How to Set Up an Aquarium

If you’re thinking of starting an aquarium, there are a few things you need to take into account before you get started. Here’s a quick guide on how to properly set up an aquarium.

Clay Gilliland, March 11, 2022. Flickr.

In fishkeeping, we seek to create a system where nature can reach a state of balance. There are many elements (components) to a(n) aquarium (system). The three parent elements of the system are the livestock, the fish, critters, and plants; the hardscape, the non-living physical environment; and the equipment, the tank, filtration, and temperature control. All of these elements contribute to the balance of the system you will create.

This article will guide you through everything you need to consider to set up an aquarium, step by step.


  1. Rinse the aquarium with clean water
  2. Add the substrate to the aquarium.
  3. Place the rocks and driftwood in the aquarium.
  4. Spray the substrate with water and add the plants to the aquarium.
  5. Install the filter, heater, and airstone.
  6. Fill the aquarium with water slowly to avoid displacing your plants and hardscape.
  7. Turn on the lights and let the aquarium cycle.

The Tank

You need to consider the size, shape, and material of your aquarium.

The size of the aquarium is based on the amount of space needed by the intended dwellers and, second, the aquarium’s location.

The larger the aquarium, the more fish you will be able to keep. Certain fish require different amounts of space to be happy and healthy. The rule of thumb: 1 gallon for every inch of fish in the aquarium. Overcrowding causes stress in fish and can lead to issues with water quality and fish health. The smallest fish should at least have a 5-gallon tank.

Choose the right location. The tank should be located away from loud noises to avoid stress to the fish. The tank should also be left out of direct sunlight to avoid the proliferation of algae. The aquarium should be placed on an aquarium stand. Furniture can be a bad place to put an aquarium because it cannot be leveled, increasing the risk of the tank breaking. You have two choices when it comes to tank material: acrylic and glass. There are advantages and disadvantages to both acrylic and glass aquariums. Glass aquariums are more prone to breakage, but they offer better clarity and are less likely to scratch. Acrylic aquariums are typically more expensive than glass, but they are also much lighter and more shatter-resistant.

When choosing, you will need to consider the size and water conditions of the aquarium.

The Substrate

Consider and choose amongst the three types of substrates: gravel, sand, and soil.

Gravel is the most popular type of aquarium substrate. It is easy to clean and maintain and comes in a variety of colors. Sand has a very natural appearance but is tougher to clean. Soil can provide a number of benefits to your plants, including improved root growth, increased nutrient availability, and improved water quality.

The Equipment

Water Maintenance

A filter will help clean the water by removing waste and toxins. There are two main types of filtration systems: mechanical and biological. Mechanical filtration systems remove particles from the water, while biological filtration systems use beneficial bacteria to break down waste products. Some common types of filter media include ceramic media, activated carbon, and foam.

A heater is often necessary for an aquarium because fish are ectothermic, meaning they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. For example, tropical fish in their natural habitat is used to warm water temperatures. If the water in the aquarium is too cold, over time, the fish can become sluggish, stop eating, and have a weakened immune system, making them more susceptible to disease.

Lighting is important for both functional and aesthetic purposes. Mainly, lighting provides a natural daytime cycle for the fish and sustains plant life in planted aquariums. It can also be used to accentuate the features of its inhabitants and scape.

Using an airstone will add oxygen to the water and create a pleasing bubbling effect.


Plants are beneficial in an aquarium because they provide a place for fish to hide and help keep the water clean.

Some easy plants to grow in an aquarium are Anubias, Java Fern, and Hornwort.

Floating plants are great for creating shelter and hiding places for fish. Species like Salvinia help are known to absorb high amounts of ammonia from the water column.

There are many ways to design the hardscape of an aquarium. One way is to choose rocks and driftwood that complement the fish and plants you have chosen.

Stones used for aquascaping include Seiryu stone, Ohko stone, Frodo stone, Elephant skin, Kei stones, Koke Stones, Manten stone, Pagoda stones, Unzan stone, and Yamaya Stones.

Water Treatment

A water conditioner helps to make tap water safe for fish by removing harmful chemicals. An aquarium cycle starter can help you jump-start the nitrogen cycle in a new aquarium. This is important because the nitrogen cycle is responsible for breaking down ammonia and nitrites in the water, which can be harmful to fish. Aquarium plant fertilizers provide nutrients that are essential for plant growth. These nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are needed in large amounts by plants.

Acclimatizing the fish

A fish needs to be acclimatized to a new environment because of a sudden change in temperature, pH, and other water parameters. The fish is unable to adapt to the new conditions and will go into shock.


Make sure to do the regular maintenance of your aquarium to keep your fish, critters, and plants happy and healthy.

  • Regularly clean your filter media, and replace it every few months.
  • Water changes should be done every week using conditioned or aged water.
  • Test the waters regularly to check all levels are within range.
  • Add a plant fertilizer to the aquarium at least once a week.
  • Keep your aquarium clean and tidy by trimming the plants regularly.
  • Lastly, stay in control of the algae before it gains control over you.
How much does it cost to set up an aquarium?

Low budget, I would say about $100. In the medium range, I’d say 300-500$.

How to set up an aquarium for a betta fish

Good question. An article will come soon.

How to set up an aquarium for tropical fish

Use lots of plants and get a heater if you live in a cold location.

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