A Beginner’s Guide To Home Aquariums


Maintaining a beautiful aquarium is one of the most rewarding hobbies a person can have. It is a peaceful way to unwind after a stressful day, and parents will love the knowledge and responsibility it teaches their children. Aquariums add a certain level of elegance and charm to any home or office, merging art and life in a way that few other pets are able to offer. The prospect of caring for an aquatic environment might seem daunting, but they require significantly less work than other pets, sometimes as little as 30 minutes a week with the proper general care and maintenance. This guide provides you with what you need to know in order to properly set-up, maintain, and enjoy your new aquatic ecosystem tank.

Considerations and Initial Decisions

There are several factors to consider when deciding between types of aquariums. First, it’s important to remember that patience is a key part of setting up a new aquatic tank. The process can take several weeks due to the time it takes for the environment to become viable. Depending on the type of aquatic pet you plan to keep in the tank, it could take even longer. Saltwater tanks, for instance, are more complex to prepare than standard tropical freshwater tanks. A few of the most important initial decisions include:

  • Tank Location – The shape and volume of your tank is going to largely depend on the place you plan to keep it. Smaller spaces should take advantage of smaller tanks.
  • Quantity and Type of Pet – A standard aquatic tank can support about one inch of fish for every gallon of water. That means a 5 gallon tank can only hold a single 5 inch fish, or five 1 inch fish.
  • Budget – A more complex set-up is going to cost more as well. Beginner tanks and the equipment required to run them can easily exceed $200, and saltwater tanks are even more expensive than their freshwater counterparts.


Even though all aquariums are different, the basic set-up required for them is essentially the same. Besides the obvious equipment, like the tank itself, you’ll need a few other crucial items to ensure the health and safety of your pets. Most aquariums will need:

  • Lighting
  • Filtration System
  • Gravel & Gravel Wash
  • Water Conditioner
  • Net
  • Food
  • Decorations

More complex systems might also require heaters, special test kits for dangerous chemicals, gauges to measure salinity, or other specific tools.

Setting Up The Tank

Preparing the tank is vital for organisms to thrive in the new environment. It might not seem like it, but many aquatic animals are sensitive to even slight changes in their water, especially negative changes. If you follow the steps below, you’ll be sure to have a perfect home aquarium.

  1. Cleaning – Wash the gravel, decorations, and the tank itself with warm water. Never use soap, since residue left behind can easily kill aquatic life. Once everything is clean, pour the gravel into the bottom of the tank and arrange any decorations as you please.
  2. Placement – Avoid placing the tank in direct sunlight, as it can promote the growth of algae. Be sure your placement can support the filled tank, which will weigh about 12 pounds for every gallon. Do not move a filled tank once it has been placed.
  3. Filling – Using room temperature water, slowly fill the tank so that it’s about a third of the way full. A small dish can be placed on the gravel to prevent the water from displacing too much material. Add a water conditioner, like a dechlorinator, before adding the rest of the water.
  4. Filtration – There are numerous different varieties of filtering equipment, including chemical, biological, and mechanical. Most standard tanks will use a mechanical filter that physically sends the tank water through a filter, removing any particulate matter.
  5. Lighting – Most lighting units are designed to fit on the top of the tank as a type of lid. This allows the light source to remain relatively hidden while still illuminating the entire tank. Adequate lighting is a must for tanks that house a number of live plants. For the healthiest plants possible, use a light source with at least 2 watts for every gallon of water in the tank.
  6. Patience – Once everything is in place, activate the filtering system and allow the water to condition itself. The tank won’t be ready to accept residents for at least 24 hours, although some recommend cycling the tank for up to a week before introducing any organisms besides live aquatic plants. The purpose of this cycling is to allow the beneficial bacteria that most aquatic environments thrive on to build up in the water, easing the transition for your pets.

These steps provide the most basic ways a beginner might set up his or her new tank. It may sound like a lot of work, but it doesn’t take long at all, and the payoff is well worth the effort. Once you’re confident the tank is just as it should be, it’s time for the fun part.

Adding Your Aquatic Pets

If you’ve taken the proper steps, your tank should be ready to accept and support life. Slowly place the container with your pets into the tank water, but do not dump water from the container into the tank. Floating the container in the tank is great way to bring the water temperatures in balance, which is vital for surviving the transition between the bag and the tank. Use a net to make the transfer, and be careful to keep the event as peaceful as possible. Many aquatic species might react unfavorable to extreme stress.

The Importance of Maintenance

A proper initial setup for an aquatic environment is vital, but maintenance is just as crucial. Be sure to change the water filter every few weeks, depending on the system you have, and keep an eye on the clarity of the tank water. Water that smells bad or exhibits cloudiness should be changed out right away. Partial water changes should be performed on a regular basis.  Whenever you perform a deep clean of the tank or a full interior design, be sure to move your pets to a container with water that is the same temperature as the tank water.

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