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A Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up the Perfect Betta Fish Tank

Setting up a Betta fish tank can be an enjoyable experience. This involves selecting the right equipment, plants and decorations that mimic the Betta fish’s natural environment.

However, setting up a Betta fish tank is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. A correctly set-up tank provides a comfortable and stimulating environment for your Betta fish, but an improper setup can cause diseases or illnesses that could potentially kill your fish.

Don’t worry! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced aquarist, our step-by-step guide on setting up a Betta fish tank will show you how to create a comfortable and healthy home for your fish.

Let’s dive right in…

Step 1: Choosing the Right Tank and Supplies for Your Betta Fish

It’s a common misconception that Bettas can survive in tiny bowls, cups, or vases like those found in pet stores. While Bettas have evolved to survive pretty harsh conditions, it’s not ideal for them in the long run, and it can make them dull and susceptible to certain diseases. They have had to adapt in order to survive.

Betta fish in cups on display at Petco store
Betta fish in cups on display at Petco store

Bettas in the wild are typically found in areas with abundant water, such as shallows, rice paddies, and slow-moving streams. They take a territory of approximately 1 square meter (3ft sq) or more. This territorial instinct hasn’t been selectively bred out of them, so if your tank is sufficiently planted and decorated, your Betta will be happy with an adequate amount of space.

As a fishkeeper, your goal should be to make your Betta’s home as comfortable as possible. By providing a proper tank setup, you’ll help your fish live a long and happy life.

Betta Fish Tank Size: A Beginner’s Guide

Betta fish are hardy and resilient but they require a comfortable living environment to thrive. When choosing an aquarium for your Betta, it’s important to consider its size, shape, and material.

Understanding the Ideal Tank Size for Betta Fish

There is much debate in the Betta fishkeeping community regarding the minimum tank size. Some hobbyists suggest a minimum of 2.5 to 3 gallons (~9.5 to ~11.35 liters) for Bettas but a larger tank is generally better for their overall health and happiness. It’s important to consider the space required for plants, hiding places, and other decors, as well as necessary equipment like an aquarium filter and heater.

Smaller tanks can cause unstable water conditions, which increases the risk of stress, aggression, and disease in your Betta. To prevent these problems, you’ll have to perform regular water changes and monitor the health of your tank more frequently. Since smaller tanks can become unstable quickly, it’s important to take immediate action if you notice any issues.

The ideal tank size for a single male or female Betta is 5-gallon (~19 liters) or larger and rectangular-shaped. The bigger fish tanks hold a large enough volume of water to offset any fluctuations in water parameters and are much easier to cycle and maintain.

Tank Material: Which One is Right for Your Betta Fish?

Fish aquariums are usually made of two types of material, glass or acrylic. However, each material has its own merits.

Acrylic tanks are more expensive than glass, but they have the advantage of being lightweight and easier to handle. They also come in a variety of shapes. Unlike glass tanks, you won’t have to worry about accidentally damaging them when moving them around or bumping into them with hardscape. However, one downside is that acrylic tanks are more prone to scratches, which can be buffed out. Additionally, they require special care when cleaning and maintaining to avoid damaging the surface.

Glass tanks, on the other hand, are less expensive but heavier and have limited shapes to choose from. They can also have exceptional clarity if it’s ultra-high-grade glass. Although glass tanks don’t scratch as easily as acrylic ones, scratches can’t be buffed out. When it comes to looking clean and sparkling tank, nothing beats glass.

Betta Glass Tank on Left and Acrylic on Right
Betta glass tank on left and acrylic on right

Tank Shape: What You Need to Know for Your Betta Fish

Fish aquariums are available in several shapes including rectangular, hexagonal, bow-front, and round. It’s highly recommended to choose a tank with a long rectangular shape over other shapes for good reasons.

Betta fish require ample horizontal swimming space, which is similar to their natural habitat. Long tanks provide more of this space and allow for easy decoration and maintenance.

Long tanks also provide a larger surface area for oxygenation, which is crucial when Bettas need to access the surface to breathe through their labyrinth organ. To ensure they can easily access the surface, make sure the water level in the tank isn’t too high.

On the other hand, tanks with shapes such as hexagonal or bow-front can be problematic for several reasons. These tanks often have uneven edges and corners that can be difficult to clean, leading to a build-up of harmful bacteria that can make your fish sick. Additionally, the limited swimming space in these tanks can cause stress to your betta, which can lead to health problems over time.

In addition, if Bettas are kept in a round bowl or cube tank, it damages their sense of direction and depth perception and permanently modifies their motor neurons if it doesn’t eventually stress them out to death.

Therefore, it’s generally best to stick with rectangular tanks for the ease of maintenance and the health and well-being of your betta fish.

Ready-Made Kits vs. Custom-Built Tanks: Which is Best for Your Betta Fish?

For Betta fishkeepers, there are two options to choose from for setting up the tank: ready-made kits or custom-built tanks.

Ready-made aquarium kits are a quick and easy option for fishkeepers who don’t have much experience with assembling and installing the various components of a tank. They are usually sold as complete setups that include everything you need to get started such as the tank, filter, heater, and lighting.

On the other hand, custom-built tanks can offer more flexibility and customization options. You can choose each piece of equipment separately as well as types and placements. This way you can pick the best items and upgrade as needed for your Betta’s tank, ultimately offering more value for your money. But custom-built tanks can often be expensive and requires knowledge for assembling the components and ensuring the tank is set up for success.

If you’re on a budget, you can also look for used aquarium kits on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or OfferUp. These can often be found for a fraction of the original cost. Non-luxury aquariums can also be found for cheap, usually ranging from $5 to $30.

I’d highly recommend checking out PetSmart for affordable tanks and accessories. They offer a game called “Treat Trail” that you can play to earn monthly coupons for 15%, 20%, and 25% off. By taking advantage of these discounts, you can save money on your purchases. For example, I was able to purchase a 20-gallon tank with a filter, heater, and light for just $60.

Additionally, Petco also offers budget-friendly options, with $1/gallon sales several times a year.

Tank Stand: Do You Need One for Your Betta Fish?

Choosing the right stand for your aquarium is important to ensure the safety of your tank and the creatures living in it. When selecting a stand, it’s important to consider the size and weight of the tank. As a general rule, the minimum weight of the tank will be gallons × 10. So, for example, a 5-gallon tank would weigh 50 lbs, while a 55-gallon tank would weigh 550 lbs when it’s fully stocked and aquascaped.

For smaller tanks, like 5-gallon or 10-gallon ones, tables such as dressers, bookcases, or entertainment stands can be used as long as they are wide enough and stable. These pieces of furniture are typically designed to hold heavier items than an average end table and offer plenty of storage for supplies, wires, pumps, etc.

Betta fish tank on sturdy table

To ensure that the tank stand fits the bottom of the tank, use an aquarium pad or a cut yoga mat to keep the tank level. If the tank hangs off the edge of the stand, it can put a lot of stress on the tank and increase the chances of a leak or blowout, especially if the tank is rimless.

When using something that isn’t designed as a tank stand, always watch it for a few weeks to check for signs of sinking, bowing, or other structural stress. Some things may be able to hold 75-100 lbs for a short time, but not for several years. It’s important to avoid items with narrow legs and opt for something with support across or around the bottom to avoid uneven or unstable positioning of your tank.

You can easily find a dedicated stand at a cheap price by checking Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist for people selling old kitchen cabinets during a remodel. You might even find free items. If you plan to spend $150-$200 on a tank stand, visit PetSmart or Petco. For larger tanks, such as 20-gallon to 30-gallon ones or more, you’ll need an actual stand, which you can either build or buy.

The Importance of a Tank Lid for Your Betta Fish

Did you know that Betta fish are excellent jumpers? On average, they can leap from 2-3 inches out of the water, and sometimes even higher.

The fact that most Bettas jump because of issues with their environment, like poor water quality, shifting temperatures, or feeling threatened by something in or outside the tank. Loud noises and vibrations can also scare them.

If you don’t have plants growing out of the water, it’s best to cover your Betta fish tank with a lid. A lid can help regulate the water temperature and keep harmful things like perfume and dust out of the tank. It will also prevent your Betta from jumping out.

However, if you don’t have a lid, you can keep the water level lower. Just be aware that short-finned Bettas are more likely to jump than long-finned ones.

Finding the Perfect Location for Your Betta Fish Tank

There are several factors to consider when choosing a location to ensure your aquarium is set up for success.

Firstly, place the tank near an electrical outlet for equipment such as a filter, heater, and lighting, which will make maintenance and operation easier. Secondly, have a nearby water source for easy water changes and maintenance. This could be a sink or a faucet connected to a hose.

Thirdly, choose a location for your tank where you can easily view and enjoy it. Avoid direct sunlight exposure that can lead to temperature fluctuations and algae growth. A location with good natural light is ideal. Finally, keep the tank away from air vents to avoid temperature and humidity fluctuations. Avoid placing it in areas with heavy foot traffic as vibrations can disturb the aquarium’s inhabitants and cause stress.

Consider your home’s aesthetic and tank size when selecting a location. A larger tank may need a dedicated stand or wall space, while a smaller tank can easily fit on a tabletop or desk.

Filter Media: What You Need to Know for Your Betta Fish

Betta fish can survive in a tank without a filter because their natural habitats are usually dirtier. They depend on natural events like droughts and rainstorms to clean their water. However, it’s important to know that there is a difference between simply surviving and living a healthy, long life. A tank without filter media can harm the quality of life for Betta fish and even shorten their lifespan.

A fish tank without an aquarium filter means dangerous chemicals like ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate can quickly build up and harm or kill the fish. Without a filter, it’s harder for nitrifying bacteria to grow and thrive. The filter provides the oxygen that good bacteria need to grow and stay healthy. (more on that later)

There are different kinds of filters you can use for aquariums, but the most commonly used ones are Sponge filters and Power or Hang on Back filters. Out of the two, Spong filters are highly recommended.

Sponge filters work by using an air pump, airline tubing, sponge, and check valve to filter the water in your tank. They provide biological filtration but not chemical or mechanical filtration.

Sponge filters are a popular choice for Betta tanks. They work by pulling water through a sponge and pushing it back out through air bubbles at the top. This type of filter is adjustable, which is great for Bettas who like slow-moving water. If the water flow is too strong, Bettas can have trouble swimming and could be forced to stay at the bottom of the tank. The air bubbles from the filter also help keep the surface of the water clean and avoid biofilm buildup.

In addition, the sponge (and ceramics to an extent) in the filter houses beneficial bacteria that help keep the water safe and healthy for the fish. However, using a sponge filter doesn’t mean that you can skip water changes entirely.

Sponge filters come in different sizes, so it’s important to choose the right one for your tank. To do this, multiply your tank size in gallons by 4 gallons per hour (GPH). For example, a 5-gallon tank needs a filter with a minimum flow rate of 20 GPH, and a 10-gallon tank needs a filter with a minimum flow rate of 40 GPH.

Heater: How to Choose the Right One for Your Betta Fish

Betta fish come from Southeast Asia, especially from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia. They require a consistent water temperature between 75°F to 82°F (24°C to 28°C). Cold water can slow down the metabolism of Betta fish, making them more vulnerable to illness and other health problems. Using an aquarium heater is important to keep the temperature consistent within the acceptable range to prevent Betta fish from becoming sick or developing health problems.

When choosing an aquarium heater, consider the size of your tank and the wattage of the heater. As a general rule, you’ll need approximately 5 watts of heating power per gallon of water in the tank.

There are several types of aquarium heaters, including submersible and hang-on-back models. Submersible heaters are fully submerged in the water and are generally more reliable and efficient. Hang-on-back heaters are installed outside the tank and are generally less expensive but may not be as accurate in regulating the water temperature.

Some people believe that if they live in a warm climate, they don’t need a heater for their Betta fish tank. However, this is not true. Even in hot places like Thailand, where Betta fish come from, the water can get too hot for them. In fact, temperatures over 85°F (29.4°C) can be dangerous for Betta fish.

Regardless of where you live, you’ll need to use an aquarium heater to keep the water at a consistent temperature for your Betta fish. An adjustable aquarium heater is a good choice for Betta tanks because it allows you to control the temperature more precisely.

It’s important to regularly monitor the water temperature using a thermometer to ensure that it remains in the appropriate range. Additionally, it’s recommended to use a heater guard or cover to protect your Betta fish from accidentally coming into contact with the heating filament.

Lighting: What Your Betta Fish Needs to Thrive

Betta fish tanks require proper lighting for plant growth and to regulate the Bettas’ circadian rhythm. Studies from Comparative Medicine suggest a 14:10 light-to-dark cycle similar to their natural habitat during summer.

There are various options available when it comes to lights for your Betta tank, including fluorescent, LED, and incandescent lights. In our experience, LED aquarium lights are a great choice due to their energy efficiency, longevity, and low heat emission compared to other types of lights.

Betta fish prefer low to moderate light intensity, so it’s important to choose a light that’s not too bright. As mentioned earlier, direct sunlight should also be avoided, as it can lead to temperature fluctuations and algae growth. A 3-watt LED is adequate for a 10-gallon tank as the light should be one-third of the tank’s length.

The color of light affects the mood of Betta fish. Warm yellow light can relax them, while cool blue light can make them more active but promote algae growth (1). Purple, red, and green lights can showcase your Betta’s vibrant colors.

Turning off the light at night helps Betta rest, regardless of color. Purchase aquarium lights with built-in timers to set a schedule and avoid forgetting. You can also use the timer to adjust the light’s color and intensity.

Betta tank with decent lighting

Substrate (Gravel): A Beginner’s Guide

The substrate is crucial for your Betta fish tank as it anchors plants and houses beneficial bacteria that perform the nitrogen cycle. Additionally, it provides a natural look similar to Betta’s natural habitat, which does not have a bare glass floor.

Selecting a safe substrate is extremely important for your Betta fish tank setup. Avoid substrates that can harm or irritate their delicate fins. Safe options include Gravel, Sand, or a combination of both.

In our experience, Gravel is the best choice for Betta keepers due to its variety of colors and sizes, allowing good bacteria growth in small spaces to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Cleaning is easy with a siphon and gravel vacuum during water changes.

Sand is more compact, making it easier to clean as food and debris won’t sink inside. However, it can accumulate pockets of hydrogen sulfide as it’s too dense for air penetration. Stir the sand occasionally to release any gas buildup if you use it as a substrate.

Avoid sharp edges as Betta fish are sensitive to them. Sand is safe, but smooth, rounded gravel is also suitable. Rinse gravel thoroughly before adding it to the tank to prevent dust from causing water cloudiness.

Beginner Plants and Decorations: How to Choose the Right Ones for Your Betta Fish

When setting up an aquarium, consider the natural environment of the fish you plan to keep. If you remove fish from its natural habitat, it’s your responsibility to recreate the fish’s natural habitat as closely as possible in the aquarium.

These are some tips based on experience for plants and decor in a Betta fish tank.

  • Choose plants that are safe for Bettas: Anubias, Java Fern, Amazon Sword, and Marimo Moss Balls are popular and safe plants for Betta fish. These plants provide oxygen and filtration while serving as hiding places and resting spots for Bettas.
  • Add décor that Bettas can swim through: Since Bettas are active swimmers, it’s important to provide them with plenty of ornaments and decorations to swim through and around. This can include caves, tunnels, and driftwood.
  • Avoid sharp or rough décor: Bettas have delicate fins that can be easily torn by sharp or rough décor. When choosing décor for your tank, make sure to avoid anything with sharp edges or rough textures.
  • Create a natural environment: Bettas come from the slow-moving waters of Southeast Asia, where leaf litter creates a tannin-rich environment. To recreate their natural habitat, you can add hardwood and botanicals to your Betta’s tank. Many hobbyists reported that tannins provide health benefits and aid healing from ailments like fin rot.
  • Don’t overcrowd the tank: Although it’s necessary to provide hiding spots for them, overcrowding the tank with too many ornaments or plants can lead to swimming difficulties and poor water quality.
  • Fake plants: When choosing artificial plants for your Betta tank, opt for fabrics or silk materials rather than plastic to prevent your Betta’s delicate fins from getting caught.

If you’re new to growing plants in your fish tank, start with a low-tech approach. Choose plants that don’t need extra carbon dioxide and can thrive in different conditions, substrates, and light levels. Here are some easy-to-grow plants that are safe for Betta fish:

  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Sword plants

These plants are low-maintenance and perfect for beginners.

Step 2: Setting Up Your Betta Fish Tank

Here’s a step-by-step process for setting up your Betta’s tank:

How to Clean Your Betta Fish Tank

Cleaning the tank is crucial before adding your fish. Wash it with hot water and rinse it thoroughly. Use a clean cloth or sponge to clean the inside and outside of the tank and let it dry completely. Make sure you remove any stickers that may have been on the tank.

Adding Gravel to Your Betta Fish Tank

It’s important to rinse your chosen substrate (gravel, sand, or plant substrate) before adding it to the tank. Place it in the colander and rinse it under running water until the water runs clear.

Once your chosen substrate is clean, spread it evenly at the bottom of the tank. Make sure to add enough to create a depth of 1.5-3 inches.

To create a natural look, you can place the gravel in the form of a slope by adding more gravel at the back and gradually decreasing the amount towards the front.

Decorations: How to Make Your Betta Fish Tank Beautiful

The next step is adding decorations and plants to Betta’s tank. Start by placing larger decorations like rocks or driftwood in the tank first, followed by smaller decorations like caves or plants. Be sure to arrange the decorations and plants in a way that provides hiding spots and visual barriers, and leave plenty of swimming room for your Betta.

Filling Up Your Betta Fish Tank with Water

Once you’re done setting up the plants and decorations in place, fill the tank with water. If you’re using tap water, make sure to treat it with a water conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramine, and other harmful chemicals.

How to Set Up Your Betta Fish Tank Filter

Depending on the type of filter, there will be different instructions for installing the filter. Generally speaking, most filters will need to be primed before use and you’ll have to attach any necessary tubing, cartridges, and other components to the filter to make it function properly.

After attaching all the parts of the filter, place the filter in its designated place. It’s recommended to place the filter on the backside of the tank to prevent obstructing the view of your fish.

Installing the Heater in Your Betta Fish Tank

Install your chosen appropriate heater in the tank, near the filter, make sure you place it in a vertical position using suction cups or clips. Also, ensure that the heater is fully submerged in the water and not touching gravel or other items in the tank.

Once installed, turn the heater on and set it to the appropriate temperature for your Betta, which is usually between 76-82°F (24-28°C) (3).

Monitor the temperature regularly using a thermometer (preferably a digital one) to ensure that the temperature stays within an acceptable range.

How to Cycle Your Betta Fish Tank

The nitrogen cycle is an extremely important process that needs to be completed before introducing fish to the tank. This biological process helps establish a colony of beneficial bacteria to ensure a healthy and stable environment in your Betta’s tank.

For beginners, it’s highly recommended to run a fishless cycle. This method can take 4-6 weeks for the beneficial bacteria to grow to safe levels, so patience is key. It’s crucial not to rush the process using any artificial means and to avoid adding fish during the cycling process. Adding fish too early can harm or even kill them.

API Freshwater Master Test Kit for Nitrogen Cycle

Acclimating Your Betta Fish to the Tank

Once the tank has cycled, it’s time to introduce the Betta to his new home. However, it’s important to acclimate Betta fish to avoid shock and reduce the risk of illness or death.

How to Monitor and Maintain Your Betta Fish Tank

To maintain a healthy and happy Betta, regular water changes and tank maintenance are crucial. Test the water regularly and make adjustments as needed. It’s important to test four main parameters on a weekly basis: pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. Water hardness and carbonate are also important because of how they affect the stability of the water’s pH.

The levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates will be controlled by the beneficial bacteria you grew during the nitrogen cycle. The ideal concentrations of these parameters are:

ParametersOptimal Conditions
Ammonia0 PPM
Nitrite0 PPM
Nitrates<10 PPM

The pH should be close to 7, and if you find these water parameters are outside the acceptable range, perform a 20% water change each week for an average 10-gallon tank. Additionally, check the temperature of the tank daily, which should be between 75-80°F, and make sure the aquarium filter is functioning properly each day.

Cleaning the tank on a regular basis is also necessary to remove algae build-up and catch any debris or waste not picked up by the filter. Clean the substrate every week and scrub algae from the tank and decor every month.

Here’s your at-a-glance guide to Betta fish tank monitoring and maintenance:

Daily TasksWeekly TasksMonthly Tasks
Check the filter worksTest water quality for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and pHCleaning sponge filter
Check water temperature20% water change (varies by tank size)Replacing filter media
Clean the substrate (frequency varies by tank size and waste buildup)Scrubbing algae from the tank and decorations

Betta Fish Tank FAQs: Answers to Common Questions

Any questions? Here’s the Betta Fish Tank FAQ.

What Are the Best Betta fish Tank Mates?

Best tankmates for Betta fish include Gouramis, Peaceful Barbs, Mystery Snails, and Ghost Shrimp. These are docile and non-threatening to your Betta fish. However, it’s important to monitor your Betta fish carefully for any signs of aggression when adding new tankmates.

Conclusion: Creating the Perfect Home for Your Betta Fish

To create a perfect habitat for your Betta fish, you need to plan ahead and be patient.

After setting up the tank with lights, heater, and filter, add substrate and plants to kick-start the nitrogen cycle. Wait until the tank is cycled before adding your Betta fish, which may take a few weeks.

Remember that patience is key to creating a stable and healthy environment for your Betta fish, and with these low-maintenance fish, it’ll be smooth sailing once you get it right from the start.

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