Preparing a new fish tank setup requires diligence and patience. Rinsing is the key, using tap water to ensure you will have the proper bacteria growing to protect your fish from ammonia poisoning. Following are instructions for each part of the tank and how to set it up:

The Tank
The first thing you need to do is rinse the tank out with fresh clean water. And, once you think the tank has been rinsed enough, rinse it out again! Pay particular attention to the inside corners and edges. Get all of the little pieces of packing paper and dust out of the tank. Be careful not to scratch the glass, and be especially careful if you have an acrylic tank. Once the tank is rinsed out, place it on it’s stand in its permanent location (make sure it is level). Wait, don’t fill the tank with water just yet.

NOTE: If you are using an Under Gravel Filter, rinse it off well and install it in your tank according to the manufacturer’s instructions now.

The Substrate
The substrate is the sand or gravel that is placed at the bottom of the tank. You will need about three inches of substrate to support the ornaments in the tank. If you plan to buy fish that dig, you will need a substrate that is about five or six inches deep. The substrate needs to be rinsed until the water runs clean. The easiest way to rinse the substrate is to pour a small amount into a colander and let freshwater run through it. Once the water runs clean, you can carefully pour the substrate into the tank. Repeat with the rest of the substrate. Do not use sand from the ocean in a fresh water tank: The salt and microbe content can kill your fish.

The Rocks and Other Ornaments
Rinse these items out well. If you are using slate, lace rock, sandstone or other types of natural rock, you need to pay special attention to the little nooks and crannies (rinse them out very well). Now, arrange the rocks and ornaments in the tank. Make sure to push rocks through the substrate until they hit the bottom of the tank. If you are stacking rocks on top of each other to make neat little caves, make sure the arrangement is stable. An unstable arrangement might fall and hurt your fish. Be careful not to scratch the glass or acrylic. Air powered ornaments can now be connected according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Heater Set-Up
No, you aren’t finished rinsing yet! There is still a heater to install and filters too! Remove the heater from it’s packaging and inspect the glass tube very carefully for cracks. If it has cracks, bring the heater back and get a new one. If everything looks good, rinse the heater very carefully. Position the heater in the tank by following the the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully!. An error could result and you could be electrocuted! Leave the heater unplugged until you have filled that tank with water.

Fill Up the Tank
To fill your tank, grab a bucket and your de-chlorinating drops. Make sure you rinse the bucket well before using. Fill the bucket with fresh tap water and add de-chlorinating drops according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Grab a dinner plate or saucer (rinse it well to remove any detergents) and set it on top of the of the substrate. Pour the water on top of the substrate to prevent digging a large hole in your beautifully arranged substrate. Repeat the process until the water in withing 5 inches from the top of the tank. You might want or need to re-arrange things inside your tank. If it is full of water and you try to put your arm in there, the water could over flow and make a big mess.

Remove the filter from the packaging and rinse every single part that will be exposed to the water. Read the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully and install the filter.

Plug in the Heater and the Filter
Plug in the filter and make sure it’s pumping water as expected. Plug in the heater and adjust the temperature until the heater light just goes off. Now, re-adjust the temperature until the light turns on. Place your thermometer in the tank. Avoid thermometers that look like plastic tape and stick to the outside of the tank. they work, but tend to have a limited life time; try the floating type. Every twelve hours, check the temperature and re-adjust the heater until the water temperature is in the range of 75°F to 80°F. Now it is time to start the Nitrogen Cycle.