So, You Want to Set Up a Tropical Fish Tank?


Setting up your first home or office aquarium should be easy, fun, and exciting. By taking a few steps and planning ahead, you can make your first aquarium a joy!

Here are some step-by-step tips for getting started in the fastest growing hobby in the world of fish keeping. These steps can help you to avoid many common mistakes and get you the aquarium that you can not only live with, but be proud of and enjoy.


  • Determine what kind of fish you want to keep.
    The first thing you should do when you decide to keep fish is determine what kind of fish you want to keep. Different kinds of fish will require different care, different conditions, different space, and different equipment. If you get your equipment before you decide what kind of fish you are getting, you may find yourself with inappropriate or unusable equipment or insufficient space for the fish you really want to be keeping in your aquarium.

  • Determine your budget.
    How much can you afford to spend on your aquarium? If this is your first fish tank, how much can you afford to spend on a new hobby will you be buying new or second hand aquarium

  • Research care and compatibility of those fish.
    It is very important to learn about the fish you want to keep are they cold water fish or tropical fish this information can be obtained from any reputable pet store or via online media such as forums Wikipedia and Facebook groups. This will let you know what conditions they will need, what equipment you will want, and how to set up your aquarium. When you research your fish, you can determine how big they will get and thereby determine the size of the fish tank you will need to keep them happy and healthy Also, this will give you a chance to learn if the various fish you have selected are compatible with each other. If different fish's care requirements, size, or temperament are too different, they will not be compatible and should not be kept together.

  • Determine space.
    Now that you know a little more about the fish you wish to keep, you know how large of a fish tank you will need. Look through your home and select a location for your new aquarium. How much space can you allocate to the fish tank and accessories? Remember to account for space between the fish tank and the wall for filters, tubing, and/or cords etc location is important also try too keep your aquariums in shaded spots away from windows and any direct sun light this will help keep your water temperatures cooler in the hotter months and help keep algae levels low

  • Select equipment.
    Visit your local pet store and determine what equipment is available and how much it will cost. If you do not see something that you will need for your system, ask about placing a special order. See if you can get a price (or at least an approximation) before committing to an order.

  • Evaluate budget/space constraints.
    How does your budget compare to the cost of the equipment you will need? Can you get a fish tank large enough for your fish that will fit in the space available in your home the most important question is will the aquarium suit the fish needs long term are you able to upgrade to a larger aquarium if needed. You should address these questions, and then reevaluate your fish selection, your space constraints and your budget compared to the new information you now have. Can you spend more? Is it a little more or a lot more? How close are you to fitting the appropriate fish tank into the space available in your home? Is another location available in your home? How committed are you to getting the fish you selected? Is one fish pushing your set-up into a different price bracket? Is that fish even available in your area?

  • Purchase equipment.
    Once you have reevaluated your fish selections, space limitations, and budget, it is time to purchase equipment. If you need to special order anything, do so early, as it may take a considerable time to get equipment by special order.

  • Setting up your aquarium.
    Now that everything is home, and assuming you have built the stand for your aquarium  your ready to go (even a brand new in the box aquarium will contain dust and particles from being in storage etc so best to give it swill out first included wiping down heaters and giving filter media a rinse before use). Expect to spend a couple of hours setting everything up if this is your first aquarium. Firstly the aquarium equipment such as filter and heater locations will need considering will the lead reach with out being pulled etc do you have to put the filter together select where there going to be located attach to aquarium but leave disconnected from electrical supply rinse off any decorations and substrates (Rinse substrate till water appears clear while swishing gravel around with hand). Place your substrate on the aquarium floor use a plastic bowl or a beaker to put gravel into the aquarium as tipping gravel into a tank from hight can scratch or crack the tank bottom. Now thats done its time to place decorations rocks caves plants bubblers etc into the aquarium remeber to add plenty of hiding spaces your fish will feel more secure. Be creative with your decor try to avoid decorations with sharp edges as this can lead to your fish injuring them selves . Fill your fish tank with water using a hosepipe at a steady stream so its not making craters in the substrate now start adding the required amount of water conditioners adding them as it is filling will allow the chemicals to mix up better. Your tank is now filled up and ready to go plug in all electricals make sure the heater temperature has been preset to the required temperature before plugging into power supply check your filter is filtering through water and your waters surface is being agitated to allow for oxygen to enter let it settle for 24 hours so you can make sure that everything is working properly and that nothing leaks. Your nearly there the most important part follows next

  • Cycle your fish tank.
    Over the next 6-8 weeks, you must be patient as your filters will need to cycle this process can sometimes take as long as 12 weeks. Please DON'T ADD ANY FISH Until your fish tank has finished cycling fully. Adding fish at this stage can be and is toxic to any fish no matter how hardy they are even if you cant see the damage its there. An uncycled aquarium for fish is like an acid bath to a person ask yourself before you consider doing this would you sit in a bath of acid or put your dog or cat in that position the answer is a 100% no even though fish keeping is a hobby fish are still animals and also pets that rely on you to provide there needs. Fishless cycling is much more humane, as sacrificial fish are not required. Please read article How to do a fishless cycle for more information on performing a fishless cycle

  • Purchase fish.
    Once the fish tank has finished cycling and all parameters are as they should be its time to go and purchase your fish to be safe only purchase a couple at a time adding to many fish all at once will cause the bio load to increase rapidly. Please read article adding fish to aquarium for further information. 

  • Maintain your fish`s health and there home.
    Now your fish are in the aquarium make it a habit to observe your fish daily this will allow for you to familiarize yourself with the behaviour of your fish in turn allows you too see when your fish are acting strange or look as if they are unwell. Check your filters at least twice a week to make sure water flow is adequate some smaller filters can clog pretty quickly ideally a filter should filter through at least double the amount of your aquariums water volume per hour there is no such thing as over filtering. Perform a 10-15% water change every week, and scrub for algae at the same time. Every month, check all hoses, fittings, clamps, cords, lights and other miscellaneous equipment. This may sound like a lot, but a couple of minutes a day could tell you months in advance of a disaster. Water changes usually take under 30 minutes for a fish tank dependant on size, including checking all equipment siphoning out waste and scrubbing for algae!. Your fishes health and needs are dependant on you as the owner pre plan for all occasions get medications the same time you purchase your aquarium its better to have them and not need them then to not have them and need them run a second filter even if its not needed as it may be needed on an occasion where you have to set up a smaller tank as a hospital tank or need to seperate a fish from the others due to aggression or injury


Now you are ready to venture into the exciting world of fish keeping. Whether you just want to keep goldfish, or if you want to delve into the world of exotic tropical reefs, these steps will get you started on the right foot.