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How to Set Up a Freshwater Aquarium

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Gravel

  • Distilled Water

  • Thermometers

  • More Fish

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.


  • If a tank isn't level, put a 1/4-inch sheet of Styrofoam under the tank to help distribute the weight more evenly. Stress will be put on the seams and could cause an eventual leak. Gravel can be boiled as long as it isn't plastic. Remember that it will need to be positioned near an electrical outlet and away from direct sunlight or drafts. Ask an expert about cycling your the tank. A just-set-up fish tank lacks the bacteria that it need to form a steady biological cycle.


  • Never use soap or detergent to clean your tank or gravel - if you don't get rid of all traces of soap, you will have to buy new fish.