Setting up a freshwater aquarium is a fun weekend project. You'll have plenty of decisions to make about the type of fish you will keep, your decor and how to best maintain the tank. Basic tank equipment includes a filtration system, water additives and decor, and a few more supplies.
The first decision you'll make is the type of tank you want. Tanks vary widely in size and shape, so take into consideration its placement, your budget and the size, number and species of fish you hope to keep. The bigger the tank, the better it is for the fish, but a small, 5-gallon tank can be just as rewarding. Many tanks come with all the supplies you need included as a kit to make it easy for you to get started. But if you already have the tank and need the equipment to maintain it, you can purchase the supplies individually.
The water is the most important element to consider because it provides the environment for your fish, and if the water isn't clean and balanced, your fish won't survive. If you're setting up a relatively small tank, between 5 and 20 gallons, purchase gallon bottles of spring water to be completely safe. If your aquarium is larger than that or it's not practical for you to use spring water, you'll have to plan ahead. Purchase additives to remove chlorine and make the water safe for your fish right away. Even with the additives, however, it's best to allow a new tank to cycle for at least 24 hours before adding fish. In other words, let the filter run a full 24 hours before bringing home your piscine pals.
Filtration is perhaps the most complicated aspect of fish-keeping. Filtration systems vary as to how they keep the tank clean. Some are mechanical filters, meaning they remove solids from the tank by drawing the water through a filter. Others rely on bacterial filtration, allowing the natural bacteria to balance itself out. If your tank is very large, use both kinds of filtration systems for best results. Underground filtration systems rely on the natural flora that develops in the tank. Maintenance requires changing out the charcoal part of the filter, and vacuuming the tank occasionally, but little else. A mechanical filter requires changing out the filter cartridge as needed. Partial water changes are a necessary part of fish keeping and should be done every 4 to 6 months regardless of the filter you have. In some cases, you'll be advised to perform the water changes more frequently.
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Gravel, sand or rocks provide the substrate for your tank. Always wash it well before adding to the tank or you'll have tiny dust particles suspended in the water. A tank lid -- with lights, if desired -- is a necessity as fish can and do jump out.
The rest of the supplies you purchase will depend upon your intended population. For example, your choice of fish net and food depends on the type of fish you're getting. Purchase decor especially made for fishkeeping to avoid adding lead or other unwanted elements to the tank. Decorations are not only aesthetically pleasing -- fish use them to hide. Live plants also offer decor and hiding places, as well as adding oxygen to the water and helping reduce algae. An algae scraper is a handy tool to keep the glass clean. If your fish are tropical, such as a betta, a heater and water thermometer are essential items as fish from warm waters need to be kept in water maintained at 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.