Few things are more therapeutic and calming than caring for your new fish tank filled with beautiful fish. Its effects are soothing, the process is calming, and the final product is absolutely stunning. Not to mention, having your own aquarium can be a great conversation starter and help you meet new people!

If you’re thinking about setting up an aquarium, whether it’s fresh or salt water or even a nano fish tank, it helps to know where to start. We provide beginner fishkeepers with the basics of setting up an aquarium, including tips on the ideal tank location, fish type and all necessary supplies required.

Supplies You’ll Need Before Setting Up Your Aquarium


Many homeowners simply assume they can pick any sized aquarium right off the bat. However, you need to know its exact installation location, size and which materials best fit your budget and style.

Location-wise, you’ll want a flat, sturdy, waterproof surface that can support the weight of an entire aquarium. And this doesn’t just account for your surface, but the flooring below it.

A 10 gallon freshwater tank filled with fish, water, gravel and decor can weigh 110 pounds, and a 55 gallon tank can weigh approximately 625 pounds!

Choosing the best aquarium size

When it comes to aquarium size, it will depend on the amount of fish you want. Generally speaking, we recommend using 1 gallon of water per inch of fish

The ideal fish size for beginners is on the lower scale of 5 gallons. This way, you’re not overwhelmed with a large fish tank, and you can get the hang of things before upgrading.

Aquarium Top or Lid

An aquarium lid isn’t just for aesthetic purposes; it serves as a critical safety measure. It prevents fish from jumping out and outside contaminants from getting in. If you have pets, for example, an aquarium lid is key in keeping them away from your fish. Furthermore, lids minimise the evaporation process, so you won’t have to top off your tank with fresh water constantly.

Glass lids are a good option and can be customised to include filtration holes, electrical cord cutouts and other access points. You could also go the acrylic route, a clear plastic that’s lighter weight, shatter-resistant, and can be easily cut to size. Although glass lids are typically cheaper, both are viable options for your fish tank. 

Aquarium Heater and Filter

Most freshwater fish thrive in waters between 74-80 degrees Fahrenheit, making an aquarium heater a must. We recommend attaching a thermostat to help maintain a consistent water temperature and buying a fish tank heater that produces 5 watts of heat per 1 gallon of water to start with.

As for filters, these are crucial in every aquarium as they clean any toxic buildup of ammonia. This, in turn, helps improve water quality and make it safer for your fish. There are three main types of filtration systems: mechanical, chemical and biological.

Mechanical filtration – Traps and removes solid particles from the water but cannot remove dissolved ammonia. Water passes through a mesh filter or cartridge that captures incoming debris.

Chemical filtration- This removes wastes (proteins and organics) before they decompose entirely. This exceeds a mechanical filter in the sense that it can catch even smaller particles.

Nitrification or biological filtration: Breaks down ammonia into a less toxic compound using aerobic, nitrifying bacteria that colonise on the filter media. This filter cannot remove water waste but does reduce its toxicity.

Canister filters are trendy among fishkeepers as they offer all three types of filtration. As its canister is substantially larger than most power filters, it can hold more media and process a lot more water. This is especially useful for owners with larger fish tanks.

Aquarium Gravel and Decorations

Gravel is a necessary component in every aquarium as it provides a place for beneficial bacteria to colonise. This helps break down leftover fish food, debris and fish waste, ensuring you’re left with a healthy environment. Gravel also minimises amoebas buildup, which can be harmful to your fish when allowed to build up at high levels.

While other substrate materials are available, like sand, it doesn’t allow water to flow readily, stopping beneficial bacteria from colonising as effectively. If you are going for gravel, we recommend using gravel that’s small in size (0.2 – 0.5mm) and smooth in texture.

Decorations, meanwhile, add character to your fish tank and provide hiding places for your fish. This is particularly important for smaller fish or those easily stressed, as they can feel exposed in an empty tank. Decoration, such as leaves, will also make your tank look bigger or smaller, depending on its size.

Fish Tank Treatments

Aquarium treatments are a part of fish care that often gets overlooked. However, they play an essential role in keeping your tank clean and your fish healthy. Some of these include:

Water Dechlorinators – Tap water usually contains chlorine or chloramines, which can damage your fish’s sensitive gills. Water dechlorination removes these chemicals, making the water safe for your fish. Add this treatment once your aquarium is filled and after each water change.

pH Adjusters – The ideal pH level for a freshwater aquarium is between 6.8 and 7.8. If your water is too acidic or alkaline, it can make your fish sick and eventually kill them. If you add a pH adjuster, do so gradually, as your fish can be sensitive to sudden changes in pH levels.

Algae Removing Agent – Algae growth is a byproduct of an unbalanced fish tank, caused by too many fish, excessive lighting and fertilisation. A removing agent prevents algae growth and keeps your tank looking clean.

Your Actual Fish

From tropical to cold water fish, there’s a wide variety of species to choose from. Therefore, remember to do your research before you buy as some species require different conditions to others.

For example, goldfish require a temperature between 68° to 74° F, while tropical fish need a slightly higher heat level between 75° to 80° F. Coldwater fish, meanwhile, will often not need a heater at all as they can tolerate lower temperatures.

Regarding fish compatibility, it’s best to stick to similar species. If you mix different territorial species, one fish will likely become dominant and omit aggressive behaviour. If you do go ahead with this, ensure they’re of similar size so you’re at least evening the playing field.

Best Fish for Beginners and Intermediates

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this, beginners tend to be better suited to care for freshwater fish. These include loaches, goldfish and danios, which are relatively low maintenance and can tolerate a wider range of water conditions.

More experienced fishkeepers can opt for slightly more complex species, such as Bichirs: a larger species that requires deeper tanks. Mollies, meanwhile, need company and prefer to live in saltwater tanks. 

How to Set Up a Fish Tank – Step by Step

Now we’ve got all the supplies and know which fish we want; it’s time to set up our aquarium. While setting up an aquarium seems as easy as adding water, there are a few key steps you need to follow to do it correctly:

Remove and Clean Your Fish Tank

First things first, you need to remove your fish tank and accessories from their packaging and give them a good clean. Any dirt or debris could contaminate your water, so begin by giving them a good scrub with a damp cloth. You want to avoid chemicals such as bleach, or soap as they may leave behind residue in your tank. 

Once your fish tank is clean, add your background. This is entirely optional, but it can help create a more realistic environment for your fish. If you have lightning, ensure it works by plugging it in and testing the light.

Place your Fish Tank in Its Designated Spot

Put your fish tank in its final resting place before you start adding water. This can be on a fish tank stand or a table – just make sure it’s on a flat, level surface to avoid accidents.

Placing your fish tank before filling it up ensures you save the trouble of carrying and moving a full fish tank, which can be difficult and dangerous. It also lets you see, first-hand, how your fish tank will look in its rightful place.

Wash Your Gravel and Rinse Ornaments

Rinse all dust from your gravel before adding it to the tank. This can be done by placing it in a bucket and running water over it until the water runs clear. Similarly, any ornaments need to be rinsed as they can also contain harmful bacteria.

Add Your Substrate

Substrate is the term used to describe your fish tank’s flooring. This can be anything from gravel to sand, and in some cases, no substrate. Add your substrate of choice to the bottom of your fish tank, ensuring it’s an even layer.

Install all Electrical Equipment

Now it’s time to install your heater, air pumps, filter and any other electrical equipment. Be sure to read the instructions with each product as they have different installation methods. Just make sure not to turn on any equipment until your hands are out and the fish tank is full of water.

Fill Your Fish Tank with Water

With your electrical equipment and substrate in place, start filling your fish tank with water. You can use a garden hose if you have a freshwater aquarium. For a saltwater aquarium, it’s best to use RO (reverse osmosis) water or deionised water. Reverse osmosis removes nearly all impurities from water, making it ideal for saltwater fish tanks.

Remove all Toxins and Adjust Your PH Levels for Your Fish

Before you add your fish, ensure all the water in your tank is toxics-free and at the correct pH level. You can do this by:

  • Using a water conditioner to remove any harmful toxins
  • Test your water’s pH levels and adjust it accordingly
  • Use an ammonia test kit to ensure there’s no ammonia in your water.

Turn on all Electrical Equipment

Switch on your filter, air pump and heater. You may also want to add some live plants or décor at this stage.

Cycling Your Fish Tank

Cycling your fish tank is the process of establishing a population of beneficial bacteria in your aquarium. This bacteria is key in breaking fish waste and other organic matter, helping to keep your fish tank conditions stable and your water quality high.

The nitrogen cycling process generally takes 3-6 weeks, by which time you should well establish your beneficial bacteria population. Once you’ve got the green light, you’re now ready to put in your fish. Do not add fish before your nitrogen cycle is complete.

Adding Your Fish to Your New Aquarium

When adding fish, do so gradually. Introduce fish no more than 2-3 at a time and feed them once every second day. Over the next 4-5 weeks, slowly put in more fish and carefully monitor how they interact with each other. Remember that your ammonia, nitrite, and pH will all need to be checked during this time.

For larger aquariums, i.e. one that’s 10 gallons or more, you can add 5-8 fish at a time. This will also depend on their size and whether they’re compatible with each other.

Caring for Your Fish Tank

Now that you’ve set up your fish tank, your water’s ammonia levels will eventually rise. And while your beneficial bacteria population helps to keep these levels in check, doing regular water changes will keep your fish in tip-top shape. 

As a general rule of thumb, you should do a 10-15% water change once a week to remove any built-up toxins and debris. If your tank is heavily stocked, increase this to 25% a week. Lighter stocker aquariums can get away with doing a water change every two weeks.

The Nitrogen Cycle Explained

The nitrogen cycle is the process by which fish waste and decaying matter are converted into nitrogen compounds, such as ammonia. These can harm your fish if the levels get too high.

Thankfully, beneficial bacteria are produced in your fish tank that break down these harmful compounds and keep these levels in check. By allowing your tank to cycle correctly, you can create a safe and healthy environment for your fish to thrive in. Just ensure to take a water sample before you add fish to your tank to confirm levels are safe.

Fish Tank Maintenance Advice

Maintaining the right environment for your fish is critical to their health and wellbeing. Here is a quick checklist of things you need to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis:


  • Split your feeds into smaller meals and feed your fish 2-3 times a day
  • Remove any uneaten food from the tank
  • Check your water temperature and ensure it’s stable. Also ensure all equipment i.e. lighting, filters and heaters, are working properly.


  • Remove all algae from the tank and scrape the inside of your glass
  • Clean your gravel using a gravel vacuum
  • Do a water change based on your fish tank’s needs
  • Test your water tank’s ph levels, ammonia levels and nitrate levels
  • Verify your aquarium’s seal is still tight


  • Replace your filter media, except if you have a biological filtration system
  • Deep clean your gravel – remove it from the tank and rinse it in old tank water
  • Clean all equipment i.e. heaters, lights and filters in old tank water
  • Scrape off all algae from the inside of your fish tank
  • Check your aquarium for any cracks or leaks and fix them as needed

Decorative Options You can Add to Your Fish Tank

You might be wondering why to bother with decorating your fish tank. After all, it’s just a home for your fish, right?


Adding decorations to your fish tank not only adds much-needed shelter for your fish, it also adds visual appeal. And when done correctly, can even help to improve the water quality in your tank. Let’s go through some of the most popular types of aquarium decorations:

Plants – Adding plants to your new tank can provide a natural environment for your fish and help to enhance water quality. Plants also help to oxygenate the water, improving fish health.

Rocks and driftwood – Rocks and driftwood can provide a hiding place for your fish and create a more natural-looking environment. Most fish species know they’re a prey species and feel much safer with accessible hiding places.

Caves and tunnels – Caves and tunnels can provide a place for your fish to hide and feel secure. They also add a sense of exploration to your tank, giving your fish something to do.

Backgrounds – A fish tank background creates a more natural-looking environment for your fish. It also helps to hide any equipment, cords or tubing that might be in your tank.

Get Aquarium Installation and Regular Maintenance with Sidepost

Looking to install a new fish tank or need regular maintenance? Sidepost has you covered! Our experts can help you choose the perfect fish tank and provide regular maintenance to keep it up and running. We service all across Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle, Gold Coast and Brisbane.

Contact us today at 1300 138 499 or book online to get started!