Setting Up A Betta Tank (The Right Way!)


setting up a betta tank the right way

Betta fish are very beautiful with their flowing fins and have become extremely popular fish over recent years, but setting up a betta tank is not always as easy as it may seem. There are many different ways to set up a fish tank and some betta owners follow their hearts while others do what they have been told.

This article will teach you step by step how to set up a new betta tank and will cover the following:

  1. How to choose a betta tank.
  2. What light is best for a betta tank.
  3. Which substrate you should use.
  4. How to add a heater and filter to your betta tank.
  5. I will explain the process and importance of adding water and cycling your tank.
  6. Adding plants and ornaments.
  7. And finally… Adding your betta to its newly setup tank.

While setting up a betta fish tank is not rocket science, there are some things to keep in mind. By setting everything up correctly in the beginning, it will speed up the process and make your first betta fish tank setup more successful.

Before I start, it would be important to have a small overview of the betta fish species, their natural habitat, and living conditions.

When setting up any new fish tank, your aim is to replicate as closely as possible, the natural environment of the main species that you will have in the tank.

Make sure to check out our Betta Fish Care Guide And Species Overview.

Betta Fish Overview

Confusing for some, betta fish are also commonly known as “Siamese Fighting Fish” and “Labyrinth Fish“. Their scientific name is “Betta splendens“.

Betta fish are a species of freshwater fish originating in parts of Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia (primarily), Singapore, and Vietnam, and have now been introduced into many different countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and America.

In their natural habitat, betta fish live in small rice paddies or lowland flooded fields, that usually have slow-moving, low oxygenated waters and lots of shade from trees. This means that your new betta tank will need a lot of plants or live aquarium plants to replicate the shade and hiding places that they need in their natural setting.

As betta fish are used to shallow, slow-moving streams, you will need an aquarium filter that will not provide too strong of a current and as their home in Asia has a more tropical climate, a heater that will keep the water at an acceptable temperature as warm water is a must.

Betta fish will be the most comfortable at a temperature of around 78° to 80° Fahrenheit, (25.5° – 26.7° Celsius), but can survive at temperatures between 72° and 86° Fahrenheit (22.2° – 30° Celsius). The closer to the optimal temperature, the healthier they will be.

Their natural setting has a lower pH level (slightly acidic) but this does not mean that you cannot keep them at your desired pH levels in their tank, just adjust the water change ratios accordingly. The most important thing is for the water chemistry to be stable and consistent so they know what to expect.

Now that you understand a little about a betta fish’s natural environment, let’s look at the best way to set up a betta fish tank, quickly and easily.

How To Set Up A Betta Fish Tank

I will list the steps that I use when setting up a new tank which is the same for most tanks but there are a few differences. A betta tank is best set up using the following steps:

1. Choosing A Tank For Your Betta Fish

Probably the most important step of setting up your new betta tank is choosing the right sized tank. Betta fish are used to living in rice paddies and small, slow-moving streams so you will need a smaller aquarium that does not provide too much current or space for them, but also ensure it has enough room for all of their needs; plant life, hiding spots.

You will also need to decide if other fish will be joining your betta in the aquarium and if so, what size of fish. Betta fish are not good with other fish that can bully them (larger, and more aggressive) or invade their space. They are also aggressive toward other members of their own species, hence the name Siamese Fighting Fish, so if you are setting up a male betta and female betta tank, be aware that the aggression is likely to rise, and carry out some extra research to find the right type of tank mates.

Male bettas tend to be more aggressive than female bettas, as they will defend their territory, food sources, and potential mates. Female bettas tend to be a lot more docile than male betta fish.

Betta Tank Size

The ideal environment for your betta would be a 10 gallon tank but this does depend on what other fish will be living in it, and how many plants you want, or which live aquarium plants you will choose. If you prefer 20 gallon tank or larger, then even better.

The size of your betta’s tank will depend on the number and type of other fish you are introducing to live with your betta in its new home; a general rule is about 1 gallon for every inch of the longest length of an adult male’s body, although this is an absolute minimum size.

There are many all-in-one betta fish tanks for sale and you will probably find them at your local pet stores. Generally, they are basic starter tanks and can come in 1 or 2 gallon tank sizes. If you are just keeping a single betta fish, they will probably do just fine in this size aquarium, although smaller tanks are much harder to maintain for beginners.

The Fluval Spec series is quite a good option and can be found online at Amazon.com as well as some other retailers.

Some options would be:

Fluval SPEC Freshwater Aquarium Kit, – 5 Gallon Aquarium with LED Lighting and 3 Stage Filtration

Fluval SPEC Freshwater Aquarium Kit, - 5 Gallon Aquarium with LED Lighting and 3 Stage Filtration on Amazon.com
Fluval SPEC Freshwater Aquarium Kit, – 5 Gallon Aquarium with LED Lighting and 3 Stage Filtration on Amazon.com

GloFish Aquarium Kit – 10 Gallon Aquarium with LED Lighting and Filtration Included

GloFish Aquarium Kit - 10 Gallon Aquarium with LED Lighting and Filtration Included on Amazon.com
GloFish Aquarium Kit – 10 Gallon Aquarium with LED Lighting and Filtration Included on Amazon.com

If you really do want something a little smaller and looks great, a couple of recommendations would be:

Coospider Betta Fish Aquarium Black – 2 Gallon Starter Kit

Coospider Betta Fish Aquarium Black - 2 Gallon Starter Kit on Amazon.com
Coospider Betta Fish Aquarium Black – 2 Gallon Starter Kit on Amazon.com

BiOrb Halo Aquarium – 4 Gallon

BiOrb Halo Aquarium - 4 Gallon on Amazon.com
BiOrb Halo Aquarium – 4 Gallon on Amazon.com

All of the aquariums listed above are complete kits and would be the best option for beginner aquarists to set up. They should provide most of the equipment that you will need such as internal filters and heaters and you may find that some will add gravel to the kit.

It is widely talked about that betta fish live in puddles and therefore only need a small tank, but this is not true as they are also found in larger ponds and shallow streams. Smaller environments in the wild are preferable when hiding from predators.

Very small tanks have many potential issues such as:

  • You will need to do more water changes.
  • Your betta could be at risk of getting diseases from the small space as disease will spread quicker.
  • Water temperature is also less stable in a smaller tank compared to a larger tank as it is a much smaller body of water.
  • Ammonia and Nitrate levels will increase much quicker from uneaten food and fish waste and can be harder to keep within the correct parameters.

Bigger tanks are usually much more stable and any issues that do arise, do so much more slowly and won’t catch you out.

If you are setting up a new betta fish tank with lots of live plants in it, then an all-in-one would probably work well for you but if not, I would recommend going with a larger size tank.

Your new betta fish need room to move and will prefer a longer aquarium over a taller one.

It is a good idea to clean the tank before setting it up as it will lower the risk of introducing unwanted bacteria into your tank.

Where To Put A Betta Tank

As with any tropical or marine fish tank, it is always wise to position the tank in your house, away from a window and direct sunlight. The heat from direct sunlight can be magnified and play havoc with your water temperature and the sunlight will encourage algae growth.

Betta fish also like to live in a light-medium setting and you should set up your tank with this in mind. This is usually achieved by placing the betta’s home on top of an end table or desk so that it will face away from any windows, doorways.

2. Betta Tank Lighting

Choosing how to light your aquarium is an important consideration when setting up a betta tank. It is true that betta fish originate from environments with little natural light but they need to be exposed to some type of lighting.

There are many options for setting up your tank’s lighting, and you can go as simple or elaborate as you please. The most important things when setting up your new betta tank should be the safety of the fish and whether the light setting is right for them.

The best type of light for a betta tank is fluorescent light. These are best for setting-up live plants and keeping the water transparent as well as adding to your betta’s natural environment with more light.

An led light strip is also a very good low power option and provides much of the same benefits.

Betta Tank LED Lighting
LED Fish Tank Light Housing

Using the correct light will also help their bright beautiful colors to stand out better along with the colors of the plants and ornaments within the aquarium.

Most fish tanks and all-in-one betta tanks will have some form of light built-in. You will only need to turn the night off at bedtime so that your fish will get a natural period of darkness which they would experience in the wild.

The best choice of light is pretty much down to your own taste and will not really affect the health of your betta.

3. Betta Tank Substrate

If you are unsure what tank substrate is, you will find it covers the bottom of the tank. Usually, gravel is the most common type of substrate but you can also use sand, rocks, or even a clay pot to create your desired look.

Best Substrate For Bettas

There are many choices of substrate that will suit a betta so it will depend on what sort of look you want to achieve. I will list the choices below.

Sand

Sand and gravel are both natural-looking substrates that betta fish will like. They feel more at home with this substate which is similar to their wild setting. Sand may cloud up the water quite quickly though if not cleaned regularly, so its best for you to use it in a tank without live plants.

Gravel

Gravel substrate is simpler as you will just need to vacuum it out occasionally which can be done using a gravel siphon, or by taking the whole substrate up and replacing it with fresh in most cases. There are also many different colorful substrates available that look like sand but have more of a sparkle to them.

The type of substrate used is important as it will harbor beneficial bacteria that will clean your tank and help keep it healthy.

5 of the best substrate for bettas are:

  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Dark Pebbles
  • Rocks
  • Small Bowls or Clay pots.
Betta tank substrate dark pebbles
Dark Pebble Substrate For A Betta Tank

Any of these substrates are perfect for setting up a new betta’s aquarium and you will find them at your local pet store or online if they’re not available locally.

How To Add Substrate To Your Betta Tank

When adding the chosen substrate to your betta tank, you will need to prepare it first. Just like any other substrate, you have to wash the sand/gravel thoroughly in a bucket before adding it into your aquarium and then rinse out the container afterward with fresh water from the tap.

Substrate Depth

The depth of the substrate should also depend on what type you’re adding. The sand substrate needs to be about an inch deep, while gravel can go up to two inches.

When setting the tank up with your prepared and rinsed substrate, you may need a container or netting for any loose particles that get kicked up during the set-up process; this is especially true if it will be your first time setting up an aquarium.

4. Adding A Heater And Filter

Once you have added your substrate to the betta tank, you will need a heater and a filter. Betta fish are classed as tropical fish because the climate in which they thrive, is a tropical one, and they enjoy warm tropical waters.

Heating A Betta Tank

An aquarium heater will help regulate the temperature of your tank because of its built-in thermostat. Heaters are an essential part of setting up a new betta tank and will vary in price depending on what wattage/size heater you want.

Betta Tank Filtration

A filter is also needed because it has several benefits such as improving water quality, oxygenating the water, removing waste particles, and providing a habitat for beneficial bacteria. There are many filter options available, from your standard filter to an under-gravel filter.

Betta fish do not like strong currents so it is important to choose a filter that is correct for the size of your aquarium and has an adjustable flow.

If you have an all-in-one, complete betta tank setup, the heater and filter should be sufficient for the tank size, but they may be cheaper and less reliable, so it may be worth purchasing back-ups in the near future in case they fail.

Installing A Filter And Heater

Check both heater and filter for damaged or exposed wires and electricals before putting them in your tank. They are designed to be placed in water, so they are safe to use.

The heater should be placed on the back of the tank, while a filter should be positioned at one end. The filters outlet will need to be positioned where the water surface will be. As water is expelled from the filter, it will cause some surface disturbance and help to oxygenate the tank water.

The heater will need to be adjusted to the correct temperature, 78° to 80° Fahrenheit, (25.5° – 26.7° Celsius) which is often done by guesswork. While your betta tank is being prepared, you will be checking the temperature and adjusting the heater up and down until the correct temperature has been obtained.

Most heaters and filters can be positioned quite easily by suction cups. An analog or digital thermometer should be placed away from the heater element so that it only records the water temperature.

5. Add Water To Your Betta Tank

Now you are ready to add some water to your betta’s aquarium. Adding water is not just a case of filling it up with tap water and you are ready to go. There are several processes that need to take place before the water is ready for new fish.

How Long Should Water Sit Before Adding Betta Fish

Tap water can be used but you will need to cycle the tank for about two weeks. This will help to remove any chlorine and other chemicals that could be harmful to your new betta fish.

Cycling A Betta Tank

Cycling a tank means setting up the tank so that it will produce its own bacteria and help break down any chlorine or other chemicals in the aquarium water. The good bacteria will grow and help to normalize ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels while the water also has the time to properly oxygenate.

Cycling a betta tank, just like any aquarium, takes time and is commonly called a fishless cycle. Running a heater and filter during the cycling phase will help to speed up the process as the good bacteria will grow within the filter media and be distributed into the aquarium as it passes through the filter.

You can also add a biological enhancer which will add an immediate hit of good bacteria also speeding up the cycling process. A Biological enhancer is a useful way to kick start the natural process within your aquarium.

A water conditioner will also speed up the process by neutralizing any contaminants such as chlorine.

Betta Water Parameters

Before it will be safe to add your betta fish, the water conditions will need to be within the correct parameters or you will risk your fish’s health or may causing them some stress.

The nitrogen cycle will ensure that ammonia gets eliminated from the tank with much of it turning to nitrates from the interaction with good bacteria.

During the fishless cycle, the ideal parameters that you should be aiming for are:

ParameterTarget Value
Temperature 78°-82° Fahrenheit (25.0° – 27.5° Celsius)
Water pH level Between 6.5 and 7
Ammonia levelsShould be 0 mg/L or less
Nitrite levelsShould be 0 mg/L or less, but more than 0mg/L is not too serious an issue in a cycled tank
Target Parameters For Betta Tanks

You can buy testing kits to test these parameters and use a thermometer to measure the temperature.

If you are allowing your tank to sit for long enough before adding your betta fish, all parameters should be within acceptable levels without the need for testing.

You will need to perform regular water changes to your tank so it will be useful to read our article: How Often To Change Betta Water.

6. Adding Plants And Ornaments

In order to make your betta fish tank more habitable, you should add some plants and ornaments to give them cover. Although they are aggressive fish when fighting with their own species, and some other fish, they also have natural predators and will feel more comfortable in a planted aquarium with some shady areas to hide.

Live plants are best as they will aid in the natural biological cycle of your tank and help provide oxygen, but you can also use fake plants such as silk plants and plastic plants.

The best plants for a betta are live plants that will provide good coverage.

A few plants that are recommended are:

  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Hornwort
Plants For Betta Fish
Plants And Ornaments Are Good Decoration For A Betta’s Aquarium

Some ornaments that are recommended are:

  • Wooden Log – This is a good source of cover for betta fish and also offers shelter to other small invertebrates. It will provide your aquarium with some decoration while providing a natural setting because it has a natural look and feel.
  • Marimo Moss Balls – These are another good source of cover for betta fish, but can also provide shelter to invertebrates that will keep your tank healthy by eating excess food particles and helping with the biological cycle.
  • Plant Vase – A simple vase, even a broken one will provide shady areas for your betta fish to hide.

As with the substrate, make sure your plants and ornaments have been rinsed and are free of chemicals before adding them to your aquarium.

Plants can carry diseases, parasites, and other pests which you will not want to introduce to your new aquarium.

7. How To Put Betta In A New Tank

The final step is adding your betta to their new tank which can be a tricky process the first time.

You can tell your new betta fish is stressed if their fins are clamped and they dart about on top of the water surface, but this may just be because they have been in isolation for too long.

To avoid any serious health problems setting in from stress, it is important to find a way for them to adjust before you put them in the new tank.

How To Acclimate Betta Fish

Now that your new tank has been set up correctly, there are several steps to acclimate betta fish into the tank:

Step 1. Add some water from the new tank, into the bag or container with your betta fish. This will help them to gradually get used to the different water type and temperature.

Step 2. After around 10-15 minutes, take the container or bag with your betta fish and float it in their new tank so that the water in the container slowly adjusts in temperature and your betta can see their new surroundings before being released.

Step 3. Put some food into the new tank and stir it up so that there is a good amount of movement in the water.

Step 4. Release your betta gently by holding their container, or netting them with your hands behind their head (being careful not to hurt their tail) and slowly release them from the container, letting them swim away by themselves.

Your new betta should now be well acclimatized to their new tank and you shouldn’t witness any problems.

Betta Fish New Tank Syndrome

Once they are in the new tank, there is a possibility that your betta will suffer “New Tank Syndrome” which is a condition where your betta won’t eat, will have clamped fins, and dart about the tank, or hide a lot.

Although these behaviors can be caused by the stress of a new environment, the actual cause of new tank syndrome is due to a tank that has not been correctly cycled and is still not ready for fish.

When setting up a new tank, it is important to take the time and do everything right in order to avoid this syndrome from setting in.

Water will need to be tested for correct parameters and you will need to check that the water has been oxygenated sufficiently using the test kits available.

There are simple solutions to quickly bring things back into line.

It is very unlikely that you will struggle with new tank syndrome if you have followed the steps I have listed so any odd behaviors will most likely be caused by stress especially if they have been in a confined space beforehand for an extended period of time.

Provided the stress is not caused by poor water conditions, your betta should be fine after a few days and they will get used to their new home.

Enjoy Your New Betta Tank

Well done for setting up your new betta tank. Now that you have done it once, it will be much easier the next time. The steps involved are pretty much the same for setting up any new aquarium except for the types of substrate, plants, and ornaments that you will need. Some fish will prefer different water parameters, just carry out the required research and tweak as necessary.

Hopefully, you will enjoy your new betta fish and won’t have too many problems along the way. Just feed your betta correctly with a mixture of frozen foods, live food, avoid overfeeding, and give them a balanced diet. Feeding with live foods is also recommended from time to time.

Keep the tank clean and non-toxic, and it should remain disease-free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Jon O'Connell

I have kept both marine and freshwater fish and set up almost 100 aquariums. Happy to share my knowledge and experience to help others enjoy keeping healthy and happy fish.

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