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Starting an Aquarium

Updated on October 25, 2012

First Steps in Starting a Basic Aquarium

How you start an aquarium can determine your likelihood of success in keeping the beautiful vibrant aquarium you have always dreamed of. This article will cover some of the basics in starting an aquarium such as; correct tank size, equipment needed, and cycling the aquarium.

Aquarium Size

To determine the correct aquarium size you will want to consider what type of fish you are keeping and how many you plan to have. If your planning on having a community tank with small and medium size fish, I would recommend at least a 29 gallon tank. If you feel uncomfortable with this size or if it is your first aquarium, you may want to start off with a 10 gallon to get the hand of things. A 29 gallon tank will accommodate most aquarium fish. If you considering larger fish or aggressive cichlids, you will want to consider at minimum a 55 gallon tank. If you are just starting in the aquarium hobby, I wouldn’t recommend going above a 55 gallon tank. Start with something you know you will be able to manage then move up from there.


The basic equipment you will need (outside of the tank and stand) are a filter, heater, light/hood, and air pump.

For the filter I would suggest a hang on filter to start. These filters hang on the back of the tanks, are very reliable, and are relatively inexpensive. Be sure to read the manufacturers rating to be sure the filter is the appropriate size for you aquarium. Filters are important in removing waste and pollutants from the water. Filteer are also important in supporting biological filtration which help reduce ammonia and nitrites. Depending on the filter you select, many come with separate compartments for biological filtration media.

For the heater, again be sure to read the manufacturers product ratings to ensure that you select the product for your aquarium. If your heater is too small it will be over worked. Typically you will want to keep your aquarium between 75 and 80 degree farenhight. A good quality heater will help ensure your water temperature stays with in this range with minimal fluctuations. Large changes in temperature can stress fish which makes them more susceptible to disease.

The hood and light are important as well. The hood acts as a proper folder for your light keeping it dry and also keeps fish from jumping out.

The air pump is another important piece of equipment. Typically the air pump is feed through an air stone or bubble wand. These are use to keep you tank oxygenated and also help add additional water movement. If you’re planning on keeping live plants, air pumps are not a good idea.

Cycling the Aquarium

Correctly cycling the aquarium is a very important part of starting an aquarium. If done incorrectly it can have horrible effects on the health of the aquarium. Cycling the water properly will help remove ammonia, and nitrites and help build good bacteria. There are many products your local fish store may recommend to help cycle the tank. They product are advised to help speed up the process. Using the product you will be able to add fish and start enjoying your aquarium sooner.

When cycling the aquarium you want to slowly add fish and continually check water parameters to make sure everything in in balance. You can invest in some water testing kits or some local fish store test water for a few bucks. If you plan on keeping fish with really specific water needs, you will want to insure those are properly set and stable before adding fish.

Aquarium Cycling Chemicals

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Stocking an Aquarium

When stocking an aquarium it is important to consider several factors. First, you must consider how big you tank is and how many fish you plan on keeping and how large those fish will be. The old rule is 1 inch per gallon. This is probably on okay rule for small fish but probably not for larger fish. Example: you would not want to keep two 10 inch fish in a 20 gallon tank. You’ll need to use common sense when figuring out how many fish you can put in you aquarium. One of the worst things you can do is over stock the tank. This will lead to stressed fish and disease. When in doubt, go look around and ask questions on a forumn to see what other fellow aquarists are doing.

Another important factor to consider is the type of fish you will be stocking. Will they be aggressive? Friendly? How big will they grow? You will want to choose proper tank mates. Petco has a good compatibility chart that I have linked here:

If you follow this you should have no problems.

The final thing you will want to consider is the individual fish themselves. You should know what their diet needs to be, what temperature they like, and how much light they like. Getting you fish’s environment right will help ensure you have a healthy happy aquarium.


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