6 Beginner Aquarium Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

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Keeping an aquarium is a wonderful hobby that can take years to fully master. If you’re just starting out, it can be overwhelming to keep up with your tank’s changing conditions. There are so many things to watch out for, and it’s easy to make mistakes.  Fortunately, maintaining an aquarium isn’t impossible. With enough practice, […]

Keeping an aquarium is a wonderful hobby that can take years to fully master. If you’re just starting out, it can be overwhelming to keep up with your tank’s changing conditions. There are so many things to watch out for, and it’s easy to make mistakes. 

Fortunately, maintaining an aquarium isn’t impossible. With enough practice, you can keep a healthy and vibrant aquarium that adds a spark of life into your home. Start off your aquarium hobby by learning about the common mistakes many beginner aquarists make with their first tanks. That way, you can avoid them and have the gorgeous aquarium you’ve always wanted!

Here are 6 beginner aquarium mistakes and how you can avoid them.

1. Adding fish before aquarium is ready

From vibrantly colored fish to gorgeous underwater decor, we know the excitement that comes with a new aquarium all too well. You may be eager to add your selected group of fish to their new home as soon as you have your tank set up. 

And we don’t blame you! There’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing your beautiful fish swim and thrive in an aquarium you made just for them. However, if you add fish to your aquarium without first setting the right water parameters and acclimating them, your little critters will likely die. 

When it comes to tanks, beginner aquarists often misjudge the importance of the nitrogen cycle and other chemical levels. Your tank must be stabilized before any of your little swimmers are added in. This includes making your aquarium has a nitrogen cycle and the appropriate water levels (pH, hardness, temperature).

Once you’ve completed this process, you can add fish to your tank—just make sure to acclimate them to their new environment. 

2. Buying a small aquarium 

A common myth among beginner aquarists is that a smaller tank is easier to maintain than a larger one. This can be true…to an extent. Larger tanks are more expensive, harder to clean, and require a more complex setup process.

Smaller tanks, however, aren’t exactly easier than larger ones. Because of their lower water quantity, any changes to a small tank can quickly alter its condition, causing your fish to become sick. Larger tanks have the added benefit of being easier to monitor when sudden changes happen.

For beginners, we recommend purchasing a tank between 30 to 60 gallons in size. If you intend to purchase fish that are meant for larger aquariums, be sure to purchase the correct size tank. You can speak to any of our Pet counselors or check out our blog for our expert advice.

3. Adding too many fish in a tank

Imagine being stuck in a box with a group of people, unable to move around. That’s almost exactly what happens when you keep too many fish in one tank. And unfortunately, it’s a mistake many beginners make with their new aquariums.

Too many fish can cause problems to your tank’s filtration system due to higher ammonia production. This can make maintaining your aquarium’s chemical and temperature levels an absolute nightmare.

Your tank may also have reduced oxygen levels, making it harder for your little swimmers to breathe in their crowded home. Other problems with keeping too many fish include more algae, possible aggression between fish, and high nitrate levels (leading to sick fish). So, rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t live in a crowded house, your fish shouldn’t either. 

4. Mixing incompatible fish together

It’s easy to think all fish get along with each other. After all, not many fish species seem aggressive or territorial in nature. This is where many beginner aquarists get it wrong. 

Many fish species, though docile and calm, are territorial when it comes to certain areas of their tanks. They may bite and attack other fish who get near their claimed “spots.” Other fish refuse to get along with each other—check out the rivalry between the Royal Gramma and the Royal Dottyback as an example. Other fish, like the Siamese Fighting Fish (also called bettas), are naturally aggressive and usually kept away from other fish (even their own species) to avoid potential losses. 

When choosing fish for your tank, it’s important to make sure that every species is compatible with each other. High fish compatibility is one of the best ways to ensure your aquarium is happy and thriving. 

5. Replacing all water from the aquarium

When it’s time for a clean, many beginners think it’s a good idea to remove all water from their aquariums. This is one mistake that will certainly kill your fish. Removing your tank’s water kills the healthy bacteria your fish needs to live and destroys its nitrogen cycle.

Water changes should be a slow, careful process to ensure water parameters aren’t drastically thrown off balance. In general, you should remove around 15% to 20% of your tank’s water—and nothing more. This amount helps you keep a healthy pH, temperature, and nitrate balance, which keeps your fish from getting sick. 

Don’t forget to treat the new water and test its chemical levels (especially ammonia levels) before adding it to the aquarium. You can do this by using a water test kit. Read our blog, How To Clean Your Home Aquarium for our cleaning tips!

6. Misjudging the nitrogen cycle

The nitrogen cycle is one of the most crucial parts of a healthy aquarium. The healthy bacteria that live in your aquarium help break down your fish’s waste, reducing the ammonia levels. 

This breakdown process also converts nitrite to nitrate, which helps build your fish’s immune system against diseases. When these beneficial bacteria are removed  the nitrogen cycle stalls, leading to high ammonia buildup that can kill your fish.

Too much nitrate can also be toxic to your fish so it’s important to keep up with water changes to maintain the tank’s nitrogen cycle. You should test your water every week and perform water changes every 2 weeks. Remember to only change 15% to 20% of your tank’s water (see #5).

We hope these beginner aquarium mistakes prepare you for your own aquarium. As a beginner aquarist, it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. Just remain patient and perform any step, whether it’s water changes or fish acclimation, as carefully as possible. Once you understand the key steps to properly caring for your little swimmers, you’ll be able to keep a beautiful aquarium for years to come!

And if you need more help figuring out your aquarium’s maintenance, read our blog, 10 Key Tips to Keeping a Healthy Aquarium to learn about our tips!