How to set up an aquarium

A simple guide for beginners as to how to set up an aquarium and introduce fish. 


Step 1 - Research, Research, Research!

Think carefully about what sort of fish you would like to have? Is there a particular species in mind, would you like an attractive moving ornament, are you really into aquatic plants or perhaps this is your children’s first pet? All of these choices will affect the sort of aquarium you will need to purchase and equipment needed. For example, while clown fish may have surged in popularity and may seem like an attractive option, are you ready for the challenges a marine aquarium brings? Specialist heating, lighting, how to feed an anemone, what levels of salt you need in your water, large filter etc.

Being fully informed and with a firm decision in mind is the best start you can give your fish. Your local aquatic retailer will be able to help you make the right choices for your new pets. If you base the equipment you purchase on the species of fish you plan to keep, you will ensure you have the best set up for them.


Step 2 - Aquarium Equipment Needed

    A quick note on substrate- there are four things to take into consideration when choosing a substrate for your
      Fish 1
    aquarium particle size, colour, reactivitywith the water, and its effect on your fish, some gravels can cause stress to certain fish if they can’t dig in it, and those with sensitive fins can be damaged by sharp gravel, some fish also like to scoop substrate into their mouths.  Sand is often a popular choice as it hides dirt well and often looks more natural. Coloured gravels can show up dirt and algae, and quickly make your aquarium look scruffy as well as holding onto food and fish waste which can dramatically affect water quality.

    Shop around, not just for the best products but also for the best information, the staff in aquatic stores have a wealth of knowledge and will be able to help you with future issues easier and quicker if they know the set up you have and fish you keep.

  • Aquarium – inclusive of cabinet/stand designed to hold a fully operating aquarium- don’t forget large aquariums are generally easier to look after, and will tolerate fluctuations in water quality much better  
  • Somewhere suitable to place aquarium, not in direct sunlight, or near draughts/doors that may slam. If your aquarium is going upstairs take into consideration the weight of it once it’s full of water 
  • Suitable filter, and replacement filter media 
  • Suitable lighting 
  • Heater (if applicable) 
  • Thermometer (to be positioned away from the heater if using – even cold water tanks are subject to temperature changes so a thermometer is a useful and inexpensive item)  
  • Water Test Kit – this will become one of your most important pieces of equipment, test routinely and whenever you suspect a problem. Always check test kits are within their expiry date  
  • Appropriate food of the fish you plan to keep – not all fish can survive on flake  
  • Tank décor – it’s important to provide hiding places for your fish and to try and replicate their natural environment, real plants and bogwood are ideal  
  • Substrate - this will affect the look of your tank as well as the health and well-being of your fish  
  • Aquarium siphon  
  • Glass cleaner  
  • Net (two is often useful)  

Empty Fish Tank

Step 3 - Setting Up The Tank

Now the fun bit, once your aquarium is in situ, close to plug sockets, away from direct sunlight in a peaceful area of the home which is easy to access with buckets of water you can begin to build your fishes habitat. Wipe the aquarium over with a damp cloth to remove any dust and wash your substrate, most substrates can be quite dusty so rinsing them in a bucket of cold water until the water runs clear will prevent clouding (doing this in cold water will prevent any colours leeching). Add your substrate, décor, hiding places and any plants.

Slowly fill your aquarium with water, doing this slowly will help prevent décor moving around.

Once the water is in, turn the filters and any heaters on, set them to the temperature most suitable for the fish you are planning to keep. Most heaters are thermostatic so when they reach the correct temperature they will turn off. Follow the instructions carefully and you should have no problems, ensure your thermometer is away from the heater. Leave the aquarium running for a few hours and then check the temperature to ensure the heater is working correctly.

Most aquariums have suggested lighting and many come with lights. Lighting is important for plants and fish, however they lights should not be on for more than 8 hours a day to prevent unwanted algae growth. Once you have fish in your aquarium it’s important to never turn the lights on in a darkened room, fish should be “woken up” gradually.

Water Treatment

Step 4 - Water Treatment

Captive fish live in a completely closed environment and they are entirely dependent on their surrounding water.  All tap water in the UK contains an amount of Chlorine and/or Chloramines to make it suitable for us to drink however these chemicals are incredibly toxic to fish and need to be removed. King British De-Chlorinator should be added to any new water, it also removes heavy metals which are toxic to fish, additionally it provides the fish with a protective layer of Aloë vera to help maintain their slime coat which is essential in fighting off infection and reducing stress.


Step 5 - Filtration

The filter is not just for removing large particles of waste but is also home to the most important element in your fish tank the “Biological filter” this consists of friendly bacteria which ensures Ammonia and Nitrite go through the Nitrogen cycle keeping water levels safe for your fish. It results in the less harmful Nitrate which is removed by some plants and regular water changes.
No fish can be added to your aquarium without water parameters being suitable. To help kick start the Nitrogen cycle King British Filter Aid+ will introduce friendly bacteria which will multiply, live in your filter and keep you water healthy. King British Filter Aid+ is not only perfect for starting a new aquarium but is an important addition to your weekly cleaning regime.


Step 6 - Cycling

There is a lot of debate about how long it takes a fish tank to cycle, the golden rule
 is test, test, test! King British 6 in 1 Water Test Strips offer a quick and easy way to check how your new filter is functioning. Once the aquarium is established it’s still incredibly important to regularly test it will be the best indicator of any problems you may have. Even the biggest Aquariums in the world test their water.

Don’t be dismayed if your tank goes cloudy while cycling this is common and is called a “bacterial bloom” and it will settle. 

Two weeks may seem like a long time to wait however ensuring your water is correct is the most important start for successful fishkeeping.
Once your water parameters are suitable for the fish you would like to keep (Ammonia and Nitrite at 0, Nitrate no higher than 50mg/l other parameters are different for different fish species) you can begin to add fish.

Set Up the Tank

Step 7 - Adding Fish

This is the most exciting part!

It may be tempting to go into an aquatic store and come out with lots of different kinds of fish, however only add a few fish at a time. By adding too many it’s likely your filter will not be able to cope with the additional load.  When adding fish it’s important to pick fish which will be able to live peacefully together, your aquatic retailer will be able to help you. Whenever you add fish it’s important to water test before hand to ensure that your aquarium is ready for them. A journey home from the pet shop is a stressful time for fish and by adding them to an aquarium without suitable water you increase the risk of disease, as well as upsetting the balance of the fish you already have. King British Safe Home is a single one shot treatment that will reduce stress and help prevent disease. It’s important to keep an eye out for problem behaviour and understand that some fish absolutely cannot live together, not just due to different needs in water chemistry but also due to behaviour and social group needs.