Make shift aquarium icon

How To Set Up A Temporary / Makeshift Aquarium

If your betta was an impulse buy, you may have found this page whilst looking for some advice about what to do next.

Just bought a betta?

Let’s dive right in and say you’ve bought a betta on a whim. You don’t have a cycled aquarium prepared, and you don’t have the other equipment recommended for a suitable betta home.

What do you do?

The first thing is: DON’T PANIC. This isn’t a rare occurrence and you’ll have everything in order in no time. We run through your options below.

It’s not unusual for a betta to be an impulse purchase, especially for first time keepers. You go to the store, fall in love with a betta, and can’t resist buying it and bringing it home.

HOWEVER, you do need to be fair to the betta. If you brought a puppy home in a cardboard box, you wouldn’t keep it locked in that box for the next two weeks. The same goes for a betta – keeping it in sub-optimal living conditions for too long constitutes animal cruelty.

The good news is it won’t take much to get a good home for your betta sorted.

Now, let’s have a look at what to do if you’ve just bought a betta and need to set up an aquarium for it.

Option 1

Take the betta back to the store. Provided the fish was being kept in appropriate conditions, you can always return it to the store and ask them to hold it in its original aquarium whilst you set up and cycle an aquarium for it to live in at home. A good store would usually check you have the appropriate set up before selling you the fish, but not always.

In the UK bettas are usually stocked in their own individual divider aquariums, also known as betta barracks, with a running filter and heater. This is the most professional way to stock bettas. Understandably, not every pet or aquatics store in the world is the same. We have seen photos online of bettas being displayed in tiny bags, stored on a hook. Obviously this level of stocking is appalling, so we understand an impulse betta purchase can be one of sympathy, with the new owner hoping to give the betta a more adequate home as soon as possible. If this is the case, returning it to the store definitely is not a good option.

Option 2

Option 2 is to set up a holding aquarium where you can keep the betta whilst you set up another aquarium and cycle it for a week or so.

Luckily, bettas are very hardy fish, so introducing it to an uncycled aquarium isn’t going to instantly end the little guy. However, the water conditions must be adequate. A fish will undergo stress when being re-homed, and being re-homed into an uncomfortable environment will exacerbate the fish’s stress levels.

Stress can mean a lower immunity, creating a gateway for illness. Reducing this stress and making your fish feel comfortable should be tackled as soon as possible.

Example Scenario

Say you’ve purchased a betta but you don’t have an aquarium waiting. You’re planning to set up and cycle an aquarium but that won’t be available for a week or two. You can’t keep the betta fish in its transportation bag for more than a few hours (although it does depend what kind of bag it is) because of the low amount of oxygen and water.

This Scenario is also if you have little to no proper equipment for a permanent betta home but will need to be acquired if you plan to keep your betta healthy long-term.

PLEASE NOTE: The setup described below is a holding aquarium/container. It should not be considered as permanent housing for you betta. Your fish should not be kept in this set up for anything more than 2 -3 weeks.

I have everything I need for a perfect betta aquarium, how can I add my betta as soon as possible?

Waiting for your aquarium to cycle before adding your betta is essential and if done so will majorly minimise the risk of any health issues popping up with your fish. If you cannot return the fish to a store and wait for your aquarium to cycle then there's a few precaution you should research if you decide to attempt to cycle your aquarium with your betta fish present.

We have our own article on how to cycle a betta tank and why what is known as 'fish-less' cycling should be seen as the optimum method of cycling an aquarium for a betta fish.

Adding your betta then cycling your aquarium is called 'fish-in' cycling.
If you are beginner and you decide to fish-in cycle your aquarium with your betta fish chances are the fish will get ill and may die.
Using fish-less cycling methods with fish in your aquarium will kill your fish.

The article below gives instructions for setting up a makeshift 'temporary aquarium' whilst you wait for your bettas permeant home to cycled.

Fish lab has a great article on 'fish-in' cycling if you wish to learn more:

Setting up the makeshift aquarium

First things first, you need some sort of clean container. If you’re housing the fish in the container for no more than two weeks, it can afford to be less than 10L. In our betta keeping requirements section, we recommend NEVER permanently permanently housing a betta in anything less than 19L.

The container

For your makeshift aquarium, the container shouldn’t be anything less than 6L; you want the fish to experience as little stress as possible. Whilst you don’t want the holding aquarium to be too small (say 4 litres), you also don’t want it to be too big (say 60L).

UNLESS you already have everything you need.
We explain why this is the case later on in the article, but generally speaking the less space, the more stress.

The container must be clean, as in, fish-safe clean. Don’t use a container that’s previously held strong chemicals like bleach or soap, for example. Rinse and wash the container thoroughly with freshwater. Really thoroughly.

You’re also going to need something transparent you can put over the holding container, like a thin mesh. Bettas can jump out the water, and they’re even more likely to do so when stressed. Make sure the aquarium is covered, but that air and light can still pass through.

Heating and Location

You're also going to need to keep your makeshift aquarium somewhat warm.
This is usually done with an aquarium heater available in most fish stores, if you have one, add it.

Bettas are tropical fish, in order for the fish to live healthily the water needs to be between  78℉ and  82℉. In most countries, the water will not reach this temperature without a heater, it will simply reach room temperature (70℉).

Lucky for us bettas are hardy fish, so they can survive temperatures below 74℉, but their metabolism will increasingly slow if the temperature drops below 68℉ and the betta will soon die.
As mentioned, they are a lot more susceptible to illness and disease at a lower temperature.The betta will be fine if introduced to the holding aquarium at a lower-than-comfortable temperature, provided that the increase to a more comfortable temperature is gradual.

If you're living in a tropical country, for example, and your room temperature consistently exceeds 78℉ then may be able to get away with not worrying about heating in this scenario.
If you live in a colder climate warmth is key.

If you don't have an aquarium heater to add and your worried about the temperature move the makeshift aquarium to a shaded area of the house near (but not directly in front of) a radiator. This should not be permanent for no longer than a few days. Aquire an aquarium heater as soon as possible.

Depending on the heater and the volume of the water it can sometimes take up to 12 hours to heat an aquarium/container to consistent temperature. You don’t want the container volume to be so large that it’ll take more than 12 hours to heat, but you also don’t want the container to be so small that it heats up too quickly as this will stress the betta. A smaller container will also fluctuate in temperature more. Putting your container in direct sunlight will also cause temperature fluctuations.

You can read about water temperature and recommended heaters here.

If you've acquired a heater Instructions on how to add the heater to your makeshift aquarium will be specified on the heater packaging. It’s also best to buy a thermometer to add to the makeshift aquarium too. Only turn on the aquarium heater once water is in your makeshift aquarium.

If you have set up your bettas permeant housing with the appropriate equipment (which includes a heater) use the heater for your betta in it's makeshift housing rather than having it in the aquarium whilst it cycles.

Check the temperature regularly everyday.

Water preparation

The next step is important: water preparation.

As we mention it's always best to add a betta to an aquarium that has been cycled, it can take up to 2 weeks to cycle and aquarium and the pH should be tested before adding the betta technically too.

It's very important to know about what cycling is when keeping fish.
Read more about this here: cycling a betta aquarium.
To define it quickly, cycling is the process of allowing beneficial bacteria in your aquarium to grow that will break down waste products that can build up and harm your betta.

So how can we achieve an, so to speak, ‘instantly cycled water’ for your holding aquarium. The bad news is that we can’t – it’s impossible, a cycled system needs time to develop – but the next best thing should suffice in most cases.

Water from your tap is often different from the water your betta has been sold with. Water straight from the tap will kill your fish - so something more natural, bottled spring water we may presume, may be better? Short term, it may be an ok solution, long term not so much.

A consistent water source is important for your betta when carrying out water changes. Say you can transfer your betta to its permeant aquarium fairly swiftly to which you've used tap water for (understandable as having to buy bottled water will become cumbersome) - going from bottled to tap can be problematic for your fish and aquarium - we go into this in our article here.

Luckily these days we have water conditioner, that we can add to tap water, that works rather rapidty to make the tap water safe for your betta. This will be available in any fish store or pet store and is worth buying as soon as possible or with your betta. We use 'Tetra AquaSafe Plus' but any will do usually.

If you cannot acquire water conditioner to treat your tap water, then use bottled spring water, checking it is pure spring water.

We highly recommend you read our article betta fish water conditions.

Add this water to the container you've acquired.

Acclimating the betta

This next step is rather situational. It depends how much water you betta has come with and how much water the container your betta has come with can further hold.

If your betta has come in vessel, say a bag, and there's enough room left to add the about 1 pint (about 500ml) of your prepared water then you can acclimate your in the vessel betta as is.

If your betta is in a vessel with no room to spare to add water - rinse a container (preferably rinsed with conditioned water or bottled water) so that at least a pint of water can be added. This container or bag doesn't have to be used and tall enough so that when your betta and the accompanying water is poured you betta has enough of a water level to swim somewhat freely.

The key now is slow, precise, careful acclamation.

What is acclimation? We go into acclimation in our article putting your betta in a new tank. Basically it means allowing your fish to slowly adjust to new water conditions. The sudden change in parameters like water hardness, temperature and pH can seriously seriously shock a fish.

Add about a 2 teaspoons of your prepared water (40ml) to the vessel every 5 minutes over the course of an hour.
Once this is complete. You can add your betta to the main container.

Sponge Filtration or Air Stone

It’s also wise to add a small air stone or sponge filter to the holding aquarium, just so that it reduces the chance of water becoming stagnant and can help oxygenate the water . Unlike the other components this isn’t vital for a holding aquarium, but can be helpful. Water disturbance can also stress a betta out, so if you do decide to add an airstone or small filter make sure it doesn’t create too much of a disturbance.

If you are doing water changes regularly (details below) then this isn't technically critical but will help.

Water Changes

Change 20% of the water every day with freshly treated tap water or bottled spring water (do not interchange between both). Also check the temperature regularly.

This is Key for the the health of your fish as it will stop harmful waste and toxins building up in the water usually prevented by a cycled aquarium.


Feed your betta accordingly.

This is not permanent housing

Just to reiterate: This SHOULD NOT be considered as permanent housing for a betta. A betta should NOT be housed in a holding / makeshift aquarium like this for any longer than 2 weeks, 3 weeks tops.

The first thing you should do after setting up a holding aquarium is to begin setting up your betta’s permanent, cycled, properly prepared aquarium. It’s going to take at least a week to cycle a proper betta aquarium; the sooner you get it running, the sooner you can re-house the betta. You can read about how to set up a betta aquarium correctly here.

To help speed up the process of cycling the aquarium, you can transfer some filter medium that’s been sat in a pre-established filtration system in another aquarium. This will boost the beneficial bacteria growth in your aquarium. This  may be hard to come by, but if you ask in your local aquatics store they may be able to help.

Do what’s best for your betta

Hopefully from reading the above you can understand that even setting up a holding aquarium is quite an involved process. If you don’t have the means to do this swiftly, it may be best to return the betta to the place you bought it. If this isn’t an option, just do all you can to get the little guy a proper setup ASAP.

Do what’s best for your betta

Also dosing something like Easy Life's Catappa-x in your makeshift aquarium can help to reduce the chances of your betta getting stressed whilst you wait for your permeant betta aquarium to cycle. How much to dose is instructed with the product.