sunlight is best. Do not put your tank in front of or near a heater or air conditioning unit, as this leads to temperature fluctuations that will stress the fish. Your tank should be placed near an electricity point so that you can easily plug in your heater and filters (and your power point should be on an earth leakage circuit breaker). Ensure that your tank is sitting on a suitable tank stand or base and floor that will support the weight of the tank.

Basic equipment list for a freshwater aquarium

Here is what is needed to set up a freshwater aquarium. Your local Petbarn can provide you with the right advice when you are deciding what specifically to buy.

  • Aquarium and stand to suit
  • Gravel
  • Background decoration (if desired)
  • A filter system and pump
  • Light
  • Heater for tropical fish
  • Air stone
  • Plants (natural or imitation)
  • Decorations such as rocks, driftwood, ornaments, flower pots
  • Water conditioner, pH test kit, ammonia test kit
  • Fish and fish food.

Tip: Buy your fish last. You need to allow time for your tank to ‘cycle’ before you can introduce your first fish. The cycling process is where the filter builds up a population of beneficial bacteria that will break down the toxins in the water that are produced by fish waste.

Setting up

  1. Clean out your new tank with tap water only. Do not use any sort of chemicals or soaps. Using soaps can leave residue on the glass and harm fish once they go into the tank.
  2. Wash the gravel thoroughly with tap water in a bucket. Rinse it until all the dust is rinsed off. Place into the aquarium to a depth of one to two centimetres. If you are using an under gravel filter, then place your gravel to a depth of five centimetres.
  3. Rinse ornaments (rocks, driftwood, etc.) with tap water and place carefully into aquarium.
  4. Install all of your electrical equipment (e.g. heater, filter and air pumps). Caution: Do not turn on your equipment until there is water in the tank and your hands are out.
  5. Now you can fill your tank with water. An easy way to do this and avoid messing up your ornaments is by placing a plate into the bottom of the tank and pouring water over the top. Add water conditioner to remove toxins in the tap water and adjust pH and water hardness to suit the needs of your fish.
  6. You can then plug all electrical elements into the power points and turn them on. Allow the aquarium time to heat up before adding plants and cycling your tank for fish. This usually takes 12 to 24 hours.
  7. Before introducing your fish, test your water conditions using your pH and ammonia test kits. Make sure that your ammonia is 0. These fish care sheets and checklists will help you ensure your fish stay healthy. Remember to keep the pH slightly acid (6.8 to 7.0) while cycling your tank as it reduces the toxicity of ammonia. Do not introduce fish until the water conditions are correct.

Decorative touches

Plants, roots and other decorations make your aquarium into a beautiful eye-catcher and at the same time fulfil vital functions in your tank habitat. Aquatic plants produce oxygen and provide your aquarium fish with hiding places. Decorative elements, such as tree roots, rocks, or even posters for the aquarium background provide visual variety and always bring a new look to your underwater world. Discover our varied decorative range and enjoy adding these personal touches.

Final preparation

No matter what type of filter you use, ‘good’ bacteria will need to colonise it in order to remove toxic waste products such as ammonia from the water. This process is called nitrification or biological filtration. New aquariums and filters will not have these bacteria and it can take several weeks to establish a fully functioning biological filter. During this time ammonia or nitrite can build up to toxic levels causing stress, disease or death. Therefore it is important that you do not overstock the tank. Problems can be reduced by:

  • Gradually building up the population of fish over four to five weeks.
  • Using live plants – these can absorb some of the toxic products directly from the water.
  • Only feeding the fish sparingly (once every second day), to reduce the amount of ammonia produced.
  • Testing ammonia and nitrite levels – change water as needed.
  • Being mindful of your pH levels. Lowering pH reduces the toxicity of ammonia.
  • Using ‘Stress Zyme’ ‘Cycle’ or similar products to boost nitrifying bacteria levels.

What do I feed my fish?

Like humans, quality nutrition plays a huge part in keeping your fish alive and well. It is important to also select the right variety of food for your fish. A good way to do this is to consider the area of the tank in which your fish dwell. For example, top-dwelling fish such as Hatchetfish and Halfbeaks are best suited to flakes, as these will float on the surface. For medium-dwelling fish, such as Rainbow Fish, Goldfish and Gourami, crisps (which sink slowly) are a good option. Finally for bottom-dwellers like Cories, Loaches and Catfish, a wafer is ideal as it will quickly sink to the bottom for them to devour.

For more information, visit the fish section of Petspot website or check out these handy videos on fish care: