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Caring for Your Freshwater Tank

Posted by Joe Morton on

Fresh water fish tank

Aquariums are absolutely captivating. The wide variety of fish, plants, and habitat options available create stunning underwater environments, so it’s no wonder aquariums are so popular.

Many people assume that they require very little care and don’t learn enough about how to care for them, and their fish end up suffering. To keep your tank beautiful and your fish happy and healthy, read on to learn all about freshwater aquarium care.

You’ll be an experienced aquarist in no time! 

Setting up Your New Aquarium

Set-up your tank and obtain ideal water levels before bringing any fish home. This process takes 4-6 weeks.

Purchase the largest tank you can. Not only will your fish be happier, but it will be easier to care for your tank. That’s right - the larger the tank, the less effort it will take for you to maintain healthy water parameters.

  • Test kit that measures the pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels
  • Gravel/substrate for the bottom
  • Tank decor - A habitat is important for the health and comfort of your fish! Get a variety of decor such as rocks, wood, artificial or live plants, hides, caves, etc.
  • Algae cleaning magnet for clean the glass/acrylic walls of your tank

Your tank setup should be sturdy. Be sure to keep it in an area that’s kept relatively warm year-round and out of direct sunlight.

Set-up everything in the tank and condition the water before letting it run for 24 hours or longer. This will oxygenate the water and stabilize the temperature.

Now you’re ready for the next step! 

Caring for Your Aquarium

Aquariums are delicately balanced ecosystems that depend on the coexistence of a variety of bacteria and chemicals to create an environment that fish can survive and thrive in.

Both ammonia and nitrite exist in aquariums and are toxic to fish. In an established tank that is well maintained, these chemical compounds keep each other in check, but in order to get there, the tank must first be cycled.

The process of cycling takes 4-6 weeks. Here are three methods for cycling your fish tank - we suggest using one of the two fish-free options because using fish to help cycle the tank causes them stress and even suffering.

During the process of cycling, the ammonia will be the first to spike, which will in turn cause the nitrite to spike. When both the ammonia and nitrite levels reach zero, which takes 4-6 weeks, it will usually be safe to add fish.

Additionally, you’ll want to check the nitrate and pH levels to make sure they are within range.

Introduce fish slowly and carefully, using your test kit often to make sure that the levels stay where they should be.

Water Changes

Small, monthly water changes are required for freshwater tanks. If you have a smaller tank, you’ll need to do water changes more frequently - about twice a month.

Using a tube to create suction, remove and replace 15-20% of the water each month - this will remove harmful compounds that build up over time and will also replenish vital elements.

Water changes are also a good opportunity to clean up the decomposing organic matter along the bottom of the tank with the tube’s suction. Keep in mind that significantly disrupting the gravel or substrate may change your water parameters by making the ammonia or nitrite spike, so keep a close eye with your test kit.

Be sure to thoroughly mix the dechlorinator into the new water BEFORE adding the water to the tank. Some people let the water “rest” for a few hours first.

Choosing Fish

Cute Betta

Do some research on the fish that you want in order to learn whether they will 1) get along with each other, 2) prefer the same water temperature, and 3) require similar food and feeding schedules.

For example, fish that have shy personalities and eat slowly should not be kept in the same tank as more aggressive fish.

Don’t get too many fish! A general rule to follow is 1 inch of fish per 1 gallon of water. Overcrowding results in too much waste and not enough oxygen in the water. You’re also less likely to have territory or behavioral issues if your fish have enough room. 

Introducing Fish to Your Tank

Acclimation is the necessary process of carefully introducing fish to new water. Every aquarium has slightly different parameters and temperatures, so moving a fish from one tank to another can cause shock, illness, or even death.

1) Float the sealed bag with the fish on top of the water in your tank for 20-30 minutes. This will adjust the water in the bag to the temperature of your tank.

2) Open the bag and add about a quarter cup of water from your tank to the bag. Reseal the back and let float for another 5 minutes before adding another quarter cup. Do this about 4-5 more times.

3) Pour as much water out into the sink at you can manage without harming the fish and then submerge the bag in the water, letting your fish swim out into its new home!

Tank Maintenance

Stable quality of water, temperature, and chemical/bacteria levels are critical to the health of your fish. Use this simple schedule to help you get used to your new fish care routine.

  • Every Day
    • Check the water temperature
    • Feed your fish once or twice a day, depending on their feeding requirements
  • Weekly
    • Check the water levels with your freshwater testing kit
    • Clean the sides of the tank
  • Monthly
    • Water change: depending on the size of your tank, change 15-20% of the water 1-2 times per month.
    • Rinse or replace the filter
    • Replace air stone (if needed)
    • Clean decor 

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 72-82 degrees F  
  • Chlorine and chloramine: 0 ppm
  • General hardness (GH): 100-250 ppm
  • Alkalinity/Carbonate hardness (KH): >100 ppm
  • pH-value: 6.5-7.8
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <20 ppm

The parameters of your water all tie in closely together. For example, if the carbonate hardness (KH) of your water drops below 80 ppm, it can cause a pH crash, which will have a detrimental effect on your fish.

A large number of factors affect water quality - if you’re having trouble reaching the ideal parameters, please call Pets on Broadway and ask to speak with one of our aquarium specialists!