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How to Make Your Freshwater Aquarium Look Amazing

Updated on July 6, 2012

Is your fishtank covered in greenish-brownish yucky stuff that makes your "underwater wonderland" look more like a swamp? Are your fish not active and hiding away from view, making your aquarium boring to watch? Whatever your problem, if your aquarium isn't captivating and enchanting anyone who looks at it, it's time to take action now!

Plecostomus Catfish
Plecostomus Catfish
Otocinculus Catfish
Otocinculus Catfish

Step One: You MUST Get Rid of Algae

If your aquarium does happen to be all covered in greenish-brownish yucky stuff, then you've got an algae problem! Defining the word algae could take a whole paragraph so I'll just put it simply: algae are little things that grow underwater. When given a good environment to live in, they really start to take over. Algae can easily destroy a perfectly beautiful aquarium by growing on plants, gravel, decorations, and the sides of the aquarium. Some forms are even suspended in the water, making the water look green! A algae-infested fish tank rarely is pleasing to look at.

But not to worry! Algae can be defeated, and not with so much effort, either. First of all, make sure your not overfeeding your fish. Additional fish food can raise the amount of phosphate in your aquarium, which makes a more ideal habitat for algae. All food should be eaten in a few minutes. Second, don't overdo the lighting. Algae needs light to thrive. You shouldn't leave the aquarium light on longer than 8 hours, unless you have live plants that require more light than that. Also, avoid direct sunlight if you can. Third, use live plants to combat algae. Healthy live plants with steal the nutrients that algae needs.

All three of those steps will help control algae, but it will be gradual. Now, lets move on to something that will give you more instant results.

Algae Eating Creatures. There are aquatic creatures that would love to eat the algae in your fish tank. The most popular ones include algae eaters, shrimps, and snails. Algae eaters are fish that can completely live on algae. Plecos (short for plecostomus) and ottos (short for otocinclus) are popular ones. Both work great, but most species of plecos get really big,reaching sizes over a foot! Plecos may also be aggressive towards other plecos. If you have a small tank, ottos will work perfectly for you. They don't grow longer than 2 inches and very good about keeping algae in check. Keep in mind that after all the algae is eaten, you'll need to feed your algae eaters algae discs or wafers for them to survive. You can also consider freshwater shrimps. Shrimps will eat algae and excess food. The most popular one is the Amano shrimp. And lastly, snails. Snails can eat algae in hard to reach places as wells as leftover food and decaying plants. Most species will not eat healthy plants, but a few do so do a little research on the species before buying it. Snails can quickly overpopulate, though there are ways to control them. (After having a severe overpopulating snail situation, I avoid them.)

Clean It! Algae can be cleaned by using tools, (scrapers and sponges) but some places can be hard to clean. Most of the time, aquarium sides can be cleaned easily which will make your tank look a lot better. Personally though, I would leave the rest of the work for a few ottos.

Step 2: Make Good Use of Fish

Obviously, one way to make your aquarium more interesting would be to add fish. I'm pretty sure you figured that part out. But, it's not always as simple as just buying some fish at the pet store and dropping them in the tank. If you buy your fish strategically and give them the right environment, you can get a lot more out them.

Buying Fish Strategically. Do the majority of your fish stay close to the bottom of your tank? Or do they all hang out at the top? Empty parts in a fish tank can really ruin the view. If you buy fish strategically, you can get them swimming all over your aquarium. So, what's the trick? Each type of fish enjoys swimming in different parts of a tank, some on the bottom, some in the middle, some on the top, or a combination of parts (like the bottom half or top half). For example, cories mainly stay on the bottom, while glofish prefer swimming near the top. Neon tetras favor the middle, and still other fish swim all around. Buy fish from each category to fill in all the parts of your aquarium.

Providing the Correct Environment. One of the must frustrating things about fish is when they refuse to swim. They'll just hide in a plant and stay in one place. The beauty of a fish is seeing it swimming happily around your tank. If you have a problem with this, it may very well be your fault. You may not have the water at a right temperature for the fish you're keeping. Tropical fish need warm water to thrive and if the water is too cold they will not be very active or playful. Research a little bit and see what temperature your fish requires. Also, many fish like to live in a school (like neon tetras and barbs) and will be nervous and inactive if kept alone or with only one other fish of it's species. Schooling fish should be kept in groups of at lest 3. Make sure you are helping your fish feel secure and safe by providing hiding places like plants and/or décor. Active fish will make your aquarium much more interesting.


There is more to a beautiful aquarium than it's fish. Décor has a huge impact. The key to stunning décor is unity. You can have a plant aquarium or you can have a rock aquarium. What's important is how the pieces fit together. For example, if I have purple and white gravel, a red background, and a bunch of black rocks, there isn't much unity going on. Think about colors.

Quick Tips

  • Real plants tend to look a lot better than fake ones.
  • Every aquarium should have a background to cover up equipment (cords) and for added interest.
  • 3D backgrounds, though harder to install, really make your aquarium pop.
  • Plant tall plants in the back and short plants in the front. This makes a good view for your fish.
  • Driftwood surround by a few plants adds a beautiful "natural" look to your aquarium.


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