How to Set Up an Aquarium

Why not start with a simple, inexpensive setup so you can decide if fish are the right pet for you?

Choosing a fish bowl

Fish bowls and tanks are available in every shape:  hexagons, globes, bow fronts, corner tanks, corner tanks with a bow front, pedestal tanks, tower and coffee table tanks and, of course, the regular oblong shape.  Shape is just one aspect to consider in your aquarium setup.  Here are some others:


How many fish can your bowl or tank support?  It depends, of course, on the type of fish, but there is a rule of thumb for starters:  1" of fish for every 1.5 - 2 gallons of water in the bowl.


Although live plants need a soft particulate bottom, and some fish like hiding behind rocks, this is more of a decorating consideration.  Among the options are:

  • Surface gravel: available in every color, shape and size imaginable.
  • Rocks: larger rocks and rock formations invite creativity with your constructions.
  • Marbles: some owners have turned tank decoration into an art form and have habitats that are as beautiful as the fish themselves.

Live Plants:

Plants are a beautiful addition to an aquarium.  But make sure your greenery does not negatively affect the tank environment. The same is true of driftwood, which can lower the pH in your tank.


Find a sturdy place for your aquarium — away from windows and with the least amount of traffic. Light from windows will affect algae growth and too much activity can affect fish, which need a calm, easygoing place to live.

Your responsibilities

Feeding and cleaning are the two major duties associated with aquarium maintenance.


  • Designate one person to handle feeding duties. Three or four feeding helpers can easily spark problematic overfeeding. Once or twice daily is usually about right, but your pet store can advise you on your specific fish's needs.


  • Bowl: Because the water is unfiltered, you must change it frequently.  Typically, half of the water should be changed daily or every other day to remove excess food and waste before they reach toxic levels.  In larger tanks, this can happen less frequently. Your pet store should be able to advise you on frequency.
  • Tank: Although aquarium filters can help maintain excellent water quality, you must still clean your tank and change some of the water on a regular basis. As a general rule, it is recommended that you change out about 20% of the water once every month.