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Setting up a fish tank can be a very stressful process the first time you do it. I'm going to guide you through the process I use every time I need to set a tank up. I have found that by following this guideline I can get the fish in the tank much quicker than by any other method I have tried. This process usually takes about two hours, but could be more or less depending on how big your tank is and how quickly you find a tank set up you enjoy. Anyone from a five year old to a ninety five year old can set up a tank which makes it a great family activity.

Step 1: Gather Materials

To effectively set up a fish tank, you will need these materials:

  • Tank
  • Rocks
  • Plastic Plants
  • Filter
  • Heater
  • Rock Formations
  • Lid
  • Light
  • Power Strip
  • Water Treatment

The following are optional materials:

  • Air Stone
  • Real Plants
  • Additional Filter
  • Thermometer

NOTE: They are not completely necessary for the health of the fish, but they can make tank maintenance easier.

Step 2: Prep the Water

Warm clean water is essential for any tank; however, the water that comes out of the tap is not safe for fish. There are water conditioners that can be bought at any pet store that will make the water safe.

  1. Grab some large containers that are laying around the house which you know the approximate volume of
  2. Fill with approximately room temperature water.
  3. Add the proper amount of water treatment to each container.
  4. Let sit until ready to add fish to the tank.

NOTE: I typically use old cat litter bottles that I have washed to hold water. These are the perfect size because I can lift them to pour into the tank and they are about three gallons a piece. Milk jugs or two liter bottles also work well!

Step 3: Prep Items for the Tank

Everything needs to be washed in hot soapy water! The manufacturing process can leave residues behind on items which in the worse case scenario, can be deadly to the fish. This is also a good chance to make sure that your tank doesn't have any leaks.

To check the tank for leaks

  • Place in sink or bathtub depending on how big the tank is
  • Fill up with cold water
  • Mark the water level with a piece of tape or something else visible that won't damage the tank.
  • Let sit for a half hour and check the water level.

Checking to make sure your tank is solid will save you from the possibility of ruined furniture and rapid water loss!

Step 4: Place Your Tank

Placing your tank is key. You want to place it somewhere where there is:

  • Natural Sunlight
  • Easy access to the lid
  • Power

But most important of all is somewhere where you can see and enjoy the tank!

I have one of my fish tanks on the kitchen table, and the other on top of my computer desk.

Step 5: Add Items!

This is the complicated, but fun part!

  • Fill the tank about half full of the water that you set aside. Adding some water now will let you know if the plants are going to stay at the bottom of the tank or if they will float.
  • Fill the bottom with about 2 inches of rocks.
    • I use about two pounds of rocks for gallon of tank.
      • This will change depending on personal preference and the shape of the tank
  • Place any rock formations.
    • Make sure there is around an inch or so between the formation and the walls of the tank. Don't want the fish getting stuck and scratching their sides.
  • Place plants under the rocks.
    • It is helpful to place the smaller plants in the front and larger ones in the back.

I have my tank set up so that there is a space roughly in the middle where there are no plants or rocks which gives the fish a place to chill without running into anything. Take your time doing this step and be sure that you are really happy with the set up before proceeding.

Step 6: Installing Electronics

Now that the fun part is done, you have to make sure that your fish can actually survive in the tank.

  • Hang the filter(s) from the back of the tank
  • Rinse the filter packs with cold water until the water runs clear
  • Fill the water reservoir with water.
    • Check and make sure that there are no special instructions on priming your filter.

CAUTION: Don't plug in/turn on the filters yet! there isn't enough water in the tank and that could ruin the filter's motor

  • Stick the heater if you have one somewhere near the filter so that the heater water can get drawn into the filter and distributed throughout the tank.
  • Add the air stone if you have one now, and make sure to plug that in immediately!

CAUTION: If not plugged in quickly, the tubing can act as a capillary that draws the water back into the air machine, ruining it in the process

Step 7: Finish Set-Up

To finish the set up, add the rest of the water to the tank!

  • The tank is full when the water is about a half inch from the top of the tank. There is usually a strip around the top that can be used as an indicator

Now you can turn on the motors

NOTE: The filters can make an awful noise when starting up for the first time, adding water to the reservoir while the filter is starting up can help this.

Add the lid to the tank and turn on the lights!

Step 8: Float the Fish

Before the fish can be added to the tank, they need to float in the tank water first. This process is called acclimation and will ensure a smoother transition to the tank for your new fish.

To float the fish you need to:

  • Add the fish still in the bags to the tank and let them sit there for a half an hour.
  • Double the water in the bags by adding some water directly from the tank and let sit for another half an hour.
  • Gently pour the fish into the tank!

Step 9: You're DONE!

You have successfully finished setting up and adding fish to your first fish tank! Enjoy!!

<p>you should never use soap while washing items going into an aquarium. You could use aquarium safe soap instead</p>
Careful with the soap... Bad idea for the health of any fish... Also you want to let the tank cycle for a couple weeks before adding the fish or add bio enhancers and change water frequently as to control ammonia and nitrogen levels
<p>Very good tutorial! What setup do you have here? (i.e., what is the capacity? are those two 15 gallon filter systems? What type of covering did you use?) The reason I'm asking is because I have a small three gallon tank in which I'll soon be moving over to a 30 gallon and I'm trying to find the most cost conscious equipment I can to set it up. (I found my dad's old water filtration system in pieces and I couldn't even begin to try to put them back together, let alone find their pumps!)</p><p>On a side note, something I've done for cleaning my tank supplies is warm vinegar water and a toothbrush for scrubbing crevices of tank decorations. </p>
Nice tutorial... although never use soap and never set the tank near the window with sunlight because you can't control when it turns on and off and can lead to algea problems and it could heat up your tank at a hot day, lastly you shoudnt add fishes instantly you should let the tank run for a week then add fish but only 3 a week because of amonia
Nice tutorial... although never use soap and never set the tank near the window with sunlight because you can't control when it turns on and off and can lead to algea problems and it could heat up your tank at a hot day, lastly you shoudnt add fishes instantly you should let the tank run for a week then add fish but only 3 a week because of amonia
Nice tutorial... although never use soap and never set the tank near the window with sunlight because you can't control when it turns on and off and can lead to algea problems and it could heat up your tank at a hot day, lastly you shoudnt add fishes instantly you should let the tank run for a week then add fish but only 3 a week because of amonia
Nice tutorial... although never use soap and never set the tank near the window with sunlight because you can't control when it turns on and off and can lead to algea problems and it could heat up your tank at a hot day, lastly you shoudnt add fishes instantly you should let the tank run for a week then add fish but only 3 a week because of amonia
<p>Pretty cool.It look nice when the lights glows</p>
Pretty good. But never use soap on anything fish related. Ever. Also when adding water conditioner it works instantly and doesn't need to sit. I use tetra water conditioner that works instantly. Also a hood is pretty much neccesary as some fish have tendencies to jump out is the tank
This is really nice! Although I think any intro to setting up a fish tank should include some info about the nitrogen cycle and cycling in the water--taking the time to do that makes it a much less stressful/dangerous transition for your new fishy friends!
CORRECTION! NEVER EVER use soap to clean anything going into your tank. After many years of experience and growing up maintaining fish tanks this WILL KILL your fish. Hot water is good enough and if your still worried boil the ornament.
<p>Hey welcome to instructable! This is a really nice tutorial for a fish tank! I love your use of the cat litter bottles, now I just need a cat to use up the litter for... You should think about entering this into our First Time Author Challenge.</p>

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