A Ton Of Questions, Interested In Having A Fish Tank

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by NeonFish, Apr 19, 2018.

  1. NeonFish

    NeonFishNew MemberMember

    So, I've never had fish before, except some little minnows I used to catch from the river and take home as a young child lol. Get ready for a million questions!

    1. I have a 40 gallon breeder tank. It was used for a hamster but is now empty and I would like to make this my fish tank. I understand I need to fill it and see if it leaks, because rodents are known to chew at the sealing. As long as the tank end up being useable, how should I go about cleaning it?

    2. What are the basic things I will need in a fish tank, like essentials? I know I need a filter, some type of gravel/substrate, and of course water, decorations, and fish. What type of filter and substrate do you recommend? I remember using gravel for my little minnows and I found some stuck under the gravel, it seemed to be dangerous for them.

    3. I'm really confused about everything that needs to be put in the water, all this talk about cycling, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to understand it. Is there a good, in-depth article on everything I need to do to the water somewhere?

    4. My dream fish is neon tetras. I'm set on getting a school of these. What is compatible with them?

    5. I'm interested in live plants, are they easy to keep or are they not so great for a beginner to try?

    Thank you in advance! :)
  2. CaptainAquatics

    CaptainAquaticsWell Known MemberMember

    Hi! I have been in the hobby for a while now, so get ready for some answers!

    1: What I would do is check if it leaks, if it doesn't, rinse it REALLY well as a cleaning method. (I have never had to clean out a old rodent tank for a fish tank so possibly go with someone else for cleaning advise, lol)

    2: You will need a filter, heater (if you want tropical fish like neon tetras). Also I wanna stress you don't NEED decorations. Something a lot of new fish keepers do is overcrowd your tank. You can overcrowd you tank with fish but with decorations just remember that all you need is enough for the fish to hide if they feel scared. DON'T OVERCROWD YOUR AQUARIUM WITH DECORATIONS! As for substrate just gravel or sand is fine. Try to stay away from colored gravel as some people have recorded it messing with the water parameters. I recommend gravel as it is easy to clean as well. (also a little side note I have a YT channel where I show my fish. It is called DaloAquatics possibly go check that out :)) As for fish getting under the gravel that has never happened to me.

    3: If you have city water you need to buy a water product that gets rid of chlorine as it is dangerous for your fish. Also you need to put carbon pellets and zeolite crystals in your tank in bags (the containers come with instructions) to start the cycling process. As for what cycling is basically you need to let your tank run for about a month before you put fish in and need to get a water testing kit to test you water. You need to make sure that nitrite are at zero, ammonia is at zero, and nitrates are close to zero (you want some nitrates but not a lot). as for PH and hardness that all depends on what kind of fish you want.

    4: As for whats compatible with neon tetras most anything as long as it can't eat them. The neon tetras wont hurt them so as a suggestion possibly some mollys would be good. Goramies could work with neons.

    5: There are a lot of easy live plants to keep like java fern, and a moss ball. (I am not someone who has a lot of live plants so take some advise from someone with more experiance with live plants on this one).

    Hope this helps! This is not a easy or cheap hobby like most people think. Make sure to do water changes and look out for illnesses like Ich and you should be good. Best Wishes :)
  3. Aegnis

    AegnisValued MemberMember

    Welcome to Fishlore!

    You can give the tank a good rinse with some hot water and rub it down with a *new* sponge. Stay away from anything like soap -- soap is the absolutely worst thing for fish tanks as it can kill the good bacteria that will help clean your tank and can cause serious health problems for your fish.

    For gravel and substrate, it's really up to you and your personal preference, although some fish, like plecos, prefer certain types of substrate. I personally use SeaChem sand -- it's great for growing live plants and is safe for most fish. Whether or not you want live plants will be a huge factor in what kind of substrate you use! Most live plants can't grow well in gravel (although there are some exceptions).

    You'll definitely want a filter -- ideally look for one that has three steps of filtration. That means physical (often looks like a sponge), chemical (usually a bag of activated carbon, although this can be substituted for live plants in some cases), and biological (usually looks like a bag of little white doughnut shaped objects). The size depends on your tank size, so look for one that suits a 40g! You'll definitely also want a heater for neons -- they like warm water and heaters help keep the tank's temperature consistent. Look for one that's powerful enough to heat a 40g!

    Cycling is a pretty complicated process, but I'll do my best to give you a briefing. When I started out, I found talking to others was the best way for me to understand it.
    When fish live out in the wild, their waste is released into their habitats, which are often large and have lots of ways of cycling waste through the system. This isn't present in an aquarium, because the space is too small. We use filters instead (coupled with weekly water changes) to remove wastes from the water.
    When fish initially produce waste, it's in the form of ammonia (same as our waste). Ammonia in high amounts can lead to illness and death in fish through the form of ammonia poisoning -- it can also stress fish out and weaken their immune systems. The good bacteria that will live in your filter (and in your substrate) will use a bacterial process in which they turn the ammonia into nitrites, which is still harmful to your fish, and then will turn the nitrites into nitrates, which is less harmful. Low levels of nitrates won't bother your fish. High levels can poison them, so we do water changes to remove the nitrates from the water.
    Never do too much of a water change -- you might mess up your cycle. I never do more than about 60%, and that's only when there's something wrong.
    In terms of getting your cycle set up, it's a long process, but worth the wait. It can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks. The best advice I've gotten for cycling is to set up your tank with everything you want in it except the fish, and then add pure ammonia (which you can buy in stores or order online), and then take readings with a liquid test kid (I use the API one -- it's great). You'll see ammonia levels spike because of the pure ammonia you're adding, then you'll see them go down after a few weeks and nitrite levels will spike. Once you see ammonia at 0 and nitrites at 0, and you see some reading of nitrates, you'll know your tank is cycled and you're safe to add fish!
    You can also add fish during the cycle, although it means exposing them to high levels of ammonia and nitrites, which can stress them out or kill them, so you'll need to keep a close eye on them. I cycled my tank with my betta in -- he got really sick from the ammonia poisoning, so I wouldn't recommend it if you're ok waiting a little bit. Hope this helped -- lots of more experienced people on these forums can probably give you much better advice about cycling than I can!

    I haven't kept neons myself, so someone might have better advice than me, but I've heard that cory catfish do well with them, which you could easily keep in a 40g. My LPS keeps a tank of neons with some discus, cories, and amano shrimp (which are one of the best shrimp imo), and it seems to be doing quite well. The keys with selecting tankmates are: not overstocking your tank, making sure the fish you choose aren't known for biting or nibbling or generally aggressive behavior (like bettas), making sure they are temperature compatible, and making sure they prefer the same water chemistry (pH and water hardness). Neons aren't terrible picky and don't have weird requirements, so as long as you choose peaceful tankmates, they should be fine with lots of other fish!

    Speaking as a beginner myself, live plants are totally doable if you're new. I work mostly with java moss, moss balls, and anubias nana -- they're really easy to take care of, and they can help you with maintaining a good cycle, and provide your fish with lots of great hiding spots. You can also add plants before your tank finishes cycling. You can also add floating plants like duckweed, salvinia, or dwarf water lettuce if you'd like -- they're rather easy to take care of.

    Let me know if you have any other questions -- sorry for such a long post! Good luck with the tank :)
  4. Demeterite

    DemeteriteValued MemberMember

    1. I'm not sure on cleaning it, but I do know buying the sealant is pretty inexpensive if it does leak. Whatever you do, don't use soap. You could use bleach but only if you rinse and rinse and rinse until you can't smell bleach anymore and then rinse 20 more times.
    2. For substrate, I recommend starting with sand simply because I see countless threads on here about switching from gravel to sand, but very few that are doing the opposite! I made the switch too. Depending on your aesthetic, you can also use black diamond blasting sand (found at Tractor Supply type stores) for stupid-cheap. Make sure to wash whatever you get throughly. This does not mean just rinsing it... search the forums for tips on how to do this, it's a multi-step project that removes all the tiniest particles and helps preserve your filter and your fish.
      • Heater - you need a heater to keep the water at a stable(ish) temperature. Make sure it's rated high enough for the size tank. Adjustable settings are better in case you ever need to raise the temperature temporarily (such as to treat ick).
      • Thermometer - to make sure the heater is working, make sure everything is reasonably stable, etc.
      • Filter - and whatever bio-media is appropriate for your filter
      • Gravel vacuum - this thing will be your best friend
      • Turkey baster - I don't have one of these, but I see people talking about using them ALL the time for so many useful things
      • Water Conditioner - you MUST condition all water you put in your tank. You cannot just "leave it sit" like some say; this only removes half the issues with tap water.
      • Small eye dropper - for measuring out Seachem Prime - aka the conditioner you should get - because it's super concentrated :D
      • Fish net - for catching the little buggers
      • Liquid Test Kit - Buy the API Master Test Kit. You won't regret it.
      • A couple 5 gallon buckets from Home Depot/Lowe's, never used for anything else, with lids - carrying water to/from your tank is a pain in the buttocks.
      • Airstone with air pump - they help break the surface tension and thus adds more oxygen back into your water
      • Quaratine tank set-up - this could be a small plastic tote, but you need somewhere to put sick fish. Petco sells 10gal aquariums for $10. Recommended to get a small sponge filter and leave it in your main tank running all the time so you have one to toss into the hospital tank at a moment's notice if you need to. Also need all the things above for this tank
    3. I think if I type the word cycle or cycling or fish cycle one of those should turn blue with a link to read about it.... you can do a cycle with fish food or with chemicals, but note that it may take weeks. You can make it go faster if you get some used cycled filter media from a friend or from a friendly pet shop.
      • The less chemicals you use in your tank on a regualar basis, the better
      • Prime water conditioner should be all you need unless an illness breaks out you need to treat
      • In the beginning, I like having an ammonia neutralizer handy in case I lose my cycle and it spikes for a day or two
    4. No idea, but others will, note that mollies can be a little food-agressive and any livebearer (molly, platy, guppy, swordtail, etc) will breed prolificly so be prepared to deal with babies if you add them to your tank OR get all males
    5. "They" say Java Ferns are easy, but I have almost killed mine. Rotala indica is thriving in my tank. Anubias barteri is... well... it still exists in my tank. Barely. Marimo Moss Balls I couldn't kill if I tried.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
  5. Thunder_o_b

    Thunder_o_bFishlore VIPMember

    Greetings and welcome to Fishlore :)

    Lunch is almost over so this has to be quick. I have always been told that once an aquarium is used for rodents or herps it can not be used for fish. Some type of contamination that does not wash out. Also aquariums made for non water use are not strong enough to hold water.
  6. mattgirl

    mattgirlFishlore VIPMember

    Welcome to fishlore

    You have gotten some very good detailed information so far. I have to agree with @Thunder_o_b though. If it were me I would just go ahead and buy a new tank or a used one if it has only been used to house fish. You may be able to get a good deal on a used tank with equipment included.
  7. Demeterite

    DemeteriteValued MemberMember

    Oh yeah! I definitely bought a 20-gal including ALL the things I listed above (food, chemicals, decor, test kit, substrate everything) on Craigslist for less than $100. I got my 30-gal including stand and hood for FREE on Craiglist. If there's a PetCo near you, it might still be having its "$1 per gallon" sale so a 40-gal would be $40.
  8. MaximumRide14

    MaximumRide14Well Known MemberMember

    You’ve gotten lots of help from other members. I just want to say that you have to make sure the tank is an aquarium, not just a terrarium.
  9. Gadfly

    GadflyValued MemberMember

    Just get rid of everything that was in the tank. Clean it out with either bleach, vinegar or baking soda. Scrub the seals and corners really well because that's where most of the bacteria will be. Then test to make sure it can hold water. Test the water in the tank daily for a few days looking for ammonia and nitrate. If the tank has been cleaned well enough these should test 0. If so, you can begin to cycle the tank, if not repeat the cleaning process until it does.
  10. GuppyDazzle

    GuppyDazzleWell Known MemberMember

    Welcome to the hobby!

    As you can see, you're going to get lots of opinions of what has worked for different people. Many of the opinions differ. They're not necessarily wrong, it's just that there are different ways of doing things that work. Take it all in and choose what makes the most sense to you. You're already on the right track by trying to get as educated as possible before you set up a tank. So many people just fill up a tank and throw in fish, then wonder why they're not healthy.

    In my experience:

    1. I've cycled dozens of tanks. I've never used cycle starters or bacteria additives, etc. I see lots of people dumping in lots of chemicals or or other additives and wondering why their cycles won't start or progress. My local fish store (LFS) will let you buy goldfish and will give you a refund when they're done and I've used those for cycling. 25% water changes every other day, monitor ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates and you can see the cycle progress. I believe in letting nature take its course unless it's a disease and I have a decent guess as to what it is.

    2. Frequent partial water changes are necessary to keep a healthy tank. It's the only way you can remove toxins. However, I recommend staying away from massive water changes. I would never change more than 25% at a time unless it's an emergency. Water changes are stressful for fish, and changing 50% of the water frequently can wipe them out.

    3. I recommend using an API Master Test Kit (with the test tubes). Test strips can be good depending on which brand, but they're inconsistent. The API kit costs around $30, but is cheaper in the long run with the number of tests you can do. Edit: If you do use test strips, you can cut them in half length-wise to double the number of tests.

    4. I'd also recommend buying a new tank if you can. If not the cleaning method I'd probably use is vinegar, but bleach is also OK if you rinse it to within an inch of its life when you're done.

    5. I always got pea gravel from the home supply store, if they had gravel that was small enough. It's very dusty and dirty, and you have to rinse it about 20 times in a bucket before it's ready to use, but it works great and its cheap.

    6. I'd recommend live plants. There are beginner plants that grow pretty well, but it depends on your water, your lighting, and your fertilizer. I got lots of mine from aquariumplants.com.

    7. Don't overfeed. You'll see that a lot. I'd guess that even after being told that 100 times, about 100% of new fishkeepers overfeed anyway. I know I did. It took me a year to learn how not to overfeed. Your fish will always seem hungry, that means they're healthy. Feed tiny amounts a couple times a day.

    8. Have fun, and don't get discouraged when problems arise. Diagnosing trouble is part of being a fishkeeper, and trouble happens to all of them.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
  11. OP

    NeonFishNew MemberMember

    Wow, thank you everyone! This is a lot of info, so I can't exactly reply to everyone lol, but I will let you know what I'm thinking now. So, I'm going to take everything out of the tank and give it a good scrub with hot water. This tank is an aquarium, I bought it in December of 2016 at the dollar per gallon sale at Petco. It has a mesh lid though, so I know I'll need to get an aquarium lid of some kind. Do aquarium lids sit in the plastic rim around the top edge of the tank? My hamster chewed plastic on the rim up pretty good but I'm not sure that matters. What kind of lighting to I need in order to keep live plants?

    Would this make a good group?: School of neon tetras, a corydoras catfish, a few ghost shrimp (maybe? I don't know a lot about shrimp), and a few guppies.

    Here is my shopping list so far, just added the essentials, this does not include live plants, decorations, or fish. Is this everything I need besides those things I mentioned weren't on the list?


    I just realized I forgot to add conditioner to the list, I will be getting that, and some buckets. I also already have a quarantine tank so that's all good.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2018
  12. -Mak-

    -Mak-Fishlore VIPMember

    I think everybody's covered a lot, but I'll just talk some about plants.

    Plants do not do great in larger, common store-bought gravel for many reasons, including it being inert/not nutrient rich/basically just rock, not being very porous and therefore not hosting as much beneficial bacteria, being heavy on the roots, not being able to trap nutrients from the water column, and in my own personal opinion it doesn't look the best.

    Many use sand, which is okay for low tech plants, but it'll need root tabs for plants to actually gain nutrients from their roots. Others use aquarium plant soil.

    What you'll need to decide is what type of tank you want, visually. If you haven't googled aquascaping yet, do it because it'll blow you away. Obviously these tanks have a lot of other requirements that help the plants thrive.

    A simpler planted tank won't look as full of plants, but it may be easier to handle.

    I dove right into aquascaping with my first fish tank, and it was definitely a steep learning curve, but I learned a huge amount in a very short time. What direction you take will determine lighting, fertilizer, substrate, possibly even the tank type if the current one doesn't work out. Either way, George Farmer and ADU aquascaping on Youtube are great resources for any planted tank keeper :)
  13. Demeterite

    DemeteriteValued MemberMember

    Don't do just one corydoras. They need a school of 6+! :)
  14. 123

    123Valued MemberMember

    My local pet shops sell plants in bunches like whichever 4 plants for 15 Euro lets say. So I used this to buy 8 different plants at the beginning just to kind of see what will hold up. I quickly learned that my gourami simply wont tolerate small carpet-like plants or floating plants or plants that have tiny thin leafs. He bites them in pieces and clogs my filter... it has to do with his breeding behavior. So you can also learn about fish behavior, or plants by experimenting a bit like this. Also, some fish eat plants so just check that before :)