Setting up Your Aquarium

Setting up a new aquarium can be intimidating and exciting at the same time. But while excitement is good, feeling intimidated is not so good. Taking the apprehension out of the process and helping you succeed in setting up your aquarium is the goal of this article.

Step1: Find the right place for your aquarium.  The location should not be in direct sunlight, as this will encourage algae growth, nor in an area where air from a heater or air conditioner will blow directly on the tank, as this may cause water temperature fluctuations, which are not good for the fish. Lastly, try not to put the tank in an area of the house where there is a lot of traffic, as this may cause the fish to feel constantly stressed.

Step 2: Set up the devices for your aquarium.  Add gravel (or crushed coral for saltwater tanks), the filter, heater, light and other devices. The choice of which brand to use for these items is up to you but should be based on recommendations from your fish store, reviews and your wallet. Don’t make it too complicated, and ask questions if you’re not sure how to decide between one and another. For most aquaria, a gravel bed about 2 inches deep, a good heater set to 76 to 78 deg F and a filter that is sized for the aquarium is fine. The most important thing to know about the filter is how to service it. The aquarium filter will have to be cleaned once in a while, and if it is too complicated you’ll tend not to clean it enough. So get one you can easily clean and understand. Lastly, add some decorations such as rocks, driftwood, ornaments, etc. to give the tank some personality.

Step 3: Add water to the aquarium. In most areas, and for most aquaria, using tap water is fine, but you’ll have to treat the water since, most likely, the water contains chlorine or chloramines which make it safe for drinking but dangerous for fish. DrTim’s Aquatics AquaCleanse will get rid of both chlorine and chloramine and destroy any ammonia in the water, too.

Step 4: Get the filter running and plug in the heater. The tank should run at least over night before you add fish to give the water temperature a chance to stabilize, and just to make sure everything is ready.

At this point, you have a decision to make regarding how to “cycle” the tank. Cycling is the name given to the process of establishing the beneficial bacteria (called nitrifying bacteria) that get rid of the toxic fish wastes. There are two ways to cycle a new aquarium – either with a few fish or without fish – in a process called fishless cycling (click here to learn more about fishless cycling). Either way, the cycling process can take 30 to 35 days to complete unless you add some nitrifying bacteria to the tank at this point. DrTim’s One & Only Live Nitrifying are the industry standard for nitrifying bacteria and are used by professionals at more public aquariums than any other brand.

The simplest way to proceed is to add a bottle of One & Only Live Nitrifying bacteria and a few hardy fish, such as most bards, danios or many tetras. The exact number of fish depends on many factors (size being a big one), but a good starting point is one fish per two gallons. Also, not all fish like newly set-up aquaria, even when dosed with DrTim’s One & Only. At this point in the process, stay away from Discus, Angelfish and some tetras such as Rummy Nose, Neon and Cardinals. Feed a quality fish feed twice a day, but just the amount the fish will eat quickly (about 3 minutes). After a week or so, if the fish are eating well, you can start to add more fish to the tank. Make sure to add some DrTim’s Aquatics First Defense stress relief for fish and invertebrates, which helps these organisms fight disease and adjust to their new surroundings.

To really be sure everything is progressing, you can invest in some test kits to measure ammonia and nitrite and make sure they stay within safe concentrations.

Now at this point, you may be saying to yourself, This sounds so simple. Why do people have so many problems with a new aquarium?”

There a few reasons for the problems people have with new tanks. The most common reason being that they did not add any nitrifying bacteria at the start or they added an ineffective brand. Not all brands of nitrifying bacteria are equal. The principals at DrTim’s Aquatics discovered the true species of nitrifying bacteria in aquaria (see the scientific papers here) and have a long history of providing the right mix of nitrifying bacteria for success – don’t trust any other brand. Secondly, people make a decision not to add the nitrifying bacteria at the start, but wait until they start to see high levels of ammonia or nitrite. This is a mistake and will cost you more money and time, while increasing your frustration level, because high levels of ammonia or nitrite actually inhibit the nitrifying bacteria and cause them to work slower.

Save yourself a lot of headaches and add DrTim’s Aquatics Live Nitrifying bacteria at the start of the process. Also don’t overfeed the fish and don’t vacuum the substrate for the first 3 weeks, which gives the bacteria a chance to attach to the gravel or coral. You can read more about what happens during the first 30 days of a new aquarium here.

Setting up a new aquarium does not have to be a chore – have some patience, don’t overfeed and use DrTim’s One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria and you’ll soon be thinking about getting another aquarium! Good fishkeeping.