How to Set up a Beautiful Betta Fish Tank


Congratulations on getting your new betta fish! Betta splendens is one of the most stunning, beginner-friendly fish out there, so of course he needs to have a beautiful aquarium to match. Check out our recommended shopping list and setup tips to give your new betta the warm welcome he deserves.

Betta Checklist: Everything Your New Fish Needs

Before setting up your betta fish’s new home, let’s go shopping for the necessary components. All of these items can be easily found at your local pet store or online.

#1 Aquarium

5-gallon tank is a great starting size for a single betta fish. Many new owners mistakenly believe that betta fish are like houseplants that can live in tiny containers. However, just because a dog can survive its whole life in a kennel doesn’t mean she wouldn’t much prefer to roam around a large house or backyard. A bigger aquarium gives your betta fish the freedom to swim around and explore his environment. Plus, it helps the water stay cleaner for a longer amount of time, which means few water changes for you!

Betta fish are well-known by the nickname “Siamese fighting fish” because of their aggressive behavior towards their own species. Therefore, all bettas – both male and female – should be housed separately. In fact, betta sororities (or an aquarium with all female bettas) are not recommended except for the most experienced fish keepers. The good news is that betta fish can be kept in a larger community tank with other types of fish, so check out our list of suitable tank mates.

#2 Equipment

Betta fish do like to jump out of the water, so make sure to get an aquarium lid or hood to prevent escape. You also need an aquarium light to best view your handsome boy. Because of their long finnage, bettas have a hard time swimming in strong currents, so choose a small, gentle filter, like a sponge filter or nano hang-on-back filter. Finally, betta fish are tropical fish that enjoy temperatures between 78 to 82°F, so purchase an appropriately sized heater for your tank.

(Most betta fish aquarium kits are much too small, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the many equipment options, look for an all-in-one kit that’s 5 gallons or bigger to help simplify the shopping process.)

#3 Decorations

Aquarium decor is a great source of enrichment for your betta fish, so design a look that is both attractive and fun for your pet to explore. Most people like to use gravel or sand to cover the tank bottom, as well as some ornaments or fake plants without any sharp edges. However, consider adding live aquarium plants to make a beautiful nature aquarium. Beginner plants like anubias, java fern, and marimo moss balls are great because they don’t require any special substrate or lighting to grow and they help keep the water cleaner through biological filtration.

#4 Other Supplies

Other than the materials that go inside the tank itself, don’t forget to buy dechlorinator to remove toxic chlorine from the water and a siphon for easily cleaning the aquarium.

Good staple foods include high-quality betta pellets or freeze-dried bloodworms. Finally, invest in an aquarium water test strips so you know when to clean the tank. If the ammonia and nitrite levels get above 0 ppm or nitrate levels are above 40 ppm, it’s time to do a water change.

How to Set up a Betta Tank

Now that you have all your supplies, here is a step-by-step guide to assembling your aquarium:

  1. Pick a good location. The aquarium needs to be near an electrical outline for the equipment and a source of water for easy tank maintenance. To minimize algae growth and temperature fluctuations, avoid areas in direct sunlight or right next to the air conditioner or heating unit. Finally, remember that your aquarium is likely made of glass or acrylic, so select a spot where the tank will not get hit or crashed into because no one wants 5 gallons of water leaking all over the floor.
  2. Use a good aquarium stand. Fish tanks are surprisingly heavy (close to 10 lbs. per gallon when filled with water and supplies), so make sure yours is resting on a sturdy, flat surface that can support its weight. Plus, the stand should be somewhat water resistant so that it won’t warp over time.
  3. Wash the supplies. Use warm water to rinse the tank, equipment, substrate, and decorations to remove any dust and debris. Do not use any soap or cleaning detergents, since they may be harmful to your fish. If you purchased a used aquarium, you may want to check for leaks by letting it sit full of water for 24 hours and looking for signs of dampness.
  4. Install the supplies. Now it’s time for the interior design! Install the equipment in the aquarium (without plugging them in yet) and then position the decorations around them in a pleasing manner. Since betta fish don’t like fast currents, try placing some ornaments or plants in front of the filter to hide it and lessen the water flow.
  5. Add the water. Fill the tank with tap water and add dechlorinator to remove chlorine and other toxic chemicals. The filter can now be plugged in, but most heaters require you to wait 30 minutes before turning them on (in order to acclimate to the water temperature). Read the equipment manuals for more details, such as how to add a drip loop for the power cables.

Welcoming Your New Betta Fish

The final step in setting up your aquarium is of course adding your new betta fish. If he’s the only fish in the tank, there is no need to use preventative medications since most betta fish purchased from pet stores have lived in isolation all their lives. Simply float your betta’s little container or bag in the aquarium for 20 minutes so that the temperature in his bag matches the temperature in the tank. Then let your betta into his new home without adding any of the fish store water into the aquarium – either by scooping him out with a net or draining all the old water first.

Hopefully, this simple tutorial helped you make an amazing, stress-free environment for your new fishy friend.

How to Set up a Beautiful Betta Fish Tank

Previously, we discussed the importance of filtration for fish tanks because it cleans up debris particles, grows beneficial bacteria, and helps create water movement and surface agitation for improved oxygenation. However, is it possible your aquarium filter is overly powerful and produces current that is too strong for your fish? Some fish have long and flowy fins, are small in size, or originated from slow-moving waterways and aren’t built to handle torrents of water. Perpetually fighting against fast flow can cause your fish to get whipped around the tank, start hiding in shelters, and potentially develop illnesses from the constant stress. So, if you own a betta fish, goldfish, cherry shrimp, or other slow-swimming animal, consider implementing one of these techniques to reduce the current in your aquarium.

Use a Filter with Slow Flow

The simplest way to reduce the current is to not use too much filtration in your aquarium. In their quest to have the cleanest tank possible, people sometimes install multiple filters or get oversized filters that are meant for much bigger fish tanks. Other times, newcomers to the hobby pick up an all-in-one aquarium kit and don’t realize that the default filter is too strong for bettas and other slower fish. If you see your fish struggling, don’t be afraid to downsize your filter to better accommodate their needs.

Our favorite type of filtration for gentle flow is a sponge filter with a smaller pump like the USB nano air pump. Its coarse foam is perfect for straining debris from the water without sucking up any baby fish, and the bubbles create good surface agitation to ensure your fish get enough oxygen. Some air pumps come with a flow dial to lessen the air pressure if needed, but if the pump isn’t adjustable, you can also add an air valve outside of the fish tank to reduce the amount of bubbling. If you prefer to use another type of filtration like a hang-on-back or canister filter, check to see if it has an adjustable switch or knob that allows you to modify the flow rate of the water entering the aquarium.

Baffle the Output

There are many ways to baffle, block, or redirect the water flowing out of the filter to reduce the water pressure. If you have a canister or internal filter with an output spout inside the aquarium, try aiming the output towards the water surface or the back wall to dispel some of the water pressure. When the water “bounces” off the surface or wall, it loses kinetic energy and the current decreases. Another idea is to put a prefilter sponge on the output. The coarse sponge will dissipate most of the water’s energy while still allowing the water to enter the fish tank. If the water flow is strong enough to knock off the pre-filter sponge, try securing it by propping the pre filter sponge against a wall or sturdy aquarium decoration. Finally, some canister filters allow you to attach a spray bar to the output so that the water loses energy as it’s dispersed through a row of holes. To lessen the current even more, aim the spray bar holes toward the back wall of the aquarium.

If you have a hang-on-back filter with a waterfall output, there are several filter baffle techniques that can help reduce the flow while still allowing some surface agitation. You can cut out a block of sponge that fits the width of the waterfall and stuff it into the waterfall opening. Another idea is to attach craft mesh across the waterfall opening using zip ties or string. Many people also recommend using a soap dish container with suction cups and attaching it to the aquarium wall right under the waterfall. Put some decorative marbles, foam, or even moss balls inside the soap dish to further dampen the flow.

Finally, try placing live plants, hardscape, or fish tank ornaments in front of the filter output or underneath the waterfall to help block the force of the water. More plants and decorations added throughout the rest of the aquarium will also break up and hinder the water movement in the tank. Depending on your setup, you may be able to combine several of these methods to decrease the current and give your fish the stress-free environment they need.

For more useful tips and tricks on keeping your aquarium fish happy, make sure to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter where we bring you all the latest educational content for free. Good luck with your filter baffle and enjoy nature daily.

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