How to set up my new fish tank

After the excitement of buying your fish tank and fish accessories you’re ready to set up your fish tank.   Generally, you will need the following accessories for your fish tank.:

–              Fish tank

–              Fish tank light

–              Fish tank filter

–              Fish tank water pump (may be combined with filter)

–              Fish tank bubbler (may be combined with pump)

–              Air-lines /waterlines

–              Gravel

–              Fish tank decoration. (Your fish need places to hide, when they feel that they can escape from potential predators; they are more relaxed, will swim more freely and behave more naturally.

–              Aquarium heater (unless you are keeping cold water fish, a heater is required to keep you fish in the best health)

–              Nitrogen test kit (often overlooked, but well worth the investment, it may save your fishes lives).

–              Tank cover.  Depending on the fish species, a cover is either necessary or just recommended.  Many fish-keepers have been disappointed to find dead fish on the floor of their living room.  This author would not have been the first to be woken in the night by a fish flopping around on the carpet.

Setting up your fish tank should be an easy process, but it’s important not to rush it.  This is why you didn’t buy fish at the same time as you buy a fish tank and accessories.  (If you have committed this cardinal sin, read how to flash cycle your water).

  1. Position the fish tank and/or fish tank cabinet in its planned position. Observe how you will plug in any accessories, and how the tank/cabinet appears in this position.  Does it block access? Will people bump it walking past?  Before filling with water is the time to consider these aspects.  You may even decide it’s too big, and want to return to the suppler for a smaller size.
  2. Wash everything which will go inside the tank in warm water. This includes the tank itself.  Don´t use soap or detergent, and don’t allow cloths previously used with soap or detergent anywhere near the tank.  The new plastic and glass all looks clean, but faint traces of chemical or metallic substances may remain, and may be harmful to your fishes.  It’s often convenient to wash the gravel in a colander in the sink.
  3. Fill the tank about a third full with cold tap water. As we will not be adding fish right away, it isn’t necessary to dechlorinate the water.
  4. If you have an under-gravel filter, install this in the tank first. Otherwise add the gravel and roughly smooth it out.
  5. Install your various pumps filters and heaters in the tank, but don’t turn them on yet. Generally, tanks will be more attractive when the tank hardware is largely hidden. Try to install these items in a rear corner of the tank.  The heater needs to be somewhere with good water flow, so don’t bury it in the gravel or in the corner behind a filter box.
  6. Install any decorative items you have for the fish into the tank, try to conceal your tank hardware, while creating an attractive environment. Aquascaping is an art form in itself.  The most important aspect is that the fish will be happy in the layout you choose.  Otherwise, rather than swimming naturally, they will spend the days wedged in a corner, or hiding behind the filter.

As a rule of thumb, you need to create an environment which is similar to the natural environment for that fish species.  You should research the natural environments of your preferred fish species so that you can recreate it at home.  For example:

Australian rainbow fish and South American Discus both prefer sandy bottoms, plenty of space to move, and plants above/to the side.

African rift lake cichlids love rocks and caves, and will be unhappy without them.

If you haven´t yet chosen your fish, see this brief guide to some of the best aquarium fish for beginners


  1. Fill your tank up till all your pumps, heaters and filters are covered. Switch them on and check that everything is working.  This initial water flow will probably cloud up the tank for the next hour or so, that’s fine.  Come back when it clears and check that everything looks good.
  2. Fill your tank up to close to the top. You don’t want it to be too high as water tends to spit up from bubbles or movement and wet the light.  This can cause rusting or salt deposition, and is worth avoiding.
  3. The next day is the time to add the first fish and start testing the water. For now, read about the nitrogen cycle, and why fish keeping is all about focusing on the water, rather than the fish.