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The 21 Best Freshwater Aquarium Tips For Beginners

When I got my very first aquarium, a couple of years ago, I distinctly remember one lady give me some tips that helped me so much. It jump-started my aquarium knowledge, and today I want to do the same for you.

Here is a list that I have put together that contains 21 tips of which I am sure they will help you.

1 Condition tap water before adding to your tank

Tap water contains chlorine and chloramine, which the municipality uses to disinfect the drinking water. The concentration is low enough that it does not harm us, nor our cats and dogs.

Sadly it is too much for your fish. The chlorine and chloramine stress out the fish, and it might even kill them. Therefore always use the right product to treat your tap water first.

I am sure that it is available at your local fish or pet store. If you like to order online you can check out this tap water conditioner from API on Amazon.

2 Let your tank cycle before adding fish

The next tip I want to give you is always make sure that your aquarium is completely cycled before you add fish. If you are unfamiliar with “cycling” a tank, it means that your tank needs to build up a colony of beneficial bacteria to break down the ammonia that your fish produce.

Cycling a tank takes about 6 weeks. I know that that is very long, and you are really tempted to add your fish sooner, however the wait is worth it.

To see if the cycle is done, you need to measure the water. I wrote an article a while ago that will tell you how you can see whether your cycle is complete. This is the link.

3 Do not overstock your tank

A tank can be really peaceful and calming to look at. This can be ruined when you add too many fish to an aquarium, up to the point where the fish have not enough space to roam.

You need to make sure that your fish have enough space to roam freely, and this differs per species. If you are doubting, ask your local fish store for help.

4 Do not start with an aquarium that is too small

Despite all the marketing on nano tanks, bigger tanks are way easier to keep compared to smaller ones. This has to do with the biological balance that establishes over time.

In a bigger tank, it will be easier to create a balance. This will result in less maintenance times. A tank that is not balanced will show itself, because there will be a lot of algae that are growing.

Also, there are so many people who started with a small tank that have upgraded within the first couple of months to a bigger tank. This also has to do keeping fish having the potential to become rather addictive. I have been there.

5 First temperature acclimate your fish

This tip is really important. Chances are very high that the person who sold you your fish has told you. I am still adding it.

If you get home from the store, your fish will be inside a plastic bag. The first thing you do is float the bag in your aquarium. Do not cut it open first, just let it float.

The reason why we do this is because the temperature in your tank will be different than the temperature or the water in the bag. If we would drop the fish straight from the bag into the tank, the fish will experience a shock because of the sudden temperature difference.

This causes a lot of stress to the fish, and it can even die.

Leave the bag of fish floating in the tank for around 15 minutes. After this, take out the bag and cut it open. What you do not want to do, is pour all the water that was in the bag in your tank. We do not know what is in the water, so we do not want it in our beautiful tank.

Grab a bucket and a net, and pour the bag in the bucket. All the fish will be in the net, and ready to be added to your aquarium.

6 Wash your filter with aquarium water instead of tap water

A tip to ensure that the beneficial bacteria that are housed inside your filter will remain alive and healthy is to always wash your filter media with aquarium water.

A lot of people take the media and rinse it in the sink using tap water. What this will do is it will kill and rinse away all the beneficial bacteria that are so precious to the wellbeing of your fish.

Instead, take a bucket with a bit of aquarium water and put the filter media in here. When you squeeze, you will see the water in the bucket turn brown from everything the filter has caught. Repeat this just once or twice, and your filter is cleaned.

7 Use a gravel vacuum

When you set up your tank, you will see some debris building up on the bottom of your aquarium. This might be fish poop, organic plant matter or maybe uneaten food.

It looks disgusting, and you want to get rid of it (obviously).

To do this, use a gravel vacuum! They are super effective at rinsing all the gravel in your tank while doing a water change. All the lighter particles will get sucked up, whereas the gravel will stay in the aquarium.

They are not that expensive, and there is one on Amazon that will do the job perfectly and will not break the bank. Check out this link for the current price if you are interested in buying one for your tank.

8 Look around if someone has plant cuttings

This is especially useful if you have an active local aquarium community. If people have plants in a tank that is doing very good, they will have to do a lot of gardening.

If you ask someone to keep some of their cuttings, it is rather easy to propagate these plants and let them flourish in your aquarium. This will depend on the kind of plant, though.

Using this tip, you can start keeping live plants on a low budget, without having to buy plants at the store.

9 Start with easy plants that require no CO2

If you are looking into starting your tank with live plants, which I highly encourage, it might be best to start with the more easy plants. This means that you would want to look into some plants that do not require high lighting or extra CO2.

Some of these plants include the following:

  • java ferns
  • java moss
  • anubias
  • cryptocoryne
  • elodea (water weeds)

I wrote an article on some plants that do not require extra CO2, where I go over the plants in the list above and a couple of more. If you are interested in reading that, you can find it here.

10 Make sure that your fish that you buy do not outgrow your tank

In the store, all the fish that you see are young. Some of them still need to grow a lot to reach their final size. Gold fish are a good example, because they are way more suitable as pond fish compared to being aquarium fish.

A lot of fish stores, or pet stores that sell fish, recommend getting a pleco as an algae eater. This is a fish that ends up almost reaching the length of your under arm. HUGE!

It is so sad to see a fish outgrow your tank, because you will need to find another house for them. Also, it is terrible for the fish if it is living in an environment that is too small.

11 Always research the fish that you are getting before you buy them

When you are looking to add a specific species of fish to your tank, always do some research beforehand. This can be looking online, asking other fishkeepers or ask the person in your local fish store to tell you more about it.

Over the years I have heard from a lot of people from around the world that the information given by fish stores a lot of the times is not perfectly up to par. Therefore it is best to look online or ask someone who you know has experience.

12 Do regular water changes, so your water parameters stay perfect

When you keep an aquarium, after a while the most tedious part of fish keeping will be doing your water changes. If you are just getting into it, I am in the privileged position to tell you: do your water changes.

You can compare it to a house. The moment you start living in a house, it is all clean. When you live in the house for a while, dust starts building up. If you do not clean your house (do your water changes) it will keep building up.

13 Test your water parameters regularly

A good habit to develop is to test your water parameters using a test kit regularly. This can be just once or twice a month. The reason for this is to keep a close eye on (amongst others) your nitrate values.

You can use a liquid based test setup like the api master test kit for more accurate readings, or just some test strips which can provide a quicker insight.

14 Wash your filter once a month

You do not have to wash your filter every time you do a water change. In theory, you only have to wash your filter when it is getting slightly clogged.

If your filter is clogged, water will not be able to flow properly. This is also a sign you need to clean your filter, when you are able to see the output above the water.
When the filter flow is less, the beneficial bacteria in your filter receive less ammonia and might die off. This means that the aquarium might not be able to break down the ammonia into nitrate.

Make sure you check on your filter every month, and if it looks clogged you should clean it (using aquarium water).

15 Make sure your aquarium is not standing in direct sunlight

As soon as you start thinking where you are going to place your aquarium within a room, eliminate all places that receive direct sunlight. The sunlight is so strong that it will cause a lot of algae to grow. This will become a lot of work and maintenance, which is less then ideal.

Instead, look for places that are in shadow all day. Also, avoid places where a lot of people are passing such as hallways or close to doors.

16 Use a old plastic card to scrape algae of the glass

Especially at the beginning, your aquarium will not be in balance. It takes time to establish an aquarium with minimal algae.

You will experience a lot of algae on the aquarium glass, which looks terrible because it obscures the view of your beloved fish.

There are scrapers on the market made from metal, but using metal might be a risk of scratching the glass. I always use an old bank card to do this. Make sure there is no sand grain stuck in between because that will leave a scratch.

17 Make sure that the different fish species go well together

As a beginner, I did not know which species of fish could be paired together. You can image how critical it is to know if species get along before finding out the hard way.

To find out, it is best to ask your local fish store and tell them exactly what your plans are. Maybe you already have some fish in your aquarium, then tell them that. Also let them know how big your aquarium is.

If you are looking online, try looking what other people are keeping in their aquarium. This is a smart way of learning from the experience of others.

18 Feed your fish before you do a water change

A smart little trick I use is to feed my fish a little while before I do my water changes. If you do this as well, it means that some of the uneaten food will be removed from the water immediately.

19 Make sure your aquarium sits level

When placing your aquarium, make sure the aquarium is entirely level. Although I luckily have never experienced this myself, it is said that the force that the water acts more on one side compared to the other when the tank is not level might break your tank.

20 If you feed frozen food, defrost it first in a cup of aquarium water

In the stores, you can buy frozen food in blisters. Depending on the inventory, your store might hold food like frozen bloodworms, daphnea and brine shrimp.

If you feed your fish this frozen food they go crazy for it.

However, dropping the entire frozen block in the aquarium water is not optimal. The frozen block will float, and the fish will have a hard time eating the food before it defrosts.

Instead, take a (drinking) cut and add the frozen block of food to the cup together with some aquarium water. The block will defrost and all the food will fall apart. If you then in turn add this to your aquarium, all the food will be loose from the get go and your fish will enjoy a feeding frenzy.

21 Use a hose to create a siphon when doing a water change

One of the things I discovered just a little too late is to use a hose to do the water changes. When you stick one end of the hose in the aquarium and suck on the other end, it will create a siphon. If you do not remove the hose from the aquarium it will essentially drain the entire tank.

Using a siphon, it is super easy to remove a lot of water from the aquarium in little time. So: definitely use it!


I hope these tips will help you in keeping your aquarium fish healthy. If it did, please share it with other people when you know that they are planning on starting an aquarium.