The Basic Guide To Starting An Aquarium Part 1

The Tank
If it’s a new tank it shouldn’t leak, but check it anyway, but do it at a place where water won’t damage anything.

If it’s a used tank it should be cleaned out. If you suspect there were some sick fish in this tank before you got it then you should first sterilize it with about a cup of chlorine. Fill it with water and add the chlorine. Let it stand for a day then rinse it out several times with clean water. Never use soap in an aquarium, it’s a poison to fish and other aquatic life.

Try to get a standard size and shape aquarium. Hexagons and other exotic shaped tanks will become a problem when it’s time to furnish them with lights, hoods and other equipment. I learned this the hard way, and like so many others I’ve talked to, I say “never again”

The Stand
An aquarium stand is not a requirement. But if another item is used to support the tank it needs to be strong enough to hold the tank with it’s water and all the other equipment. Water weighs about 8.5 pounds per gallon, so a 10 gallon tank will weigh in at over 85 pounds plus the glass, gravel and other decorations.

The stand or it’s substitute should be absolutely level. Unlevel aquariums are more prone to leak and are more easily damaged.

The Cover
Aquarium covers are in my opinion a necessity. I’ve lost too many fish from their jumping out of an uncovered tank. It also reduces evaporation, keeps dust and debris from entering the tank and allows for a more stable temperature.

The Filter

The choices for filtration are sometimes overwhelming. Here’s a list of some of the different types of filtration with the good and bad points of each.

No Filter – Very cheap, very easy to maintain, but you have to have an extremely low stocking level, or do almost daily water changes.

The Under-Gravel Filter – Almost as easy as no filter, and once you buy it, it’s with you for the long haul. Drawbacks include: The gravel will eventually fill up with crud that has to be vacuumed out with an aquarium siphon, UG filters tend to acidify the water, plants that have extensive roots don’t do well with an UG filter, requires you to have either a air pump or power-head to supply the circulation and the need to keep a low stocking level still exists with the UG filter

The Hang-On-The-Back Filter – Medium price range of about $20.00. Hang-on-the-back filterHas to have it’s filter pad changed or cleaned about once every two weeks. The motor tends to wear out in about 2 years. These filters are good for plant tanks and for creating good water circulation. It’s easy to use carbon and other filtration chemicals with a HOB filter. Other disadvantages include; tend to be a pain to restart after a power failure, sometimes develop leaks, new filter pads and chemical additives have to be added periodically.

Bio-Wheel – All the advantages of a HOB filter and the added bonus of allowing a tremendous population of the “Good” bacteria that do the biological filtering. Much more efficient than nearly any other kind of filter, it allows you to keep more fish per gallon. The wheel is almost permanent and only has to be replaced if you accidentally damage it. Disadvantages are the same as for the HOB filters.

Internal-Power-Filters – Usually more expensive than other types of filters. They provide chemical and biological filtration and do a better than average job. They provide good circulation with a fairly strong current that might bother some fish. The disadvantages include, as you can imagine, the fact that you have to take the dripping thing out of the tank to clean it and replace the chemicals and floss etc.

Sponge Filters have seen increased use among experienced hobbyist, especially those who use smaller tank for Killifish, Bettas and raising small batches of fry etc. I am now using sponge filters in most of my tanks.

Other Filters are good for certain tasks. Read the product literature and make an informed decision about what filter to use. Beware of gimmicks.


Most tank kits come with some kind of lights. The incandescent lights are really not fit for aquarium use; they get too hot, use too much electricity for the amount of light they put out and generally don’t do much for plants. They are fine for fish only tanks but if there’s no plants in the tank then the lights are needed only for viewing the tank and should be turned off at other times to prevent algae from getting started in your tank. Hopefully a set of florescent lights will come with your tank. Florescent lights can be bought that are made specifically for aquarium use. There are lights that will enhance the color and “mood” of the tank, lights that will make plants grow bigger and better and even lights that reproduce sunlight. Fish-only tanks will be bright enough for viewing with only one tube, but for some plants you will need at least 2 tubes. That doen’t include the Easy Plants, they will get by fine on one tube.


Quality is the name of the game when it comes to heaters. You want one that is completely submersible and not prone to leaking. A busted heater can be a shocking experience, in more ways than one. Cheap heaters are also more apt to stick, that is the contacts get stuck and the heater just keeps on heating, finally cooking the fish. In many cases heaters are not required; if you keep your home at a reasonable temperature of between 70 and 85 F, then most fish can adapt quite well.