Starting an Aquarium

The Beginner’s Guide to Aquariums

Aquariums are beautiful home décor and fairly easy to maintain. People of all ages can enjoy watching and taking care of fish, and the good news is they’ll never have an “accident” in the house. Here are some step-by-step instructions for setting up a new aquarium:

1)   Do your research.

Freshwater aquariums are best for beginners because they are less maintenance than salt water. There are tons of online resources where you can learn about the types of aquariums, fish, products, etc. Be realistic and make decisions based on the amount of space you have, the amount of time you can dedicate to it, and the amount of money you want to spend.


2)   Understand the nitrogen cycle.

One of the key elements of an aquarium is the nitrogen cycle. Fish waste and decaying food that hasn’t been ingested turns into ammonia. This ammonia is bad for the fish and needs to be broken down into nitrites and nitrates by good bacteria to eliminate the toxicity. Tank size, filter, amount and types of fish, and how you maintain it, all affect the nitrogen cycle. When starting a tank from scratch, there is no “good bacteria,” so you can either add bacteria from another tank (this is called “salting”) or grow your own with specific products for that purpose. Some like to start the nitrogen cycle by adding fish that are more resistant to ammonia levels (like zebra danios or black tetras), but there is always a risk with that. It usually takes a few weeks to prepare the tank with your “grow your own” methods, so be patient if that’s the route you take.


3)   Prepare for setup.

Choose a place for your aquarium that isn’t in direct sunlight. A good beginner tank size is 20 gallons. Contrary to what some may think, larger tanks are easier to take care of because they simulate a real marine environment more than small tanks can. You’ll need a stable and strong surface to hold the tank…we recommend getting an actual tank stand that can sustain the weight. Here are the things you’ll need: Tank, filter, heater, thermometer, water conditioner, lid with lighting system, gravel or rock substrate, plants, decorations, aquarium test kit, a fish net, and fish food.


4)   Set up the tank.

Clean the inside of the tank with water and a cloth. Don’t use any soap. Rinse the gravel thoroughly to remove any dust or dirt. Spread the gravel on the bottom of the tank, putting more toward the back of the tank than the front. Add the plants and decorations (after rinsing), but don’t overcrowd the tank. A few pieces will suffice at first. Add water to the aquarium until it is almost full, then add water conditioner (follow the package instructions) to remove the harmful elements. Install the filter, heater and lid with lighting per manufacturer instructions. It is best to connect all plugs with one surge protector to keep everything organized. Turn everything on to start the filtration and heating. This is when you’ll start the nitrogen cycle by adding cultivated bacteria or using the products to start growing your own.


5)   Test the water when you think you are ready to start adding fish.

Using the aquarium test kit, check the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH levels. If they are within the proper range according to the kit, you can start to add fish. Add only a few at a time and wait at least a week in between additions.  Let the bag with the fish float in the aquarium for an hour or two so the fish can adjust to the temperature of the tank water. It’s a good idea to add some of the fish tank water into the bag during that time so the fish gets used to the levels of the tank water as well. Use a net to take the fish out of the bag and gently lower it into the tank, allowing it to swim out of the net freely. Don’t pour any of the pet store water into the tank water in case there were any harmful chemicals or diseases in it.


6)   Choose your fish wisely.

Fish need to be chosen carefully in order for the aquarium to function properly. Like animals and people, some fish just shouldn’t be around others, some are extremely sensitive to their environment, and some are super easy and are happy with whoever and wherever. Good starter fish are: Black Tetras, Tiger Barbs, Convict Cichlids, Zebra Danios, White Cloud Mountain Minnows and Plecostomus.


7)   Maintain.

Feed your fish once a day. Start with a large pinch and see how much they eat. A rule of thumb is only feed them as much as they will eat within 5 minutes of dropping the food in. Overfeeding is very unhealthy for fish, so err on the lesser amount. Change out 10% to 20% of the water once a week or once every two weeks to keep the cycle healthy, and test regularly to make sure the levels are good. Then just sit back and enjoy your beautiful fish.


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