The 55 Best Freshwater Aquarium Tips for Beginners

When you start your first freshwater aquarium, it can be very exciting. However, despite the excitement, you need to be careful and make a game plan before you purchase and setup your first aquarium. Here is an extensive list of quick easy to read freshwater tips to get you going faster. You can even print the list off and highlight each tip after you have made a decision…

1 – Make Sure the Flooring Under Your Aquarium is Sound

Concrete is ideal.

Hardwood flooring is great but make sure you put some of those hardware store felt pads under the ends of your aquarium stand legs to protect the wood flooring. You can even cut little squares out of old carpet to place under your stand legs.

Carpet is not a good place for an aquarium stand. You should at least put a rug in between your carpet and aquarium stand. Linoleum is not a good match at all.

Tile is good for furniture type stands.

2 – It is Easier to Start With an Aluminum Stand

Aluminum stands are great for beginners because they can hold a lot of weight, they are lightweight, waterproof and easier to assemble than most other stands.

3 – Place Your Aquarium Where You Can See It

If you’re like me, you want an aquarium so you can look at your fish right? So obviously put it somewhere where you can see it often. Also, if you see it often, you can tell if something is going wrong like an algae outbreak. Keep reading though for other important things to consider about placement…

4 – Do Not Place Your Aquarium in Direct Sunlight

If you place your tank in direct sunlight it can encourage algae to grow. If algae gets out of control it can be difficult to clean and get rid of. Also, even if you do get rid of the algae, you will have to move your whole aquarium setup. Yikes, it took so long to set it up in the first place. What if this was the only good spot in your tiny apartment.

Also, direct sunlight may cause the water temperature to rise which can be bad for your fish or put extra strain on your water chiller (keeps water temp down) if you have one.

Direct sunlight can cause water to evaporate faster.

Note: If your strapped for space just keep a curtain closed if you have to put it in the path of sunlight.

5 – Do Not Place Your Aquarium in Front of Cold or Warm Drafts

Just don’t place your aquarium directly in front of heater or AC vents because they can also affect the temperature of your aquarium water. Also, windows or doors can have drafts.

6 – Make Sure There is Space Around Your Aquarium

You will need space for at least a 5-gallon bucket to do water changes or other aquarium maintenance. You need some space behind your aquarium to run power cords and be able to reach them easily to unplug during maintenance.

7 – Try to Place Your Aquarium Next to Electrical Outlets

This will save you a big headache on the long run. You will have to plug in things like a heater, filter, lights or even a bubbler. Don’t place your aquarium directly in front of the outlet incase water runs down your electrical cord.

8 – Create a Drip Loop for Electrical Cords

Simply run any electrical cords down from your aquarium to the floor and back up to the electrical outlet. This way, if water runs down the cord it will run off onto the floor and not into the outlet.

9 – Don’t Place Your Aquarium Next to Speakers or Your Television

Too much sound can cause unwanted stress for your fishy friends. They also may not have the same taste in music.

10 – Don’t Place Your Aquarium Next to Doors

Yes, back to changing the temperature of your aquarium water. If you place your aquarium next to drafty doors or the door is open a lot, it can affect the temperature of your aquarium water. Also, interior doors can hit the aquarium when opened. Male sure there is enough room to open any interior doors.

11 – Be Careful Not to Place Your aquarium in Any High Traffic Areas

We’re talking about hallways or kitchens, especially where children or pets are concerned. If you have small children consider a taller stand that they will have trouble reaching. If you have dogs, try to purchase a solid stand with a lip around the edge to keep the aquarium from sliding if it is bumped into. A quiet living room corner is usually the best spot.

12 – Always Measure the Available Space

Before you decide on how big of an aquarium you are going to have you need to measure the maximum amount of space you have available for an aquarium. This will determine the size of your aquarium and also how many fish you can have in your aquarium.

13 – Don’t Place Your Aquarium Directly Under Overhead Lighting

I don’t mean to keep harping on aquarium placement, but there may only be one or two spots in your living room that will work. Overhead lighting can heat your tank water and cause unwanted glare which obstructs the view of your fishy friends.

14 – Decide on a Budget

The bigger the tank the more it is going to cost. You may have to decide on your budget first and then decide how big of a tank you can get.

15 – Consider a Starter Kit

These are an ‘aquarium in a box’. You can get one that comes with a tank, filter, food, hood, lights, heater, fish net, thermometer, water conditioner, and a beginning aquarium book. You will have to purchase the gravel, decorations, plants, and a stand. Make sure you read the label carefully to know what the kit comes with. Kits make it way easier to make a budget.

16 – It Is Easier to Buy Your First Aquarium from Your Local Pet Store

They should be well trained about aquariums and can help you with any questions. Your aquarium will come with a warranty. You don’t have to worry about glass breaking during shipping. You wont have to wait for your aquarium to arrive in the mail. I’m sure your local pet store will be more than happy to keep helping you in the future if you buy from them.

17 – If You do Buy a Used Tank, Inspect It for Leaks

Check the glass or plastic for cracks or worn silicone. See if they will let you fill it up and check for drips. If they are honest, this shouldn’t be a problem. If it does leak I wouldn’t buy it. If however, you get the shaft and end up with a leaky tank, you can use a razor to scrape the old silicone out of the leak, put new silicone in the leak and let it dry.

18 – If You do Have to Buy a Used Tank, Don’t Buy used Equipment Like Heaters, Pumps etc.

Used equipment may have worn wires or not even work properly. It can be hard to diagnose if this is your first aquarium.

19 – Start With at Least a 20-Gallon Tank

This will ensure your fish have adequate space and there is more room for stable water conditions. A smaller tank is actually harder to work with. The water will be contaminated easier and needs to be changed more. There is less room for filtration equipment and no room for more fish.

20 Don’t Start with an Odd Shaped Tank

It is easier to start with a normal rectangle tank. An odd shape like a tower tank is harder to clean and it is harder to find equipment for.

21 – Make Sure that Your Aquarium is Sitting Level

If your aquarium is not level it can damage your aquarium stand and warp your aquarium over time. It should have adjustable legs. Just lay a level over and across the top of it before and after it is full.

22 – Never Move an Aquarium by Yourself

No matter how small your aquarium is, it is dangerous to move it by yourself. You can damage the silicone walls and the frame of the tank without even realizing it.

23 – If You Ever Have to Move Your Aquarium, Make Sure You Unplug Everything

You also want to remove any filters, heaters etc. that are electrical.

24 – Never Remove Your Tank Heater Without Letting It Cool Down

If you don’t let your aquarium heater cool down first after unplugging it, the glass could shatter from the temperature change

25Try to Mimic Your Fish’s Natural Environment in Your Aquarium

This simply means trying to keep the same type of substrate or decorations that your fish may have had in the ocean or lake. Freshwater fish prefer freshwater stuff like sword plant or driftwood.

26 – Make Sure Your Substrate is Safe for Your Fish

For example, of you have some bottom dwellers in your tank that dig, make sure your substrate isn’t going to have a lot of sharp or jagged edges.

27 – Never Use Glass Flaking’s or Marbles for Your Substrate

Glass flakes can cut your fish and marbles have to much space between them, so food and other stuff gets trapped, making the water dirty.

28 – Use Gravel Size of About at Least 1/8th of an Inch for Most Tanks

If the gravel is too small like sand, it can clog your filter. If the gravel is to big, beneficial bacteria will not have a proper surface area to grow.

29 – You Can Buy Established Substrate if Your Budget Allows

This substrate already has beneficial bacteria growing in it which is one less headache for a beginner.

30 – Rocks Help Establish Territories

If you have some fish in your tank that are territorial, you can buy rocks to help your fish hide and claim their own individual territories. Slate red lava rock or granite don’t affect the water chemistry and can be found at the pet store.

31 – How to Keep Wood from Floating

Soak the wood in water first to see if it sinks. If not, you can glue a suction cup to it and attach it to the bottom of your aquarium. You can also wedge it under a rock.

32 – Buy Fish Tank Decorations from a Reputable Dealer

Unsafe decorations can make your fish sick or ruin your aquarium conditions.

33 – Don’t Try to Use Stuff from Outside for Aquarium Decorations

Non aquarium objects usually have stuff in them that can contaminate your tank and kill or make your fish sick. Stuff made for your house could have metals inside or poisonous dyes.

34 – Add Water to Your Tank Before Adding Decorations

If you add water later it will spread everything apart. If you fill your tank at least half full first, you can put your decorations where you want them before adding the rest of the water.

35 – Make Sure You Have a Filter for Mechanical, Biological and Chemical Filtration

You can get a filter for each one or you can buy a filter that has a different compartment for each one.

36 – Clean Your Filter Regularly

If your filter gets clogged, your tank water will not be cleaned fast enough. This could starve your beneficial bacteria which clean a lot of the nitrogen and ammonia. Its best to check your filter or filters every time you do a water change and just rinse it with your aquarium water whenever it looks dirty. If you rinse it with your aquarium water, you won’t wash all of the beneficial bacteria out of it.

37 – Use Live Plants to Help Filter

Live plants help with biological and chemical filtration. They absorb a lot of ammonia, nitrates and CO2 from the water. You can actually sustain a tank with live plants and an aquarium vacuum for the mechanical filtration.

38 – Keep a Couple of Thermometers in Your Tank

It is vitally important to keep your water in the right temperature range for your fish’s health. Aquarium heaters usually have a built-in thermometer, but it is still a good idea to keep a thermometer in case one of your aquarium heaters goes out.

39 – Buy a GFCI

A ground fault circuit interrupter shuts the power off if water gets inside the electrical outlet.

40 – Make Sure There are no Heavy Metals or Other Toxins in Your Water

You can take your water in to your local water company to have it tested. You should test your water twice a month. You can buy an API test kit or water test strips.

41 – Make Sure You Treat Your Water Anytime You Put it in Your Tank

It’s always best to get a water test kit or have your water tested to make sure what’s in it. You will have to treat any water you put in your tank with a water conditioner regardless. Make sure the conditioner takes out chlorine.

42 – Two Heaters Should Always be in Your Tank

Especially if you live in a cold area during the winter. Two heaters will lessen the load on your aquarium heaters and provide you with a backup should one of your heaters go out.

It will also give you an extra heater to heat new water during water changes, heat a quarantine tank or heat water in a temporary holding tank if you have to move your fish.

43 – Cycle Your Aquarium for 6 Weeks

When you first start your aquarium, you want to cycle the water through your filtration system for two weeks. Some people say to do this without fish but if you are going to add any hardy (resilient) fish to your tank you can go ahead and add one or two hardy fish.

This will get the fish poop going and kick start the ammonia and nitrate. Just be careful not to over feed them at first. After 6 weeks your water is stabilized, and you can add more fish.

Just get an API test kit or some test strips and test your water every couple of days. When the ammonia and nitrite levels stay at 0 ppm and the nitrate levels are above 0 ppm it is safe to slowly add more fish. Nitrates are safer than nitrites for fish but when nitrates get above 40 ppm, it is time to do a water change.

44 – You Can Speed Up the Nitrogen Cycle by Adding Beneficial Bacteria Right Away

If you know someone else that has an aquarium, you can trade for some of their old stinky gravel or used filter media to add to your new tank. This will instantly put beneficial bacteria in your new tank so it can start spreading right away. You can also purchase live nitrifying bacteria to add to your tank right away. The whole purpose of this is to get as much of the beneficial bacteria spread throughout your tank right away because it brings the nitrate levels down to an acceptable level for your fish.

45 – Use a Gravel Vacuum

Once you start doing water changes, it is a good idea to use a gravel vacuum to clean your aquarium gravel every time you change your water. Here is an extensive article we wrote on cleaning gravel.

You pretty much vacuum most of your gravel while it is still in the tank to get rid of uneaten food and other junk. You just need to be careful to leave some dirty gravel, so the beneficial bacteria stays in the tank.

It is practical to do vacuuming during a water change because it suctions out a lot of water that you are going to replace anyway. There is even a vacuum available now that attaches to your faucet. It suctions your gravel then runs water right back into your tank. The most popular model is called the Python.

46 – You Should Feed Your Fish Before Doing a Water Change

You will be able to vacuum up any uneaten food after they are done, and you will be even farther ahead doing maintenance.

47 – Don’t Tap on The Outside of Your Aquarium

If you do this, it sounds like an earthquake to your fishy friends. Don’t cause them to have a seizure and drown (just joking), but it is a bad idea.

Don’t Place Your Aquarium Close to a Big Screen T.V.

The huge flashing lights and picture can cause unwanted stress for your fish. This is true of any T.V. but a big screen is obviously much worse.

48 – Don’t Put too Many Fish in Your Tank

Different species of fish need different amounts of tank space to survive. Do your research or ask your pet store how many fish you can fit in your tank depending on how many gallons it is.

49 When You Buy Fish – Don’t Put Them in Your Tank Right Away

When you bring your fishy friend home from the pet store in his/her little plastic baggy it isn’t wise to just let er rip and pour the contents of the bag into your aquarium. It would be like when you’re a kid and you jump into cold water because you don’t want your friends to think you’re a chicken.

Just let the bag float in the water for about 10 – 15 minutes then pour the bags contents through your fish net into your drain. The net will catch the fish and they will be ready to place in your tank.

50 – When You Buy Your First Fish, Know How Big They are Going to Get

When you decide what type of fish you are going to have in your aquarium, you will decide what type and how many depending on the size of your tank aquarium.

When you decide how many fish, you need to base this on the maximum size the fish is going to grow to. If you have a tank that is big enough for 4 two-inch fishes, make sure you buy 4 fish that aren’t going to grow pat four inches.

The reason is because bigger fish need more space and produce more ammonia and nitrate which can contaminate your aquarium if it is not controlled.

51 – Always Make Sure Your Fish are Going to be Compatible

Always do your homework before buying your first fish or adding another to your tank. Some species are territorial, some are extremely shy, some prefer their own species. Try to research ahead of time and ask the pet store for advice. If you’re not sure, go home and find someone who knows. Fish will kill each other sometimes if they are not compatible.

52 – You Can Defrost Frozen Fish Food

Use some aquarium water and defrost the frozen fish food before you dump it in. It will be easier for your fish to eat.

53 – Don’t Overfeed Your Fish

It may not seem like a big deal, but you should only feed your fish what they will eat right away. If you feed them too much, all the uneaten food will sink to the bottom of your tank and build up. Most fish will only eat what they want. Just research your fish and make sure they aren’t the rare type that will overeat if given the opportunity.

54 – Be Careful with Any Kind of Chemical

You really don’t want any chemicals in your fish tank if you can help it so don’t just toss anything in your tank because the sales pitch sounds good. Ask a professional for help or do some research online. We like because of all the customer reviews available.

55 – Join Aquarium Groups or Forums

Most of these are full of people who have a lot of experience. You can usually ask an outrageous amount of questions and get plenty of answers. Usually the answer is obvious if there is a general consensus among the answers or there is usually a search feature to see if your question has already been answered.


Setting up an aquarium is alot of fun but your need to be careful, especially in the beginning. We hope these tips help you avoid any pitfalls and make your new aquarium easier to set up.

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