Home aquariums are delicate yet highly fascinating places where you can witness amazing aquatic life and observe nature in its purest form.
And if you’re serious about setting one up then you’ll need to understand the many factors that contribute to keeping your fish alive and healthy. Therefore, it is important to learn how to properly care for your aquarium and its inhabitants.
Here is a complete guide to maintaining and caring for your home aquarium.
Know The Basics
Owning an aquarium is one of the most interesting leisure-time activities out there. People around the globe have discovered the enjoyment that comes from maintaining an aquarium filled with colorful freshwater or tropical fish.
No matter how small your home is, you can always find room for an aquarium. These tanks can fit in just about any room within your home, as long as it is placed on a flat surface and is also a sufficient size to house all your fish
Fish also make ideal pets, and taking care of fish in a home aquarium is a relatively low maintenance experience. Some of the basic responsibilities of owning an aquarium will include:
- Keeping your fish fed
- Tracking their behavior to make sure nothing is getting out of hand
- Monitoring the heat of the water
- Ensure the water is algae-free
So if you want to introduce new members to your family that doesn’t have fur and four paws, having an at-home aquarium might be exactly what you need.
Create A Checklist
Before you begin to buy any equipment for your aquarium there are a few things that you must do to ensure that you have all the necessary information, resources, and equipment to properly care for your fish.
Creating a checklist will help you to gather everything you need to maintain and care for your home aquarium. You could ask yourself some of the following questions:
Do You Have The Time To Care For And Maintain A Home Aquarium?
Arguably the most important thing you need to consider is if you truly have the time to care for and maintain an aquarium in your home.
Like any other pet, you must carve out time in your busy schedule to look after your fish.
This includes cleaning out the tank and all of its facilities regularly, feeding them the right amount of food, or just generally observing them to ensure that all the fish are compatible with one another.
Fishkeeping will take up a considerable amount of time every week, depending on how seriously you are taking your new hobby. So, before committing to fishkeeping, you must decide on how much time you can dedicate to your fish.
How Many Fish Would You Like?
Regardless of how many fish you would eventually like to have in the tank, you should begin with a very minimal number to get everything up and running.
The job of the first few fish in the tank is to officially set up the environment.
You’ll likely want to start by sending in around 2-3 tougher fish for this task (assuming you are using at least a 10-gallon tank). If you have a smaller capacity tank then a single fish may help to get things on track.
You must also be cautious not to overstock your tank. Knowing what fish you are purchasing and their needs help you to understand how many fish can safely live in your tank.
What Type Of Tank Would You Like?
First, you’ll need to choose whether you would prefer a freshwater or saltwater tank.
Most beginners tend to opt for a freshwater tank as they are generally easier to maintain. However, saltwater tanks are far more vivid and colorful and may be exactly what your home and your chosen fish species need.
The size of the aquarium that you require will depend on the type of fish you decide to bring home and how many you will want to get. With a variety of sizes available it’s important to put lots of thought into the habitat before bringing home any aquatic life.
Glass aquariums are very popular. But because acrylic tanks weigh less and are less likely to break, they are largely seen as the better aquarium to have in the home. These tanks must have support along the entire bottom surface.
Where Would You Place The Tank In Your Home?
You will want to place your aquarium on a hard, flat surface. Larger aquariums will sit well on top of cabinets because this type of furniture is sturdy enough to comfortably support the weight.
Smaller aquariums (generally 30 gallons or less) can rest on any reinforced furniture.
Your chosen location should also have full access to electrical outlets so that the filter, heaters, and lights used in your tank can be plugged in.
Try to conceal as many electrical wires and extension cords as possible so that there is less chance of sparks flying if water somehow manages to get out of the tank.
Learn About The Water You Will Be Using
Perhaps the easiest way to fill your aquarium is to turn on the tap in your home.
If your home’s water comes from a municipal water source, the water should be disinfected and free from most bacteria. But it’s important to note that tap water quality varies according to location.
While some tap water contains high levels of iron or magnesium, others might have traces of asbestos or ammonia that could seriously damage more delicate fish.
Municipal tap water also often contains chlorine, which is used by many public water facilities to decontaminate water.
This is highly toxic to fish. However, chlorinated aquarium water will eliminate the good bacteria that collects on the filter in your aquarium. This will help to break down the toxic mix of nitrite and ammonia in fish waste.
Learn About General Aquatic Life
Fish And Plant Species
You should never buy fish without having detailed knowledge about them. Having an in-depth understanding will help to determine their survival within your aquarium.
While it is always a fun experience to acquire a new fish, doing so haphazardly can be costly and even disastrous.
Some individuals might make a split-second decision to leave a pet store with a fish they just couldn’t pass up – but will have no idea about eating habits, how large it’ll get, or whether there are specific care requirements.
Every fish is unique and will have to have certain factors inside the aquarium to survive. You must cater to these requirements so the fish stands a chance of surviving.
The same goes for the plants. Live or artificial plants are essential to any aquarium.
While some people might choose to stick with only artificial plants for aesthetic purposes, live aquatic plants like Moneywort and Java Fern can provide environmental benefits that their plastic counterparts just cannot.
Mainly, live plants can help to recreate a miniature natural ecosystem which could be a beneficial way to keep your fish healthy. These plants also tend to compete with algae for nutrients, meaning they can also slow the growth of algae in your tank.
Caring For Aquatic Life
Do Your Research Before Purchase
Once you have decided on the type of fish you want to put into your aquarium, it’s time to research the other nitty-gritty details.
A key thing you need to look at is the compatibility of your chosen fish species. Every new aquarist will begin with a community aquarium that contains a variety of fish that have different colors, sizes, and shapes.
The fish in these tanks tend to originate from all over the world. As a result, they will have been forced to adapt to the different water conditions of an aquarium. This could result in extreme changes in their food preferences and behavioral patterns.
It also doesn’t matter if all the fish in the tank are hardy. If they are not compatible with one another, there will always be difficulties! Therefore, compatibility is an essential component of successfully caring for aquatic life in a community setting.
You should also do your research to find out the different pieces of equipment you will need for your aquarium.
In an ideal world, you would avoid any “starter kits” sold either in pet stores or online as they may contain low-quality components that won’t be good for your fish.
Instead, opting for pricier items is the best way to go. It will likely cost you far more in the long run but it is worth it to guarantee that your chosen fish will have everything they require to thrive.
Get To Know Your Chosen Fish Species
But when it comes time to purchase fish for your tank, you must dedicate some time to research what you are planning on buying so you know the exact requirements of your chosen fish species.
Fish come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, making them both beautiful and exciting to observe. As you learn more about your fish, you might even discover that they have their personality, which will help them to become a member of the family!
It’s a beginner’s mistake to go to purchase fish by looks alone. The attendant at the pet store should be able to give you all the information you need, but they likely won’t know everything about the fish that you want to have in your aquarium.
You could end up purchasing an aggressive fish species without realizing it, or might end up with fish that just aren’t compatible!
For example, fish that are found only in very specific habitat conditions are not going to do as well in an aquarium that differs much from their natural environment.
It’s better to conduct your research to learn about your pet before making any purchases. You’d do the same if you were buying a dog, so why not do the same for your fish?
Freshwater Or Tropical Fish?
Freshwater fish are those that spend some or all of their lives in bodies of water such as rivers or lakes. Freshwater fish have a beautiful selection of colorful and unique species that will make your aquarium thrive.
Every freshwater fish requires different water conditions and environments to survive. Take Betta fish and Goldfish, for example. Both are popular types of freshwater fish.
However, Betta fish require warmer water whereas Goldfish require cold water to survive, which could become an issue in your tank.
Tropical fish are found in aquatic tropical environments around the world.
Fishkeepers usually choose to keep tropical fish in both saltwater and freshwater aquariums as they can typically adapt to their surroundings far quicker than any other type of fish. They are also extremely vibrant.
If you want hardier fish for your aquarium then you might want to opt for a tropical fish species.
They aren’t as fussy about the type of water in the aquarium; whether it is hard or soft, flowing or still, unheated or warm, and will always find a way to adapt. However, they can be quite sensitive so you must keep an eye out for them.
Know Your Fishes Needs
Despite their small size, fish do have a lot of needs that you must tend to. Two of the most important needs are food and space
Flake food tends to fulfill the majority of needs. If you have lots of fish in your tank then you might wish to also have sinking pellets. Do not assume all your fish will get the nutrients they need from food flakes that float to the bottom of the tank.
If you have algae-eating fish in your tank, you’ll also need to supplement their diet by including some algae wafers.
Maybe this is stating the obvious, but you must also ensure that your chosen tank has enough space to comfortably house multiple fish at once.
Even if fish seem peaceful, conflicts can still arise within the tank. Territorial fish will prevent other species from having entry into their area, reducing the leftover space for the others.
And if hiding places are scarce in the tank, more dominant fish will maintain control of the few that do exist.
How To Fill The Tank – For Beginners
1. Add Substrate
Once you have decided on where the tank will be sitting, you must begin setting up the aquarium. Take your chosen substrate (gravel, sand, or rocks) and pour it into a bucket. Use a high-pressure hose to wash the substrate and repeat until the wastewater is clear.
Then, place the newly cleaned substrate along the bottom of the aquarium. This will act as a protective layer to prevent damage from occurring to the glass at the bottom.
You can smooth it out with your hands to create an even surface that should be between two and three inches thick.
2. Add Water
Fill your tank so it is approximately half full. You can either use a hose pipe or room temperature tap water and a clean bucket for this process. This depends on the size of your tank.
At this stage, you may want to rest a plate on top of the gravel so that the stream of water is gently deflected and does not disturb the gravel bed.
3. Add Decorative Ornaments
You can now begin adding your decorative ornaments. Before you do, make sure to thoroughly rinse them so that they are sparkling clean when they enter the tank.
You should wait a few days to add the live plants so that the water can stabilize itself. At this stage, it’s wise to add a water conditioner or de-chlorinator.
4. Add More Water
When all ornaments and plants are in place, your tank is ready to finish filling. Continue adding water into the aquarium until it is within an inch of the top.
Putting your hand between the water stream and the aquarium will prevent the water from moving the ornaments and gravel around. Leave some space between the top of the water and the aquarium cover so air can be exchanged at the surface of the water.
5. Turn The Tank On
Turn on the light and heater to check that everything works safely and correctly. Install the aquarium heater according to manufacturer instructions to prevent damage from occurring.
6. Add Any Live Plants
Add live plants a few days after the ornaments so the water temperature can be stabilized. When placing plants, it’s a good idea to locate larger ones to the rear of the tank, smaller ones toward the front. This ensures an open swimming area for your fish.
7. Check Nitrogen Cycle Before Adding Fish
Step 1: Ammonia
Ammonia can be extremely deadly to tropical fish. It can burn their skin and gills and can also make it very difficult for them to breathe.
Ammonia is produced as soon as you start to add plants or fish into your aquarium. Things such as uneaten fish food, decaying plants, and even fish waste all contribute to the production of this chemical, so you must check to see if this is present in the water.
Step 2: Nitrites
Bacteria are often thought of as something dirty or bad. However, it is essential to the survival of your fish – and of the other life residing within the aquarium.
Many types of bacteria are beneficial in achieving overall aquarium health.
If given the opportunity, a bacterium known as Nitrosomonas will begin to start developing in the aquarium. This helps to convert harmful ammonia into nitrites. Unfortunately, Nitrites are also toxic to aquarium fish.
Step 3: Nitrates
The second type of bacteria will then begin to convert nitrites into nitrates. These are not as harmful as ammonia or nitrites as long as the concentration remains quite low.
Having live plants in the tank is a great way to reduce nitrites. The simplest method of controlling nitrates in an aquarium is to do partial water changes.
You should aim to change between 10 and 15% of the water in your aquarium once a week. But this number depends entirely on the size, number, and the type of fish that you have chosen to have in your aquarium.
8. Add Filters
You can now add a filter to your aquarium. The main types of filtration media used in the running of an aquarium are:
- Mechanical Filters
- Biological Filters
- Chemical Filters
Make sure you check the equipment is situated correctly and that it works properly.
9. Check Temperature
A digital thermometer sits on top of or next to the tank while a temperature probe is placed into the water to read the temperature.
These are highly accurate and are also convenient for ensuring the aquatic heater is doing its job. It can take several hours for the temperature to stabilize so you need to wait each time you adjust it.
10. Add Fish
This needs to be a gradual step. Begin by adding a few recommended fish and then slowly introduce a few more over the next month or so. Take care not to overcrowd your aquarium. After all, a few healthy fish is better than numerous ill or stressed-out fish!
13 Tips To Help Maintain And Care For Your Aquarium
1. Float Fish In Their Bag
Acclimating fish to the temperature of your aquarium water is an essential step. To do this, you must float fish in a sealed bag. This should be done for approximately 15 to 20 minutes – adding around a quarter cup of water every 5 minutes up until it is full.
You can then gently remove some water from inside the bag and begin lowering it into your aquarium water so that your fish can swim around and explore the new environment.
This whole process is essential as it helps to make the adjustment period that much easier. This is done by combining the temperature and chemistry of your aquarium water.
2. Maintain pH Levels
A pH level helps to measure the alkalinity and acidity balance of the water in your aquarium. It can be easily monitored using a pH testing kit, which you can purchase online or in your local pet store.
Freshwater fish tend to thrive in aquariums that have a pH level that resides somewhere in the range of 6.6 and 6.8, whereas Saltwater fish are best suited in water with a pH level of around 7.6 to 8.4.
However, these levels will vary depending on the tank and type of fish species that you have selected.
3. Water Temperature Is Important
You probably wouldn’t enjoy being subjected to shower water that is either too hot or too cold. Well, neither would your fish! This is why checking the temperature of your water is very important.
Ensuring that there are no drastic changes to the temperature of your tank is a critical way of keeping your fish alive.
Aquarium water should remain at a comfortable and consistent temperature. These levels will depend on each species of fish so you must do your research to achieve the best results possible.
Freshwater fish require a water temperature that resides somewhere in the range of 72 °F and 82 °F; whereas saltwater fish require a temperature around 75 °F to 80 °F.
You should also avoid placing the tank near cooling vents or in an area that receives lots of sunlight. You might even have to purchase a water heater if your aquarium is too cold to comfortably maintain your fish.
4. Condition Your Water Thoroughly
Maybe it’s slightly obvious, but the condition and properties of the water in your aquarium are extremely vital to the long-term survival of your fish.
Tap water already has lots of properties that must be balanced out to support your fish and aquatic plants. This includes minerals.
Conditioning must take place either by implementing biological agents or using supplements that will naturally work to clear out these properties.
5. Acclimate Your Fish To The Water
This is a vital part of introducing your fish to their new home environment. Many species of fish are quite delicate and may go into shock if they are not properly acclimated to the water.
It’s a good idea to test the chemistry of the aquarium water before beginning the acclimation process to ensure that it is safe for your fish. If the levels of the tank change at any point, you’ll need to allow more time to acclimate your fish.
6. Change Water Regularly
Changing at least 25 percent of the water in your aquarium each month will help to stabilize nitrate concentrations and keep your tank as clean as possible.
You can also more accurately keep track of water temperature to ensure your aquatic life and your fish remain strong and healthy.
Regular cleaning will also allow you to remove waste products and debris that may have been left behind by higher phosphate levels. These levels can be detrimental to your fish by adding stress onto them which has been known to lead to sickness.
7. Clean Tank And Other Structures Within Tank
Spotting a little bit of green won’t usually be an immediate call for alarm. However, if you find lots of algae build-up throughout the tank, it may be highly detrimental to your fish.
Aside from giving the tank a swampy and murky appearance, excessive amounts of algae can reduce the oxygen rate in the water which could potentially lead to a loss of aquatic life.
It’s best to eliminate the problem before it truly arises by staying on top of cleaning.
8. Pick Compatible Fish Species
There are species of fish out there that can happily coexist with one another in certain environments, provided there is adequate food, space, and a variety of other necessities so they are not left to fight one another.
However, much like any other species, some fish can be aggressive or territorial of their home. This is quite a natural behavior but can become quite frustrating at times. That’s why you should look for fish that thrive in community spaces.
The fish you have in your tank should ideally have the same needs. This will make caring for them that much easier because you will be able to purchase everything they require in bulk.
The top tip would be to research multiple different species of fish to figure out which will be the most compatible.
9. Choose The Right Size Fish For Your Tank
Maybe you like the aesthetic of having a full fish tank, or maybe you simply want to care for multiple fish at any given time. In either case, the temptation is completely understandable. However, you should avoid overcrowding your tank if you can.
Overcrowding could result in your fish becoming vulnerable to disease and might even cause low oxygen levels in the tank itself.
Both of these qualities can vastly reduce the water quality in the tank. Choosing a tank that is too small for your fish could also cause waste, excessive debris, and even fatalities.
10. Do Not Overfeed Your Fish
It’s often the case that a fish will die from overfeeding rather than starvation. Most fish don’t require lots of food for their survival so sticking to a strict and appropriate feeding schedule for your fish is crucial.
Overfeeding can cause several key problems including algae growth, lower oxygen levels, and an overall depletion of water quality. It can also create mass amounts of debris or waste that will continue to reside within the tank.
The general rule for feeding your fish is to feed them only as much as they can eat within 5 minutes.
11. Observe Your Aquatic Life Daily
Much like any other pet, you should keep an eye on your fish when you can to ensure that everything is okay. Observing the aquatic life in the aquarium will also allow you to keep track of all equipment to make sure that everything is running smoothly.
Keeping watch of your aquarium will also provide you with the opportunity to observe your fish at feeding time.
You will be able to easily identify if any behavioral changes have occurred such as appetite or appearance – both of which are excellent indicators of a potential issue.
12. Maintain Your Filter Regularly
Along with a regular water change, you will need to replace your filter cartridge and vacuum the gravel to remove any waste buildup.
Water that is yellow, cloudy, or emits a bad smell is a sign that your aquarium water needs to be changed, and that you should also add a new filter cartridge immediately. If the issue persists, you likely have too many fish or you are overfeeding them.
You will need to complete regular checks to ensure your tank has the correct levels of ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite to ensure the biological filter in the tank is working properly.
13. Manage Light In And Around Aquarium
A supplemental aquarium light can be used to provide essential conditions for live plant growth. This light should only be kept on for an absolute maximum of 12 hours every day, but keeping it on for less time won’t hurt.
There are many types of aquarium light fixtures to choose from. As long as you remain wary of the types of lights that are used in your aquarium, and the heat issues that they may cause, then you should be okay to use any relevant light source in the tank.
An aquarium hood or cover is always a good idea because it helps keep fish in and airborne pollutants out. Keeping the aquarium out of direct sunlight is the best way to reduce algae growth and also keep the water temperature exactly where it needs to be.
Maintaining and caring for your home aquarium doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as you follow the maintenance and care guidelines provided in this article then you’ll have your community full of healthy and happy fish in no time.