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How To Set Up Your First Fish Tank: A Beginners Guide

Getting your first fish can be very exciting. For most people, it is seems as simple as running out to the pet store, buying a few goldfish, and putting them in a bowl. Unfortunately, most of what you see online when it comes to setting up fish tanks is wrong. Don’t get me wrong; fish tanks can be very easy to set up and maintain. It must be done correctly, though, to avoid problems and keep your fish happy and healthy.

Five Simple Steps To Setting Up A Fish Tank

1. Find a good tank

Many people are often intimidated when it comes to buying a fish tank. In reality, this is often the easiest part and relatively cheap. A simple 10 gallon tank can often be bought at local pet stores for $30 or so. I wouldn’t recommend going any smaller than 10 gallons for your first tank. If you want to buy a complete setup with everything included, the Marina LED Aquarium Kit is a great option. It comes with everything you could possibly need to start an aquarium; filters, lights, fish food, water conditioner, a net, and a care guide. Going with a complete aquarium kit like this will probably end up saving you money in the long run.

TIP: If you are getting a Betta fish, check out our list of the best Betta fish tanks.

2. Get all the necessary equipment

If you decided to go with an aquarium kit like i covered in the last paragraph, you can skip over this part. If not, you are definitely going to need a good filter. For aquariums up to 20 gallons, I would recommend the AquaClear 20 Power Filter. I have used this filter on a lot of my grow out tanks, and I have only positive things to say. It can process a lot of water, keeps your tank clean, and is pretty quiet.

Additionally, you are going to need water conditioner and substrate. Water conditioner removes chlorine and other harmful contaminants from your tap water, making it safe for fish. For your substrate, any simple gravel should do just fine.

If you are looking to add a some decorations that require air flow, a good air pump will also be required. Luckily, these are relatively cheap and simple to use.

3. Let your tank cycle

For may beginners, cycling the aquarium is often the most difficult step. It requires a lot of time, some knowledge, and tons of patience. I am not going to go into a complete cycle guide right now, since that require a whole different article. If you want to learn more about this process, check out our complete guide on the fishless cycle.

4. Stock your tank with fish!

Finally, this is what you have been waiting for! Like everything in this hobby, stocking your tank requires patience and knowledge. When starting out, add one fish at a time. A recently cycled tank is still building up its levels of beneficial bacteria. Adding a lot of fish right off the bat can overload these bacteria and crash your tank. Once your first fish shows signs of good health (give it a week or two), you can add a second.

Since you are most likely setting up your very first fish tank, I will give a few suggestions for fish selection. Mollies, Platies, and Guppies are great starter fish. They are hardy, colorful, and able to handle a few mistakes. In addition, they will breed in just about any aquarium, which is a very cool experience for new fish owners! For a 10 gallon tank, I would suggest only keeping 3 or 4 of these fish. If you are just keeping guppies, you could probably do 5 or 6. It is very important to your fishes health that the tank is not overstocked! It is better to have only a few healthy fish than tons on unhealthy fish.

If you are setting up a large tank (20 gallon or larger), a community tank with several types of fish is a great option. Here are a few peaceful tankmates that will go great in any community aquarium; Tetras, Rainbowfish, Hatchetfish, Corydora Catfish, Shrimp, and Snails.

5. Keep up with necessary maintenance

Look, we all know that water changes and cleanings are no fun. Unfortunately, they are necessary steps if you want to keep a healthy fish tank. Slacking on maintenance can cause a whole bunch of problems in your tank and will eventually reflect in the health of your fish.

The first maintenance step you need to take is keeping up with regular water changes. Water changes are a way bigger deal in saltwater compared to freshwater, but we won’t worry about that just yet. Ideally, you should do water changes once a week. Through my experience, this realistically doesn’t always happen. It s not the end of the word if you miss a few water changes. As long as you are doing a change monthly, your tank should be fine.

The first reason that water changes are necessary is because they help remove nitrate, nitrites, and any other toxic substances in your tank. As fish waste and uneaten food breaks down, it is converted to ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Ammonia and nitrite are removed through the nitrogen process, but nitrate is not. The only way to get rid of nitrate it by changing the water. Nitrate isn’t horrible in small quantities, but it will eventually build up to toxic levels. This is why it is crucial that you change the water once in a while.

Final Thoughts

Setting up your first fish tank is definitely not something that happens overnight. That being said, it is a fun process and can be very rewarding if done right. By following the steps we have provided, you should be able to set up your first fish tank and keep it running for years to come. Make sure to always keep up with necessary maintenance, feed your fish regularly, and enjoy!

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

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