How to Set Up a Fish Tank – Simple Step By Step Instructions for Everyone

set up a fish tank

Having a fish tank with lively and vibrant little aquatic friends can greatly revive your mental condition. Moreover, Psychologists often suggest interacting with them for relieving stress. In short, for mind refreshment and as a stress reliever, aquatic pets can work like magic. But, to have those vibrant little friends, you need to set up your fish task properly first. To set up a fish tank, it is essential to follow a few steps carefully. Otherwise, your efforts can backfire. Moreover, you can be confused about choosing the right equipment and fishes. 

In this article, we will represent a full set of user rules for setting up different fish tanks. In addition, we will explain some additional guidelines, like setting up the fish tank filter. 

How to set up a fish tank

The following infographic will give you a glimpse of setting up a fish tank:

set up a fish tank

Now we will discuss the above steps in detail.  

Make a Plan

To set up a fish tank, the first and foremost step is setting up a plan. For personal use, it’s important for you to know how to set up a small tank. However, a huge sized tank or a breeding tank needs slightly different setups. 

  • Generally, the nature and variety of fish determine the size of the fish tank you need. That is why, before the equipment purchase, you should think about your preferred breeds of fishes. 
  • Secondly, decide on the necessary instrument list.
  • Determine the state of the water environment that you need to maintain in your fish tank.
  • For small tanks, especially, it is important to make prior plans. Otherwise, the plant decoration and other beautifications might not go according to the expectations. Also, you may end up compromising with the space required. 

Make an arrangement for tank

The next step is the tank purchase. Moreover, you need all the other instruments as well.

  • In the case of a fresh tank, you just need to clean it with wet cloth pieces. Be cautious about using any cleaning agent like washing powder or soap water. Moreover, the cleaning tools need to be new. Or else, it will pollute the water.
  • However, if you buy a second-hand tank, you can use a mixture of baking soda and vinegar( or citric acid) to wash it. 
  • Afterward, you need to check whether it is leak proof. To verify, pour water and measure the water height. After several hours, if the water level remains the same, then you can be assured that it is leak proof.  
  • Conversely, if you notice any leak, we recommend you to use a proper aquarium sealant. In that case, you can use American Sealants, Inc. Vivarium Safe Silicone. This product can endure up to 750 gallons of water pressure. So, you can be assured about the strength of the sealants. 


  • Harmless for your pet
  • VOC flexible 

Stand placement

  • It is important to put the tank beside a power cord stand. Also, make sure there is no scope for straight sunlight exposure.  
  • Moreover, choose an appropriate and durable tank stand to set up a fish tank. Because whenever you fill water into the tank, the weight will increase significantly. To specify, if you buy a 50-gallon tank, its normal weight will be around 100lbs. In contrast, its weight will be almost 600 pounds with full water capacity.
  • Afterward, it is important to maintain the water level of your fish tank. Mainly the placement of the tank plays the necessary role in water level determination. However, because of the irregular water level, it puts a lot of strain on the aquarium ridge. As a result, water leaking and breakage in the wall may happen.

To know more about aquarium leveling, watch this video.

Include the substrate things and water


  • You will find a variety of substrates for your tank. However, it is better if you choose it according to your pet’s needs. Substrate type varies according to the type of fishes. 
  • Now, you need to do some math. For 1″ layer of the substrate, the 1-pound amount is enough in 1-gallon water. However, the weight varies for different kinds of substrates.
  • For the next step, washing the substrate may be required. However, use cold water to rinse it properly. Also, for a large number of substrates, use hosepipe in full force. Hence, wash until you get clear water surface. 
  • On the other hand, if you use color-coated gravel, it may not need washing. We recommend Pure Water Pebbles Aquarium Gravel, 2-Pound, Snow White. It is suitable for both fresh and salt-water fish tanks.


  • Contains full coating of acrylic materials
  • Does not contain toxic chemicals 
  • Gives natural look 


  • May become discolored after several months of use.
  • Finally, pour the layer of substrates with careful hands. Also, you can lift some of the layers for water plants. 

Adding water

You can use either freshwater or saltwater. Moreover, it is strongly recommended to follow step numbers 4 and 5 first if you are using the fish tank below twenty-gallon capacity. Nevertheless, the procedure of adding both the water is different. 


  • The movement of the substrates is quite normal while pouring water. Therefore, it is better to use a flat plate or bowl to avoid this situation. Place the plate over the substrates layer and slowly pour water.
  • After this, include de-chlorinator to the water. In that case, following the product indications is essential. Otherwise, overdose can cause trouble for your fish. However, this process is called dechlorination. 


We have discussed this procedure in the next part of this article.

Assemble the necessary equipment 

How to set up a fish tank filter

This step mostly involves the filter set up process. To set up a fish tank filter, there are two main steps. Firstly, you need to bring together all the filter parts. Then, you can finish the final installation process.  

Usually, the filter parts come disjointedly. So, you can follow the user manual to assemble it. It just needs to put up together. Next, you have to install the filter. 

  • However, if you use under gravel filters, put them beneath the substrate layer. Also, ensure proper fitting of the filter. It is important to check in advance. After that, you can start filling up the fish tank with water.  
  • For under gravel filters, check the fitness of lift tubes. Moreover, it is crucial to connect the pump airlines as well as the powerhead. You can turn on the connection afterward.
  • On the other hand, exterior water filters are comparatively simple to joint. These filters contain outside power cord. Consequently, these cables connect to the main power supply. Thus, they initiate the filtration procedure. However, keep the cables away from water touch whenever you set up a fish tank filter. 

Some related facts

  1. Typically, under gravel filter needs to be installed before filling the water. Conversely, it is essential to keep the water tank full before you switch on the exterior water filter connection mostly.
  2. You can consult with a mechanic expert on this field to install it in case of technical difficulties. 

To get more clear ideas about external water filter tutorial, watch the video.

Arrange decorative things


  • Usually, water plants play a vital role in generating the natural vibe of your aquarium. Live plants help to provide oxygen to your water pets. Moreover, it also gives a soothing view.
  • Crypt Wendtii, Java Moss, Water Wisteria, Amazon Sword, Cryptocorynes are some of the best plants for freshwater fish tank.  
  • If you place the lengthy plants at the front wall side, it will block the views. So, it is wise to put them in the back. 
  • Also, to set up a fish tank, you can use specially designed synthetic plants.  

Other decorations

As for other decorations, colorful rocks, wooden ships can remove the boredom of you and your pet. Besides, these tiny toys will give your fish tank an attractive look.

Here are some recommended aquarium decorations from us.

Marina Naturals Rock Outcrop

GEOsystem Fluval Mopani Driftwood

These products represent the reality under the sea with an outstanding view. Also, they give a proper natural look to set up a fish tank. 


  • Safety ensured
  • No toxic chemicals
  • Artistic decoration for fish tank


Cycle your Fishtank

As you have completed all the necessary assemble works, it is time for a nitrogen cycle. To clarify, you need to grow a bacteria habitat to ensure a safe environment for your pet. 

  • However, the purpose of fish filter cycling is to maintain a tolerable level of ammonia and nitrites. Excessive levels of those chemicals can harm your fishes. That is why; you need to operate the full cycle process to increase useful bacteria growth.

Cycling process of freshwater

  • To start freshwater cycling, you need to mix a recommended amount of ammonia to your tank. However, you can find it at your nearby pet shop or fish tank markets.  
  • You need to verify the ammonia level. Also, nitrate level supervision is important.
  • The chemical level will rise at first. Afterward, you have to wait for the zero ppm point. That way, you can be convinced that your water tank cycling is complete.  
  • For speed boosters, try to enhance the warmth of the water. Besides, you can use an air pump to raise the amount of oxygen in the water.

Wait for 48 hours to several days

To create an appropriate swimming environment, it is crucial to wait for several days.

  • The least recommended time is 48 hours.
  • However, it will be more beneficial for you if you wait for at least 7 days. 
  • As a result, bacteria growth will get a suitable period to spread.
  • Also, you should carry on the cycling procedure until you get safe water.
  • Regular water change is essential to maintain a toxic-free environment for your pet.

Leave the fish in the water

Now, this is the most awaited period to set up a fish tank. However, you need to be extra cautious while opening the fish tank for your pet fish. 

  • Generally, it is a common problem to understand the accurate fish number at first. Nevertheless, it is associated with your aquarium size. We recommend 1’’ of fish for every ten gallons of water.
  • Additionally, you must take proper care of the adjustment of the fish. This is because the chemical level and the temperature of water and pH balance can differ from their previous habitat.

To watch the full procedure in details, follow the video link

How to set up a tropical fish tank

If you want to set up a fish tank for tropical fishes, just extend the above guidelines a bit. Before the cycling process, you need to monitor the following instructions.

Heater and thermometer installation 

A tropical fish tank requires a heater to maintain the warmness of water. This is because; tropical fishes need a comparatively warmer environment under the water.

  • Mainly, most users connect the heater to the backside wall of the tank. 
  • Also, to monitor the temperature, you need to set up a thermometer. 
  • However, you may place the thermometer on the front glass. So it will become simple to check and regulate the heat. 
  • Different tropical fishes need a different temperature. Thus, it is essential to know the preferable temperature of your aquatic pets.
  • Follow the user guide before installing the heater. Usually, after its placement in the tank, we recommend waiting at least half an hour before plugging in. 

Balance the pH level

In the beginning, you need a balanced water pH level. Also, an increased amount of ammonia and nitrite can affect the health of tropical fishes significantly. To make your work easier, we can suggest the Premium Pack Freshwater Master Test Kit. It is worth having a water test kit for your favorite aquarium.


  • Efficient detection of ammonia, nitrite and other chemicals
  • Successful pH level testing
  • Fast result
  • Simple to use


  • Price may be comparatively high.
  • For pH testing, if the test result shows points from six to eight, it is okay.
  • However, to decrease the pH level, you can use driftwood. 
  • On the other hand, to increase it, add baking soda to a recommended amount. 
  • Water testing is necessary every month. However, checking the chemical and pH level once or twice would be enough. 

Additional Works

  • Insert a lamp inside the fish tank. Because the lamps will make the water plants flourish. 
  • Besides, a lamp timer will help you to keep track of lighting time. If you enlighten the aquarium for more than 12 hours, its impact may be bad. 

Then, continue with the cycling process. And, the last step is to add some appropriate tropical fish.

Adding the tropical fish of your choice

  • When you start the final procedure, that means fish addition, avoid adding more than 3 to 4 fishes. However, a pair of fish is great for starting a test.
  • As for the suggestion of fish names, you can choose Tetras and Red Swordtails. Tetras have many variations and colors. Besides, they are easy to handle. However, Guppies, Rainbow Shark, and Barbs can be an amazing choice. 
  • For every single fish breeds, you need to have knowledge of them. Do your research on this topic to make the right choice of fishes.
  • After introducing the fishes, switch off the light for a while. It will relax the fishes. In addition, this step will help them to adapt to the new atmosphere.
  • Now it is time to familiarize them with the tank water. To acclimatize the fishes, glide the transparent polybag over the aquarium water surface. Consequently, it will create an equilibrium of temperature. To view the accurate procedure, watch this.

Useful tips

  • It is better not to feed them on day 1. 
  • Because of stress, the unwillingness to eat is normal. However, follow their usual feeding routine from the next day.
  • Be aware of any symptoms of sudden sickness. 
  • Moreover, the water testing procedure should be followed almost every day for one month. Also, monitor the pH level and chemical rise in water. 
  • After 30 to 40 days, you can start adding other fishes by observing the condition. 

How to set up a saltwater fish tank for beginners

To set up a fish tank with saltwater, you do not require doing loads of extra works. Moreover, just the steps of water adding and cycling need to be different. 

Preparing saltwater for fish tank

  • The water adding process for saltwater fish tank needs is slightly different. 
  • First, the water must face the reverse osmosis step. This type of water is available in the aquarium market. If you do not want to take the trouble for water treatments, just purchase it. 
  • Next, mix sea salt blocks into the water. You will also find a special sea salt mix for the fish tank at your nearby markets. Follow the packet instructions. 
  • Finally, the dechlorination of the water will complete the procedure. 

Cycling process for saltwater fish tank 

Both the tropical and saltwater fish tank need heater and thermometer installation. However, here are some additional tips for saltwater tank cycling.

  • Live rock works better for bacterial growth on the saltwater aquarium. However, try to use lightweight rocks. Their inner spongy spots make the works easier.  
  • Routine water testing is essential in this case also. 
  • About half of the water amount may need to be replaced if the nitrates level increases. However, this cycling requires six to eight weeks or more to complete. 

Follow the rest of the instructions from the above section. 

Popular Saltwater fishes

A large variety of saltwater fish is available in the pet stores. However, for beginners, Firefish, Dottyback, Clownfish or Tangs will do well. The fish adding process is the same as above.

There are some myths on the saltwater aquarium. Many people think that this type is not beginner-friendly. However, that is incorrect. Also, some may believe that the conversion of a freshwater fish tank to saltwater is not possible. Nevertheless, that is another myth. Just use the right techniques, and you will be there. 

The following video can help you to know more.


A well-furnished fish tank can be an amazing option to bring the world undersea into your living room. On top, you need not spend much to set up a fish tank. Moreover, these activities can bring about immense pleasure in your daily life. 

That is why I hope, this article can provide you all the necessary information on this topic. You can choose saltwater, freshwater or tropical fish tank according to your preference. Nevertheless, some efforts and time can make all the works a lot easier and enjoyable. In conclusion, the wonderful experience of spending time with tiny water creatures can be worth the money.