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Tropical Fish Aquariums

So you have decided that you want to set up a tropical fish aquarium.

I say tropical because that is what we will be dealing with on this page. Tropical fish, as opposed to salt water, or even cichlids, are much easier to care for. I hope to touch on the very basics for right now and maybe add more advanced information later on.

I have been keeping an aquarium for about 8 years now and I love what keeping an aquarium can do for your home. Having that glow in a dark room watching an underwater world is one of the most relaxing things. Studies have even shown that while looking at an aquarium, a persons heart rate, blood pressure, and respirations decrease. It's a great stress relever. And, if you believe in the workings of feng shui, placing an aquarium in certain parts of your home can bring good luck and money.

Sound good enough? So let's get started!


Size: I always recommend going with a 10-20, or maybe even a 29 gallon tank. You really don't want anything much smaller or larger. Reason being, with a smaller tank the buildup of bad "chemicals" occurs faster and more extreme. We will talk about this a little later. Anything larger than a 20 or 29 gallon requires alot more tedious work that a beginner might become overwhelmed with.

Shape: You do not want a long verticle need air and if you don't have that much surface area with contact with room air, you are asking for trouble. Also, most fish have a preference on where they swim, feed, etc. If you have a bottom feeder in a verticle-long aquarium with a relatively small horizontal area, it doesn't matter how many gallons the aquarium is, to the fish, it's a real small aquarium.

Location: One thing you do need to take into consideration is on what and where you are going to place the tank. You don't want the aquarium to be in front of a window or right next to any sort of heating or cooling vents. Fish don't like drafts.

Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon. Remember this because you will need a stand that can hold not only the tank, but also the water, gravel, accessories, etc. A 20 gallon aquarium alone is not light. Add water, you are looking at another (20 x 8 = 160) 160 pounds! Gravel weighs alot too. It doesn't take much to end up with 300 pounds on this stand. So make sure you know exactly where you want this baby to go, because it's no easy task to move it.

Cleaning: When you bring your aquarium home, you will need to rinse it out. DO NOT use detergents like bleach or windex. Even if you rinse it really well, the chemicals will leach into your aquarium and kill your fish. And don't use a tank that was previously used to house a hamster, or some other animal. Fish don't like that. Fill your tank up with water for at least 24 hours to make sure there are no leaks.

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Temperature: It is essential that you have an aquarium heater. It's not really important what kind you get, but make sure that it's appropriate for the size of the tank you have. Some can even be submerged completely underwater. I like these. Caution: Do not ever plug the heater in before you add the water. Make sure that it is not plugged in until the aquarium is completely full. Take my word for it, I plugged my heater in BEFORE I added the water, and once I did, my heater shattered. That wasn't cool. Anyways, most tropical fish prefer a temperature range of 72-80F (22-27C) and they don't like sudden changes in water temperature.

Lighting: Most tanks come with a hood that houses a light..either incadescent or fluorescent. Make sure that your fish get 4-10 hours of light per day. Any more than that you end up with an overgrowth of algae. Fluorescent lighting produces more light and less heat than an incadenscent light. Remember, most tropical fish don't like temperatures over 80F (27C) and if you leave your light on all day, you could end up with a rather hot aquarium. Your fish will hate you for it!

Filtration: There are many types of filtration devices that will clean your aquarium. I use a combination of an undergravel filter (with power heads) and a hanging power filter. The undergravel filter works by allowing beneficial bacteria to grow and clean the water. You can either attach an air tube down to the bottom to keep the flow of water coming, or you can attach a power head, which is a pump that sucks up water through the columns and spits it back out. Keeps water circulating. A power filter generally hangs on the outside of your aquarium. It is good to suck out floating particles or excess food. The water is sucked in through a tube that rests under the water line, and goes through a fibrous material and charcoal, and then spits the clean water back into the aquarium. The charcoal is used because it neutrailizes some bad chemicals that can build up in the water.

Decorations: What you do with the decorations is purely a matter of personal taste. Keep in mind that decorations can serve a purpose. Some provide a hiding place for a fish that may be under attack, or about to lay eggs. Plants do the same thing. We will get into whether or not you should purchase live or plastic plants. Each has it's own advantages and disadvantages. It's up to you to decide.

Aeration: The water in your aquarium must have movement. The fish swimming around is not enough to keep the water from getting thick and nasty. They also need the water to be aerated. Some fish are able to come up for air, but this is rare. You will need an air pump (once again, type depends on the size of your tank). Plastic tubing is attached to the air pump with an air stone at the end. This produces really fine bubbles, rather than large bubbles that freak your fish out.


  • 10-20 gallon tank
  • Hood with light
  • Aquarium Stand sturdy enough to hold several hundred pounds
  • Water Dechlorinator to remove chlorine and other harmful chemicals from the water
  • Filter (Undergravel, Hanging, etc)
  • Heater suitable for tank size
  • Air Pump again, one to suit the size of your tank
  • Air Tubing Enough to run from the pump to the bottom of the tank
  • Air Stone
  • Gravel 2 pounds for each gallon of water, avoid anything too large or too fine, especially when using an undergravel filter
  • Plants either live or plastic
  • Decorations always a good idea to buy something that will provide a hiding place for fish
  • Water Thermometer You can buy one that sticks on the outside of the aquarium itself, or one that sits in the water. I prefer one that stays in the water. Place it on a side not by the heater.
  • Fish Net
  • Tropical Fish Flakes
    Optional, but recommended:
  • Water pH Test Kit Most fish want a neutral pH of 7.0
  • Aquarium Salt Use to clean tank, soak live plants to kill snails, etc.


    • If you are using an undergravel filter, place it in the tank at this time with air columns attached
    • Place rinsed gravel in the aquarium, on top of the UG filter, if applicable. Once all of the gravel is in the tank, flatted it and create a slope (back of aquarium has more gravel than the front) This allows any waste and uneaten food to fall to the front for easy cleaning.
    • Place a bowl into the tank. Pour the water into the bowl and allow it to overflow into the tank. This prevents your gravel from getting messed up.
    • Once the aquarium is half-full, start adding plants and decorations. With live plants, make sure the roots are secured in the gravel, or they could float to the top of the aquarium.
    • Place any air tubing, hanging filters, and heaters into the water. With the air pump, it is always a good idea to attach a one-way valve in the tubing. That way if any water gets suctioned into the tubing, like during a power outage, it doesn't get into the pump and destroying it.
    • Finish filling up the aquarium until the water is approximately an inch or two from the top. When adding fish, the water level will rise even more, and you don't want an overflow situation.
    • Next, add the dechlor drops to the water. Read the bottle to determine how many drops per gallon you need to add.
    • Allow your aquarium to sit for a day or two with all filters, heaters, and air pumps running. Don't be alarmed if the water looks cloudy for this first day or so. That is normal.
    • Test the pH of the water before you purchase your fish. When selecting your first fish, only get a few inexpensive ones. This will get the normal bacteria started, making it suitable for more elabrate and expensive fish. And remember 1" of fish for each gallon of water. Take into consideration the fishes fully grown size.

    Introducing Fish

    I recommend purchasing easy-to-care-for, peaceful community fish. These include Tetras, Guppies, Platys, Mollies, Danios, and perhaps one male Betta.
    • Float the bag of fish in your aquarium for about 15 minutes to allow the water temperatures to equalize.
    • During this time, add progressively more aquarium water to the bag, until it is 100%.
    • If the fish begin gasping for air at the surface, release them immediately into the tank.
    • If you are adding new fish to a tank where there are already fish, you may want to feed the old fish before introducing the new fish. If you find that some of your fish are extremely territorial, as is common in cichlids, try rearranging the plants and decorations in the aquarium before adding new fish.


    There isn't really much to talk about as far as feeding your fish goes. Most fish do well on a staple food, such as Total Tropical flakes.
    • Crumble the flakes down a little before adding them to the tank.
    • Feed only a few times a day, I feed my fish in the morning and at night and they do fine.
    • Give them only enough that they will totally consume in 5-10 minutes. If you find you added to much and the fish aren't eating, get your net and scoop out the excess food.
    • Try experimenting with other fish foods, especially Tubifex Worms and Brine Shrimp.

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