How to Set up an Aquarium for Tetra Fish

Set up an Aquarium for Tetra Fish

Nowadays, there has been an increasing trend of keeping an aquarium tank as a decorative and attraction showpiece in people’s homes. However, an aquarium tank is so much more than just a decorative item. Setting up an aquarium takes a huge effort and research. Hence, before purchasing our first tetra fish, you must make sure that you have all the required equipment for setting up an ideal tank for your fish. Once you get hold of all things, it becomes very easier. So, today I have come up with an article that will help you to set up an aquarium for tetra fish.

Setting up an aquarium for your tetra fish is quite easy if you have the basic knowledge about the fish you are going to keep. All you need is a good volume aquarium, a sturdy stand, an automatic heater to maintain your water temperature, a filter to maintain your water quality, some decorative items, and light to make it look natural. The rest of the process is to cycle your aquarium before you add your first fish and then maintain your aquarium water quality.

If you are a beginner at keeping fish, you may have some confusion about what species to start with. One of the easiest species for beginners is tetra fish, and there are various types of tetra fish that you can keep.. The tetras are freshwater fish that come from various regions of Africa, Central, and South America. These species are very hardy and are easy to handle.

Cardinal Tetra Care Guide

When I had my first aquarium, I was somewhat tensed as well. I went through so many articles before I set up an aquarium for my first tetra fish. So, in this article, I have tried to summarize all the information that I have regarding setting up a new tank for a tetra fish so that you won’t lose a fish as many beginner aquarists do.

I hope that this article helps you to set up your dream aquarium. You can know more about the required equipment and process of setting up an aquarium in the right way. Keep reading to know more.

Requirements for the Tank

Let’s start with the tank equipment first. You are not just supposed to buy an aquarium, add the water, and then the fish; you will have to imitate the fish’s natural habitat as closely as you can. For that, you must consider temperature, quantity, and quality of water, the size of the tank, filter, air pump, heater, lightings, and decorations as well.

List of Equipments You Will Require to set up a 20 Gallon Tank

  1. 20 Gallon Aquarium: Tank Dimension- 20 by 13 by 16 inches
    Tetra 20 Gallon Complete Aquarium Kit – Comes with Full Kit and is the best seller
    SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set – Comes With Aquarium, Reflector, and electric 15′ light fixture.
  2. 20 Gallon Tank Lid: Buy this if you aren’t buying the whole aquarium kit
    Aqueon Aquarium AAG29024 Versa Top, 24-Inch
  3. 20 Gallon Stand:
    Imagitarium Newport Wooden Tank Stand – for 20 Gallon Aquariums – Best Seller in Amazon
    Ameriwood Home Cove 20 Gallon Aquarium Stand – Has quite a good finish
    Ameriwood Aquarium Stand – Has quite a good finish
  4. Day/Night Tank Light: Buy this if you aren’t buying the whole aquarium kit
    I use NICREW Classic LED Aquarium Light that has day and night light mode.
  5. Aquarium Filter: There are tons of filters that you can choose, but I will recommend the canister filter or the Hang on Back Aquarium filter.
    Fluval External Filter 106 or 206 or 306
    Marineland Penguin 150 GPH or Whisper IQ Power Filter HOB filter.
  6. Aquarium Heater:
    Hygger Titanium Aquarium Heater – Best one with Thermostat Controller and Thermometer; Get 100 or 200 W.
    Aqueon Adjustable Aquarium Heater – Cheap and Effective without a thermometer.
  7. Aquarium Thermometer:
    Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer – Digital Thermometer
  8. Air Pump:
    Tetra Whisper Air Pump with Minimal Noise and Maximum Air Flow
  9. Airstone/Bubbler Ornament
  10. Aquarium Substrate:
  11. Fish Net Tools – All in one package
  12. Gravel Siphon – I use X-Large one, you can buy the length of your need.
  13. Aquarium Glass Cleaner:
    FL!PPER Flipper 2-in-1 Magnetic Aquarium Tank Algae Cleaner – Amazon’s Choice
  14. Water Conditioner:
    API Quick Start Nitrifying Bacteria – This product is very important for the nitrogen cycle to boost up in your aquarium
    API Stress Coat Water Conditioner
    Tetra AquaSafe Plus Water Conditioner/Dechlorinator
  15. Aquarium Water Master Test Kit
    SunGrow Digital pH and TDS Meter Set
    API Freshwater Master Test – By far, the best aquarium water test kit in the market.

Follow some of the tips and tricks that you can keep an eye on.


Location is also an important factor when setting up an aquarium for your tetra fish; it matters more where you put it. The location of your aquarium should be where there is no direct sunlight. You should pick a spot away from heat, air vents, and high-traffic areas as well.

Aquarium Size

People mostly assume that getting a smaller tank will be easier for them to maintain, but this is not true. Bigger aquariums are much more easy to care for.

The simple concept of the size of your tank is the bigger, the better. Ask any aquarium expert on the size of the aquarium they prefer. All of them will tell you the same thing “Get a Bigger Tank.” Why? Here are the reasons:

  • The fish will have much more space to play in a bigger tank.
  • A bigger tank can house more equipment,
  • In terms of the nitrogen cycle, more beneficial bacteria means more removal of toxins from the tank.
  • A larger tank lets you have enough area for the aquascape, you can use your aquarium any way you want to without disturbing the swimming pattern of your fish.
  • Most importantly, if in the future you want to add more fish, you can do that.

Hence, for starters, get at least a 20-gallon aquarium or larger. You will be able to bring a natural feel and environment in the bigger gallons.

One pro-tip, if you are planning to keep a certain amount of fish in your tank as a way of displaying fish specimens, then here is math for you.
One inch of fish requires at least 2-gallons of water. As tetra fish are schooling fish, they need to be kept on a group of at least six pairs. So, if you have 12 fish in your aquarium, 12 multiply by 2 is 24-gallons. Now, you will need to add decorations, heaters, filters, and other types of equipment in your tank, right?
This means for 12 tetra fish (if adult size one inch) will require at least 30-Gallons aquarium.


Filtration is what makes your tank clean and your fish healthy. Sometimes it will get challenging to look after your aquarium daily. Then, you can use a filtration system that makes it easier to maintain the tank. When it is hard for you to remove toxins or fish excretes, even when you have to maintain the nitrogen cycle, breaking down ammonia and nitrates, you can use the filtration system. You can find various filtration system options available in stores. The one I prefer for tetra fish are canister filters and Hang On Back power filters because these filters have layers of mechanical, biological, and chemical filter media.

Air Pump

Sometimes you may find your fish swimming on the surface level of water of your tank. When they do that, it means there is a lack of oxygen level in your tank. Using an air pump will help to boost the oxygen of your tank. Not only that, but it will also help in exchanging the toxin gas in your aquarium with the atmosphere.

You will find air pumps in any fish store. When you get the air pump, you should choose the one that has sound dampening chambers. Having this will help minimize turbulence and produce low noise, with a smooth stream of air.


It is crucial to balance the temperature of your aquarium water. As fish are not able to produce their own body heat (since fish are cold-blooded), they rely on the water temperature of the tank to maintain their body temperature. You must install a perfect heater for your tank size.

The heater that is too small for your tank can fail to maintain the aquarium temperature. So, get a high watt automatic heater, this will automatically adjust the temperature of your aquarium water.

Temperature Thermometer

You should always monitor the temperature of the tank. You can do so by keeping the thermometer. This way, you can adjust your aquarium heater to maintain the temperature of the water. The ideal temperature for tetra fish is 78° F since it is a tropical freshwater fish.


Tetras are shy fish and tend to hide in a darker place in your aquarium if frightened or stressed. Likewise, it’s best to keep the tetra fish in a densely planted tank. Plantes requires bright light to grow. So, choosing a light for your tetra fish is a bit tricky.

The tetra fish mostly is a fan of low lighting. However, you are not supposed to leave the tank pitch dark. You must provide the fish with some lights.

So, the best thing you can do is either use fake plants and dim lightings in your aquarium. Or use the light that the plants require and add hiding place and darker area in your tank for the fish to hide.

On average, you should light up the aquarium tank for 8 to 10 hours.


The fish requires a densely planted tank and gravel and decoration in the tank. Besides plants providing more life into the aquarium, gravel can give the tank with the beneficial bacteria that help to break down the wastes that the fish creates.

If you want, you can also place artificial plants in the tank. They are easy to manage, but if you put real plants, it will help balance the tank environment.


Water is the most crucial part of the fish’s life. If you can maintain the quality of water, then your fish can live a very healthy and prosperous life. You should take out the chlorine and chloramine out from the tap water. This will create a natural environment inside the tank. This process is known as conditioning.

Next, cycle your aquarium, let the filter and heater run for at least two weeks before you add your first fish. To head start the cycling process, you can use the filter from an already established aquarium. This way, the beneficial bacteria in your new tank will grow fast.

To monitor your aquarium water, you can use the API Master Test Kit. I have been using this kit to monitor my aquarium’s toxins level, hardness, and pH.


There are various species of fish to choose from for your aquarium. As tetra are hardy fish, you can keep them as your first fish. However, make sure you learn their requirements before you house them in your aquarium. I have posted most of the popular tetra fish on my website, go through those articles.

phenacogrammus interruptus | Congo tetra

These were the checklist to set up an aquarium for Tetra Fish. Not lets moe into the step by step process.

Steps to Setup Tetra Fish Aquarium

Now comes the step by step guide to set up an aquarium for Tetra Fish.

In order to replicate very similar conditions of fish’s natural environment, you can try to create a  biotope aquarium.

Placing your Aquarium

The first and foremost step to set up the aquarium is to choose its location. When you know your ideal location, you can start setting up the tank. You can pick a flat surface that is near an electrical port. The tank will come in seal packed. You should make sure you have all the kits that go into the aquarium.

You should lift the aquarium, supporting it from the bottom, and gently place it on the aquarium stand. If your aquarium is over 10 gallons, then you should place them in a manufacturer-approved stand. First, you must clean the aquarium inside and out using a soft damp cloth before adding anything to it. Do not use any detergent and soap to clean the inside of your aquarium.

Wash (Acclimate) your Decorative Items

As mentioned earlier, you need to buy various decorative items such as plants and gravels for your fish. You should not put these items directly into the tank as decorative items may contain toxins from the industry, and plants might contain parasites. First, you should wash them thoroughly. When you wash them, you are not supposed to use soap or any kind of detergents, as these are highly toxin for fish. To wash gravel, you should put it in a strainer over a bucket and add water. You must continue doing so until the water gets cleaned and free from debris.

You should wash these items with warm water. Also, the water must be clean freshwater only. After you are done with cleaning your ornaments, you can then add them to your tank.

It’s good to boil your driftwoods and river rocks before adding them to your aquarium.

Add Gravel/Substrate

When you have cleaned your gravel, it is then ready to go inside the aquarium. You should only add 1 to 2 pounds of gravel for every 1 gallon of water. In order to add some depth to your landscape, the gravel should have a slope from the back. This will come down to the front on a slant surface.

If you are planning to create a biotop tank, then you need to add your soil. Pour your substrate into the tank. The depth of the substrate should be at least 2 inches, as there needs to be enough space for the plant’s roots. You can add rocks to create scape.

Add Water

This is the step where you finally add some water into the tank. You can fill the tank one-third with water having full room temperature from a clean bucket. You need to condition your water, as chlorine is fine for us and not for the fish.

To avoid any disturbance to the gravel you have placed, you can keep a small clean dish on top of the gravel and pour water onto the plate.

Add Plants and Décor

Many people like to use fake plants, as they are easy to manage. Many like to keep live plants into their tanks. You can do it either way, as you like. If you are keeping a live plant, then make sure to add them when the water is enough to warm. You can plant the roots gently below the surface of the gravel/substrate. It is also necessary to keep the plants moist before you add them to the tank.

Adding plants and decore can easily hide the tank’s equipment.

Install Equipment

Now, its time to add your tank’s equipment like heater, filter, thermometer, and so on.

You can add the following in any order. Just don’t turn on the equipment until you fill up your aquarium, which we will be discussing in the next step.

Add your Filter

There are a variety of filters that you can get for your aquarium. And all of them are better in their own way. However, for your tetra fish tank, choose a filter that has a low to moderate water current. I would recommend you to get a canister filter or a Hand On Back filter as these filters are external filters and have enough space to house all the filter media: Mechanical, biological and chemical.

To set up the filter, you need to follow the instructions addressed in the manual. For external filters, you need to fill them with a filter cartridge and position them according to the instructions provided. You need to ensure water is full.

For the “hang on back” filters, you need to extend the filter tube as close to the bottom of your tank without touching the gravel. You should make sure to open the filter lid and prime it. The filter system is critical to set up the cycle of your tank. “Cycling” means the aquarium nitrogen cycle, growing the correct, healthy bacteria in a new filtration system to remove hazardous toxins.

Add Thermometer and Heater

First, place your heater. You should submerge the heater entirely inside the water before turning it on. So, do not turn it on before filling up your aquarium or place the heater inside the water while it is hot; otherwise, the glass tube can shatter.
Place your heater near the outlet of your filter. This way, the water coming out from the filter will push and circulate the warm water.

Use a quality heater for your aquarium. Don’t go for cheap heaters as this heater may malfunction and fail to do its job. Always buy an automatic heater with an adjustable temperature.

For a thermometer, you should not place it near your heater. Place thermometer to your tetra tank that you can read, you can get a digital thermometer or a thermometer patch that you can stick to the wall of your aquarium. But I prefer a traditional aquarium thermometer.

Place the Air-pump and Lights

After finishing these steps, you need to add some lightings. Different fish require different shades of lights. Most tetras prefer very dim light. You need to read the instruction manual for lighting.

Additionally, you need to make sure you use a GFCI-protected outlet for safety. You need to precautions for any kind of short circuit or any hazards.

If you are planning to create a planted tank, then get the light that the plants require. These lights are rated one watt per gallon of water. However, it depends on what type of plants you are trying to keep.

Now, place your air pump above your aquarium. If you keep the air pump right next to the place where your tank sits, the water from the tank may siphon back through the air tube and damage your equipment.

Finish Filling Aquarium

After you have finished installing the necessary equipment, you can then add the rest of the water into the tank. You can fill your tank from the bottom to the top of the frame. You need to leave some space between the water and cover your tank. Waterline should be just above the bottom of the aquarium frame or one inch below the surface of the tank. The water level should not be visible when we view the tank.

It’s now time to turn on all the equipment inside your tank.

Make sure your aquarium does not have any leaks. You need to double-check if the filter and heaters are working correctly. You need to set the temperature that is perfect for tropical fish, i.e., 78° to 80°F.

Do not add your fish right away.

Water often becomes cloudy when you set up your tank for the first time. This is very common. It’s part of the aquarium nitrogen cycle. Do not freak out and change your tank water again. Let it stay and cycle for two weeks or so.

Before you add any fish to your tank, you must first stabilize your aquarium. Check your water parameter using the API master test kit.

The toxin is your enemy. Ammonia nitrite should be at 0-ppm, and nitrate should be around 0-ppm as well.

Add Fish

Now that you have completely set up an aquarium for Tetra Fish and your aquarium is stabilized, it’s now time to add fish in your aquarium. As fish are very delicate and need proper care, you can start with easygoing fish. They need the right environment, and you should keep them healthy and bring balance to the tank.

Do not add a bunch of fish at once. Or you will lose all of your fish.

Some of the things you can keep in mind are that you never should put the fish directly from the bag in which it came. This can introduce unwanted contaminations from the store water into your aquarium.

Acclimate your fish first. The simple process to acclimate is to use an air pipe and drip the tank water to the fish packet in a drop per second for a minute or two. This will acclimate the fish to your tank water. Now, gently use a fish net to scoop the fish out of the bag and add them to your tank water.

Glowlight tetra fish

Also, keep in mind that you should never overcrowd your aquarium. If you do this, you may cause unwanted stress to the fish and affect their health.

Maintenance and Care for Aquarium

You have successfully set up an aquarium for Tetra Fish. Only installing the equipment, cycling your aquarium, and adding the fish is not enough if you want to keep fish healthy. The fish need proper care, and your tank requires maintenance too. You are supposed to check up on your fish daily. If not daily, you must monitor it weekly.

Daily Care

You need to be careful when you feed the fish. You must only feed your fish once or twice. Depending on the size of the fish, make sure you feed them in a small amount. You should not feed them unnecessary items and never overfeed them. Give them what they can finish within 3 minutes.

Weekly Care

Every week, you should monitor the quality of water. You must be able to compensate for any evaporation loss; You need to test for pH level, nitrates, nitrite, ammonia, phosphate, and hardness of water, You need to balance these factors so that your tank replicates the natural environment. This will result in a healthier environment for your fish. You need to change 10% of the water every two weeks.

Monthly Care

After a month, you need to clean up the inner glass of your aquarium thoroughly with a clean cloth do not any soap and detergents. There may be some deposit of dirt in the gravel. You can use a gravel vacuum to remove any uneaten food and unwanted waste. You also need to replace the filter cartridge every month, depending on your tank stock.

Tetra Fish Care

Tetras are very beautiful and active fish that could bring out the attractiveness of your tank. Tetra fish are very easy to care for and can adapt to various water parameters. Tetras are schooling fish, and they do very well in groups. You can keep them in groups of 6 or with other similar sizes fish too. The tetras are very peaceful and friendly with other fish. They do not show any violent or predatory behavior to other species.


I hope that you have a great journey setting up your aquarium and keeping fish. I hope that this article brings you some insights into different setups to take care of the aquarium and your fish. With the right equipment and regular care, you can be a good caretaker for the fish.

You can read our other articles related to fish keeping and other tetra fish species.

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