Betta Fish Tank Setup: The Ultimate Guide

Betta fish are beautiful with their long flowing fins and a large array of colors, patterns, and tail sizes. However, it’s not fair to bring one into your home without first knowing exactly how to care for it. These “exotic” fish deserve so much more than a cramped bowl on your coffee table.

In this post, we will take you through the Betta fish tank setup with our ultimate guide. 

betta fish tank

The Tank

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to what a Betta fish can be housed in. If we were to listen to some pet retailers, we would be led to believe that a small bowl or even a tiny cup is an appropriate quarter for this majestic creature.

Wrong!

Yes, we agree that the Betta can take air from the atmosphere, as well as from the water; however, small bowls and aquariums are not appropriate homes for this species. They simply do not provide enough space to accommodate everything the Betta needs to thrive in captivity.

For this reason, we recommend a 5-gallon tank (minimum). But remember bigger is better. Not only will more space provide your Betta with plenty of room to explore, but larger tanks are easier to maintain. 

Substrate

Many substrates on the market may be used in the Betta fish tank. These include;

  • Marbles
  • Sand
  • Gravel

However, not all substrates are created equally. Marbles are pretty, but fish waste and lost food will quickly build up between the marbles, which are difficult to clean. Plus, marbles are not a good choice for live plants as some need to be anchored to thrive.

Sand is a good choice as it is soft and safe for Betta fish and also makes a good place for plants to root themselves. However, the one downside of sand is you will have to be careful when using an aquarium vacuum, as it will be easily sucked up.

For most aquarists, small, smooth gravel is the number one choice. Aquarium gravel is readily available, easy to use, easy to maintain, and is available in a variety of colors. 

Pro Tip: We do not recommend the “glow in the dark” type or those that use cheap paint. These products can leach into the water, which can become toxic to your Betta fish.

Filter

It’s important to remember that Betta fish are slow-moving and do not appreciate a high-flow filter. The powerful intake and output of these types of filters will, most often, cause the Betta fish to hide and avoid that side of the tank. 

We recommend using a low-flow, sponge filter that will not create a strong current for the Betta to battle against or that may cause injury to his fins. 

If your filter is too powerful and you do not want to replace it, try putting a sponge over the intake to help reduce the suction. You can also try to place aquarium decorations and/or live plants around the intake to help cut down on the suction. But, this may still not be enough, so it’s best to replace the high-powered one with a gentler sponge filter. 

Heater

Betta fish are tropical by nature, so they will not do well in cold water (most rooms cannot sustain a temperature appropriate for this species which is between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Plus, Bettas can also go into shock when their tanks drop in temperature. They may also become lethargic and develop a low appetite. 

Purchase an aquarium heater that is the right size for your tank and use a fish thermometer to keep an eye on it. Adjust the heater accordingly. 

Lighting

The Betta species does need night and day just like we humans. Most aquarium kits come with an appropriate hood that usually includes LED lights. Be sure to give your Betta 8 to 10 hours of daylight and the rest unlit or nighttime. 

Bettas do like a lower light, so you may choose to add an Indian Almond Leaf that will naturally darken the water with beneficial tannins. You may also choose to add a timer to your light which will automatically turn on and off according to what you set it at.

Live Plants

Your Betta fish needs live plants in his aquarium and plenty of them. In the wild, this species lives among plants and plant debris, so we will need to include them in this ultimate tank setup guide.

The top plants to choose from for Bettas are;

  • Java Fern
  • Marimo Moss Ball
  • Anubias
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Betta Bulb
  • Water Sprite
  • Sword Plants
  • Vallisneria
  • Floating Plants

Most of these plants are easy to care for and do well in tropical tanks.

Decorations

When it comes to decorating the Betta fish tank, choose items that do not have sharp edges or rough textures (these can damage the fins and scales of the delicate Betta fish). You will also want to avoid decorations that use cheap paint, as this can flake off and become toxic to the Betta. 

The Siamese Fighting Fish enjoys decorations that also double as a resting or hiding spot like Betta caves/logs. Never overcrowd your tank with too many decorations as this can stress out your fish. 

Companions

Depending on the size of your aquarium (at least 10-gallons) and the temperament of your Betta, you may choose to add companions to the aquarium. There are a few appropriate species that have been known to cohabitate nicely with the Betta fish. These include;

  • Ember Tetras
  • Kuhli Loaches
  • Harlequin Rasboras
  • Malaysian Trumpet Snails
  • Cory Catfish

Avoid any species of fish that has long fins or is brightly colored – these will most likely raise your Betta’s temper. Provide plenty of hiding spots for your Betta and be sure to watch out for aggressive behavior from both your Betta and tank mates. If this should occur, remove the Betta or the other fish to a separate tank.

Setting Up the Betta Tank

Once you have purchased your Betta aquarium, follow these steps for easy setup.

Step #1 – Choose a good spot to house the aquarium. Avoid places with direct sunlight or a direct heat source. Be sure the spot can also handle the weight of an aquarium filled with water (eg. a flimsy side table will not be able to support the weight of a 10-gallon aquarium). 

Step #2 – Give the aquarium a quick rinse to remove any dust or fine particles. 

Step #3 – Place the aquarium gravel in a new bucket and rinse thoroughly. Never use a bucket that has been used with cleaning products as these can harm your Betta. If you are using sand, give it a rinse as well to remove any fine debris that will cloud the water and clog the filter.

Step #4 – Once the gravel or sand is rinsed, place it in your aquarium. 

Step #5 – Add the decorations and live plants. 

Pro Tip: In a brand new tank, you will have to fertilize live plants as there won’t be any beneficial nutrients for them to live off of. 

Step #6 – Use the new bucket to add water to the tank. Use a thermometer to get the water between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and add the de-chlorinator. 

Step #7 – Rinse the components of the filter. Place it in the aquarium and plug it in. Adjust the water flow if necessary

Step #8 – Place the heater in the tank and plug it in. If the heater has presets, turn the knob for that temperature setting. Keep an eye on your thermometer, so you will know if the water is getting too warm or not warm enough. 

Step #9 – Put the lid on the tank and turn the light on.

Step #10 – Let the tank cycle for at least 24 hours. This will allow the debris to be filtered out and the temperature to stabilize. You may also want to add a “cycling” product for beneficial bacteria before adding your Betta. 

Adding the Betta Fish

Once your aquarium has cycled, it’s time to add the Betta (if you are adding tankmates, do so at the same time). 

Your new Betta may come in a travel cup or a bag. Either way, you will want to acclimate him to the new tank. Do this by floating the cup or bag on the surface of the tank for 15 minutes. Now add a bit of tank water to the container or bag. Repeat this process every 15 minutes for the next 45 minutes. 

If your Betta came in a bag, then gently scoop him out with a fishnet and release him into his new home. If he is in a cup, tip the container and let him swim out. Try to avoid adding the bag or cup water to your aquarium.

Do not feed your Betta the first day, as he will be stressed which can lead to constipation. You may also want to keep the light off to help him acclimate. It is also normal for your Betta to hide for the first 24 hours; however, if he isn’t eating or exploring after a day, look for signs of illness. You may also want to check the pH (should be between 6.8 and 7.5), the water flow (may be too strong), and also the temperature. 

Tank Maintenance

Even though you have just set your Betta tank up, you will still have to perform regular maintenance on it. After a week, use your aquarium vacuum and go over the gravel or sand sucking up any debris or leftover food. Do this until 10 to 20 percent of the total water volume has been removed. 

Using your new, clean bucket, replace the old water with tap water that is the same temperature as the tank, and be sure to add the de-chlorinating product. Gently pour the new water into the tank. 

After about a month, you will begin to see algae on the walls of the tank and decorations. Scrub this off using a clean sponge or aquarium product then perform your water change as usual.

About once a month, you should also replace the carbon in your filter (rinse before adding) and give the filter sponge a good rinse as well. 

Betta Fish Tank Setup Conclusion

Setting up a Betta fish tank does not have to be difficult. Follow these simple steps and have what you need before you begin to save time. 

Whether you begin with a small 5-gallon tank or opt for a larger one, you will still need to provide your Betta with an appropriate substrate, live plants, a heater, filter, light, and decorations. Set up his environment to its optimal temperature, then add in your fish. 

Having a healthy, happy Betta fish will be dependent on how well you set up his environment, then care for this aquatic world. 

Happy Betta keeping!