How Long Can Fish Survive In Store Bag?


Sorry for such a rookie question that has probably been asked several times on this forum, but I couldn't seem to find a consistent answer. I am buying fish for an aquarium I have at my job (I teach) and there's no pet store in the town I work at. I have to buy them from my local pet store which is almost an hour away from my school. Therefore, I'd be buying them after work, holding onto them, and introducing them into a cycled tank the next day. Do you think the fish will be okay in the store bag for about 12-15 hours? Thanks!


Someone else may be able to speak more authoritatively about this. In my opinion that is much too long for the fish to be kept in the bag. Some fish stores can add extra oxygen to the bag if you have a long drive home. There's a fish store 45 minutes from me, with traffic it can be 60-90 minutes, and I always ask them to add Oxygen to the bag.

Even then I go straight home, float the bag, and add the fish to the tank as soon as is safe.

I would not wait 12-15 hours with the fish in the bag. Is there any way that you could buy the fish on the way to your school?


Get a container with a lid that has some hole, pop in an airstone (they have portable battery operated pumps) and it would really help to have a minI heater in there too, or some heat packs surrounding the container.


No sorry after 12hrs the build up of co2 ammonia and every thing else will cause a ph swing when you open the bag


Breather bags can hold fish for up to 7 days! It all depends on the type of bags they use. You could always take the fish out and put it in a bowl over night and put it back in in the morning.


I have had fish shipped to me and they survived 2 full days in the mail. I don't know if the fish shop added oxygen or not. I have also gone to fish auctions where the fish are usually bagged the night before or hours before the auction and then I have transported them for more then 4hrs by car and then set them up in their new homes and just about all have survived. You have to remember that fish are transported over great distances before they are even in a store mostly by bag and then are rebagged for your trip home.
It would be best if you got some oxygen added if available or as stated above added an airstone to the container or even the bag.

Have to ask what kind of fish are wanting to get? and how many? If you want more then say six small fish(per bag) ask for them to be bagged separately. If getting larger fish ask for them to be bagged separately this minimizes the chance that they will attack each other (which causes damage that can become infected). Good luck with your new fish.


I am looking to get about 3 tetras...they're going to be my first fish for a newly set up 30G tank.

Unfortunately there is no way for me to get to the store on my way to work, I get there at 630am. Is the main concern the Oxygen? I can always put them in a bowl overnight, my biggest concern was waste buildup over that period of time. I am hoping that when I go there, this is not an uncommon concern and they'll have practical solutions.

Thanks for your continued input, everyone!


This is just what I would do..

Bring home a large container of tank water from school. After you get fish, put each into their own container(the larger the better). Get 3 air stones and one air pump. Then use a (no clue what real name is) multI check valve thingy and airline tubing. Set up the air stone/bubbler in each container and keep the water around 76°F(whether you heater your house, that room/put small heater near it, put 3 containers in larger container with water and heater, it shouldn't matter). When you go to leave the next morning, put each fish into a mason jar with fresh tank water and drive to school. Acclimate when ready.(note, you may need a hole in mason jar lid for oxygen. This can also be done using just 1 container, but in my opinion, the amount of waste will be less if in 3 separate. If using bubblers, prime will also help a lot here.)

When I got my 29 gal, she had 11 guppies and 1 harlequin rasbora. I put them in 1 solid/not clear container with bubbler and prime while we took tank down then drove home and put back into tank. This took about 6 or so hours, only had bubbler in for about 4 hrs(1 hour off, 3 or so on, 1 off, 1 on) hope this helps!! Good luck!!!


Maybe I'll sound like the odd man out, but if fish can be shipped in a plastic baggy and spend three days in the mail, arrive alive, acclimate, and show no signs of illness when added to a tank, there is no reason at all you can't keep a fish in a bag overnight. If you're concerned, open the bag when you get home, then tie it up before you leave for work the next morning.


Usually when people ship fish they use kordon breather bags. These have been specially designed to allow oxygen to enter the bag and CO2 to exit. Most fish stores do not use these bags as they are more expensive. So the bag will need to be opened somehow. I would also suggest putting a few drops of Prime in the bag once you got home and again in the morning, this would help bind the ammonia until you can get them situated. Some of the other ideas about temporary homes would probably be ideal, but the OP may not have access to all the equipment that would entail. Maybe transfer them into a clean and rinsed Tupperware so you can remove the lid easily to allow the oxygen exchange at surface of water.


Yes, a fish can withstand being in a "store" (vinyl) bag for up to 3 days+. But the fish must be prepared before hand. It must not consume food prior to bagging for 2 days in advance and then new water must be swapped with aged aquarium water. But if you are purchasing from a store, most likely they have poor water quality before hand and the fish would be over fed.

Best way to transport fish would be a battery operated bubbler in a closed bucket and not be left out.


Cant you just go in on a Saturday or Sunday or other off from school day?


Several months ago I bought 5 cichilds. 3 yellow ones and 2 blue ones.

All three yellow fish died while aclimating while I was at class for 4 hours. I never try to kill fish but i've had close to 10 die even though my cichild tank is thriving.

From now on i'm using the drip method along with bubbler and heater. The bag metthod seems to stress my fined friends out to much.


Good morning,

Something else to consider is the water temperature. If you are purchasing Tropical fish, then the water needs to be kept warm. I would recommend adding the fish into a cooler to help maintain the water temperature and set it in a nice warm place. Add a battery powered air stone/supply.

Hope for the best! Add a dose of Prime.


Aquarium Saturation

I'm looking at getting some guppies, but the guppies at the lfs don't look very good. We are going to Melbourne soon and I was planning on getting some there. I read on another forum that they can live for up to 3 days in an esky! Would I need a heat pack?


Depends on the outdoor temp. How long have they to stay in the bag then?

Aquarium Saturation

Probs 2 to 3 hours


Ohhh that's no problem or what so ever. Depending on their trip (think they have been travelling from Asia a few days) air (short period) or oxygen (longer trip) is added to the bag.

No need to worry !
Depending on the outdoor temp an old newspaper can be of use to isolate.

Aquarium Saturation

Would I need a heat pack because it s winter here and it's freezing!!

And would I need an esky to stablize the temps??

Secret Oasis

Coming from Wisconsin my term of freezing is a bit different from yours haha. in temps of 10-15°C assuming the ride will be in a heated car I don't think a heat pack or esky would be necessary.


Agree with SO.
Or will you travell by sledge ??

Aquarium Saturation

Yeah thx


You could always get a small insulated cooler that you use for cans of soda or food. Put the bag in the cooler and that will help keep the bag of fish stable till you get home. Plus it keeps the fish in the dark so there is less stress on them. Welcome to the forum and happy fish shopping....Alison

Aquarium Saturation

Thanks I've got an esky that I'm gonna put them in on the way home


Hello, I just got a brand new tank at the 1$ per gallon sale from petco, and I'm letting it cycle. But I got one extra fish, which for now will go into the 5 gallon tank until the 20 gal tank is filtered.
I'm letting the Red Wag Sword fish stay in the bag so he can get use to the 5 gal temp.. but I have to go somewhere soon and won't be back for a few hours. Will the fish be OK in the bag for a few hours? His bag will be in the tank with a heater.

His name is amber <3


Why not just put him in the aquarium? It will take a few weeks for the tank to cycle. The filter does nothing until bacteria grows on it. Petco/petsmart have no clue what they're talking aboit when they tell you to run the aquarium for 24 hours before putting fish in.

I suggest learning about the nitrogen cycle.

The fish will be ok for a few hours regardless.


If you have time, I'd say check this 7 min video out
basically she uses this "Plop and Drop" Method that is worth looking into
she explains it better than I can, but she doesn't spend 20-25 minutes floating the bag in the tank, just take them out immediately and home them :]
something to do with their co2 countering the ammonia in their bag when air can't get in, so they don't burn off their slime coat exposed to air


In the cases of fish in bags from your LFS, you don't have to worry as much about a build up of ammonia and CO2; it's more for shipping I think.


Why not just put him in the aquarium? It will take a few weeks for the tank to cycle. The filter does nothing until bacteria grows on it. Petco/petsmart have no clue what they're talking aboit when they tell you to run the aquarium for 24 hours before putting fish in.

I suggest learning about the nitrogen cycle.

The fish will be ok for a few hours regardless.

When I got my 5 gallon aqaurium I didnt cycle at all, and my fish are fine and healthy and has been that way for months. And I was talking to a pro fish keeper that I know from petco that helped me out and he had fish for a long time now.


When I got my 5 gallon aqaurium I didnt cycle at all, and my fish are fine and healthy and has been that way for months. And I was talking to a pro fish keeper that I know from petco that helped me out and he had fish for a long time now.


When I got my 5 gallon aqaurium I didnt cycle at all, and my fish are fine and healthy and has been that way for months. And I was talking to a pro fish keeper that I know from petco that helped me out and he had fish for a long time now.
I seriously doubt your fish were healthy if you didn't cycle the tank but ok


So you come asking for help and then you are teaching us about the nitrogen cycle?
For starters a 5 gal tank is usually super small and not suitable for anything but bettas.
Anyways, I think your fish will not die but I don't know why you don't simply move it into the 20 gal and just do a fish in cycle. It makes no sense to me.
You are worried about putting him in 20 gals of water just because the tank is not cycled but you are not worried of leaving the fish in a bag with only 250 ml of water that isn't cycled too?


So in two weeks time, I'm taking a six-hour drive to visit my grandmother in Charlotte. And Charlotte has huge pet stores, of course, that's in comparison to the fact I live in a small town with only a half-baked Pet Supplies Plus that barely manages to keep its fish alive.

But I digress, y'all know those plastic storage bins that you can buy at Walmart for some five, ten dollars? Could I keep fish in there for the day I have to wait and the six-hour drive home? Of course, I'll be using a heater and the water will be cycled for the entire time, but would it be possible without the filter for at least seven hours? And would the storage bin suffice as a temporary two-day home? If so, how would I manage to do it? (size of bin yet to be determined, likely 5-10gal)

TL;DR: can fish be kept in a plastic storage bin from Walmart for two days (with a heater and a filter) and then transported for seven hours without a filter? And how?

Bruxes and Bubbles

Definitely is, depending on the fish you are transporting and the size of the bin. Make sure to do a big water change before you leave and you should be 100% fine unless your fish is very, very sensitive. I kept four guppies inside overnight as it got colder that night (around 10 hours) in a 5 gallon bucket and they were fine the next day.

What kind of fish do you plan to transport?


Fish type is also still undetermined, it depends on which type catch my eye, but they're likely going to be something hardy like guppies or community-type bettas.


Fish type is also still undetermined, it depends on which type catch my eye, but they're likely going to be something hardy like guppies or community-type bettas.
What?? Not bringing home discus or arrowana or some other crazy expensive fish??

Bruxes and Bubbles

Fish type is also still undetermined, it depends on which type catch my eye, but they're likely going to be something hardy like guppies or community-type bettas.

Oh, yeah; you'll be fine. If a betta can live in a pet store cup for that long, it'll survive 7 hours a big bin. Guppies too. Opt for the 10 gallon bin for security if possible, but you will be okay. Just remember to acclimate when you get home if your water's PH and everything is different.


Short answer yes.

How I do it, and I've transported several times, though as with all fishkeeping there's multiple ways to do it, this is mine.
I have transported in bare tanks, buckets and totes whatever it is be sure it's clean before you add fish. I only put 4-6" of water in the bin. I generally add nothing but a treatment like Prime and the fish, I've never had a filter and depending on the fish about 50/50 add a bubbler on a battery pump. I've added a bunch of cheap floating plants like Anacharis also on multiple day transports, I've also done multiple days barren.

I always black them out, I keep their tanks as dark as possible for the entire trip. Yes it's difficult not to check on them. High waste fish I've added Prime after 24 hours. Do not feed them anything at all, they won't starve in a couple days but they will poo up their tank extremely and get Ammonia damage.

Be very cautious on temp, don't leave them in the car. Cars and back seats can get very very hot! Try to keep them out of the sun as much as possible. Trunk is a bad idea.

Personally I would not worry about the filter, use a bubble stone and battery power pump if you are concerned. Filter is more of a hassle than a benefit and I would not waste cycled media personally.

Always remember, they ship them in bags through the mail, that's what I consider when transporting. Makes me feel less guilty about it.


Take a styrofoam box/cooler (some shops will provide for free, or at most a couple of bucks) and put the bags in the box. As noted, don't leave it in the car for too long, though you have more leeway with the cooler than with a plastic tub as it is insulated. Let the shop know that you are going to be a couple of days and they should be glad to bag properly: larger bags, possibly even with oxygen, 75% air, 25% water. The fish will be just fine in the bags. I have left fish in bags from fish show weekends for as long as three days (even a week with one bag, but that was a mistake on my part). Even the fish that was in a bag for a week survived, and spawned later. Keeping them in the styro keeps them in the dark, which slows their metabolism greatly. This results in minimal ammonia pollution.

The risk of using plastic tubs is that they can splash and spill in a car, even if you put the lid on it, and it can overheat quickly in the sun. I have used one in a hotel room for a species that I knew was very sensitive about water movement, which required a strong airstone and more surface area. But that was an extreme situation.


I drove from SoCal to NorCal once and transported my fish in a large cooler, the biggest one I could manage. 7 hour drive plus 4 hours for tear down and resetting the tank. total 11 hours. no deaths. I had cories, kribs, neons, mollies at the time. had battery powered air supplied to them.

when I do transfers in the house I use regular plastic bins from Walmart since I don't have to worry about temp swings. My biggest worry is about keeping the temperature stable.

also you want to fast(not feed your fish) for at least a day before transport and don't feed during transport either.


The cooler idea is a good one. Temps will stay very manageable in all but the most severe weather.


I used that same cooler for when I went to vegas too. it kept ice for days in my trunk in 120F weather.


Ooo yes I have used a cooler too.


I transported fish once, doing 65 down the highway and the fished decided to jump out the bucket. Was a great experience lol

Blue Bea

Good post! I'm trying to figure out how to transport two days with one night in a hotel in between. I was thinking bins and air pumps too. Since the hotel stay is between the two days, I figured I could take the bins inside, do a small water change, and put a HOB with some cycled media for the evening. I have a minivan and we don't turn the car off on trips except for gas fill ups. We have dogs so we just hit the drive thru and take turns going to the bathroom. Lol


HI I was wondering how long can fish live a bag 3 days? Depending on the size?


I’m sure they could live more than three days. Most LFS that get fish from other counties take a few days to get to the buyer.


Much depends on the size of the bag, how many fish, ammonia output, etc
International fish sometimes takes a week or more with delays, etc.

But if you are referring to a few fish from the lfs that you are bring home, I know the longest I have had them in a bag was 2-3 hours with no ill effects.

Are you planning to go to an lfs out of the area? If so, there are things you can do to prepare ahead of time, etc if so.


I am planning on going to Florida to possibly get some, I am on vacation and live in NY


Current record for fish living in a bag that I have seen was two months. They were killifish, an Aphyosemion species as I recall. They did get pretty skinny, though.

Generally, a week is not a problem. Certain types of fish that are sensitive to ammonia may not last as long. I have bagged fish the night before an auction, driven 1-3 hours to the auction, had the bags sit on a table for 5-6 hours before being sold, and then they usually sit in a styro for another hour or two till the person leaves the auction, at which point they are going to be another 1-3 hours getting home before they even think about putting them in a tank.

In your situation, I would get a pad of ammonia absorbent Polyfilter, cut a small 1/2" square and put it in each bag. Even ammonia sensitive fish will live a week or two with this in the bag. That small square will suck up a lot of ammonia.

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