Golden rules of keeping aquarium for beginners?

We all like aquariums!!

Many of us develops our knowledge, but in the stores, Facebook groups posts and forums I see people who still doesn’t know the basics about aquarium maintenance and conditions in which fish and plants will grow healthy. So, this post is set just for them.

First of all, I’d like to tell you guys to keep your mind open and don’t take anything 100%, because like certain people are different, also aquariums are different and you may learn all the rules but each aquarium is a separate ecosystem which in two different tanks with the same setup, might be completely different. Keeping aquarium is a challenge ! Especially planted aquarium.

Golden rules of setting and keeping aquarium for beginners:

seachem prime chlorine and chloramine remover

1.Treat your water, at this point I recommend buying prime, or other chlorine and chloramines remover. It is important because tap water have lots of compounds which have a task to kill bacteria. As we’re setting a new aquarium you wants to build healthy ecosystem and for this reason you need good bacteria, which are called nitrifying bacteria. Good bacteria are mostly in the filter on all plastic surfaces, sponges(media) rocks and stones and less likely in the water.

2.Do water changes, I recommend the most, doing water changes every week, however it all depends on your setup, but this post is about starting aquarium for beginners so every week or maximum 2 weeks you should do a water change, 50 % of old water from aquarium you have to pump out and add 50% of the new water with the same or very similar temperature, treated previously with Prime or stuff like this to remove chlorine and chloramines from the water which may kill your good bacteria. You can treat whole tank instead of tap water first but at least turn of the filter for the first 5 minutes, so good bacteria in the filters will be safe for sure.

water changes home depot bucket

water parametersGood indicators of how often you should do a water change are: nitrite, ammonia, nitrate levels. First one nitrite is most toxic and even small amount is dangerous for the fish, another one is ammonia and with the small amount 0.25 ppm you shouldn’t be worried about anything (if it is on while still cycling fish-less), last one is nitrates which is the best indicator, because this is something which your bacteria can’t spread out more into a less toxic, and levels from 20-80 are not dangerous, however in higher concentration 80 and more you may experience algaes, and fish will start feeling bad. It would be the best to keep it on the level 40 and lower.


      Important: Wash your filter media in the water taken from aquarium, not a tap water, because chloramines and chlorine which are in tap water will kill your beneficial bacteria colony! If you have a cascade filter(HOB) try to get rid of the filter pads and replace them with your own sponges and filter floss. Some people add a few lava rocks to the filter to increase the area for a beneficial bacteria to grow. Good are those blue sponges which you can buy in almost every fish store. Cut and place 2 or 3 sponges in the filter, so if the sponge will be used after a few months you can replace it with a new, one at the time. This way you won’t get rid of the bacteria like you would do by throwing away used filter pad, and you won’t have to spend money for a filter pads with carbon(I’m not not a big fun of using carbon in the tank, in all my tanks I have only mechanical and biological filtration)


cycling freshwater aquarium3. Cycle your tank before you will add livestock, this term is complicated on the beginning but it is truly easy later. What all this cycling means. Cycling means that on the beginning when you’re setting new tank, you don’t have good bacteria which will help you to keep stable and healthy conditions for your future inhabitants. So you have to make sure that those bacteria will create colony in your aquarium as fast as they can, so they need a little help from you. You can make this process much faster by adding rocks, few cups of substrate, sponge from the established aquarium which is older than 3 months. Second thing is that you need to provide food for those bacteria so they can thrive and reproduce on your surfaces and water.

Good bacteria eats all sort of waist, some people add a tiny bit of fish food every day,  some water from established aquarium, the thing is to do it regularly, but why and how long it takes ? Cycling ends when in your aquarium two test readings of nitrites and ammonia, shows 0. So, you don’t have to buy test right away. I would recommend take sample like 20 ml of your water from aquarium and go to a local wish store (LFS- Local Fish Store) to check your water parameters. If after a week it shows zero wait 2-3 days and check it again, if it shows still 0 you may start adding livestock. Important thing is to add few fish at the time then after few days till a week another few and then more and more. If you will add too many at the time you may encounter ammonia spike which is dangerous for the fish and you may have problems with algae.

4. Consistency, you must be consistent in what you’re doing. It must be important for you and you must feel that what you do is good. This is very important step because without this you will skip some water changes your nitrates will build up and you will encounter ammonia spike and algae will start taking over your aquarium and you will start fighting with them and it will make you irritated sometimes. Believe me it’s not fun. If every week your livestock produce 30 ppm nitrates and for example plants are using 10ppm a week from it, so you have 20ppm nitrates build up every week.

When you will skip one water change you have 20 ppm nitrates more in the water, by water change you’re taking away only 50% of it so to go back to previous level you have to do two water changes in a week, first one now and second one after 3-4 days. One time I had still high nitrates and I was wondering how can I bring my nitrates down, I’m very consistent and I take care about water changes every week, so what the heck am I doing wrong that algae are eating my plants…I figured that I should do double water change in a one week and it helped.

If one week you have 40ppm nitrates you skip one water change (20ppm builds up for example) next week you have 60ppm nitrates. You are changing 50% of water you have 30ppm of nitrates starting after water change. This nitrates are accumulating. If you have a dead fish or lots of decaying leaves it will produce more ammonia which will be changed by a bacteria to more nitrates. This way nitrate might accumulate faster. With 80ppm nitrate fish are noticeably starting feeling bad and their immune system is weaker. It is easier for them to catch some disease. Keep it lower than 40 ppm in the end of the week and minimum 5-10ppm in planted aquarium.


NOTE: Not every tap water is the same. It might have different parameters. Sometimes it is very hard, sometimes softer and then it is easier to grow aquarium plants. It is always good to test your tap water first, before planning aquarium.



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Rob Mandell
Rob Mandell
6 years ago

I have been out of the hobby for about 13 years now, and a lot has changed. Your post has reminded me of a few things I have forgotten. I am now starting a 125 gallon now and I am awaiting for my first stock of plant to arrive. I know the key word with this hobby is patience. As excited as I am about getting back into the hobby I must take my time. Thanks for the reminder.