How to set up a Freshwater Aquarium from scratch

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Hi there! If you’re reading this is because you want to set up an aquarium for the first time, and congratulations, you’re in the right place!

When I wanted to have my first freshwater aquarium I had so many questions that I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know the equipment I needed, which tank size was the best for me, what type of fish I wanted to have, how to take care of it, etc, etc, etc. So now I’m going to write a kind of “guide” for you with some questions and tips you may need to have in mind when you want to start a Freshwater aquarium from scratch.

I am not a professional but I do love and care for my fish and did a hell lot of research before setting up my aquarium, so I decided I will gather all the info I think is relevant.

First: Where do I put it?
Yes, I know this might be the most boring “first question” you would like to ask yourself when thinking about your future aquarium but it’s a key question. Why? Because it will lead to the size of the tank you can have which will lead to the type of fish you can actually have. So, as you see, it’s really important.
You can have your aquarium anywhere you like BUT you have to have in mind these things:

  • Never ever put your tank in front of a window. I know it might seem nice to have natural sunlight  but NO. This is a huge mistake. On one hand, direct sunlight might cause a sudden rise in your tank’s temperature which will stress your fish (and we don’t want that happening). On the other hand I know for a fact that algae loves sunlight and it will easily  grow and become a huge issue.
  • Do not put your tank in a place where it gets too hot or too cold. You should be able to control the temperature of the room where your tank is. Your tank’s temperature should be stable, if not it will stress your fish.
  • It’s not just about space, it’s about weight too! You have to be careful where you put it, you have to be sure that the furniture you’re setting up your aquarium on can hold  the weight! Don’t forget that a 10 gallon (38 liters) tank might weight up to 100 pounds (45 kilos) with everything in!

Alright then, you’ve decided where to put it. Now what? The next thing you have to think about is…

The shape and the size of the tank.
Here you can be as creative as you want. If you have found the place in your house to place your dream tank and you can afford it, go for it! I would recommend to buy something that is not too small because parameters (such  as pH, temperature, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, etc.) can vary a lot easier in smaller tanks. But taking care of a huge tank is also kind of a lot to take in for a first ride so I would personally recommend something between 5 to 15 gallons.

Find a pet store near you that you can trust
If you are going to buy fish from a pet store you better trust this pet store because they are the ones that you’re going to go for help or with any issues regarding your fish. What I recommend for this is that you visit several local pet stores or pets stores that are near you and you check out the fish they have. See the conditions they have them in: if they look healthy, if the water is clean, etc. Also, you should ask a question you already know the answer to, like: “I have a goldfish, can I buy a male betta and keep him in the same tank?” If they say yes, you better leave that place because they don’t care about the fish, they only care about selling them. This might seem stupid but if they are lying with something so simple, how are you going to trust them when they tell you a fish is captive bred when it might actually be wild caught?

Start buying all the accessories.
If it’s a tropical freshwater fish tank the things you would absolutely need are: a heater, a thermometer, a filter, an air pump and an air stone.  Decide what kind of gravel you want and start buying all your aquarium decoration (I do recommend you give your fish a place to hide, or if it’s possible, several). Also you would need a net, a water conditioner, a gravel cleaner and a kit to test your parameters! When I started I also bought Stability from Seachem which helps and speeds up the cycling process.

Find the type of fish you can and you want to have
Why do I say it in that order? Because first you have to do some research on what type of fish you can have according to the size of your tank. Then, of those you can actually have, you have to choose the type of fish you want to have. But it’s not as simple as it looks, you can’t put all the fish you want in the same tank. If you want to set up a community tank you have to find out what species get along. If you don’t do your homework you might end up having a lot of fights in your tank. But it’s not just the fights, this ain’t that easy. You have to find out if they have the same needs (same temperature, pH, etc.) or if they are schooling fish (and you have to find out the minimum: you don’t want your fish to stress out or to feel lonely but you don’t want to overpopulate the tank either).

Set up your aquarium and let it cycle
Ok, we are here! This is the moment you start setting your aquarium up! First, you have to clean the dirt out of your tank. Use a wet towel, DO NOT USE soap or anything! Then you gotta wash the gravel over and over again to get rid of all the dirt. Once that is done you can put the gravel in your tank and set up the filter, the decoration, the heater, the thermometer and the air pump. Once all is done you can start filling it with water (don’t forget to use a water conditioner!) and you let it cycle. The cycling process usually takes a month but like I said, using something like Stability (or anything like it) can easily speed up the process.

And that’s all folks! I hope this post was helpful and that you liked it. If you have any questions or want to say something about this don’t forget to leave a comment below! See you in my next blog post… bye!

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