How to Set Up a Tropical Fish Tank

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A step by step simple to follow guide demonstrating the easiest way to set up an tropical freshwater fishtank.

A freshwater fish tank houses tropical fish, this is not to be confused with a salt water fish tank which is much more difficult to set up. Setting up the tank can be done quite easily however it will cost you a bit of money.

setupTropical Fish Tank

To get started here’s what you’ll need:

-A fish tank: 10 gallons or more

-An aquarium heater, these are ususally quite cheap depending on the brand, have a look on ebay. You will also need a thermometer.

-A filter, again have a look at ebay, you can probably pick one up cheap.

-Aquarium ornaments: have some place for fish to hide, like a hollowed out sunken ship, you could also get a few artificial plants if you’d like. Don’t be tempted to put live plants in there it is much easier to start out with artificial plants.

-An aquarium light.

-Tropical fish food.

-An aquarium test kit, no need to get the expensive liquid ones, stick with solid strips.

-Aquarium gravel.

-Siphon filter

-A bucket or jug of some sort

-chlorine remover

What to do:

You can’t simply throw everything into your tank and hope for the best, in fact it will be a few weeks before you can even put a fish in there. The first thing to do when you get your tank is:

-Wash it out with plain water, don’t use soap or any other chemicals.

-Do the same with your gravel and ornaments.

-Place the gravel and ornaments in the aquarium.

-Add the dechlorinated water ( the bottle will give instructions as to how much to add to treat the water) and fill about 2 thirds of the tank.

-Install your heater, filter and light.

-Fill the tank to the top.

-Turn on the heater and filter. Place your thermometer on the opposite side of the tank, on the side furthest away from your heater.

-Wait for the temperature of the tank to stabilise, this could take a few hours.

-Here comes the boring part: you have to go through the nitrogen cycle. Ammonium/ammonia will build up in your tank, then convert to nitrite then convert to nitrate. It is only when there is no ammonia or nitrite in your tank that you start adding fish.

-To begin the nitrogen cycle you can buy commercial products or you can simply put a shrimp in your tank and leave it to decompose. The entire cycle can take weeks so be patient. Test your water every second day when the levels of ammonia and nitrite are at zero then add your first fish. Note: The levels of nitrate will never reach zero, nitrate levels are not as dangerous as nitrite and ammonium and can be reduced with water changes.

-When buying your first fish, consider getting a hardy species. A zebra danio or a betta would be a good choice.

-Feed your fish once a day. Try not to overfeed. If you can still see food floating in the tank 2 minutes after feeding, that means there was too much food.

-Remove 10% of the water every week using the siphon filter. Replace with dechlorinated tap water.


Backing: Backing surrounds the back of the tank and makes it look more interesting. It also covers the cables of the equipment.

Fish net: Very useful for the unfortunate but inevitable job of removing dead fish from your tank.

Live plants: As said above these are more difficult to keep than artificial plants. Firstly you’ll need a special type of gravel to accomadate them. The lighting you use will also need to be strong enough to keep them alive.


-You may notice a brown or green substance growing on the side of your tank, especially in the first couple of weeks. This is algae. There are a number of ways to get rid of it, you can buy a fish that eats algae, you can buy chemicals which remove the algae, or you can get an algae scraper.

-Don’t add too many fish at one time this could throw off the balance of the tank.

-Don’t add too many total fish to your tank, the smaller the tank the less fish it can hold. The general rule is one inch of fish per gallon of water, but this isn’t set in stone.

-Make sure to have drip loops on all electrical equipment leading from the tank. The reason for this is in case water drips down the cord it won’t be able to reach the plug.

-If you spill water on the plugs while doing a water change then stay well back, turn off the electricity at the trip switch, plug out everything and wait for it to dry.

-Lastly don’t worry too much about getting the water parameters perfect. Tropical fish are quite used to harsh conditions. A stable environment is much more important to the fish. Good Luck!

How To Properly Set Up and Maintain Fish Aquariums


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