Setting up Your New Aquarium Present!

Posted by Aquatropic Staff on January 4, 2023

Setting up Your New Aquarium Present! thumbnail image

So you got your first aquarium as a gift this holiday season, or you gave one to someone and now they need some guidance; today is the day we fill up the new glass box and get it ready for its future fish!

The number one rule of aquarium keeping is patience. In pretty much every decision you make (with the notable exception of maintenance) patience will be rewarded and going too quickly will often times do more harm than good. With this in mind, we need to practice patience right away, because we need to do a few things before we start putting fish in this aquarium.

The first thing to do when you set up a new tank is to find a good spot for it. Ideally, you would like this in a place where it will be seen often, close to a sink for maintenance, out of the sun and away from cold or hot drafts. People often choose a bedroom for aquariums, and this works well for some people. Small aquariums make soft gurgles and bubbling noise and many find this “white noise” to be appealing. The downside is that people go to their rooms to sleep, and thus it doesn't get seen much except for bedtime and at wake up call. We suggest hallways, kitchens and living rooms where there is a lot of traffic. More people will be able to better appreciate your waterbox for more hours of the day in a location like this. Keeping your aquarium out of direct sunlight will dramatically lessen the amount of algae that grows in the tank as well as helping to moderate temperature spikes (the same reason you don't want it directly over a heat vent, or too near an external door). The proximity to a sink will make water changes and filter cleaning much easier; a topic we'll cover in another article.

Once you've found a nice spot for your the tank, it's time to clean it. Using a new sponge or an algae pad like the ones from Lifegard, without soap, and some clean water from the sink, just scrub out the tank. While the tank is drying you should put all the gravel into a bucket and wash it as well. Right now, you're asking the question: “how do I wash gravel?” It's pretty easy; with the gravel in the bucket, put enough water in to cover it at about twice the depth of the gravel. Mix the water and gravel by hand and fine particles of dust and dirt will float up, pour this water out and repeat. You don't need the water to run totally clear, but it should be mostly clean. Put the gravel in the aquarium and use the bucket to rinse off any other rocks and decorations you plan to use. If you're using driftwood, you should both rinse it clean with the process described here, and then let it soak. If it wants to float, you can tie it to a rock and leave it submerged in the previously mentioned bucket. Over time, it will slowly get waterlogged and during that process, it may also let off some color. Your filter will have a sponge and a packet of activated carbon; rinse both of these thoroughly until they stop releasing carbon dust.

Once everything is clean, you can put it all in the aquarium and start to aquascape! It's a weird word, but basically means making your aquarium look how you want it to look. Plan rocks to make hiding spaces, leave things open enough so that you get good flow, and try to hide hardware like heaters, pumps and oxygen lines out of sight as much as possible. Aquascaping is fun; if you get stressed about it, stop and take a break. Think about what kind of fish you are planning to keep, if they dig a lot like cichlids, then make sure the bigger rocks are very stable and based on the bottom of the aquarium. It is important that large, heavy items are not placed on gravel that could be dug out, destabilizing the entire build. Aquascapes for digging fish are going to be fluid in nature, definitely changing over time, think in broad strokes and aim for stability, instead of a carefully curated look. Add your filter to the back of the tank, and put in the heater. If you're using a bubble stone that goes under the gravel, remember to add that first!

Filling your aquarium is really exciting, and again, patience is rewarded. In urban areas like the city you are statistically likely to be living in, water is treated to ensure it doesn't get biologically contaminated. This is important for humans, but the chlorine (and chlorine derivatives) usually used for this process are bad for fish, and the natural bacteria that your aquarium needs in order to function. In order to get rid of it before adding water to your fishtank you need to treat it. There are many good choices for de-chlorinators on the market, but we suggest using Dr. Tim's Aquacleanse. Aquacleanse breaks chemical bonds in Chorine, Chloramine and Ammonia rendering them inert (harmless to your aquarium) nearly immediately and as an added benefit, without any odor! When initially filling your tank, use your bucket again, mixing small batches of tapwater and detoxifier and then pouring it into the aquarium; small batches will make this easier to manage (remember, water weighs roughly 8.25 pounds per gallon). In order to keep the gravel where you put it, try using a plate or bowl placed on the bottom of the aquarium and pour the water over this. The bowl will act as a diffuser and help keep you from stirring up the dust that made it through cleaning as well as keeping the gravel mostly where you put it.

Now that the tank is full, you can put fish in right? Actually, no. It is time for patience again. Plug the filter and heater in and let them run. Traditionally, you would now start a process called “cycling”. This is where we let beneficial bacteria grow in the aquarium so they can help absorb fish waste once the aquarium is populated. The traditional way to do this is to add a minuscule amount of food everyday (I mean tiny, as in barely noticeable) for a couple weeks and then testing the water every day to see when the bacteria start to keep up with the addition of food. The food will break down into ammonia (whether or not it passes through a fish), which is pretty toxic for most animals, then the ammonia breaks down into nitrite, and this is also very toxic, from nitrate it breaks down into nitrate, and nitrate is much less toxic to aquarium residents. Over time, other bacteria will break down nitrate into nitrogen gas which will dissipate back into the atmosphere. Once water tests show your nitrite and ammonia levels to be zero, you added the fish. If you aquarium doesn't have a good population of the right kinds of bacteria, the fish will quickly make too much ammonia for themselves and either get sick or die (frequently both).

For those of you who really want this aquarium running soon, there is another Dr. Tim's product that we have thoroughly vetted and can recommend. “One and Only” is a live blend of all the bacteria a healthy aquarium will need. Dose this according to the chart and let the aquarium run over night and you should be ready to add at least some fish or invertebrates to your aquarium. Dr. Tim says you can add fish immediately, and this will work, however, we suggest giving the filter some time to move water around into every crevice of the new display.

Now, it is time. Head to your Local Fish Store, tell them Aquatropic sent you and start picking out your fish! Tune in next time and we'll talk about maintaining this new aquarium!