The first time I decided to start an aquarium, I was so excited! I couldn't wait to get my tank, fill it with tropical decorations, and start buying a whole bunch of vibrantly coloured fish to fill it with! Once I made my decision to start, however, I realized that there was an abundance of conflicting information, which is very confusing to a first time Aquarist! There were so many books and articles, not to mention advice from pet stores, that it was hard to know what information to listen to! It has definitely taken a lot of trial and error to get to a good formula! I have put together ten simple steps that I personally follow to keep a good, clean, and thriving Fresh Water Aquarium!
1. Placement of the Aquarium
One of the important decisions to be made when starting up a new aquarium is the placement of the tank in your home. One of the best pieces of advice I have listened to is to place the aquarium as far away from a window as possible. If the aquarium is placed directly in front of a window, there will often be more algae buildup which makes the tank look dirty. It is also important to place it on a stand or platform that can hold the weight well. Depending on the size of your aquarium, they can be hundreds of pounds once you fill it with water!
2. Bigger is better!
One of the surprising things I have learned is that keeping a large fish tank is a lot easier than keeping a small fish tank! I have had a 20 galleon tank and a 75 galleon tank. The 20 galleon tank became dirtier much faster, and therefore was a lot harder to keep clean. Another reason to get a bigger tank is the most obvious: you can get more fish and/or have more room for your fish to swim comfortably. Obviously, not everyone has the room (or the budget) for a 75 galleon tank, but if it is doable for you, I would definitely recommend going as big as you can get! It also has a nicer aesthetic appeal!
3. Ornaments and Habitat
Another thing I didn't realize when first starting out was that certain types of fish enjoy different types of decorations and plants. Some fish like to hide most of the day or hover around plants, while others are more active and like to be out in the open. Be sure to research which type of habitat your fish likes before buying a certain breed. I have found that most of my fish like hiding in the plants rather than inside large objects (like castles and boats), so I try to use as much natural plant ornaments as possible.
4. Add fish slowly!
One of the main mistakes you can make when starting a new aquarium is adding fish too quickly! I know the feeling, you get your tank up and running and you want it full of fish right away! Because fish are sensitive to their water chemistry, it is best to add them slowly so the water can adjust gradually to the changing bacterial levels. I find if I add one or two fish at a time, things usually work out well. If you try to add more to the tank than that, it usually can throw off the water balance and harm the fish.
5. Water Changes
For water changes, I use an Aquarium Gravel Vacuum! Not only does this allow you to clean under the rocks at the bottom of the tank (which can become quite dirty), but it also sucks out water easily from the tank into a bucket. The frequency in which you should change your water was one of the biggest areas I struggled to understand when starting an aquarium. Some books, labels of products, and articles state water changes should be once a month. Others say once a week, some say every two weeks! It was so hard to know what to do. I have found that when I started up a new tank, I changed small amounts of the water (about 15-25 percent) about once a week. I have found over time, however, that more frequent water changes started to have negative effects on the habitat. I would recommend that once you have your tank stocked with the desired amount of fish, you should change 25 percent of the water about once a month. Especially if you have a great filter, this shouldn't be an issue.
6. Less chemicals, more water changes!
When I first started an aquarium I became obsessed with the water chemistry and getting it “just right.” There are chemicals to neutralize PH, lower PH, raise PH, make water less cloudy, clean the tank, it goes on and on! My biggest mistake was relying on chemicals to fix water problems. I truly believe that they had very negative outcomes for my fish. The best thing to do when there is a water issue is to do a water change. I only rely on Water Conditioner (makes tap water safe for fish) and occasional live bacteria replacements. Other than that, I would stick to a water change to correct water issues.
7. Food and Diet
I found when I was feeding my fish cheaper fish flakes every day, my fish weren't thriving as well as they are now. I personally use Omega One Freshwater Flakes and have found they make a huge difference. Also, I often will throw in something different for their diet like a vegetable tablet. Until I started giving the fish a more balanced diet, I noticed that my fish were not growing or being as active. I also like the tablets for the simple fact that some fish enjoy eating from the bottom of the tank rather than the top. It gives balance to both types of eaters!
8. Algae Eaters
I cannot solely take credit for the cleanliness of my fish tank! If you have a big enough fish tank to get one, I would recommend getting an algae eater! My algae eater, who I have named Mr. Clean, helps keep the ornaments looking great and keeps the algae buildup to a minimum. They are also fun fish to have and can be quite entertaining to watch! They can grow to be quite big, though, so make sure you get the right algae eater for your type of tank!
9. Aquarium Filter
Picking out the right filter is so difficult and really up to personal preference! Personally, I have found certain filters can make it sound like you have a waterfall in your house. When I upgraded to my 75 galleon tank, I went through about four filters until I found the right one! I personally would recommend Marineland filters. Not only are they super silent in comparison to others I have tried, but they also come with a “Bio-Wheel” that helps boost your aquarium's water quality. I would also recommend changing the filter cartridges once a month, but I try to rinse them off a bit at least once every two weeks.
10. Keeping it Comfortable!
Keeping tropical fish means the water also must be kept a constant temperature. Always keep a thermometer on the side of your tank to monitor the temperature. Generally for tropical fresh water fish it is best to keep the tank at 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit. I have had the most success with water heaters that have a dial that you can use to actually set the desired water temperature to whatever you like. For my 20 galleon tank I did not have a dial thermometer and it was constantly a nightmare to monitor and keep the tank a consistent temperature. I would also recommend Marineland heaters for this as well.
I hope these ten steps are helpful to anyone, like me, who is thinking of starting a fish tank for the first time! There is a lot of information out there that can be quite difficult to navigate through! It is a lot of work and money in the beginning, but once you get the ecosystem functioning well, tropical fresh water fish are relatively low maintenance and easy pets to keep! Not to mention fish tanks have great calming effects and are often known to reduce anxiety!