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Basic Freshwater Aquarium Setup Tips

Updated on August 18, 2015
by Genista
by Genista

Freshwater Aquarium

If you've decided to set up a freshwater aquarium, you want to consider some of the basic tips I'm about to outline below. First, you'll need to understand that with freshwater aquariums you can create a community tank, but you can't mix tropical fish with coldwater fish due to their obvious environmental differences. IE. the temperature of the water. But, you can put one or the other within the tank.

You'll want to choose between a glass, acrylic glass, or acrylic, as the aquarium. Usually, larger enclosures are made of glass, whereas smaller aquariums tend to be acrylic or an acrylic glass.

Typical freshwater aquarium fish include goldfish, cichlids, tetras, mollies, platies, and various other community fish. Make sure that you know which fish are compatible before you mix community and aggressive or community and semi-aggressive fish.

Setting up an Aquarium


You want the aquarium to be in an area where you'll be able to enjoy it; plus the fish will get used to seeing you, so they will not shy away when you get close to the tank.

You want to make sure that the aquarium is on a solid support, such as a table or stand, and you want to avoid direct sunlight, as this will increase green algae growth during summer months.

Setting up the Aquarium

You want to rinse out the aquarium, the gravel, and all the décor and plants before you start to fill up the tank. You want to remove all dust, dirt, and debri from everything you plan on putting inside the tank. You can put the gravel in a large bucket, pour the bucket with water, stir the gravel around a bit, dump the water, refill, stir, and dump the water back out.

When you go to fill up the tank, you want to carefully pour in the gravel, place larger décor in the tank, and add any plants. You want to put taller plants towards the back of the tank and shorter plants near the front. Go ahead and set up the filter and heater, but do not plug anything in.

When you're ready to pour in the tap water, make sure that the water is room temperature. You may want to put a shallow bowl in the center of the tank so that when you pour the water into the tank, the stream will not displace your gravel or décor. When the water fills about an inch or so above the gravel, you can remove the bowl.

Once the aquarium is completely filled with tap water, plug in your heater so that it can acclimate the water to about 78F, if you plan on keeping tropical fish in your aquarium. Also, go ahead and plug in the filter so that it can start filtering the water.

Add all your water treatments to the tap water so that the chlorine is removed and the good bacteria starts to build up in the tank.

Add the light, and you're done. Let the tank sit for at least 48 hours before you add any fish. It's actually better if you want 5-7 days before adding fish so that the good bacteria and the tank can full acclimate.

Adding the Fish

You don't want to add all the fish to you aquarium all at once. Even though you've let the aquarium acclimate and build up good bacteria, you want to add a few fish at a time so that you do not upset the biological balance of the aquarium.

Depending on the size of your aquarium, you'll want to add about 3-5 fish to start. Let the fish live and build up more good bacteria for about three days, and then you can add 2-3 more fish.

Then every 3-5 days you can add your fish until your tank is complete.

The key is that per every one gallon of water you have one inch of fish, so when choosing your fish, you'll want to check the adult size of the fish. Basically, you can't count the baby size of the fish and just keep adding fish.

The more fish you add, the more ammonia they produce, and if you have a small tank with an equal balance of good bacteria, the bacteria can only breakdown so much ammonia and waste.

On average you can put 8-12 fish in a 10 gallon tank, 12-15 fish in a 20 gallon, 15-20 fish in a 30 gallon, and 20-30 fish in a 55 gallon aquarium.

Acclimating the New Fish

As soon as you purchase your new fish, you want to go straight home as the bags they are packed in are meant to last just a few hours, if properly bagged. When you get home, you want to float the bag, unopened, for about 15-20 minutes so that they are allowed to adjust to the new temperature.

When you go to let them free, it's best to try to avoid letting any of the bagged water into your aquarium. This is where a net comes in handy.

It will take a few days for the new fish to adjust to the new environment. Try not to mess with them during that time, as you want to minimize the stress level.

Setting up A Freshwater Aquarium

Aquarium Maintenance

You want to make sure that you keep up a regular maintenance routine so that you prevent the aquarium from getting cloudy and dirty, as this can increase disease amongst your fish.

Once a month, you want to test the ammonia and pH levels of your water. You can either test it at home with at home test strips, or take a cup of water to your local pet store and ask them to test it for you.

You'll want to replace the filter cartridge and the activated carbon that's inside the filter.

Scrub the walls free of algae, and rinse off your aquarium décor and fake plants.

And perform a partial water change. You'll want to remove about 20% of the water from the aquarium and refill it with tap water. Treat the aquarium with a water conditioner, and leave the fish alone, as this is a very stressful process. It's actually best that you remove the fish from the tank if possible, but this is not necessary.

Before you start to remove the water, you'll want to unplug the filter and the heat source. If you're using a heater (tube shaped), you'll want to leave it unplugged for at least 20 minutes so that it can cool off, otherwise, if you do not wait till it's cooled or if you leave it plugged in, you can potentially crack the aquarium because the water is not there to buffer the heat.

by statico
by statico


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Was just given a 45 gallon set up. This info is very welcome and easy to understand. I think I will be successful now

    • Entourage_007 profile image


      8 years ago from Santa Barbara, CA

      Great Hub, I have 2 convict cichlids that are breeding right now. 2 Jack Dempseys and 1 oscar in my 55 gallon tank. They make a great atmosphere in the living room.

    • Ling fat profile image

      Ling fat 

      9 years ago

      i really enjoy this great information....i will take this advice and put it towards my new fish ....

    • theindianblues profile image


      9 years ago from Some where on the Globe

      Great tips and very much useful for me, where I am trying to set up a Freshwater Aquarium at my home based on a request from my little daughter. Thank you

    • justmesuzanne profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      Very thorough Hub! Lots of good information! :) Thanks!

    • penelopedarcy profile image


      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      verrrryyy informative... good job! maybe you can do one for saltwater now.... :O

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Georgia

      Sorry to hear about thrainbow. Hopefully the rest will fair well.... Only time will tell. Good luck.

    • profile image


      10 years ago!....the rainbow didn't make the transition.My huge angel and pleco are doing just fine.Even the little ones are swimming in schools!It's so nice to watch them swim and play.I just got home and found the rainbow dead.Oh!well.

      I am the kind of guy that prefers the term "i did warn you cutie" over the term "i told you so." but hey,only one loss...and my water hasn't looked this clear since i installed the wood.When i first installed the wood, my water was so foggy i couldn't even see one fish.Now, i see everything so clear as if i just added the water.Never had such good results.

      Besides,my friends fish are grandpas!They are bound to kick the bucket sooner or later.But so far, one death.

      ps)I won't add anymore fish ^_^!!!!Seee ya later Whitney.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Georgia

      It's not that it's impossible to do, it's just not smart. It's bad for the fish, and it can have a bad outcome. I wish you luck, but PLEASE don't add any more fish, as your tank is way over populated as it is, even with the original fish. Remember 1 inch of fish per 1 gallon of water.

      Yes, the equipment for ghost hunting is expensive, but those prices are actually some of the lower prices that I found.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      héhéhé....i just added them.The experiment begins.

      1 molly;1 school of glow lights;1 school of black neon tetra;3 penguin tetra;

      4 otosinclus; 8 cory; 4 kalhi loach; 2 skirt tetra; 1 young angel;1 young pleco;

      and now....1 colombian tetra(1 1/2''); 1 adult angel(size of my freakn' hand!);

      1 adult rainbow tetra(2 1/2'');1 bleeding heart tetra; 2 orange phantom tetra; a freakn' 4'' pleco;

      a grand total of....45 fish!!!!!WOOOOHOOOO!!! a 32 gallon tank.

      If i pull it off, i can be proof that it is possible.

      ps)i checked out your ghost hunter sight.I can't beleave how expensive the emf and other equipment are.

      Have a good week Whitney!

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Georgia

      A new filter may help, but if you end up adding all the other fish to the already overcrowded tank, you'll still need to do frequent partial water changes and filter changes.

      I currently just have a small 10 gallon tank because I have my time spread with my reptiles and dogs. I just don't have time to properly care for a fish tank right now. It just has a few neons and tetras in it. It's really not that much of a tank. I miss my larger tank though (it's got a snake in it now. ha).

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      perhaps new fluvalve filter can be useful?Anywho...thanks for taking time to answer my comments!

      i performed a water change today...went super.My black molly was interupting me...^_^!

      ps)du u have any fish?

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Georgia

      Adding 10 more fish is going to be pretty bad on your tank. I definitely wouldn't recommend it, especially because you're already way past your limit. I can't remember average lengths for all of those fish, but most of them have average lengths of 2-3 inches, which means you are well past your limit as is. Good luck and frequent cleanings is about all that I can say. You shouldn't do it, but it sounds like you're going to anyway. Just remember that with frequent partial water changes, you're going to highly stress out the fish.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hey thanks for replying so quickly!I really apreciate your help Whitney.If you think that's a full tank,you must think i am mad to add: 4 cory, 2 khali loach, 4 tetra family and a clown loach....oh!And an adult angel fish and pleco.

      My buddy is switching to red fish, and he offered to give me his fish.I know i am pushing the laws of space but i think of it as my final add................besides the two new big plants!

      Once again thanks Whitney for warning me but i guess i was kinda looking forward for some optomistic* feed back seing that life is a miracle itself and you struck me as a good nurturer of life.

      Any words of wisdom after i add the fish????(besides gookluck!)

      or survival tips?Feel honest:P!

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Georgia

      I'd say that your tank is pretty full as it is. Remember that you want 1 inch of fish for every 1 gallon of water.

      Female bettas castill be very aggressive. In general, you could probably put a betta in the tank with your tetras and mollies, but the tank already has it's fill of fish.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hey whitney,

      Nice site.Help me lose an other 4 months of research that i can totally devote to my gaming and girlfriend.

      Just wounder one thing there, can i keep a male or female betta in a 32 gallon

      occupied by :

      5 plants; an O2 system; 2 peaces of driftwood;

      7 black neon; 2 skirt tetra;2 B.O tetras; 4 glowlight tetra; 2 angel fish(yaeks!); 2 black mollys; 5 blue neons; 3 penguin tetra; 4 Al. cory; 2 ?cory; 2 khali loach and a pleco?

      I read females are less aggressive overall....

      yours truly,


    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      Ohh.. Gotcha. I thought you did it the otherway around. Sorry. This is definitely a good suggestion that I should have thought about adding to the hub, but I guess since it's in the comments, that's good enough for now. ;-) lol I guess if I get a number of comments about it, then I'll put it in the hub because if they ask about it then they didn't read the comments. Thanks for reminding me about this. I completely forgot.

    • rmr profile image


      11 years ago from Livonia, MI

      That's pretty much what i was trying to say. Sorry if I was unclear. I add some of my tank water to the bag, but never the other way around.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      SweetiePie, aquariums are very fun to watch. I just hate taking care of them. lol.

      Bard of Ely, that sounds like fun. I know a few people who've tried to breed high quality angelfish or whatever. It sounds like too much work for me. I think I'll stick to geckos. ha

      rmr, It's really not recommended to add some of their tank water, if you already existing fish or even if you don't because if the tank water the fish were initially had bacteria, then you can spread this to your other fish. I know in many cases, if the fish at the petstore are sick, but aren't showing signs just yet, people will purchase the new fish and just pour all the water in. Now, although the exisiting fish will get sick from the new fish, the water increases the risk because they were in the water to begin with. Plus the water can harbor the spores and whatnot. It's really not recommended to do that. The way to go around ph shock is to try the drip effect, where you put a little of your water in the bag, or in a container holding the fish and the pet store water, and slowly adding more of your water while letting the fish acclimate that way. Eventually when you feel you've got more of your water in the bucket of fish and pet store water, you can scoop out the fish and put them in your tank. This method is used frequently with saltwater fish as well as delicate freshwater fish.

    • rmr profile image


      11 years ago from Livonia, MI

      Excellent advice. I also add a little bit of the tank water to the bag a new fish comes in. Chances are, the ph between the two is different, and this helps to prevent ph shock. I love the pic at the top. Neons are one of my favorites!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 

      11 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I used to have loads of tanks when I was much younger and my mother used to get mad at me for dripping water all over the place and for not going to bed because I was more concerned about some pair of fish I was spawning and wanted to make sure they didn't eat all the eggs! lol

      I have had fish on and off at various stages of my life ever since.

      Just wanted to add that there are some species like Paradise Fish that are OK in coldwater or tropical and many tropicals do fine outside in the summer in ponds, just as long as you bring them in before the frosts and autumn chilly temeratures start.

    • ahmadnaim profile image


      11 years ago from Earth in where people's smile is worthful than platinum

      Wow!! what a nice info Whitney. Keep up the good work. You did a good job!!!

      and nice dog too its sweet with you on beside

      have a nice day

    • SweetiePie profile image


      11 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Thanks for the informative hub. I have been thinking about buying a fish again.

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks Hope! I tried to include the basics. I hope that I covered most of them.

      Trsmd, ha! I actually just reduced the list quanitity in like 5 of the capsules. I actually think the affiliate capsules are a little much, but actually look ok. I'm still deciding how I like the number. I'm not sure if you're being serious or sarcastic in the number of capsules to be added.

    • Trsmd profile image


      11 years ago from India

      very good display of ebay and amazon.. you can post still more..

    • Hope Wilbanks profile image

      Hope Wilbanks 

      11 years ago from Louisiana

      Very nice info on aquariums! I've always loved tropical fish and have had a few tanks in my time. You've included all the essentials here.


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