Sunday,26 September 2021, 5 : 52 AM

How to Set Up A New Aquarium

Aquarium prem
Aquarium with Live Plants
Image Credit: Prem


Having a pet is very pleasing to the senses, relaxes the mind, and provides a companion who is not very demanding and is very faithful to the owner.
Besides this, caring for pets give children a sense of responsibility and pride.
Although there are a number of pets, fishes stand out because,

  • They are very colorful.
  • Some are so fancy that they are almost hard to believe.
  • They are not noisy.
  • They are very graceful and one can simply spend hours looking at them.
  • Once properly setup aquariums require very little maintenance.
  • An aquarium is not just a glass tank, it is a little world of its own, decorations are limited only by a person´s creativity.

This is short article on steps involved in setting up a New Aquarium

  • Steps before buying an aquarium.
  • Components of a common aquarium.
  • Setting up an aquarium.
  • Nitrogen cycle.
  • Feeding.
  • Regular maintenance.

Steps Before Buying an aquarium

  • Decide the fish :
    FISH One of the most important steps before buying an aquarium is to decide which fish you want to keep.
    There are nearly 65000 species of fresh water fish, plus their variants and we have a bewildering array of fishes.
    Go to the nearest LFS (local fish store), look at their tanks for a while, decide which fish is up to your taste, and note the name of that fish.
    Visit other stores and make a rough list of those fish, ask the store owner about the fish.
    However do not blindly believe what the store owner tells you, cross check it other aquarium owners.
    If you do not know any other aquarium owner, log on to Internet and check it up with a hobbyist group.

  • Decide The Size Of Aquarium :

    The size of tank would depend upon fish you have decided.
    Large fish like Oscars, goldfish etc. need large tanks.
    It is very important to decide the tank size on ADULT size of fish, it is no use setting up a small tank for juvenile of a large fish and hoping to upgrade at a later date, or hoping that the fish will not grow.
    In most of such circumstances the fish falls ill or gets stunted.
    However at least a tank size of 24x12x12 inch should be purchased.

    Some suggested tank sizes & commonly kept fish.
    (These are species for the size of the tank, but does not mean they can be kept however their compatibility is to be kept in mind)

    Tank Size(inches) Fish That can be kept
    24x12x12 Small tetras, Small barbs, Mollies, Platy, Guppy etc.
    36x18x18 Larger barbs, Angels, Small Cichlids, Goldfish.
    60x20x18 Discus, Oscar, Flower horn, Frontosa etc.

Purchase & setting up of Aquarium:

It is always a good idea to purchase to equipment without fishes.
This aquarium tank can be setup and cycled, fish are introduced after a week or so.
More details are given below in setting up the tank.

Components of a Common Aquarium

  • Aquarium:
    Aquarium can be made of glass & acrylic.
    They can be custom built or purchased of the shelf.


    A Aquarium without frames for support
    Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Stand:

    Aquariums weigh a lot and good sturdy stand is essential.
    Normal home furniture is rarely capable of taking the load of a fully furnished aquarium.
    Even a small 2 ft tank will weigh more than 60-70 kg, hence a proper stand is required, so that the top of stand does not sag.
    If the top of stand sags, it creates pressure on bottom of tank and the tank may crack.

  • Substrate

    Although bare bottoms can be kept, having some substrate is a good idea.
    Apart from looking good the substrate performs another very important task, it provides a surface for nitrifying bacteria to grow.
    The particle size of gravel should not be too small like fine sand because over a period of time fine sand tends to compact down and oxygen is not able to reach lower parts of substrate.
    This lack of oxygen creates anaerobic zones where dangerous gases like H2s (hydrogen sulphide) can build up, this is dangerous for aquarium.
    On the other hand very large gravel pieces will will allow the mulm to go below the substrate and will not be easy to clean.
    A gravel of size between 2-4 mm is good for aquariums.
    The color of gravel can be as per choice; however it should be as close to natural colors as possible.

  • Filters

    In nature fish live in large bodies of water and their waste are dispersed over a wide area.
    However in aquariums we keep them in closed confines hence the responsibility of giving them clean water lies with the aquarium owners.
    Filters not only clean the water of impurities and also serve as base of good bacteria.
    There are many types of filter, however an ideal setup would be which can clean and filter the water in aquarium at least 4 times the volume of tank.

    These are some common types of Filters:

    Canister Filters

    These filters are kept outside the aquarium and are effective filters for nearly every size of aquariums, whether small or big.


    Canister Filter
    Image Credit: Goggle Images

    Internal Power Filter

    These filters are small in size and kept inside the aquarium. They are comparatively cheaper in cost and suitable for small aquariums.


    Internal Power Filter
    Image Credit: Goggle Images

    Air pump driven Filter

    These are small filters often used in fry tanks. They have a gentle water flow and are used in aquariums where gentle water flow is required, like hospital and fry tanks. They should be used as main filtration unit in larger aquariums.


    Air driven internal pump
    Image Credit: Goggle Images

  • Heaters/Chillers

    Fish are cold blooded animals, which mean that they are unable to maintain the temperature of body and their body temperature changes with the temp of water.
    Normally the required temperature in an aquarium should be in the range 23-28 C.
    Hence heaters and chillers are required in the tank.
    As chillers can be expensive, other methods of cooling water like fans on hoods can also be used.

  • Air Pumps

    Oxygen which is dissolved in aquarium water is a prime requirement in aquariums and any deficiency can kill a fish.
    Oxygen mixes in water at the surface of water column, hence any disruptions in water surface mixes the air.
    This can be performed by having dedicated air pumps which agitate the water surface by creating bubbles in water.
    However if the filter is itself agitating the water surface, the air pump can be dispensed with.

  • Lights

    Fish do not need very high lights, in their natural surroundings the light is diffused by water.
    Hence we should keep light which are not very harsh, just enough so that we can enjoy our pets.

  • Other Decorations

    Decorations in aquarium are limited only by our imagination.
    However they should have blunt edges and should not hurt the fish.
    Decorations with pointed edges, or with moving parts like windmills are not good idea as they can hurt fish.

Setting Up The Aquarium

These Steps can be followed in setting up a aquarium.

  • Wash the glass tank carefully with hot water & salt.
    This will remove any dirt and chemicals.
    DO NOT use soap etc. Soap is poisonous to fish.

  • Put a sheet of thermocol between the tank and the table/stand.
    This prevents the glass bottom from cracking.

  • Wash Substrate with hot water, again do not use any soap.
    Simply swirl the gravel till the water runs clear.
    Place a layer of approximate 2-3 inch at the bottom of the tank.

  • Prepare water for filling.
    Ordinary tap water can be used, but chlorine which is nearly always present in tap water should be removed.
    Chlorine can be removed by use of decholrinators which are available in all aquarium shops or online.
    AS an alternative chlorine can also be removed by simply letting the water stand, however this may or may not work depending upon the source of chlorine in water.

    Pour this prepared water in the tank very gently so that sand or gravel is not disturbed.

  • Place air stone in the tank.

  • Place filter in the tank.

  • Start preparation for Nitrogen cycle completion.

Nitrogen cycle.

A new aquarium should be able to support fish before they are introduced in aquarium.
An aquarium should be fully "cycled" before fishes are introduced.
This term cycling is explained below.
Fishes excrete waste into the water.
In rivers and ponds this waste is spread over a very large area and does not harm the fishes.
However in an aquarium this waste produces lots of ammonia gas which dissolves in water.
Ammonia is highly toxic, levels above 0.25 ppm can kill fish.
As soon as ammonia is generated a group of bacteria called nitrifying bacteria start multiplying in aquarium.
They convert ammonia into a compound called Nitrite.
Nitrite is also toxic to fish, even more more toxic than ammonia.
This is called first stage of Nitrogen cycle.

As soon as Nitrites are present in water another group of bacteria start multiplying, they convert Nitrites into Nitrate which is relatively harmless.
There is no complicated procedure to culture these bacteria;
they develop by themselves in water.
However they will not grow unless there is some ammonia in water.
Therefore when we have only one or two small fishes in the beginning in our aquarium,
the amount of ammonia will be just sufficient to breed bacteria and low enough not to harm the fish.

After some time all ammonia produced by fishes will be converted into nitrates.
This process of converting ammonia into nitrate is called cycling the tank.
These nitrates are absorbed by live plants in your tank or can be removed by partially changing the water every week/15 days or so.
You can be sure that your tank is ready when the test for ammonia and nitrite are negative & test for nitrate shows reading around 5-10 ppm or zero.
After a month or so slowly increase the fish if you want.
Take care that you do not add too many fish at same time as the number of bacterial in aquarium will not be able to convert additional amounts of ammonia and nitrites, leading to buildup of these toxins.


A good diet for fish depends upon the fish, some are carnivorous, some algae eaters, however a large majority are omnivorous, i.e. need both Vegetable based and animal protein mixed diets.
Many multi purpose food are available at most aquarium stores.
Fishes can be fed prepared food pellets/flakes which can be easily purchased from any aquarium shop.
In case you are using pellets, soak them first for few minutes in water.
Pellets tend to expand when wet, and if dry pellets are fed to fish, they tend to expand inside the stomach of fish, this can be dangerous for fish.
Drop a small amount of food in the water and observe how much fish eat in 5 minutes.
Remove excess food from the tank otherwise it will rot & pollute the water.
Never over feed the fish, they will always be demanding more food and can go sick very easily if overfed.

Regular maintenance.

Change 25-30% of the water every week after the tank is fully cycled.
Large water changes are not a good idea, it changes the parameters of water very fast.
Use a water siphon available at most aquarium stores for taking out water from aquariums.


Aquarium siphon
Image Credit: Goggle Images

Scrape algae from the sides of aquarium,
it can be done by using ,magnetic algae scrubbers, even a old credit card can be used.

A simple maintenance regime of weekly water changes,
cleaning of filter every 15 days, is more than enough to maintain a healthy tank.