The Beginners Guide to Fish Tank Setup 101

Many people dream of setting up a beautiful fish tank at home. They see some aquariums at friend’s places or at commercial spaces like restaurants, and offices and wish that even they should have one at their home.

Sometimes kids force parents to have a fish tank at home and this encourages many parents to look for information or a guide regarding setting up a fish tank at home. 

In this article, we are going to cover some of the most essential points that will help you to get started.

Article Contents

Types of fish tanks

Yes, there are types of fish tanks to go for and before starting out you must have an idea of which one to choose because each one has its own pros and cons.

1) Saltwater tanks – These are a working model of the real sea world and in this water must be maintained just like sea water. The fish species are also those that can survive in the seawater.

2) Freshwater tanks – These tanks are divided into two parts

3) Tropical fish tanks – This is the most favorite type of tank amongst aquarium hobbyists because you can house the best visually looking and the most beautiful fish across the world right in your home. These tanks require slightly warmer water than room temperature because these fish come from the tropical region of the earth.

4) Coldwater tanks – Many people prefer cold water tanks to start with because they are easy to maintain. Goldfish is a classic example of cold-water fish. The water temperature in this tank is the same as the room temperature and you dot need any extra equipment except a water heater

Location of the fish tank

Once you have finalized the type of tank you need to set up, don’t just go out and get your tank, first finalize where you wish to keep it in your home.

Locate a place where direct sunlight will not fall on the tank surface. Direct sunlight encourages algae growth in your tank. Once algae start growing, it grows really fast and your entire tank water will become greenish quickly.

If you can’t find a suitable place then chose a place in your home even if it receives direct sunlight, but you must have some control over sunlight using curtains, blinds, etc.

Also, see to it that the place you have chosen is secured from any vibrations like stairs or passages where lots of human movement is present.

Aquarium fish are extremely sensitive to vibrations and if they are continuously exerted with these they can go under stress.

Size of the fish tank

The size of the fish tank is important when you are just starting out with aqua-scaping because when it comes to maintenance it’s going to take a big chunk of your time every week or depending upon what kind of schedule you chose to have.

But on the other hand, it’s even true that tanks with big water volumes require less maintenance because fewer fish in bigger water volumes will have fewer toxic gases to contaminate the water.

However, a bigger tank will cost more because of volume and the equipment required will be a higher capacity to handle the bigger volume of water. If your budget is a little more then it will be good to have a bigger tank. 

Forget about getting a fish bowl

No matter what kind of fish tank you chose never ever keep fish in a fish bowl. Many times people chose this because it looks attractive with a small goldfish in it. But this can be a big mistake. 

The problem with the fishbowl is that it has a narrow opening at the top and this is the place where oxygen exchange takes place in the water where the fish lives. 

All fish survive on the dissolved oxygen in the water and if enough oxygen doesn’t get mixed then fish will gasp for air at the top surface.

A fish bowl has a narrow opening at the top that blocks most of the air that must be mixed in the water. That is why even if a fish bowl looks good avoid using it for fish keeping.

Learn about basic water chemistry

Chemistry is a complex subject but we don’t need all of it here. All you need -is the knowledge of how to keep fish tank water free of toxic gases.

Normally fish tank water will get contaminated because of the following reasons:

  1. Uneaten food particles get settled at the bottom of the tank and start decaying releasing ammonia gas.
  2. Fish produce solid waste (poop) after eating, with starts decaying and converts into ammonia.
  3. Dead fish if not removed starts decaying and makes the water toxic.
  4. Dead plants and leaves get rotten releasing toxic gases.

All these destroy the quality of water and need to be taken care of. In the natural world, fish swim freely in ponds and lakes but in a fish tank since the space is confined it is impossible to escape from this toxic environment and that’s why learning about water chemistry is the most important step. Learn about the Nitrogen cycle before you start your fish tank.

Invest in the necessary equipment

You won’t be able to run a healthy tank without the necessary equipment. Lets’ have a look at the minimum equipment required for a healthy tank

1) Filtration system 

This ranks at the top of the list because it helps to keep fish tank water free of toxic gases. There are many types of filtration systems available for fish tanks like mechanical, chemical, and biological filters.

Depending upon the size of your tank you’ll need to buy one and learn to use it to keep the water clean and healthy.

2) Air pumps and air stones

Fish survive on oxygen that gets dissolved in the fish tank water. This exchange of oxygen takes place at the top surface of the fish tank.

In order to encourage fast and plenty of oxygen to mix in the water, it is necessary to agitate the water surface frequently. 

To do this easily water bubbles are produced using an air pump that sits outside of the tank. This air pump forces air from a rubber tube into the tank and an air stone produces the effect of bubbles that travel at the top surface of the tank.

These bubbles while released into the surrounding air agitate the water surface encouraging the exchange of oxygen into the fish tank water. The surface area of the agitated water surface increases or expands which helps in the mixing of oxygen into fish tank water easily.

The added benefit of this is that the air bubbles travelling to the top of the tank also produce a visually beautiful aqua scape.

3) Water heater

A water heater is only used for tropical tanks. A water heater with a thermostat is preferred to maintain the water temperature at the desired numbers. 

4) Thermometers

If a water heater is used then a thermometer is compulsory to keep an eye on the temperature levels.

Many types of hang-on thermometers are used to carefully monitor the water temperature. Any drastic difference in temperature can affect fish health.

5) Siphon tube for making partial water changes

This is simple equipment with a glass jar at one end which is dipped in the fish tank while the cleaning process. The other end goes into an empty bucket specially kept aside for cleaning purposes.

As the water gets sucked out of the fish tank some solid debris settled at the bottom of the tank also gets sucked through the glass jar and falls into the outer bucket. In this way, most of the solid debris can be cleaned.

This is a very simple process to learn and requires not more than 30 minutes every week. By cleaning the fish tank this way you can avoid decaying solid waste, dead particles, dead fish, and plants that release toxic gases into the fish tank water column when they start decaying.

6) Fish tank lighting

Lighting is not compulsory if you are a beginner but helps in plant growth. As a beginner, you can start with a non-planted tank as well and gradually add live plants and artificial lighting on top. LED lighting is preferred in most cases because it’s cheap, looks good, and lasts longer.

7) Fish food

Every animal including fish requires food to survive and learning about fish species and the kind of food they will eat makes a lot of difference in fish health.  Fish come under two categories “omnivore and carnivore”

Omnivores are one that can eat non-veg as well as vegetarian food and carnivores mostly eat meat, which means non-vegetarian food.

When you buy fish make sure to gain knowledge of this basic difference and buy the required food and get to know about the required dosage for the fish. You can even make homemade food for your fish and check their behavior and growth over time.

8) Water testing kit

A water testing kit will make it easier to check if your fish tank water is safe or not. Building and maintaining an aquarium is all about keeping water clean and healthy for your fish. You can ignore all the fancy stuff such as decorations, and visual looks and just focus on keeping the water healthy, and your fish will definitely live longer and will be happy.

By learning to use the water testing kit it will be much easier to keep control over the quality of fish tank water and you’ll be able to take action faster even when you find something is wrong during scheduled water testing.

Learn about partial water changes

Maintaining and keeping the water chemistry intact requires making partial water changes under a strict schedule. By replacing partial water in the tank you are limiting the increase of toxic gases in the tank that gets formed every day. 

Fish eat food and produce solid waste (poop) which turns into toxic gases because of decay. Thus to maintain and limit the percentages of toxic gasses it is necessary that you perform partial water changes and keep water healthy for fish.

Learning to make these water changes is necessary because it will require some basic equipment that makes this easier for you. It’s a small process and quite easy to learn and will save big trouble in the long run because water will remain healthy and fish will be happy.

Learn fish compatibility

Fish compatibility is one of the most neglected subjects when it comes to fish keeping in aquariums. Most beginners go to a pet store and buy fish that are visually attractive or look good from the outside.

But they forget that these tiny creatures have survival instincts and they can fight with each other when their privacy gets dominated.

A fish tank is a confined space and in such a small space it becomes necessary that every fish gets his own share of space and way to express himself.

This is where “compatibility” becomes important. There are certain species that go well with others and if you don’t follow these rules there are going to be fights in the fish tank.

Fighting because of dominance quickly leads to fear and stress in fish and any kind of stress leads to deadly diseases. Fights themselves can be deadly too. That’s why when you buy fish strictly follow compatibility rules and even when you put these fish in your tank observe their behavior.

Learn male to female ratio

Just like compatibility rules, there are rules about how many males and female fish must be kept in a fish tank. These fish have mating instincts as well and when they see a female in the tank, it is obvious that they will try to mate.

When there are more males and a single female then fighting over her is normal and these fights can lead to death as well. That’s why as a general rule, make sure that you have 2 females for 3 male fish. By following these rules you will distract the male when he’s following a female for mating.

Learn about fish diseases and treatments

No matter how much care and cleaning schedule you maintain fish can get sick and some of these diseases can be deadly. Some diseases are even contagious which means they get transferred to the entire tank one by one.

Treating sick fish can be challenging and getting to know about them from the first day helps a lot. Sometimes a weekly checkup of water chemistry using a water testing kit will keep the things under control. 

Most fish diseases are because by disturbing water chemistry and controlling the various numbers of dissolved gases in the water is the biggest challenge. 

If you can afford always have a quarantine tank set up just like your main tank so that any sick fish can be transferred there and treated separately. This is because sometimes extra medications can have side effects on other fish and even live aquatic plants if you have them.


If you want a healthy fish tank with happy fish in it then above all learn to keep the water clean. Water is life for fish and if you can keep that healthy and toxic free then it’s heaven for your fish.

By keeping the water healthy you’ll avoid any diseases and infections that may arise in the future and your fish will be able to enjoy their stay in the tank.

It is important to note that even crystal clear water can have contaminations and can be toxic too. Water that’s just visibly clean and clear is not healthy all the time. A water testing kit will be able to judge the quality of water and keeping levels of toxic gases under the limit is the real challenge in the aquarium hobby.

Once you learn the secrets of maintaining a healthy tank, you can always go for bigger challenges and enjoy this great hobby by yourself.

Article Credits: GuppyPortal

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