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How to Set Up a Freshwater Aquarium. The first step in creating an underwater zoo is to set up your tank. Then the fun begins as you choose a variety of colorful underwater decorations and inhabitants.
Clean the tank, gravel and decorations with an non-soap-based product.
Set up your tank stand in an appropriate location.
Install the filtration system. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully, since models vary in their installation.
Add clean gravel. Figure on 1 pound of gravel per gallon the tank holds.
Put the plants in, anchoring the bottoms in the gravel.
Fill your tank with water, leaving about an inch at the top. Tap water generally has chemicals in it that aren't good for tropical fish. Ask at the fish store if you'll need special conditioners, since they will be familiar with the composition of the local water.
Start the filter system.
Add the heater and thermometer. Most tropical fish do best at 76 to 79 degrees. Cold-water fish prefer a range between 50 and 70 degrees.
Let everything run for at least 24 hours and get the temperature settings right and the water moving.
Put the new fish in when the chemical levels are all OK and the tank temperature is within tolerances.