Freshwater Aquarium Setup Guide & Maintenance

Angel Aquarium

To understand how to setup and properly maintain a fish aquarium you must first understand how a healthy aquarium is supposed to function. A tank is in essence a small ecosystem that consists of water, filtration systems, heater, lights, gravel/sand, bacteria, plants, and of course fish.

Makeup of a Healthy Ecosystem

A healthy fish tank system will have proper filtration and aeration to remove excess debris and add oxygen to the water. The rocks or sand will contain enough bacteria to properly break down the left over food and fish excrement (poo) that are constantly being integrated into its matrix. The population of fish will be made of animals that can properly coexist in the given space, and the tank decorations should properly suit any fish that have special needs.

Closer Look at Filtration

There are 2 main types of filtration systems. Internal systems (those inside), and external systems (those outside). For the most part both systems use carbon to filter the water, but lets take a closer look at each.


1.) Internal Tank Filtration - As the name suggests these sit inside the fish tank. Air is pushed or pulled in by a compressor or baffle into the tank.The vacuum created by the air leaving the filtration system pulls tank debris through slots into a carbon filter. Toxins are broken down and clean water leaves the filter and exits into the tank for your fish to further enjoy.

2.) External Tank Filtration - These are usually what we would call over the top or over the back filtration units that sit on the back of the tank. These systems are usually easier to maintain and last longer. They have what could be considered a straw protruding into the tank with a slits cut into it to prevent smaller fish from being sucked into them. They pull the water from inside the tank and through gravity it passes through a carbon filter and then falls into the tank like a tiny waterfall naturally creating oxygen rich water. When one filter cartridge is used up simply replace it.

Water in General


Water and water levels are often overlooked, and for the most part this is ok. Just know tank water should be partially changed every few months to remove excess toxins. It may need to be treated with either a conditioner or other chemical. Since we are speaking about freshwater tanks water is for the most part water. Note: Most tank experts agree that water should sit in an external reservoir (bucket), for 48 to 72 hrs before being added to the tank.

Heater / Heating

A heater should be used in most locations around the world. Be sure to keep the heating unit (usually a glass tube) covered in water so it doesn't become dry brittle and break. The heater should be briefly examined during water changes. Look for wear and tear.

Fish Tank Lighting

Fish tank lighting usually consists of a hood, and a light. A timer is not required but makes it easier on you the tank owner, and it helps the fish set their circadian rhythms. The lights will need to be purchased from a pet store or pet section of your favorite super store. Excess lighting will cause excess algae. Lack of lighting will hinder the growth of algae and any plants.

Gravel and Beneficial Bacteria

Blue Aquarium Gravel

Gravel should be thoroughly cleaned and should usually only be added at the beginning of the aquariums creation. An inch to a few inches are required on average. Believe it or not but the bacteria that grow in your aquariums gravel and sand are very important. Without a healthy colony of bacteria living in your aquarium it will become toxic and your fish will get sick and possibly die. When excess food, and standard levels of fish poo are dropped into the tank much of it goes into the gravel. If not broken down by bacteria it creates things like toxic ammonia levels. This is why it's important to add just a few fish at a time to a tank. This allows the bacteria to grow over the weeks or months between additions. We suggest adding the heartier fish first.

Plants and Fish

Finally the good part. After your fish tank is setup the final phase should be the addition of your plants and fish. This is where you need to spend lots of time researching your fish. You need fish that like the same water temperature, water quality, minimal tank size, and are not over aggressive or submissive as to not bully or be bullied. Some fish like pairs, some like to be alone. Some like to dominate the tank, some like the safety of enclosed spaces. Any instances of plecos (plecostomus or "sucker fish") will not be added until the tank has a proper level of algae to support the plecos diet. Some fish like the freshwater lion fish or freshwater puffer can be venomous or release toxins when stressed. Be sure to do your research.

In Summary

Unless your fish tank is going to be a simple glass bowl with a single beta or gold fish then you need to do your research. We hope this article has cover all the important concepts, but if it hasn't please leave a message below, and we will respond or update the article accordingly. Thanks for reading, and please share this page.