How to Set Up an Aquarium for Tropical Fish?

Petting fish has been increasingly associated with reducing mental stress. Not only does it help anxiety, but it is also a rewarding hobby to pursue. Having a brightly colored fish tank in your home is aesthetically pleasing and mentally relaxing.

Undoubtedly, the best choice for a home aquarium is tropical fish. They are easy to breed, look after, and live well with a bunch of different fish species.

Barbs, guppies, tetras, and red swordtails are some of the most enrapturing swimmers to have in your aquarium.

Since most tropical fish like to travel in schools, make sure your tank is spacious, clean, and attractive. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you prepare a pristine tank for your tropical fish.

Tank Requirements for Tropical Fish

Since tropical fish like to swim around, make sure you get a big tank. Freshwater tropical fish thrive well in slightly warmer tanks. Here’s what you need to take care of.

  • Use a high-quality filtration system to purify the water regularly. This is a crucial step if you want to keep your fish and live plants healthy inside the aquarium.
  • You will also need an air pump. It lends an extra boost of oxygen while producing a quiet and smooth stream of air.
  • Tropical fish can’t produce their body heat, which is why you need an excellent heater that keeps the temperature between 75 and 80 Degree F. Make sure to plant a thermometer on the side as well.
  • Fill up the bottom with gravel and add live plants depending on the species you’re keeping. Gravel adds natural beauty and beneficial bacteria to the environment.
  • Most importantly, keep the water breathable and healthy by adding a conditioner to de-chlorinate it. And, add a water treatment occasionally to replenish essential trace minerals in the tank.
  • Add LED lighting at the top of the tank to create a gentle, well-lit ambiance that is beneficial for both the fish and the live plants.

With that, let’s move on to the basic steps of preparing a tank for your tropical fish!

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Tropical Fish

Setting up your aquarium for tropical fish is extremely easy.

Here’s how you can lay the groundwork for your pet’s new habitat.

Step 1 – The Planning Stage

The first and most crucial step is to decide what kind of tropical fish you will like in the tank. We already mentioned a few species in the beginning. However, before setting up the aquarium, decide how big you want it to be and ultimately, what you’ll be using it for.

Is it going to be a breeding tank or a large community aquarium? The size and number of your tropical fish will affect the surface area of your aquarium, its water conditions, temperature, and choice of plants.

A few great species that harmonize well in large community aquariums are danios, cichlids, bettas, and tetras. These species can survive well in both small and large aquariums without much upkeep.

If you’re looking to add a splash of color in the tank, you can keep German Blue Ram, Discus, and Flowerhorn Cichlids that all belong to the cichlid genre.

Once you know precisely which species to keep in your tank, you can move on to decide the size and any necessary equipment. It’s easier to chalk out where you want to keep plants and marbles in a large tank.

However, if yours is boxy and small, then use a piece of paper that is the same size as your tank’s surface area. Place it at the bottom and mark out all the decorations. This will make the planning stage a whole lot easier.

Step 2 – Setting Up the Tank

Now that you have the equipment and know which species to keep in the tank, it’s time to prepare the interior.

Use a damp cloth to clean away any dust or grime inside the tank. You can use a bit of vinegar and water to wipe the inside and outside of the tank.

To ensure that the aquarium is leak-free, fill it up with tap water, and wait for an hour. If there are no leaks, continue to the next step.

Step 3 – Adding the Water and the Substrate

Place the aquarium near a power supply and out of direct sunlight and traffic noises. Make sure to select an ideal location before filling in the water.

When it comes down to choosing the substrate, it mostly depends on the type of fish and lives plants you’re keeping. Guppies, for example, prefer a darker substrate like black sand, while catfish like a sandy substrate.

Here is the substrate we recommend for the aquarium that can suit a wide range of aquarium tropical fish.

For every gallon of water, you will need 1lb of the substrate. For a big tank that can hold up to 50-75 gallons, you can add 55-150 lbs of the substrate. For smaller tanks that hold up 20 gallons or less, you will need at least 60 lbs of the substrate.

Make sure to thoroughly wash the substrate by putting it in cold water and swirling it around with your fingers. This way, all the grime, and dust will come upon the surface.

Now, it’s time to add the water. For freshwater tropical fish species, tap water is the best choice. However, make sure to de-chlorinate it by adding a conditioner or letting the water sit for a day or two in the tank.

Place a deep bowl in the aquarium and start filling it up with tap water. This way, the water flow won’t disturb the gravel at the bottom.

Step 4 – Planting the Equipment

Now that the tank is ready, it’s time to add the equipment. Start by installing the filter. It’s best to get an internal filter as it’s easier to install and operate. The filter will be stuck on the back wall of your aquarium and connected to a nearby power supply.

External filters, on the other hand, have their own benefits. They are spacious and clean the tank far more efficiently. Usually situated below the aquarium, external filters take the water away from the tank towards the filter and then back into the tank.

Depending on your ease and preference, you can choose either. However, make sure that the wires are connected properly without any bends.

Next comes the heater, which is extremely important for a tropical set up. Tank heaters are quite easy to assemble and plant inside the aquarium. Most have a dial that allows you to choose the ideal temperature.

Place the heater and thermometer on different sides of the tank. This will ensure that the heat is distributed equally and consistently. Once this is done, install the air pumps and any lighting on top of the tank.

The air pump doesn’t go inside the fish tank. Only the object that it is attached to goes in the tank and the tube is placed inside the aquarium. Plant it near the top of the tank, at water level. This will prevent water from going back into the air pump in case of a power failure.

Since air pumps vibrate, they should be placed on a soft object to avoid noisy disturbances that your tropical fish might not like.

Step 5 – Adding Foliage and Decorations

Once you’re done with the technical set up, it’s time to decorate and get all fancy with the aquarium. You can go for a themed tank or keep it simple with a bit of foliage and driftwood— the choice is yours.

Fill the tank up with colorful, painted pebbles to complement your vibrant tropical fish. You can also set up wallpaper with exotic sea corals and sun rays for a dramatic effect.

Rinse the plants gently before getting them in the aquarium. Some plants like to stay as centerpieces in the front, like Anacharis, while others like Java Fern prefer the background. Java Moss, Lilaeopsis, Water Wisteria, and Dwarf Baby Tears are ideal choices to add a rich, green shade to your tank.

Broad-leafed Anubias and fine-leafed Anacharis are quite loved by tetras who like to swim and hide around the plants.

Make sure to choose a well-balanced collection of background, mid-ground, and foreground plants. If you’re using live plants, you’ll have to plant them inside the substrate as the roots will need nutrients to survive. It’s best to give them at least 8 hours of LED-lighting every day for healthy growth.

Step 6 – Cycle the Tank

Cycling the tank refers to creating bacteria inside the tank that is crucial to keep the fish healthy. The filter is what essentially grows the culture of bacteria, which changes ammonia into nitrites. The nitrites are then converted into nitrates.

This is known as the “Nitrogen cycle” – the process that eliminates both nitrites and ammonia that are harmful to the fish. While nitrates are toxic too, they’re only dangerous for your tropical fish when present in high amounts. Make sure to cycle the tank before adding the fish to save them from toxins.

Simply add some ammonia into the aquarium and carry out tests weekly to check the levels. The nitrite and ammonia levels will rapidly increase, followed by a significant drop. Once the levels reach 0ppm, you can add the fish.

Additionally, to adjust the pH levels, add a tsp of baking soda for every 5 gallons of water. This will increase alkalinity. Community tanks with diverse tropical fish work great with a pH between 6.8 and 7.2.

Step 7 – Acclimatize Your Fish

Adding your fish to the tank should be done gradually over a few weeks. This is because your fish needs to acclimatize to the pH level, salinity, lighting, and temperature before they get comfortable. For every 10 gallons, add 1 inch of your tropical fish.

And, that’s it! With these easy steps, you can set up your fish tank.

These are the steps you need to follow when setting up an aquarium for tropical fish.

Good Luck with your tropical fish aquarium!

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