How To Set Up A Betta Tank Properly (In 9 Easy Steps)

how to set up a betta tank

One of the best parts about getting a betta fish is that you get the joy of setting up and decorating a new tank. This part of the fishkeeping process should start before you have your fish, so that everything is ready for him when he arrives. Here is a guide to setting up a betta tank in a way that is both safe and attractive to look at.

What Do I Need to Set up a Betta Tank?

Before you get started setting up your new betta tank, there are a few essentials you need to put on your shopping list:


The very first item you need to think about is the tank itself. Try to choose one that is at least five gallons – ten if you really want your betta to have lots of room to roam!

Most fishkeepers use a glass tank, but there are a few that prefer plastic. There are also different sets that you can buy that include some of the other accessories on this list, which may save you some shopping time. There are many different fish tanks and kits to choose from (and there are pros and cons to each), so take your time weighing your options and choosing the best aquarium setup for your betta fish (and you).


Substrate, another name for the rocks, gravel, or sand at the bottom of a fish tank, isn’t just for decoration. Good bacteria grow on the substrate, helping to support the ecosystem of the tank as it eliminates waste from the fish.

Like with the tank, there are many options to choose from. Real rocks, fake rocks, colorful gravel, sand, marbles: the possibilities are almost endless.

When choosing which rocks or gravel to use, though, keep in mind that you should never use anything sharp. A lot of bettas like to skim along the bottom of the tank while they are exploring, and if there is something with a rough edge, it can cut their fins. You should also keep an eye out for waste that can get stuck between the rocks and gravel and dirty up your tank, which can make your betta sick.

Click here for more information on betta substrate.

Plants and Decorations

I personally think that the most fun part of setting up a betta tank is choosing which plants to use and how to arrange them. Bettas need hiding places and things to explore, and plants are a great choice for this.

Bettas can live happily with both live plants and silk ones (just never use plastic ones, as these can slice their fins). Live plants help keep the water clean, but silk ones may be easier to manage since you don’t have to grow them. The choice is yours, but make sure to do some research on plant compatibility first.

Learn more: The 9 Best Plants for Betta Fish (Easy to Grow & Care for)

You can also put other decorations inside the tank, like caves, treasure chests, or those little haunted mansion figurines you see at pet stores. Just make sure that they are specially made for fish tanks and don’t contain any substances that may be toxic for your fish. Also, be sure that neither the decorations nor the plants have jagged edges. You don’t want to have a tank that is beautiful but deadly!


Betta owners are divided on the subject of tank filters. Some say that it is absolutely necessary to keep the water clean, but others say that it is safer for the fish to have still water. The general rule of thumb is that if a tank is five gallons or under, it may be safer to just clean it by hand. Anything bigger would be more unwieldy, so a filter could be a big help.

If you do decide to get a filter, you should make sure that it has an adjustable flow rate. A gentle filter is vital: many filters are too strong for bettas and can either stress them out or suck them up into the mechanism and kill them. Yikes.


Bettas come from a tropical habitat and thus need water that is between 76 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a house that is typically around this temperature, you don’t need to worry about adding a heater. If you have a big tank and/or a cool house, though, you should maybe look into getting one.

It should be noted that you should never put a heater in a tank that is less than five gallons. The smaller amount of water heats up or cools down too fast, which is dangerous for your betta.


Last on the list is lighting. Unless you are keeping your betta tank in a basement that never sees daylight, this item is optional. Bettas need a regular day/night cycle, but if you keep them in a room that sees light during the day and is dark at night, you’re all set. You can get decorative lights if you’d like, but they don’t serve a purpose other than to look pretty (which could be nice too).

Betta Fish Tank Setup

Now that you have everything you need to get started, it’s time to set up your tank!

1. Find the Best Place for Your Betta Tank

The very first step in setting up a betta tank is to find a place to put it. Of course, you want the tank to be on display, but you should still find a place that isn’t too high-traffic so that the betta doesn’t get stressed or so that the tank doesn’t get bumped and knocked over.

Be sure that you put your tank in a spot where you can easily access it to feed your fish, with space around the sides for you to pick up the tank if you need to. Place it far away from heating or cooling vents and out of direct sunlight, as this causes algae growth and heating issues.

2. Clean Your Equipment

Once you have a spot picked out for the tank and all the equipment on your list, the next step is to clean everything thoroughly. Never use soap: simply go over everything with very hot water to rinse off any dust or other harmful things that may be on it.

Some sites recommend using a very diluted bleach solution for this, but I wouldn’t try this. It is too easy to get the wrong ratio and create an inhospitable environment for your betta. At most, you can use water conditioner to purify the water you are using to clean, but at this first stage, tap water should be fine as long as you rinse and dry carefully.

3. Set up the Filter (If Using)

If you are using a filter, you should install it after the tank is clean. Each one has different setup instructions, so be sure to read the manual that comes with it.

4. Add Substrate

Now comes the fun part. Once the filter is installed, you can add the gravel, rocks, marbles, or other substrates you have chosen to the bottom of the tank (after you have rinsed the substrate thoroughly!). If you are using fake plants, you should build up the substrate level to around one inch. Live plants require at least two inches so that their roots have room to grow.

5. Add Plants and Decorations

Once you have laid down a nice substrate layer, you can add your plants and decorations. This is where you can really let your personality shine through, as you can arrange things any way you like. Just make sure that everything is anchored down by the gravel or rocks, so it doesn’t keep floating up to the top of the tank. (See the FAQ section for more tips about this).

6. Add Water

Once your decorations are in place, you can start slowly filling up the tank. Some fishkeepers recommend putting a plate on top of your substrate, so it doesn’t get disrupted when you are pouring in the water, then removing the plate when the tank is full.

Make sure to leave an inch or two of space between the top of the water and the lid of the tank, as bettas also come to the surface to breathe air.

7. Turn on the Filter and Heater (If Using)

If you are using a filter, it is time to turn it on. If you are using a heater, you should add it at this point as well, so that you can start getting the water to the right temperature. You can check this with a thermometer specially made for fish tanks. You should also make sure at this point that your filter isn’t too strong for your betta. It is better to adjust it now than have trouble once you put the betta in.

8. Condition the Water

This step is critical. Never, ever put a betta in a tank without first using water conditioner. Tap water contains chemicals that can harm your betta, and distilled water lacks minerals that they need. Water conditioner makes the water safe for the fish. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the label.

9. Cycle the Tank

Tank cycling is another topic that is often debated among fishkeepers. It is a bit complicated to explain in detail here, but it basically consists of allowing good bacteria to grow in the tank and create a healthy ecosystem for your betta before adding him. This can take some time (we’re talking weeks or even months), but if you have the patience to try it, it can be a great way to help your betta live a longer, happier life.

There is also a way to cycle the tank with the fish inside, which may be a better alternative for those who just can’t wait to get their betta.

10. Introduce Your Betta to His New Home

Once you’ve completed all the other steps, it’s finally time to introduce your betta to his or her new home! Be sure to take your time with this step. You should allow the cup or bag the betta came in to sit in the tank water until they are the same temperature. Then, gradually mix a bit of the tank water in with the pet store water so that the betta doesn’t go into shock when you put him into the tank.

Once he’s ready, you can add your betta and let him explore the great tank you set up for him!

FAQs about Betta Tank Setup

How Can I Stop My Plants From Falling Over When I Add Water to My Betta Tank?

This is a common problem. The solution is to fill your tank about a third of the way, then add the plants. That way, they don’t get pushed over when you finish filling it up.

Do Bettas Need Rocks or Gravel in Their Tanks?

If you want to be very technical, bettas do not need substrate to survive. But you want them to thrive, not just survive! Rocks and gravel add a more “homey” feel to the tank and help to mimic the environment they would live in in the wild. This makes them happy, and the good bacteria that grows there keeps them healthy.

Which Live Plants Are Best for Betta Tanks?

Adding live plants to a betta tank be tricky, as they all require different temperatures, lighting, etc. If you are ready for that responsibility, some of the easiest live plants to start with are java moss, java ferns, anacharis, and Amazon swords.


Setting up his tank properly is the best thing you can do for a betta. If you do it right the first time (before you bring the fish home), this can save a lot of time and trouble in the future.

Setting up a betta tank can be fun, and there is no greater feeling than watching your new fish swim around, happily exploring the home you made for him.

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