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How to Put Together an Aquarium – Everything You Need to Know

There are different aquariums for saltwater and freshwater fish. The first one requires a great experience and dedication, so it´s best to start with one of fresh water. If you´re a beginner on this topic, I recommend getting a fish of easy care such as the Guppy, Molly, Goldfish or Swordtail fish, and once you get greater knowledge about the management of an aquarium, you can choose other more sophisticated species. The amount of fish that can enter in the tank will depend on factors such as the size of both the aquarium and the fish on adult state, the ventilation system and the filter.

Steps for setting up your aquarium

Before you begin, you must choose where you´ll be placing the aquarium. Verify that the base on which you want to place it is perfectly stable, level and can support the weight. Between the base and the aquarium you must put a polyurethane plate to prevent external vibrations on the bottom glass and a possible cracking if not properly established. Remember that water weighs.

The aquarium should not be too close to a source of natural light, as it encourages the growth of algae.

For the bottom of the aquarium you can use sand or gravel, though it´s important to clean them before use.

how to put together an aquarium - gravel in the bottomAquarium with gravel

Image / “Kai Schreiber”.

Perform these three steps: a) fill the aquarium with water to a quarter of its capacity, b) place the decorations and plants, making sure not to shake the sand, and c) finish filling it with water.

To remove chlorine from the water you can use a conditioner or bring it to a boil.

Install the filter and ventilation system.

How do I insert the fish?

When adding fish avoid drastic temperature changes when passing them from one container to the other. As fish are usually sold in plastic bags, a good system to level the temperature of both containers is to immerse the bag into the aquarium for a while.

fish in bagsFish in bags

Image / Tracy Ducasse.

Before releasing the new fish in the aquarium is important to feed the rest of those who are in the tank to prevent an assault.

When should I move the fish?

It´s a serious mistake to insert the fish in the same day you have put together the tank because they can become ill or die. The initial cycle should be previously performed, which involves the development of beneficial bacteria that are responsible for recycling ammonia and nitrite (from decaying unconsumed food, feces and fish respiration), ultimately transforming them into nitrates.

This process takes about 3 to 4 weeks. To do this properly you must seek advise of a professional or fish specialty store. NEVER insert the fish into the aquarium without having done this initial cycle because otherwise they´ll die choking on its waste and feces.

Which tools can I use for maintaining an adequate quality of life in my aquarium?


It´s one of the most important accessories because its function is to retain and clean the aquarium water, especially feces, food waste and other toxic food for fish health. It should be cleaned monthly to avoid contaminating the water with accumulated dirt. There are a variety of filters and your choice will depend on the aquarium´s size, fish species and budget. I recommend you not saving on the purchase of a good filter because it´s the heart of the aquarium.

Air pumps

Used to oxygenate the water and create a perfect circulation of water and oxygen, as well as favoring the temperature´s stability in the tank.




Some points to note:

Special, artificial light for aquariums is preferable to natural light, since the latter unduly favors the development of algae, especially if it´s direct.

Lighting should be as uniform as possible and should never increase the water´s temperature.

The daylight fluorescent types are perfectly adequate and many aquariums have it included.

how to put together an aquarium - aquarium with illuminationImage / Nat Tarbox.

An average lighting of 10 hours a day is correct.

The thermostat

Thermal regulation in an aquarium must be maintained within acceptable limits depending on the species. When there are sudden changes in temperature, the thermostat regulates so that the fish don´t suffer. Cold water fish don´t need it because they tolerate well the ambient temperature of the house, but tropical fish do need to maintain a temperature around 80.6 °. It´s also important to monitor the temperature with a thermometer (adhered to the aquarium´s outer glass) in order to act immediately in case the thermostat suffers any damage.

aquarium with external thermometerImage / Barron Fujimoto.

Water and its parameters

The water is defined by a set of values which really need to be balanced. The slightest variation of temperature, pH , or any other element affects directly the health of the fish. There are inexpensive products for measurement and control of these parameters.

Since water features vary according to regions, cities and countries, you should seek advice from a retailer on how to treat the water that you´ll use for your aquarium. 50% of the water must be renewed every eight days in order to keep it clean.

PH and water hardness

The pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5 in freshwater. If you have any doubt about it, the seller can tell you what´s the pH for your fish. Hardness on the other hand indicates the amount of calcium contained in the water. There are reactors for sale that measure and control these two values.


Oxygen reaches the water from the tank through its surface contact with the outside air; the greater the tank´s surface, the higher the oxygen exchange. A second way is through photosynthesis, which is the expulsion of oxygen by plants during the hours they´re exposed to illumination.

General care

Environmental balance is a guarantee for the health of the fish.

  • When buying new fish, you should have them for 20 days in another aquarium with the right conditions before putting them in the main one, this way you can observe them and make sure they don´t have any illness that can infect the rest of the fish. Also, when changing the aquarium´s water we must ensure to keep it with the same temperature as before.
  • To keep the water clean is better to feed the fish several times a day instead of giving a lot of food at once. Food leftovers alter the water´s qualities.
  • To maintain a constant pH we should avoid a very dense vegetation and calcareous rocks (they contain calcium) for they will harden the water and make it alkaline.
  • Get rid of algae and leaves in bad state.
  • Measure weekly the water conditions to keep them in good state: pH, water hardness, nitrite, nitrate and ammonia.