If you get nothing else from this website, please read and really think about the following. These basic ideas can make an unbelievable difference in how well your tank runs. Almost all of these have articles on this site with more details so please read about any subjects that grab your attention.
1-Water Changes, Water Changes, Water Changes!
Water changes are the most important aspect of aquarium care. A lack of water changes can completely undo everything else you ever do. When in doubt, do a water change. I have stopped testing water almost completely. I don’t need to know the numbers, no matter what the problem is the solution is water changes. They can fix almost everything including many illnesses. Without water changes the best meds are unlikely to work. Water Changes
2-Feed the Best Food Possible
New Life Spectrum has proven to be the best food time and time again. From the amazing results we got at the shop feeding it exclusively, to the incredible growth and color I have gotten with species after species including very challenging fish. In my experience nothing else can do what NLS can. Most people are happy with their food, but if you haven’t tried feeding NLS exclusively for at least 6 months you have no idea what your fish are missing. New Life Spectrum
3-Don’t Skimp on Filtration
When in doubt, get the bigger filter. If you are trying to decide between two different sizes of filters, get the bigger one. You will NEVER have too much filtration. The worst you could have is too much flow but that is really hard to do and even then is pretty easy to manage. In addition, get the better brand. You only have to buy a filter once so go ahead and get the better one. Having an inferior forever is not worth saving $20 or $60 now. Filtration
4-Don’t Overthink Things
Many aquarists test all the parameters and worry about them as if things will work well as long as you get the right numbers. Too many people try to adjust pH, KH, etc. only to end up stressing out the fish with a chemistry roller coaster. In almost every situation it is best to just leave things alone. Focus on the quality of the food and water. The only test you should worry about is nitrate because it will tell you if your water changes have been enough. Freshwater Chemistry
5-Treat Illnesses Naturally
In most cases illnesses can be cured with no more than water changes and salt therapy. Usually if the stressor is removed the fish’s own immune system can handle the illness. Many fish, especially goldfish, livebearers, and cichlids, react very well to salt therapy. Even soft water fish like tetras and discus react very well to salt therapy. In some cases you may need to use plant extract medications such as Melafix and Pimafix. Rarely will you ever need to use anything more than these treatments. Simply jumping in to chemical medications can end up doing a lot of harm including wiping out your biological filtration and directly stressing all the fish in the tank, the sick ones included. Disease Control in an Aquarium
6-Use Sand as a Substrate.
Switching to sand was one of the best improvements I have ever made when it comes to aquarium care. It is so much cleaner, much more natural, and no maintenance. Save yourself a lot of trouble and risk by avoiding sands that are not made for aquariums, stick to aquarium sand. Sand as a (Superior) Substrate
7-Watch Your Fish
This may seem obvious, but many people don’t do this enough. If you are a beginner you probably won’t pick up on many of the signs of trouble, but with time you will get to know your fish and you will be able to pick up on even very subtle signs of stress and other problems. The most obvious things are clamped fins, lethargy (not swimming around much, hanging out in a corner just sitting still, etc.), and reduced appetite (not eating is a huge red flag that something is wrong). If you can detect these three things you can save many fish.
I have seen many cases where the tests come out normal but the fish are stressed. The tests make people want to leave the water alone and just stick to the usual water change schedule, but if the fish are showing signs of stress you need to do water changes. Sure enough time and time again a water change every other day for a week can get things back on track and prevent any illness or other problems.
I have seen a clownfish move around a rock which clued in to the tank’s owner that the passive damsel (an azure damsel) was not typical to its species and was causing trouble. That one subtle movement was enough to let the tank’s owner know the damsel needed to go. This level of observation and being in tune with your fish can make a big difference. So learn to just watch your fish, get to know them, and learn how to detect problems sooner rather than later.
8-Don’t Waste Your Money
There are a lot of products out there that are essentially worthless. In my experience all bacterial supplements fall into this category. Trace element additives, amino acids, waste removers/decomposers, and more also fall into this category. Unless you are on well water you need dechlorinator. Other than that you should almost never need any chemicals or additives of any kind. This applies to freshwater, in saltwater dosing for things that are needed and tests show you need to add are a different story (KH, Ca, Mg, etc.).
The other way to waste money is to not spend it on the right equipment the first time. A great example of this is lighting or a protein skimmer in saltwater. Many people don’t understand how important lighting and skimming are until they see their tank being held back or their corals browning out. Then they have to go out and buy the right one. So they bought a good light and a bad light instead of just buying the good light the first time.
9-Research, Research, Research
Most of the problems people have could have been prevented with research. People buy pacus, common plecoes, arowanas, irridescent sharks, and so many other fish that shouldn’t even be in this hobby, at least not as commonly as they are. Very few people have tanks capable of properly caring for any of these fish and research would prevent them from buying them without realizing how big they are going to get. It is not just an issue with species selection either, it is also filter and heater selection, filter size, water change schedule, and much more. Research will only help.
This is a hobby where there are many ways to do the same thing. However, this doesn’t mean all those ways are equal. There are a lot of opinions out there and it can be very difficult to differentiate good information from common information. There are a lot of common misconceptions and misinformation out there that are just repeated over and over and over again until it becomes ‘fact’. The most popular information isn’t necessarily the most accurate. If something sounds off to you, ask for more information. If you can’t get actual, factual data or information that makes sense and is from an acceptably reliable resource, you can’t take someone’s word for it. I once had a debate with someone who wouldn’t cite anything except for one study from 1956. Try doing that for a middle school report and see how long it takes the teacher to stop laughing.
One common occurance is something I call ‘forum bandwagoning’. This is when one or a few people on a forum have a certain opinion and promote it on the site. Any time someone disagrees they all join in arguing their point. This either convinces the newcomer or drives them away (or at least convinces them to keep their mouth shut on the topic). Eventually effectively everyone on the site either says the same thing or doesn’t speak up. This is dangerous because it allows bad information to become the standard on the site and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong and attacked. You have to choose whether to fight this and share your opinion whenever possible or simply keep your head clear of the heated debates.