How to set up a betta tank

So you want to set up your own betta tank? Neat. There’s a great range of pre-built betta aquariums that come complete with a heater, filter, and light, (some of which you can check out here), but starting a betta fish tank yourself can be both affordable and rewarding.

Essential items for setting up your betta tank

It’s not unusual for a betta fish to be an impulse purchase; you go to the pet shop or aquatics store without the intention of buying anything in particular, but then you spot the most beautiful betta and you just can’t resist bringing it home! That’s fine, and many people have done it, but you do need to set up a proper tank as soon as possible. In the meantime, have a look at our describing how to set up a makeshift aquarium.

For the longer term, here is the equipment that we recommend for setting up a tank that is both suitable and comfortable for your betta:

Optional items that will benefit the betta and aquarium:

Your betta could get by without the following, but we do recommend having them if you want to create the perfect betta tank:

setting up a betta tank

Setting up the tank for your betta:

Once you’ve followed the steps below, leave the aquarium to sit with the filter running for a minimum of 4 to 5 days before adding your betta or any plants. The will allow time for the water to treat, creating the optimal environment for your betta. This also allows time for crucial aquarium bacteria to start inhabiting the aquarium. This process is know as ‘cycling’. However, the bacteria really starts to cultivate once live fish and plants are added to the aquarium. It’s also possible to get what is known as a ‘biological enhancer’. This is a bottle usually filled with a liquid that contains beneficial bacteria that helps to kick-start your aquarium cycle. Adding this when starting your cycle can be really beneficial. The bacteria contained within the biological enhancer usually, under ‘natural circumstances’, starts to inhabit the aquarium after you’ve added the fish, whereas the biological enhancer introduces it before hand.  Also be sure to check the temperature of the aquarium before adding the betta, as the water should be sitting at a temperature between 74℉ and 80℉.

  1. Start by taking your tank and placing it on a sturdy surface. Remember, a large aquarium will be quite heavy, so ask a friend to help if necessary. Find the perfect spot. Once you put the aquarium in the chosen space and fill it with water, you will NOT be able to move it unless it’s emptied. Don’t attempt to move it when it’s full of water as it might break the aquarium. Also, ensure the aquarium isn’t placed too near a window or a spot where it is exposed to direct sunlight. Placing your aquarium in direct sunlight may cause the temperature of the aquarium to fluctuate, and can cause algae to grow quickly and more sporadically.
  2. Once you are happy with position of the aquarium, start to add the water. You can use spring water (bottled water) or you can treat the water with an aquarium dechlorination fluid. Using untreated tap water will kill the fish.  If gravel has already been added to the aquarium tip the water in slowly so it doesn’t disburse the gravel (note: if you are planning to add gravel, it’s easier to do it before you add the water). Depending on the type of filter, sometimes you can tip the water into the aquarium through the filter compartment, which is useful because it stops the water from hitting the gravel and dispersing it.
  3. Next, add the filter to the aquarium. How you need to place your chosen filter in the aquarium will be stated on the box.  Some internal filters are not fully submersible and therefore submerging it will break it. If the filter is submersible it will be stated on the filter packaging and instructions. Make sure the filter you buy has a soft current or an adjustable current, as bettas hate rough water movement. You will find that too strong a current will stress the fish when he is put in the aquarium. See some of the filters that we recommend in our best filter for a betta article.
  4. Next, add the aquarium heater. How to position the heater in the aquarium will be stated on the heater’s box and instructions. Be aware that some models aren’t fully submersible. Most heaters are adjustable. If this is the case, set the dial on the heater to around 78℉. If it isn’t adjustable, turn the heater on, wait 24 hours, and check the temperature of the water with an aquarium thermometer. If the temperature is sitting anywhere between 74℉ to 80℉, it will be fine for the betta. You should check the temperature of the water even if the heater is adjustable, just to be safe. If the water isn’t at the desired temperature, you may need to leave it for a while longer, or your heater may not be suitable for the aquarium and you should consider replacing it. As a rule of thumb, 1W of power should be used for 1L of water when using a heater for an aquarium.Regularly checking the temperature of your water is a good habit to develop, and this is especially important once your betta is in the tank. With our tank, we have a digital thermometer permanently attached to make it easy to glance at the temperature every few hours.
  5. Presuming you’ve bought an aquarium with a lid (or hood) and the lid/hood does not come with a built-in aquarium light, installing a light above your aquarium shouldn’t be too difficult. Unless you can somehow fit a light within the lid or hood, the lid/hood will need to be transparent or gridded to allow light to pass through.The light must always point downwards and shine through the surface of the water. Pointing the light through the side of the aquarium can disturb and disorientate your betta and create an uncomfortable, unaesthetic glare. It may be be something you’ll need to work around but shouldn’t be too difficult to resolve. Remember to use a proper aquarium light, though; not something like a desk lamp. Many aquariums now come with LED lights. A normal household light bulb can give off heat and could unwillingly warm your aquarium. You can get adjustable aquarium lights that can clip onto a lip of the tank. Sometimes you can buy a light rack that sits across the top of the aquarium, but these tend to be expensive or custom fitted. Alternatively, you can buy an aquarium with a hood that’s fitted with a light. Never leave a betta aquarium uncovered as the fish may attempt to jump out.
  6. When these steps are complete, simply add your substrate and ornaments (this could also be done after step 1). Make sure you thoroughly wash the gravel and and ornaments (with freshwater) before they are placed in the aquarium. You must not wash ornaments or substrates with chemical cleaning products as this will be harmful to the aquarium and its inhabitants.
  7. Now that the tank is almost ready to go, check the water pH. We talk about this in detail in our water preparation article.
  8. Once you’ve successfully completed all of the above, you’re ready to add your betta. Make sure you see our guide on acclimating your betta before you go ahead and add it.