The 8 Simple Step Process On How To Set Up a Fish Tank For Beginners

When you are attracted to aquatic animals, you definitely want to keep a big aquarium in your room. I remember the time when I first saw different species that is possible for me to keep; I was so excited to get my own aquarium. However, I had to do a lot of research while setting up my first tank. I worried that I would do everything wrong and make a mess out of everything. Hence, hoping that you do not have the same problem, this article will provide insight into how you can set up your first fish tank.

Setting Up A Betta Tank
Setting Up A Betta Tank

The following article “Fish Tank Setup For Beginners” is a simple guide to those who are planning to keep a fish as a pet in their home or workplace. If you are planning to keep a fish-tank and you have all the gears and fish-tank accessories, you are ready for your new aquarium setup. You are making a great decision that you will never regret, however, if you do it correctly. Keeping a fish-tank at home or workplace is enjoyable and is a way to get closer to the aquatic world and also keeping fish-tank is beneficial in many ways which I have already discussed in the previous article  Benefits of Keeping a Fish Tank At Home.

The first thing before you decide what to keep inside the tank you need to know what kind of tank you want. You can have so many types of aquarium. Before we start, let me mention that your tank should be bigger in size. For beginners, the bigger the tank size the better.

You must prepare a few checklists beforehand. This includes what goes inside the tank such as fish, substrate, plants, decorations, filter, etc. Let us get in detail about how you can set up your first tank.

While you are choosing a tank, I recommend you choose that has a larger surface area. This means select the tank that has a larger opening rather than the taller one. The tank with a large surface area will be able to circulate more amount of oxygen throughout the tank.

It is important that you carefully choose a suitable place to keep your fish-tank. Make sure the aquarium stand will support the filled tank’s weight and if the ground is even, else the slanted floors can result in undue stress and crack the tank.

What Kind Of Tank?

You may think that it would be easier and efficient for you to take care of a smaller tank. However, this is not true. Especially for beginner fish enthusiasts, the bigger the tank size, the easier for you to maintain, clean, and care. Ask anyone who has some experience with handling aquarium.

Hence, do not choose any kind of small bowls or tanks right at the beginning. If you have such fascination, leave it until you are an expert. For amateurs, get a tank of size at least 15-gallons.

Yet, I will tell you that it is not very affordable to keep a big sized aquarium. Therefore, if you are short on budget you might find it troublesome to find a large tank. If this happens, try 10-gallons.

What Kind Of Fish?

Once you have established the size of the fish tank you desire, you need to determine what kind of fish you want to keep. You will need to compare the type of fish and their growth along with the tank size.

When I say the growth of the fish you intend to keep, you need to consider if your fish will fit inside your tank. There are different types of fish that you can find. Most of the fish sold at the local stores are babies. It is obvious that they do not stay the same size throughout your tank. Therefore, your tank should be fit for the fish you choose even when they are fully grown.

If you choose to buy tetra fish, they can grow 2 to 3 inches in length; the goldfish can reach up to 12 inches.

Also, make sure to do your research on how many species of fish you can keep together. Many aquarium fish are friendly; however, few may also get territorial. Make sure your fish do not bully and hurt each other.

You do not have to worry a lot about this as you can get information through personal research as well as consulting with fish experts from pet stores.

Checklist of Equipment for Fish Tank Set-Up

Apart from the aquarium tank and the fish itself, you must need other materials to make your aquarium suitable for your fish to live. You do not have to buy everything mentioned here. It really depends on the type of tank you buy and the type of fish.

Let us have a look at what equipment you might want and need while you set up your fish tank.


Well, of course, the first thing you will require is the tank itself. Make sure you get a minimum size of 15-gallons or 20-gallons. Always remember, the bigger the tank you get, the better for you.

Aquarium Filter

The aquarium filter is the heart of your tank. You should never have to think twice before you purchase the aquarium filter. The filter will help the tank water to be pollution-free and your fish healthy.

If you have been following our other articles, you must know about the types of filtration methods as well. Make sure you install the right kind of filter as well with the correct media.

Aquarium Gravel or Substrate

Keeping gravel or substrate will bring a natural look to your aquarium. It is not necessary to put gravels if you do not feel like it. Some fish does not mind bare tank bottom while others can stress out. Again, you should make the decision based on your fish species.

Aquarium Heater

The popularity of the tropical fish among the fish enthusiasts are huge. If you are likely to house tropical fish then an aquarium heater is necessary. There are also fish that do not need a water heater.

Aquarium heater not only is necessary for the tropical fish but also needed for limiting diseases in the tank.

Filter Media

You will need a lot of replacement filter media on hand. The filter media will ensure that your tank will be free from any kind of debris and pollutants.

Aquarium Test Kits

If you are planning to keep an aquarium, you must be aware that you need to cycle the tank before introducing any fish. To know the quality of your water and different water parameters.

Fish Food

Fish requires special fish foods. Do not even think that you can feed the fish diet that you eat. The fish diet should be rich in proteins and fat. Hence, it is essential to feed your fish the commercially available food only meant for them.

Aquarium Pump

The purpose of an aquarium pump is to circulate the oxygen throughout the tank. Using an aquarium pump will help reach the gases in difficult corners as well. This will make sure that all your fish will get enough oxygen.


Whether it is for aesthetic look and feel or proving a hiding place for your fish, decorations have a good use. You can use plants, rocks, caves, etc. as decorative in your tank. But, make sure that you only use the aquarium decorations and not non-aquatic decoration.

Aquarium Vacuum

For aquarium maintenance, a gravel vacuum helps a lot. You will use it to make partial water changes in your aquarium. Because you can use it to vacuum all the way out of the fish tank, it can also help extract contaminants such as fish feces from the bottom of the fish tank.

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners: Step-by-Step

Now that you have all the equipment, you are just a few steps from becoming a fish keeper, if not please do visit my previous article about the basic equipment required to set up the fish tank: article “Before Setting up Your Aquarium”.

Step 1: Positioning Your Tank

It is very important which location you choose to place your aquarium. The position of your tank can influence the life inside directly.

For instance, when you place your tank in the direct sunlight, there is a great chance that you might see algae growth inside your tank. These algae can destroy your live plants for their resources. Additionally, if you place your tank directly in the sunlight, it will definitely increase the temperature of the water. The fluctuations in temperature in the tank water will not be good for your fish. Hence, make sure that you place your aquarium in a place that is cool and not in the sunlight.

Another thing you should consider is the power outlets. You should put your tank where you have access to power to keep your filters, heaters running. Similarly, you also should know that your tank could make noise from the pumps and filters. If you find it disturbing, do not put your tank in the bedroom.

If you have wires connecting your tank, make sure that it is out of reach from children. Try to put your tank where there will be less commotion.

Choose a fish tank

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners

Before getting an aquarium you need to do some research on the fish that you want to keep. Every fish is different and different fish require a different environment for them. You cannot simply keep a bunch of them into a tank, and feed them a couple of times per day. So, choosing a fish tank is very important. A 55-gallon tank that holds approximately 208.2 liters of water is a standard size that allows you to have a wide variety of fish as a beginner. You can also go with a 20-30 gallon tank and keep certain hardy species like (guppy, swordtails, tetra mollies, and so on). here you can calculate the volume of your tank.

Aquarium Stand

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners

You might also want to search for the perfect aquarium stand. Make sure that the stand you get will be able to support the tank. Not just that, your floor should also support the tank stand.

Make sure everything is level wherever you place your aquarium and stand. Use the level of a contractor and put it on your stand and your aquarium. All should be completely level. Otherwise, aquariums and stands can be in stress by uneven pressure, crack, and break eventually.

A 20-gallon aquarium holds 75.7 liters of water weighing around 80-90 kilograms. That is quite heavy, so the bigger tank you get, you require a stronger stand that holds your aquarium. I recommend you to buy a stand that is designed for the dimensions and shape of your tank. [Note: it is not safe to have an edge of the tank sticking out over the side].

Placement of your tank

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners

There are a few things you should consider when choosing the right spot for your fish tank. If you don’t select the right location for your fish tank, it doesn’t matter what the size of your fish tank, you could end up struggling to maintain the water quality of your fish tank and it could become a more stressful environment to your fish. A little sunlight is beneficial for the tank but placing the tank near the window with a lot of sunlight is harmful to water since it increases phosphate levels in water and increases algae problem. Place the tank near a wall socket.

Step 2: Prepare the tank

Once you have figured where you are keeping the tank, you can start preparing your tank. First, before you add anything inside it, you have to clean it. If your tank is brand new, just dampen a cloth and wipe the dust off. Never use any kind of soap and detergent.

While you are cleaning the tank, you will also need to clean any kind of decorative items and substrate you want to keep in the tank. You will have to clean your tank with unused clothes, buckets, and other products.

Once you finish cleaning, check for any leaks. You would not want your tank water leaking everywhere. Add a couple of inches of water inside the tank in order to check. Leave it for an hour and check by running your fingers around the bottom of the edge.

Step 3: Cleaning and Adding Substrate or Gravel

Do not add gravel without cleaning it. Most of the beginner fish keepers forget to do that. If you do not want your water to be cloudy, wash your substrate properly.

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners

Once you have selected the tank’s placement, it’s time to begin setting up the aquarium. It is essential to wash the gravel well because unwashed gravel creates cloudy water in your tank. Place the gravel in a bucket and wash your gravel using your hand after a few minutes drain the water and repeat this process 4 to 5 times until wastewater is visibly clear. This cleaning process is beneficial in removing dust from the storage and transportation of the substrate.

The amount of substrate you want to keep is dependable. How thick do you want it? The general rule of thumb is you can keep is 1 lb of substrate per gallon of water. If you want to make 1” thick bed, it will be enough.

You can start by adding a thin layer at the bottom. Be careful and do not scratch your tank. Then pour the rest of it slowly. You can raise some areas that can be higher. This will come in handy when you want to pant live plants.

If you decide to raise the gravel then make sure that the higher points are at the back of the aquarium and the lowest is at the fronts.

Step 4: Install Equipment | Choosing the right heater, filter, and lightings

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners

You already have all the necessary equipment on hand. After the tank is full of water, you will need to install tools such as filters, pumps, lights, etc. in your tank.

If you purchased the internal filters, it is very easy to install. First, you will need to assemble all the parts of the filter. Then, you must mount the filter on the back wall and the wire must have an energy supply. For an underwater gravel filter, you will need to install the filter before adding the water.

Whereas the external filter goes outside the tank. External filters provide space for more media and more effectively filter the water. External filters provide more media space and filter water more efficiently.

Maintaining your fish water quality and water is an important factor in the comfort and well-being of your fish. I recommend you to get an automatic heater for your fish tank then shuts down once your minimum temperature is reached using a simple formula to buy the heater (1 watt per gallon of water). While choosing a filter, make sure that you get the filter that has a turnover of at least 3 times the volume of water per hour.  Choose an appropriate light for the aquarium. Place the light on or above the tank and set a timer for no more than 8 hours a day.

Step 5: Filling up the Tank

Fish Tank Setup For Beginners

Now that you have your substrate ready, you need to add water. Depending on the type of tank you are setting, you need to read the water for freshwater or saltwater tank.

For a freshwater tank, place a saucer or bowl so that pouring water does not disturb the substrate. Pour the water on top of the saucer and keep on doing this until the tank is full. Once the tank is full, add de-chlorinator. The instructions on how to add the de-chlorinator are usually in the bottle. You usually get 1 ml of de-chlorinated per 20 gallons.

For a saltwater tank, before you add the water into the tank, first, you will need to prepare it. The water for the saltwater tank should go through the process of Reverse Osmosis (RO). To achieve this, you can buy RO water or use the necessary treatments. You will also need to use the de-chlorinator.

Fill up the aquarium with hose pipe this makes it easy to fill up the tank and change the aquarium water. Use water de-chlorinator after filling. [Note: always use de-chlorinator every time you do a water change.

Step 6: Add Decorations and Plants

The next step to the fish tank set up is the decorations. In this step, you can finally focus on the aesthetic viewing of the aquarium. All the decoration and plants depend on you. However, I will recommend you go for a natural look so that your aquarium does not become packed with unwanted stuff.

Try adding driftwood, live plants, shells, large stones, etc.  Live plants such as Java Fern is also suitable for the tank. You should always choose to make your tank visually pleasing.

Step 7: Cycling your tank.

fish tank setup for beginners

In this stage, your tank is almost ready. However, you still need the utmost important thing. The Nitrogen Cycle. Cycling the tank means that you are creating a ‘bed’ bacterium in your biological filter that is crucial for your future fish’s health.

At this time you need to Cycle your tank water. Cycling your tank requires patients and consistent testing of the water so, Cycling is the most important part of setting up your new aquarium. This will help promote building de-nitrifying bacteria and is essential to set up your new tank. Use Aquarium Test Kit to monitor the tank’s water.  This alerts you to toxic aquarium conditions and saves your fish.

Your tank will still have toxins so if you add fish without proper cycle; your fish will not survive.

Read Full Article: Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle

Freshwater Cycling

To begin with the process, first, add a few ammonia into the tank. There are commercially available ones in almost all fish stores. Follow the instructions carefully and carry out the test regularly. You will need to monitor the ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites level every week. Once the ammonia and nitrite level becomes 0 ppm, the cycle is complete. Then only the tank is ready for fish.

This process can take a few weeks. You can speed up the cycling process in a few ways.

  • Add existing tank filter media to your tank.
  • Increase the temperature of the water
  • Increase oxygen levels using air pumps

Saltwater Cycling

Live rock is the most common form of cycling a saltwater tank. The bacteria build-up within these rocks. Switch the rock to your tank from wherever you purchased it to keep the bacteria from dying.

It takes about 6-8 weeks to complete this process. It takes about 6-8 weeks to complete this process. Use 50 percent water change to eliminate any build of nitrates once you have tested your levels of ammonia and nitrite to 0 ppm.

Step 8: Adding Fish

Alas! You have been waiting for this moment. Reaching for this step may have consumed much time and effort. Make sure you do not ruin it by adding a whole bunch of fish all at once. You will need to take time to add fish as well.

I suggest you add fish slowly over a few weeks’ time.  It depends on the size of your tank, the amount you can add. Start by adding only 1 inch per 10 gallons of fish.

After that, the fish must be acclimated. The goal of acclimatization is to make fish immune to changes in their water so that you can transfer them gradually from one tank to another. The water they are in is typically slightly different from the temperature, pH, and salinity of your tank. If you want to be safe, you can observe confining fish for a few weeks in a separate aquarium.

After you have set up the fish tank, you always need to maintain and clean the tank regularly. Have a look at our article on cleaning and maintaining the aquarium.

What Can You Do To Acclimatize Your Fish?

Sometimes it will take time for your fish to adjust in the new environment. You can perform the following steps to ensure the acclimation.

  • You can turn off or dim the lights in your room and aquarium.
  • Floating the bag for 15 minutes so that the temperature can change.
  • Cut the bag open at the top, and roll it down to create an air pocket that will allow the bag to float.
  • Add 1⁄2 cup of water to the bag from your tank.
  • Repeat until bags are full every 4-5 minutes.
  • Throughout the whole 4-5 minute bag, discharge half of the water in the bag and add 1⁄2 cup of water once more to the bag.
  • Take the fish with a net and slowly take it from your bag and add it to your aquarium.
  • Throw out the water from the bag.
  • Monitor your new fish for the next 24 hours to make sure they relax and feed properly.


Finally, before you impulsively buy an aquarium or fish, first, think things through thoroughly. This article mentions a lot of steps but once you get used to it, you can maintain and care for it very easily. And, always remember to change the water regularly and make sure your tank is clean.

I hope you have got an idea about how you can set up a fish tank with the help of this article.

1 thought on “The 8 Simple Step Process On How To Set Up a Fish Tank For Beginners”

  1. It’s great that you talked about the weight issues that come up with much larger tanks. It’s important to think about the size that you want and how you will find enough space and support for the tank. I have always loved looking at aquariums and just watching the fish swim around so I think adding a nice tank to my home will be fun for guests as well.

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