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How to Setup and Maintain a Freshwater Aquarium

Updated on June 27, 2013

A Thriving Aquarium

A Beautiful Freshwater Aquarium
A Beautiful Freshwater Aquarium

How to Setup and Maintain a Freshwater Aquarium


If you’re brand new or even just relatively inexperienced when it comes to aquariums I have to recommend that you start off with freshwater. Freshwater aquariums ares simpler, less expensive, and easier to maintain than saltwater aquariums. In addition to that, I will recommend that you stick to only fish. For the most part live plants are too hard to take care of and create unnecessary clutter and/or debris in your aquarium. So, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started.

What you need:

In it’s most basic form you need only a few components to setup an aquarium: a tank, heater, and filter. In addition to that, a light for viewing purposes is also nice, but if the tank gets enough ambient light during the day, and you want to save money, it’s up to you. So, let’s start with the tank. You’re going to need either a glass or acrylic aquarium. I recommend glass, because they’re very inexpensive and are tough enough that they don’t scratch easily when you’re wiping off the glass panels. Acrylic is great. I love it, but I also dread it. It is clearer than glass and it won’t ever leak, because it’s a seamless bond on the panels unlike glass which is held together by silicon. However, Acrylic scratches really easily and is very expensive when compared to glass tanks. So, since it’s your first tank and you’re probably going to be changing it relatively quickly once you figure out what you prefer personally in a tank, I recommend glass. The size tank doesn’t really matter, just keep in mind you will be doing a 10-20% water change every week or two and the bigger the tank the more stable it will be. Next, the filter. I recommend an in-tank or hang on the back filter which promotes good water flow in your tank without overwhelming the inhabitants. An in-tank filter is nice if you don’t enough room to hang anything off the back of your tank, but a hang on the back filter can potentially be easier to clean if you aren’t comfortable lifting a filter out of the tank every week or two for rinsing. Finally, the heater should be rated appropriately for your size aquarium and set to 78 degrees fahrenheit.


Now, let’s look at some potential add-ons. Let’s talk about substrate a.k.a. the stuff on the bottom of the tank. That means aquarium gravel or sand. I recommend gravel, because sand often blows around and clogs filters. The gravel is also very easy to clean with a siphon hose. This maintenance should be done every time you change the water. Also, make sure you buy aquarium save materials from a pet-store. The other add-on is aquarium structures. This means rocks, driftwood, fake-plants, etc. If you get rocks, make sure you know what you have. It needs to be inert. That means it won’t affect the water chemistry at all. So, no limestone or other things that will dissolve and change the water in a negative way. For driftwood, make sure it isn’t cheap and fake. Sometimes people will try to rip you off with driftwood that doesn’t actually sink. Make sure you’re getting the real thing. Also, when you get it, soak it in hot water for a day or two so the tannins are removed. Make sure you change the water frequently so the driftwood gets nice and clean. Finally, fake plants can be a great way to add hiding places and color without the hard work of live plants. Just make sure they are aquarium safe. This just means they use aquarium safe plastics.

Setup and Maintenance:

So, you have a tank, filter, heater, gravel, and a few fake plants. You have the tank positioned where it won’t get direct sunlight all day and grow algae, you have the filter installed and ready to plug in, you have the heater the same way. Now you just need to add water. I recommend just using tap water, unless you know your water is full of nasty things. In that case make sure you filter it before us. If you happen to have RODI water I recommend you don’t use that, because that is too filtered. You just want RO water or clean tap water for your tank. So, fill everything up and plug everything in. You now have an aquarium! Make sure to change the water every week or two. About 10-20% is ideal. Over time, you will learn to see the signs that your tank is unhealthy and in need of a water change. This could be discolored water, algae growth, etc.


This is the fun part! Depending on what size tank you got, you have a lot of options. Some of my personal favorites that would work well for a beginner include guppies, platys, endlers, tetras, and plecostomus. Remember to not stock too many fish and to keep in mind that live-bearing fish such as guppies and platys will have babies if you mix genders. So, make sure to plan ahead. I recommend that, as a general rule of thumb, you only put 1 fish per 2 gallons of water. This is a very basic rule, but it will help you from overstocking. You also want to keep in mind the fish’s adult size and make sure you don’t get something that will outgrow your tank.


Now, sit back and relax. You can feel good about your accomplishment. You’ve just created a piece of living art. A centerpiece for conversation. A little world that you control. Aquariums are an amazing thing and the hobby is something that may very well suck you in. I recommend to just take it slow and take joy in ever little thing you do. I hope this guide has helped you and that you feel more prepared to start you own aquarium.

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An Example of what you can Create

Another great freshwater Aquarium
Another great freshwater Aquarium

An Example of a New Setup

All it needs is a heater and a filter and you could add water!
All it needs is a heater and a filter and you could add water!


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    • neilcook profile image

      Neil Cook 4 years ago from United States

      I am very glad it could be of use to you! Thank you!

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 4 years ago from India

      Good one neilcook, i like having an aquarium. This is a good hub, i voted it UP and useful.

    • neilcook profile image

      Neil Cook 4 years ago from United States

      Thank you Rajan! It means a lot coming from such an experienced hubber.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting and informative ready. Voted up.