How to Set-up an Aquarium

So…you’ve chosen your aquarium and worked out where it will go. What next?

Unpack the aquarium from its box and check for any damage. For larger aquaria, dont lift it out of the box by the lid surround as this can damage the seals – it’s far better to break the sides of the box so that it can be lifted from the base.

The first job will be to get the aquarium in place and level. Older style plain glass aquaria need a polystyrene or foam base mat to support them wheras most modern aquarium kits have a plastic base surround – if yours has this then you must not use any polystyrene.

The filter can be fitted to the aquarium at this stage. Follow the instructions for it’s use. Sometimes filter material like carbon or ceramic noodles needs a quick rinse to remove dust. Make sure that any plastic bags are removed (but not mesh bags). If using an external filter with some of the Fluval aquariums, the pipework is fitted to the aquarium using pipes that go through the base of the tank. You will need to make sure that the pipework is all in place and attached to the filter before filling the aquaroium with water.

Unless you have chosen one of the plastic coated gravels, the gravel or sand will need to be washed before adding it to the aquarium. We have found that the easiest way is to place some of the gravel or sand into a bucket (only perhaps a quarter or a third full). Fill the bucket with water, give the whole thing a good stir and then pour the dirty water out. Repeat this until the water stays clear when the gravel is stirred. Learned from experience – washing the gravel in a sieve is less effective and harder work!

If you have chosen to use a plant fertiliser substrate under the gravel then add this first, otherwise the sand or gravel can be poured straight into the aquarium.

Now you are ready to add the water. If using tap water, this can be poured in cold or added from a hose pipe. This will be the only time that you will be able to add untreated water, if the aquarium was already up and running then the water must be at the right temperature and treated with water conditioner so that it’s free from chlorine. If using reverse osmosis water, be aware that you may need to add some minerals using a product such as Seachem Equilibrium, as without this the water can become too acidic. Don’t worry too much about disturbing the gravel when adding unless you are using the plant substrate. Any slight cloudiness will soon clear once the filter is running.

Any rocks or other hard aquascaping can be added now. Rocks may need a quick rinse to remove any dust. Bogwood or moor wood is probably best pre soaked to remove some of the tannins which can turn the water brown and acidic. Pre soaking will also make it waterlogged so that it will sink.

You should now be ready to add the heater. If you plan to keep coldwater fish and there was a heater supplied with the aquarium, it’s still worth using and turning down to 20 degrees centigrade. That way it will help to keep the water temperature stable in the winter months. Use the clamp and suckers provided to attach the heater to the glass, making sure that they hold the heater on the top part where the heating elements are not (this avoids melting the clamp)! It’s best to put the heater horizontally or at a 45 degree angle. Positioning it vertically can confuse the heater into turning off too soon – the warm water rises past the thermostat making it switch off. Place the heater lower down in the tank (it’s fully submersible) – that way, if you do a part water change and forget to turn it off, it will not be exposed while the water level is low. Set the heater to a temperature of 24 – 26 centigrade for the majority of tropical fish. Once the filter and heater are turned on, it will probably take several hours for the water temperature to stabilise. You may need to adjust the heater later – the temperature settings on standard heaters are only approximate and you will need to use a separate thermometer to see how warm your aquarium is. Some of the more modern heaters such as the Fluval E series have an accurate digital temperature reading and are a worthwhile upgrade as you won’t need a seperate thermometer.

The lid and light can be added at this stage. It’s best to run the light for around 8 – 10 hours per day in our experience. Having the light on for too short a time will make it hard to grow live plants, too long and algae can take over.

So you now have a working aquarium. Once the water temperature is stable it will be safe to add plants and the first stock of fish, but before doing this, please read the next part of our guide: Maturing an Aquarium.