Freshwater Aquariums: Basic Guide

Freshwater fish can be beautiful, relaxing, and interesting to learn more about.  It seems that there is always something new to learn when it comes to home aquariums , and our guide is here to help you get in-the-know.  

The Setup

Invest in an aquarium stand  and prepare your tank for water and its future inhabitants.  Make sure that every piece of equipment  is connected properly and safely, and that it all works together the way that it should.  THEN you can add the water...

Starting Out

Fish Tank 

A rule to go by is that for every inch of fish, there should be a gallon of water.  Remember to set up your tank  in an area away from too much sunlight or strong drafts.


This is used at the bottom of the tank to collect bacteria.  Select aquarium substrates  that will not effect the pH balance  or alkalinity of the water.  You will want about a pound per gallon.  


All aquariums need a filter to maintain the health of the tank.  A good filter  should filter all of the water in the tank about 3 times in an hour.  If not, the filter is too small. 


Fish do not produce their own body heat and will need the temperature of the water to warm them.  The best place to put the heater  is near the water flow, and don't overdo it on temperature.  An aquarium thermometer  will be necessary in maintaining the heat.

Hood and Lighting 

Just like us, fish need a cycle of daylight and night.  Having the right wattage bulb  will show off the fish's best colours and keep life stable.  The hood  is needed to house the light, prevent evaporation, and keep fish from jumping out.    

Water Cycling

BEFORE you add any fish to your tank, you will need to be sure that the tap water levels are balanced and suitable for the health of the fish.  Cycling your water is one of the most important parts of an aquarium set-up, and it can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks.     

How it works:

  • Cycling is the process of letting your tank grow healthy bacteria in its filters and substrates.  Though it sounds gross, it is absolutely essential. 
  • Fish will produce ammonia in the water, and this is toxic.  The bacteria grown breaks down the ammonia into nitrite and then turns nitrite into nitrates.   
  • For fish to live safely, this nitrogen cycle must be complete.  Otherwise, there is still free ammonia in your tank, and this is harmful to your aquarium life .

What you do:

  • Set up your tank completely, with its lights off.  Add tap water. You will need to run the filter for a period of days and monitor the chemical levels present. 
  • You will want the tank to eventually read 0 ammonia and 0 nitrate on a pH balance strip  before adding any fish to it.
  • Utilize the help of test kits and chemicals to help your tank speed up the process.   

For Healthy Water

Test Kit 

You will want to make sure that the chemical levels are at the level that they should be throughout the cycling process.

Water Conditioner 

Once nitrate is present, you can change 25% of the water in the tank, but use a water conditioner to prep the water. 


Consider placing plants  in the tank.  They will consume the chemicals within days, which makes the cycling process go faster.

Air Pump 

Use an aquarium pump  to promote further growth of good bacteria.  Keeping this in the tank will also replenish the oxygen that the fish and plants will use.   

Aquarium Maintenance

Once you have added your tropical fish  and decorated your tank with background paper  and miniature shipwrecks , you can sit back and marvel at the fish activity. 

But wait... you are going to need to keep up the cleanliness and maintenance  of the tank, and you are going to need the right equipment for that too.  Soap and its products are toxic to your fish, so you will want to steer clear of those and opt for the maintenance products made specifically for the aquarium.    

Keeping Clean

Fish Net 

You will want to safely remove your fish from the tank upon each cleaning and water replacement.

Filter Brush 

Special bristles get the bacteria hiding inside of the filter so that you don't have to.

Gravel Vacuum 

A good vacuum of the floor in the aquarium does wonders for your fish. 

Algae Scraper 

Every now and then you might have to plunge your arm into the water to remove the excess grime. 

Quarantine Tank 

You will need somewhere to put your fish while you are cleaning.  This also works when treating fish that are sick. 

Related Guides

Now that you are enjoying your freshwater fish tank , take a look at some of our other guides to keep you in the hobby.