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Freshwater Basics

Back to the Fish Page

The information below should help to get you started. Be sure to read it through. For your convenience, some of the more popular maintenance and food items can be ordered right here from our aquarium products page. Select from the following topics for some helpful hints:

->Equipment list to set up a new Aquarium
->Setting up a new Aquarium
->Cycling a new Aquarium
->Adding new Fish to your Aquarium
->Maintaining your Aquarium


Setting Up Your Aquarium:

Setting up a tropical freshwater aquarium

Here you will find a few helpful suggestions for the beginner aquarist. Doing a bit of research and reading before you set up your first aquarium is a really good idea, since it will provide you with much more comprehensive information about how to set up and maintain a freshwater aquarium for better success from the start.

Basic equipment, from Air pump to Timer

Air pump
Many mechanical filters need an air pump to work. If you use other types of filtration and only want to keep the oxygen levels up, an air stone may be enough.

Air stone
An air stone will help you keep the oxygen levels up. If you have a filter with an air pump, an air stone is normally not necessary.

Algae scraper
The algae scraper will help you remove algae from the aquarium glass.

Despite popular belief, a big aquarium is easier to care for than a small one. Beginner aquarists should therefore ideally stay away from tiny aquariums.

Aquarium stand
A filled aquarium is really heavy and your normal furniture may not be able to cope with the weight.

A nice aquarium background will hide unsightly cable cords and make the aquarium look better.

You will need one bucket to catch the dirty water in during water changes and another one in which you prepare the replacement water.

Dechlorinator (water treatment)
A dechlorinator capable of removing chloramines is necessary if you use chlorinated tap water and do not wish to spend a lot of time letting replacement water rest before you can use it.

If you start out with easy and durable beginner species, a high-quality flake food for omnivores will work well. Some fish may have a more specialized diet.

Heater, thermostat and thermometer
A heater will help you keep the water temperature up. Even if your heater comes with a thermostat, you should always get an independent thermometer and place it in the opposite corner of the aquarium.

Filter / filters
Three types of filtration can take place in the aquarium: mechanical, biological and chemical. We strongly suggest you read about filtration before you set up the aquarium since this will prevent you from buying expensive filter systems that you may not really need or else buying one that is too small to handle the size tank that you have. Learning more about cycling and how biological filtration works will also prevent the dreaded New Aquarium Sudden Fish Death.

If you are a beginner aquarist, a lid where the lights are included is the easiest solution.

Using a siphon is one of the easiest ways of carrying out water changes. A siphon can also be attached to a head and used for vacuuming the substrate.

The substrate will soon be colonized by beneficial bacteria that help you maintain good water quality. It will also make it possible for you to plant plants and many fish species appreciate aquariums with substrate since it makes them feel more at home.

Test kits
A basic test kit will allow you to monitor the levels of ammonia/ammonium, nitrite and nitrate in your aquarium. You can also use your test kit to check the pH-value and water hardness, but these factors are not as important if you go for sturdy and adaptable fish species.

Fish appreciate a steady rhythm of day and night and connecting your lights to a timer is therefore recommended.

Setting up the aquarium

Before you acquire any fish you should set up the aquarium and make sure that everything works according to plan. You may want to rinse the aquarium, gravel, and any decorations, just be sure that you do not use soap or detergent of any kind as this will kill your fish. Place the aquarium making sure it is level and stable. Be certain that the aquariums final weight will be fully supported. Figure that your aquarium will weigh about 10 pounds per gallon with the gravel and equipment included (so even a moderately sized 20 gallon tank can weigh 200 pounds!). Add the gravel and fill the tank with water, tap water is usually fine in most areas, some people prefer to use bottled water. Once you have filled the aquarium with gravel, water, plants and decorations, you should keep it running for at least 24 hours before you add anything else to the water. This will give you time to install the rest of the gadgets. Follow manufacturers instructions to install and set the heater, air pump, light, timer, and filter for you tank. It is a good idea to use a dechlorinator or water conditioner at this point. Now sit back and watch all of the equipment to be sure it is functioning properly. Pay close attention to the temperature to be sure the heater is set appropriately.


Many aquarists skip this stage, but if you devote some time to cycling your aquarium you increase your chances of keeping your fish alive dramatically. During cycling, colonies of beneficial bacteria will grow strong enough to handle a lot of the nitrogenous waste that your fish will produce. If you simply toss all your fish into a non-cycled aquarium, the levels of nitrogenous waste will sky rocket and this will injure as well as potentially kill your fish. Cycling the aquarium is certainly not difficult, but it will take at least two weeks. There are several ways of cycling an aquarium.

One easy method is to purchase a group of small and sturdy schooling fish from the fish store (e.g. Danios) together with a bottle of nitrogen converting bacteria. Add the fishes and the bacteria to the aquarium and make sure that there are suitable media for the bacteria to colonize in the aquarium, e.g. bushy plant leaves, gravel and a sponge filter that you never wash with detergents or hot water. Use your test kit and regularly check the levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. They will spike in a matter of days, but soon they will decrease down to lower levels again as the bacteria colony establishes itself. You may want to carry out frequent small water changes during the cycling process and only give your fish small servings of food. Do not lose heart if the water gets a little cloudy during cycling, this is perfectly normal. When your aquarium is stable, gradually start adding more and more fish. Do not overload the bacteria by suddenly tossing ten big fish into the aquarium. Once you have added a few fishes, wait a few weeks before adding any new ones. Yes, it is boring to wait, but your fish will stay happy and healthy and you being patient will prevent a lot of potential problems.

Adding Fish to your Aquarium

When you bring new fish home it is important to remember that your water may be different than the water that they are used to. The major concerns are temperature and pH. There are two methods that we will endorse for adding fish to your aquarium. If this is a new tank, it is acceptable to float the bags of fish on the surface of the water for about 10-15 minutes to equalize any temperature differences, and then poke a hole in the bag allowing the water to slowly mix. After another 10-15 minutes, the fish may be released into the tank if they haven't already found their way out of the bag.

Once your tank is established, you may want to employ the second method of fish introduction to reduce the chances of adding any algae, water contaminants, or disease to you tank. Here, you will place the new fish into a bucket in the water they came with. Make a "drip line" with a length of extra air line tubing (control the flow rate by tying a loose knot in the tubing) and start a siphon to allow your tank water to drip into the bucket of new fish. Once the bucket has more of your tank water in it than the old water the fish came in, it should be ok to net out the new fish and release them into your aquarium. Top off you tank and, guess what, you've just done a water change as well!

Daily maintenance

Feed your fish 2-3 times a day and give them just enough food that they will eat it all in about 5 minutes. Remove uneaten food, dead fish and plant debris. Check the thermometer and make sure that temperature is stable.

Weekly maintenance

For a basic freshwater set up with sturdy tropical fish species, changing roughly 25% of the water each week is recommended. The replacement water must not be cold, since this will shock your fish. If you use chlorinated tap water, use a dechlorinator to treat the water before you pour it into your aquarium. Changing the water can be a little messy and take a long time at first, but you will soon get the hang of it.

Keep the glass clean and remove any algae from it with an algae scraper.

Vacuum the substrate to remove detritus.

Once in a while maintenance

Once in a while, the filter media in your mechanical filter (if you use one) will need to be washed. Only remove half of the filter media since this will allow the remaining population of bacteria to continue their work. They will also be able to repopulate the other half of the filter media if something goes bad during cleaning. Rinse out the filter media in water of the same (or slightly lower) temperature as the water in the aquarium. Hot water will instantly kill the bacteria. Never use any type of detergent.

Aquarium safety

Unplug the electrical equipment before you carry out maintenance work. The combination of water and electricity is dangerous, and unplugging your equipment is therefore recommended. You can also chose install an ELCB (core balance Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker) to make it safer to stick your hands into the water while equipment is still plugged in. It should also be noted that if a running heater is exposed to air during a water change, it can crack and become useless. Unplugging it is therefore a very good idea.

Click here to visit the Wonderland Reef! and learn more about Marine Aquariums.

Salt Tank

We also offer an incredible amount of experience and knowledge that will enhance your success and enjoyment of your tank at home. We can help you keep your fish healthy and happy, just stop by or call and we will be happy to assist you in any way that we can.

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