Starting a Planted Freshwater Aquarium – Complete Guide

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While, technically, owning fish is owning a pet, the situation is vastly different from what you may be accustomed to. Fish are not your regular pets because they are aquatic creatures.

So, they require their own environment, completely separate from yours. A cat, for instance, doesn’t have this problem, since it can share your bed.

A fish can’t which brings us to today’s article. Today, we will discuss everything that goes into creating the ideal setup for your fish.

What should you know about fishkeeping if you’ve decided to invest in your first aquarium? Buckle up, get your notebook out, and let’s get it going!

Nitrogen Cycle

This is the first thing to consider. The concept of the nitrogen cycle is easy to grasp. Every aquatic environment has a free circulation of chemicals thanks to the bioactivity present in the water.

To put it simply:

  • Organic matter decays in the water (fish waste, food leftovers, dead fish, dead plant matter, etc.)
  • This produces ammonia which is toxic for fish and pretty much all living creatures
  • Nitrifying bacteria show up to consume ammonia and convert it into nitrites which are equally as toxic
  • Denitrifying bacteria consume nitrites and turn them into nitrates which aren’t as toxic
  • Other types of denitrifying bacteria turn nitrates into nitrogen gas

This cycle ensures the system’s stability in an open circuit. The problem is that the aquarium is a closed system, so you can’t rely on Mother Nature to ensure optimal cycling.

You need to perform the cycle yourself to balance out the system’s chemical and biological functioning.

In this sense, you have 2 options available:

Fishless Cycling

Fishless cycles are safer and preferred by most beginner aquarists because they eliminate the risk of fish deaths. These can happen during the cycling process, due to the ammonia and nitrite spikes along the way.

The process itself is quite easy and consists of several steps:

  • Prepare the tank – Get the tank, add in the substrate, place all the necessary decorations and rocks, and fill it with water. I also recommend live plants to deal with the increasing nitrate levels along the way. Plants use nitrates as a food source.
  • Install the proper equipment – You need a filtration system (we’ll discuss this point in more detail later on) and a heater to create the ideal environment for your tank’s biofilm.
  • Get an ammonia source – You can use liquid pure ammonia or simply throw some fish food into the water. Both are good ways of ensuring the necessary ammonia levels for your Nitrosomonas bacteria (nitrifying) to consume.
  • Consider adding bottled bacteria – Bottled bacteria are available to speed up the cycling process.

The main benefit of fishless cycling is that it allows you to be more aggressive with it. After all, you don’t have any fish to worry about, so you can add a bit more ammonia to speed up the cycling process considerably.

Fish-In Cycling

This method is more fitting if you already got your fish and you can’t keep them in their temporary containers anymore. The fish-in cycle is different from the previous method in that it no longer requires liquid ammonia to start the cycle.

Your fish are already producing sufficient organic waste for the cycling process to kick off.

The problem is that, in an uncycled tank, your fish will be subjected to dangerous levels of ammonia and nitrites during the cycle.

To minimize your fish’s stress along the way, consider the following strategies:

  • Minimize the number of fish – The more fish you have, the more poop they will produce and the higher the ammonia levels will get. As a result, many of the fish will die. To prevent this, consider having 1 fish per 10 gallons of water at most. We’re talking about a 2-4-inch fish. If your fish is larger than that, you need even fewer of them.
  • Consider a water conditionerWater conditioners are necessary to mineralize the water and promote healthy mucus production for fish. This protects the fish from dangerous water chemicals and speeds up their regenerative properties. Seachem Prime is ideal in this sense since it defuses ammonia and nitrites, rendering them harmless to fish.
  • A water tester kit – The water tester is a critical piece of equipment because it allows you to detect any ammonia or nitrite spikes in time. You should test the water at least once per 24 hours.

Other than that, the cycle will unfold on its own. Ammonia and nitrites will be produced regularly, and these will turn into nitrates as the colonies of beneficial bacteria begin to form.

Nitrates are less harmful, as most tank fish can withstand nitrate levels up to 20 ppm (Parts Per Million.)

As the cycling process unfolds, consider the following:

  • Regular water changes are necessary to dilute the accumulated ammonia and nitrites until the beneficial bacteria take over that task
  • You need to perform more frequent water changes (daily) during fish-in cycles
  • The cycle is complete when ammonia and nitrites remain at 0 and nitrates don’t go over 20 ppm
  • The entire cycle may last between 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the situation; fish-in cycles tend to last longer due to the process being slower for safety reasons

As a general idea, a good water tester kit is absolutely necessary during the process.

This will allow you to track the cycling and learn when to perform water changes to dilute excess ammonia and nitrites.

Aquarium Size

How big should your aquarium be? This is the first problem to solve because the tank’s size isn’t only a matter of aesthetics.

For instance, smaller tanks get dirty faster and require more maintenance. But larger tanks take more time to clean and come with significantly larger investments.

When it comes to figuring out your tank’s size, consider the following:

  • The fish’s size and number – You want your fish to have sufficient space because overcrowding can have deadly consequences in the long run. Having too many fish in the same tank translates to excess poop and fish stress, causing fish to fall sick and die. Overcrowding also leads to extreme competition over food, space, and other resources, including oxygen. So, it’s not uncommon for fish to experience hypoxia in overcrowded environments.
  • Your vision – The tank decorations, plants, substrate, and tank equipment will all take up space in the tank. If the tank is too small, there may not be sufficient room to set your vision in motion. Invest in a large-enough aquarium to hold all the equipment and decorations and accommodate all fish and plants at the same time.
  • Your financesGlass tanks can be quite expensive, but this isn’t your only concern. You also need to spend money on the fish necessary to fill the tank, a reliable filtration system, a heater, a water tester kit, substrate, decorations, live rocks, a pump, etc. There are plenty of moving parts that come into play here.

As a beginner, I recommend going for a 20-gallon piece. This is perfect for your trial period until you get more accustomed to the fishkeeping business.

Aquarium Stand

The stand plays an important aesthetic and practical role. The piece will also influence your tank’s size because the tank and stand need to be made for one another.

You want a sturdy and aesthetically-pleasing piece that will complement your tank’s outline at the same time.

Make sure it’s strong enough to support a fully loaded glass tank since fully set-up aquariums can get quite heavy.


There’s a lot to discuss here, so I’ll try to keep it short. You have multiple options available when it comes to the substrate, such as sand, gravel, rocks, bare-bottom tanks, enriched soil, etc.

Each of these come with its own pluses and minuses, so let’s dive into them to give you a better perspective on the matter:

  • Sand – This is the preferred type of substrate for most aquarists. Sand looks great in pretty much any aquatic setup and comes in different colors and with different particle sizes. Most fish also prefer it since it mimics their natural environment. The problem with sand is that it can clog the filter if it’s fine enough. It will also create anaerobic pockets underneath due to the particles being too fine to allow for proper water circulation.
  • Enriched soil – This is great for live plants because it contains all the nutrients necessary for them to thrive. This is great for high-tech aquariums heavy with live plants, shrimp, and tropical fish. The problem is that enriched soil isn’t too aesthetically diverse, and it drops the water’s pH below 7. That’s because this is an active substrate, making it less-than-ideal for fish species that prefer pH levels above 8.
  • GravelGravel is also great for aesthetic reasons since it comes in numerous colors and grain sizes. However, it’s not fitting for bottom dwellers since these fish can ingest some of the rock sand and choke on them. Gravel is also inert (contains no minerals), just like sand, so it’s unfitting for rooted plants. You need to use root tabs to provide rooted plants with all the nutrients they need along the way.
  • Peat – Peat is a mix of decomposed plant matter and is great for live plants thanks to its highly nutritious content. Many aquarists mix peat in their soil substrate to boost the soil’s nutritional qualities. The issue is that peat contains tannins which color the tank water in a cognac-like nuance.
  • Crushed coral – This one is great for African cichlids, which prefer higher pH levels. Not so great for fish species that prefer lower pH.
  • Laterite – This type of substrate is rich in iron but lacks other types of nutrients. For this reason, most aquarists combine it with other substrates to boost their iron content.
  • Bare bottom – You can also go for a bare-bottom tank, without any substrate whatsoever. You can add a rock here and there for aesthetic reasons, but not much else. The great thing about it is that the tank will be easier to clean. All fish poop and food leftovers are easily visible, allowing you to clean them with ease. The problem is that not all fish like this type of setting. Bottom dwellers, especially, hate bare-bottom tanks.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of aquarium substrates at your disposal. Some work just fine on their own, while others are better mixed with other types of substrates for the best results.

The type of substrate to choose depends on your fish, the live plants you’re using, and the overall layout of the tank.


The filtration system is a must. You can consider it as the system’s lungs, as it improves oxygenation, filtrates dangerous chemicals and dirt, and keeps the water cleaner and healthier.

Overall, a good filtration system is necessary to:

  • Clean the water – We’re talking about mechanical filtration, designed to remove floating particles like dirt, fish waste, sand particles, food leftovers, plant matter, etc. These tend to flood the water and make it look murky and nasty. The filter will absorb all these free particles adding more sparkle to your tank’s water.
  • Eliminate dangerous pathogens – Every aquatic setup deals with a variety of viruses, bacteria, microalgae, and other organisms. The filter culls many of these organisms, keeping the environment safer for your fish.
  • Eliminate or dilute dangerous chemicals – Ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, chlorine, heavy metals – all these can affect and even kill your fish. A filter based on activated carbon will eliminate many of these chemicals, contributing to a healthier aquatic environment.
  • Improve oxygenation and eliminate excess CO2 – Surface agitation caused by the filter improves water oxygenation, which is key to creating a stable habitat for your fish. The filter also eliminates excess CO2, which can occur in heavily-planted tanks because plants consume oxygen and produce CO2 during periods with low/no light.

While there are ways to create a stable and thriving aquatic system without a filter in place, I don’t recommend that.

This is a more advanced technique with only small room for mistakes that only an experienced aquarist can handle. Remain on the safe side and get yourself a reliable filtration system.

Make sure it fits your tank size and layout. The water currents shouldn’t be too strong; otherwise, they could cause discomfort to your fish, break your plants, and disturb the substrate or the environment.


I should say that tank lights are generally there for aesthetic purposes. Most tank fish don’t need bright lights, since their natural habitats only have dim lighting. You may need more light if you have live plants in your tank.

Plants require light to perform photosynthesis, at which point you should invest in a decent lighting system.

A lightbulb is typically all you need for the job, especially if you’re running a smaller tank (20-30 gallons.) Just beware of the light intensity and duration. On the one hand, some plants are more sensitive to light, while others demand higher lighting levels to grow properly.

Depending on your plants’ requirements, you want to go for a range of 10-40 lumens per liter of water. Also, live plants require around 8 to 10 hours of light per day.

On the other hand, too much light (both in terms of intensity and duration) will lead to algae bloom. The brighter the environmental light is, the faster the algae will grow and invade the habitat.

They will spread everywhere, covering your plants and cutting their access to light. Overgrown algae will also deplete the water of nutrients and even entangle fish, causing death by asphyxiation.

Keep lights moderate and tweak the light’s intensity if you notice algae growing in the water.


The heater isn’t always necessary. It mostly depends on factors like:

  • The tank’s placement
  • Your geographical location
  • The type of fish you have, etc.

You need a heater for an outdoor tank, but you may not need one for an indoor one. You also need a heater if the room temperature fluctuates too much between day and night. Or if your fish demand higher temperatures, as is the case with tropical species.

As a complete beginner, I recommend investing in a heater anyway. It’s not cheap, and it’s a win-win however you would look at it. Most aquarium fish demand water temperatures around 70-80 F and hate large or frequent temperature fluctuations.

The heater will stabilize the water temperatures, preventing fluctuations and keeping your fish happier and healthier long-term.

Large and frequent temperature drops or increases stress out the fish, and stressed fish have weaker immune systems. As a result, they’re more prone to parasites and bacterial infections. A heater will prevent this problem.

Air Stone

The air stone isn’t always necessary, but it can be, especially if you don’t have any live plants available. The role of the air stone is to create bubbles to improve water oxygenation; a role which typically belongs to plants.

The problem is that planted aquariums are more demanding in terms of care. So, it’s normal for many novice aquarists to skip live plants altogether.

Air stones are great alternatives, in this case, boosting the water’s oxygen levels. The problem is that not all fish appreciate the bubbly water. Make sure they do before investing in a set of air stones.

If your fish don’t like them, they will get stressed out, and we’ve already discussed where that leads.


The thermometer is a must-have piece of equipment, allowing you to keep track of water temperature. This is necessary if your water temperature tends to register frequent fluctuations.

Or in case you want to monitor the habitat’s temperature more thoroughly to prevent any surprises along the way.


This one is also necessary due to the frequent chlorine problems that many novice aquarists face along the way. Chlorine is a common chemical additive being added to tap water to make it drinkable.

Chlorine disinfects tap water, making it safe for human consumption. The problem is that this chemical is deadly for your fish and small crustaceans inhabiting your tank.

You can get chlorine into the tank when using tap water to perform a water change, clean the filter, or cleanse tank decorations of algae deposits. Sure, having a filter based on activated carbon will help defuse the chlorine, but not immediately.

This will expose your fish to dangerous levels of chlorine which can lead to chlorine poisoning before your filter can fix the problem.

A dechlorinator is a much better solution in this sense. You add the dechlorinator to the tap water you plan to use and give it some time to take effect. The solution will neutralize the chlorine, making the tap water safe to use for your tank.

Testing Kit

The testing kit is necessary to keep the water parameters in check. Especially during the cycling process when ammonia and nitrites constantly spike from one day to the next.

But you also need it, later on, to learn how fast the water quality degrades and decide on a maintenance routine based on that.

Water changes will be necessary to prevent the dangerous accumulation of ammonia or nitrates and oxygenate the environment.

The testing kit will keep track of all the chemicals in the tank to give you a clearer perspective on the water’s composition.

Live Plants

Live plants aren’t necessary, but they will make your job as an aquarium keeper much easier.

Because live plants come with several benefits, such as:

  • Consume nitrates – Nitrates are a byproduct of ammonia and nitrites being consumed by the Nitrosomonas (nitrifying) bacteria in the water. Nitrates aren’t particularly toxic for fish since up to 20 ppm are considered acceptable levels. However, they can become toxic beyond that point. Live plants consume nitrates as part of their physiological cycle, keeping the aquatic habitat cleaner and healthier.
  • Improve oxygen levels – Live plants are the prime producers of oxygen in the water. The filtration system also produces oxygen via surface agitation, but it’s not the same thing and isn’t as effective. Plants produce oxygen as part of the photosynthesis process, so they make for a necessary addition to any self-sustainable aquatic setup.
  • Hide the fish – All fish need both open swimming areas and hiding places to go to when stressed. Plants are necessary in tanks with a lot of fish to prevent territorial fights and provide the bullied with some fast escape routes.

The types of plants to use for your tank depend on your aquascaping vision and expectations. It also depends on the tank’s inhabitants since some fish are not compatible with some plants.

Cichlids, for instance, tend to unearth rooted plants due to their predilection towards substrate digging.

You should also consider whether you want floating or rooted plants since different types require different approaches and care routines.


You can use a variety of decorations for your aquatic setup, so long as you consider the following:

  • Avoid non-aquatic decorations – Stick to elements designed for aquarium use. Everything else comes with the risk of poisoning the environment due to high contents of colorants or other chemicals, making them unfit for aquatic uses.
  • Avoid dangerous decorations – Avoid sharp elements with rough edges or pointy tips. These can cause lacerations or punctures in fish with larger fins like angelfish, guppies, or goldfish, among others.
  • Avoid unstable elements – Don’t go too heavy when it comes to tank decorations, and avoid unstable pieces that the fish can tip over. These can trap and kill your fish or other tank inhabitants in the process.
  • Avoid improperly tight spaces – Many aquatic decorations come with holes or crevices designed for fish to go through and explore. If they’re too tight, your fish might get stuck inside.

Other than that, the sky and your imagination are the only limits to consider. You can rely on live rocks, reef structures, driftwood, volcanic rocks, and other elements that can beautify and stabilize the environment simultaneously.

Substrate Vacuum

A substrate vacuum is necessary to clean the substrate of algae, fish waste, food residues, or any other organic matter that could decay out of sight.

Such a piece of equipment is especially important for sand and gravel, allowing you to clean the substrate fast and effectively.

Aquarium Salt

Aquarium salt is useful in treating fish conditions like Ich, fin rot, and various other parasitic and bacterial infections. Always have a supply of aquarium salt at your disposal in case you need to treat your fish.

Many aquarists use aquarium salt even when the fish are not sick, especially after every water change.

The salt will replace the electrolytes lost during the water change, improving your fish’s health, vitality, and coloring along the way.

Other Supplies

Other necessary supplies include a pH testing kit, a hood to prevent jumping fish from escaping, a fishnet, an algae scrubber, etc. These may seem minor additions, but they’re essential in improving your aquascaping experience.

Also, I recommend investing in a hospital and a nursing tank. The former is for quarantining and treating sick fish, while the latter is for breeding purposes.

That’s where you relocate the gravid female so that the resulting fry are safe from the adults. If you don’t think you’ll need any of these, time will prove you wrong.

Stocking the Tank

How many fish should you get of a given type? This is the first problem to handle before investing in your fish of choice.

Overstocking your aquarium can have potentially deadly outcomes due to:

  • Extra fish poop, leads to ammonia and nitrite spikes
  • Fish stress due to increased aggression and constant territorial fights
  • Excess food leftovers, contribute to a dirtier habitat
  • Clogging the filter, leading to ineffective filtration and chemical imbalances in the water, etc.

Aside from some species of African cichlids, aquarium fish don’t like to live in overstocked environments. This means that each fish has a designated swimming space to consider. The necessary space for each fish depends on the fish’s behavior and species.

Guppies, for instance, demand at least 2 gallons of water per fish. So, you can have around 10 guppies in a 20-gallon tank.

Oscars, on the other hand, require 75 gallons per fish. The difference is that guppies grow up to 2-2.5 inches, while Oscars can reach 12-14 inches.

Acclimating Fish

The fish you’re purchasing comes with its own water container, typically a bag or something similar to a jar.

This is a temporary home for the fish until you move it to your aquarium. However, you can’t just pour the fish into the tank without any buildup.

The tank water has different parameters than the fish’s current one. To ease the fish’s transition to its new habitat and minimize the stress, consider the following:

  • Place the bag that the fish came in into your tank
  • The bag should float; don’t let any water from the bag spill into the tank
  • Add a few small drops of water conditioner to the bag water to neutralize the ammonia that’s most likely built up over time
  • Add a cup of tank water into the bag and mix it gently
  • Wait for 10 minutes, then add another cup
  • As the bag fills up, spill some of the excess water into a different container other than the tank
  • Then add another cup of tank water
  • Wait for another 10 minutes, then it’s safe to move your fish into the main tank; only the fish, not the water too

This is the crude acclimation method, fit for freshwater fish. When it comes to saltwater fish, I recommend the drip method, which works based on a similar concept.

The difference is that you use a hose to gradually add tank water to the fish’s container, droplet by droplet.

Saltwater fish take more time to acclimate to a new setup.

Feeding Fish

Different fish species, different diets and feeding behaviors. You need to learn your fish’s food preferences to keep them healthy and happy in the long run.

Here are some outliners to consider:

  • Prevent overfeeding – Most aquarium fish will get their full in approximately 1-2 minutes of eating. Everything beyond that is surplus and will fall to the substrate and decay away. This contributes to higher ammonia levels and leads to a variety of issues from that point on. Overfeeding also affects fish directly since they will experience digestive problems like compaction and even face obesity over time.
  • Ensure a varied diet – All fish demand a varied diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies. Learn about your fish’s favorite meals and try to rotate them from one day to another to ensure a healthy nutrient cycle.
  • Consider supplementation – Some fish require supplementation to get nutrients that are otherwise unavailable in their habitat. Such is the case with bottom dwellers that feed mostly on food leftovers, algae, and the tank’s microfauna.
  • Pay attention to food-related fights – Food competition is natural in any aquatic environment, no matter the fish species involved. Even the calmest and friendliest fish species will fight for their meal if there isn’t enough food. Keep an eye on that to make sure everyone has their full and there is no food-related aggression.

Most fish eat once or twice per day, but this isn’t necessarily a rule set in stone. Some fish eat once every 2-4 days, depending on the species.

Don’t ignore the fish’s natural eating habits because more food isn’t always better.

Tank Maintenance

Now that you know how to set up the tank and care for the fish, what should you know in terms of long-term tank maintenance?

Setting up your aquarium and leaving nature to follow its course is not enough. After all, the tank is a closed system that requires regular maintenance to prevent dangerous accumulation of toxins.

This remains true even in properly filtered systems with plenty of live plants and an optimized biofilm.

There are 3 things to consider in this sense:

1. Water Changes

Water changes are necessary, no matter the type of aquatic system you have in place. The only difference is in the frequency of the changes. Generally, at least one water change is necessary per week.

Other systems may require more frequent water changes depending on the tank’s size and the type of fish being housed.

Goldfish, for instance, are very messy fish, at which point you may need to perform 2-3 water changes weekly. Depending on how many fish you have.

The same comes in terms of tank size, as nano tanks demand closer attention compared to larger setups.

The water change itself is a pretty straightforward process. In simple terms, you remove some of the water from the tank and replace it with a new batch.

The total amount of water being replaced shouldn’t be larger than 15% of the total water volume.

To understand the process better, consider the following:

  • Don’t use chlorinated tap water – Since almost all tap water is chlorinated, you have a problem, wouldn’t you say? Chlorine is toxic for fish and can send them into chlorine shock even in low concentrations. To prevent that, dechlorinate the water first. You can achieve this by relying on a conditioner like Seachem Prime, boiling the water and cooling it off, or simply allowing it to breathe for 24/48 hours. The chlorine will dissipate naturally over time. I still recommend a good water conditioner, though, since chlorine isn’t the only chemical threat that comes with tap water.
  • Re-mineralize your RO/DI water – Reverse Osmosis and Deionized water are 2 potential solutions to tap water. This allows you to circumvent the whole chlorine issue altogether. These types of waters have been mechanically sterilized to strip them of all the metals, chemicals, and potential parasites and pathogens floating around. The problem is that the same cleansing processes have also removed any trace minerals from the liquid. A water conditioner is necessary to replenish those to allow your fish to perform a balanced osmosis.
  • Don’t change too much water/too frequently – Changing too much water at once or too frequently, will dilute the essential minerals in the environment, causing fish to experience osmotic shock. Other essential water parameters will fluctuate as well, like temperature, hardness, pH, etc. Stick to the 15% golden line, and you’ll be fine.

2. Filter Cleaning

As I’ve noted previously, your tank’s filtration system is its lungs. The filter works to keep the environment stable and clean by removing floating particles, eliminating germs and viruses, and removing dangerous chemicals and heavy metals, among other things. The problem is that the filter also requires regular cleaning.

The cleaning frequency depends on the filter’s type and the overall aquatic setup it’s operating in.

You should clean the tank filter at least once per month, but consider the following:

  • Don’t overdo it – The filter media houses billions of beneficial bacteria that work to keep your water clean of ammonia and nitrites. Don’t clean the filter media too thoroughly, not to disturb or destroy these bacterial colonies altogether. Simply unclog the filter, remove large particles of gunk and algae deposits, and that’s about it.
  • Don’t use tap water – Remember chlorine? Well, chlorine is also toxic to your bacterial cultures, so don’t do it. Clean your filter with tank water.
  • Don’t use cleaning chemicals – Skip any cleaning chemicals for the same reason. These will kill off your bacteria and sterilize the filter completely. And you don’t want that. And you certainly don’t want any trace chemicals being transferred to your tank water because you haven’t rinsed the filter enough. Tank water alone should suffice.

3. Algae Cleaning

Unfortunately, algae are a given in any aquatic setup. There are ways to minimize the algae’s impact but expect to deal with some type of algae invasion at some point.

Algae aren’t necessarily a problem in well-maintained tanks. They are not toxic, don’t alter the water’s chemistry, and even serve as food sources for fish and other aquatic creatures.

They will, however, become a problem when unregulated because algae spread fast and can invade the entire tank if the conditions are optimal.

To prevent this problem, consider:

  • Adjusting the light levels – Algae spread faster in high light conditions. Drop the lighting levels a bit and see how that affects the algae’s development.
  • Adding algae-eating animals – A variety of aquatic animals consume algae as part of their main diet. These include nerite snails, Siamese algae eaters, bristlenose plecos, cherry and Amano shrimps, otocinclus catfish, etc. Have a couple of them in your tank to control the algae population.
  • Removing the algae manually – This is a must if your algae have become visible on rocks, tank walls, and other tank decorations. Remove each piece from the tank carefully, use tank water and a brush to clean the algae, and place it back into its place. Also, clean the interior of the tank’s walls with a sponge or a soft brush. The filter will suck in the floating algae residues immediately. Your algae eaters will consume the leftovers.

Moving forward, consider some solid prevention strategies to prevent the algae from bouncing back.

These include:

  • Avoiding overfeeding to minimize the amount of food leftovers
  • Boost CO2 levels in planted aquariums to suffocate the algae (be careful about it because CO2 also suffocates the fish)
  • Keep your tank lights low
  • Stick to a healthy water change routine (at least once a week, 15% max)
  • Have at least a few algae-munchers in place to control the population of young algae and prevent the spread

If you can and is necessary, you should also clean your plants of algae. Dipping them in a 5% bleach solution for up to a minute is enough to kill off all algae and parasites attached to them.

This is also a good method of sterilizing plants before adding them to your tank. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for rooted plants because that would mean unearthing them. Which, as you may suspect, isn’t quite ideal.

Treating Diseases

Your fish will get sick eventually, no matter how careful you are about it.

You can tell that your fish are not well if they:

  • Tend to hide more frequently than normal
  • Don’t eat as much or at all
  • Display erratic swimming or turning on the side or upside down frequently
  • Lay at the bottom of the tank
  • Showcase red or inflamed gills, skin lesions, skin parasites, cloudy eyes, etc.

There are numerous potential symptoms, depending on the disease they’re dealing with.

If you suspect that your fish is struggling with some type of illness, consider the following:

  • Quarantine the fish – Remember that hospital tank that you’re supposed to have? This is the ideal opportunity to make use of it. A 2-week-minimum quarantine period is necessary to separate the fish from the main population. This will contain the disorder’s spread in case it’s contagious and make the treatment process easier.
  • Add some tank salt – The salt will promote healthy mucus production, kill skin parasites, and speed up the fish’s healing. It will also cleanse the fish’s gills, improving its breathing.
  • Consider a nutritious and rich meal plan – Your fish require a nutritious diet during their convalescence period. Remember, the fish might not eat for the first 2-3 days after quarantining. This is normal as the fish’s appetite should come back to normal as the treatment takes effect.
  • Consider some antibiotics – This is necessary in case of bacterial or parasitic infections. Discuss the issue with your vet to prevent any major mistakes along the way.

If your fish doesn’t get better after the 2-week mark or gets worse, consider euthanasia. It’s a better and more humane solution, ending the fish’s suffering and protecting the rest of the population.

In this sense, consult my article(s) on humane methods of euthanasia.


Setting up a home aquarium takes a lot of knowledge and a lot of work. At least at first, as you’re still unfamiliar with the whole process.

Fortunately, things get simpler with time, especially now that you have this article to use as a reference point.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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