Setting Up A Betta Tank (The Right Way!)

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Betta fish are beautiful with their flowing fins and have become extremely popular over recent years, but setting up a betta tank is not always as easy as it may seem. When setting up a betta tank for the first time

This article will teach you step-by-step, how to set up a new betta tank and covers:

  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… Add your betta to its newly set up tank.

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

setting up a betta tank the right way

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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 the natural environment of the main species you will have in the tank as closely as possible.

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 with 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 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 quickly and easily set up a betta fish tank.

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 in setting up your new betta tank is choosing the correct tank size. Betta fish are used to living in rice paddies and small, slow-moving streams, so you may think you need a smaller aquarium that does not provide too much space. The truth is that betta fish do like space and room to move around.

A betta tank that is too small can dramatically affect your betta’s lifespan, as they will become stressed and suffer many health issues in a tiny tank. Water parameters are also very difficult to maintain in smaller tanks.

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 larger, more aggressive fish that can bully them or invade their space. Bettas are also aggressive toward other members of their own species, hence the name Siamese Fighting Fish, so if you are setting up a male 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 depends on what other fish will live in it, how many plants you want, or which live aquarium plants you 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 and at some other retailers.

Some recommendations are below:

BiOrb Classic 8 Gallon Led Aquarium

BiOrb Clasic - 8 Gallon Led Aquarium
BiOrb Clasic – 8 Gallon Led Aquarium

GloFish 5 Gallon Aquarium Kit

GloFish - 5 Gallon Aquarium Kit
GloFish – 5 Gallon Aquarium Kit

Coralife BioCube 32 Gallon Aquarium

Coralife Biocube Aquarium - 32 Gallon
Coralife Biocube Aquarium – 32 Gallon

Fluval Edge 12 Gallon Aquarium

Fluval Edge 2.0 Aquarium
Fluval Edge 2.0 Aquarium

Marina Led Beginner Aquarium Kit – 20 Gallon

Marina Led Beginner Aquarium - 20 Gallon
Marina Led Beginner Aquarium – 20 Gallon

All 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 you will need, such as internal filters and heaters, and substrates. You may even find water conditioners and test kits.

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 carry out more water changes.
  • Your betta could be at risk of getting diseases from the small space as the disease will spread more quickly.
  • Water temperature is also less stable in a smaller tank than in 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 arise do so much more slowly and won’t catch you out.

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

Make sure to clean a new tank before setting it up to lower the risk of introducing unwanted bacteria into your tank.

Where To Put A Betta Tank

As with any freshwater or saltwater fish tank, it is always wise to position the tank in an area away from windows and direct sunlight. Heat from direct sunlight can play havoc with your water temperature, rising through the day and dropping drastically at night. Sunlight also encourages algae growth which is best avoided.

Betta fish also like to live in an environment with subdued lighting, and you should set up your tank with this in mind. You can place your tank close to a window, provided the sunlight doesn’t directly hit the tank and is partially diffused.

Try to avoid draughty areas, especially if you don’t have a heater. Cold areas can lower the water temperature and make the tank uncomfortable for your betta fish, and even with a heater, it will be working much harder than it should to maintain the correct temperature.

2. Betta Tank Lighting

Choosing how to light your aquarium is important. It is true that betta fish originate from environments with little natural light, but betta fish need some lighting.

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

The two best type of lights for a betta tank are traditional fluorescent lights or the newer LED lights. Both are ideal for fish and plants, while LED lights offer adjustable color temperatures, longevity, and lower power consumption.

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

The strip light below (KZKR Aquarium LED Full Spectrum Fish Tank Light) is an excellent option, and it’s adjustable from 16-84 inches. This lamp uses very little power and is adjustable via remote control so that you can set the mood of your tank from your sofa.

There are larger options available, and it is available to buy on Amazon. (affiliate) link below.

KZKR Aquarium LED Fish Tank Light 16-84 inch Remote Control Hood Lamp for Freshwater, Saltwater, And Marine Aquariums

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


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.

4 of the best substrate for bettas are:

  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Pebbles
  • Clay.
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.

If you didn’t get a heater supplied with your tank, many good options are available. I have added a few of them below with (affiliate) links.

I wrote a guide that explains whether betta fish need a heater that explains the reasons why and possible alternatives..

SunGrow Betta Fish & Turtle Aquarium Tank Water Heater, 10-watt
SunGrow Betta Fish Small Aquarium Water Heater, 10-watt

SunGrow Betta Fish & Turtle Aquarium Tank Water Heater, 10-watt

A compact 10W heater is ideal for tanks up to 3.5 gallons. Completely automatic thermostat programmed to heat your tank to a consistent 75°F perfect for betta fish. This heater is encased in toughened plastic to protect your betta from burns.

Eheim Jager Thermostat Aquarium Heater 50W
Eheim Jager Aquarium Heater

Eheim Jager Thermostat Aquarium Heater 50W

A simple, fully submersible aquarium heater with auto-calibration and an auto run-dry, shut-off safety feature.

This 50W heater is suitable for aquariums of 5-15 gallons.

Multiple power options are available from 25-300W for larger aquariums.

Cobalt Aquatics Electronic Neo-Therm Pro Submersible Aquarium Heater - 200W
Cobalt Aquatics Electronic Neo-Therm Pro Submersible Aquarium Heater – 200W

Cobalt Aquatics Electronic Neo-Therm Pro Submersible Aquarium Heater – 200W

My favorite heater in this list, the neo-therm pro has an advanced thermostat, is adjustable from 68°F to 94°F, and is accurate within a plus/minus range of .5 degrees. The LED display reads both the set temp and the tank temp simultaneously.

Built-in thermal protection circuity shuts down the heater before it can overheat, and the shatterproof casing is virtually indestructible.

This heater has a 200W output, suitable for aquariums of 50-60 gallons.

This heater is available in wattages from 25W to 200W suitable for many aquarium sizes.

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. Many filter options are 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.

I have included a short list of filters with (affiliate) links that I have used myself and highly recommend if you are just starting out and getting set up.

TARARIUM Quiet Betta Fish Tank Filter Air Pump Filtration Water Pump 3 in 1 Rain Type Submersible Internal Filter for Aquarium/Turtle Tank 1-15 Gal.
TARARIUM Betta Fish Tank Filter

TARARIUM Betta Fish Tank Filter 3 in 1 Filter & Air Pump for 1-15 Gallon Tank

The Tararium is a great little sponge-style filter that sticks to the side of your tank with suckers and makes virtually no noise except the trickle of water. The filter has a removable rain-style outlet that is a neat feature and can help add extra oxygen to the tank. This filter can also double as an air pump with an added hose. This filter is suitable for aquariums up to 15 gallons.

Aqueon Quietflow AT40 Internal Power Filter
Aqueon Quietflow AT40 Internal Power Filter

Aqueon Quietflow AT40 Internal Power Filter

Aqueon is a well-known name in fish supplies and this filter demonstrates why.

With a 3 stage filtration system that uses removable and replaceable carbon cartridges and a course media sponge for extra filtration, the Quietflow AT40 does a great job of keeping your tank water clean, and odor-free, removing nitrates and ammonia.

This is the medium filter for up to 40 gallons with the AT10 suitable for smaller aquariums.

This filter uses suction cups or hooks to hang on the side of your tank.

Fluval C Series Power Filter
Fluval C Series Power Filter

Fluval C Series Power Filter

The Fluval C Series Power Filter is my favorite on this list. Fluval provides excellent quality equipment that doesn’t disappoint.

The C series has multiple chemical and biological filtration methods, providing exceptional cleaning and filtering of debris and toxins.

This clip-on filter fits most tanks and has an adjustable flow rate that uses the patented refiltration system, which is perfect for betta fish.

This is the C3 model suitable for between 20 and 50-gallon aquariums. C1 to C4 sizes are also available through the link below with a full description of each.

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 filter 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°F to 80°F, (25.5°C – 26.7°C) 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 add a conditioner to remove harmful chemicals such as chlorine, and you will need to cycle the tank for about four to six weeks. You can often add fish within two weeks that can help speed up the tank cycle, however, take extra care to check water parameters stay within a safe range.

Cycling A Betta Tank

Cycling a fish 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, nitrite, and nitrate 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 beneficial bacteria will grow within the filter media and be distributed into the water as it passes through the filter.

A biological enhancer can provide 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.

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 cause 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 A Betta Tank

You can buy testing kits to check these parameters and keep a thermometer in the tank for an easy reference to the water temperature.

If you are allowing your tank to sit for long enough before adding your betta fish, all parameters should be within acceptable levels when testing.

You will need to perform regular water changes as a build up of food and fish waste releases toxins into the water as it rots. The normal level of beneficial bacteria in your tank will struggle to deal with sudden ammonia spikes, so fish will probably become sick.

Water changes should be carried out every two or three weeks, however, more frequent water changes may be necessary if you have a small tank, too many fish, or if you don’t use a filter. Get to know your tank by testing the water more frequently in the beginning, and you will learn how often water changes are necessary.

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.

Betta fish can also get bored in a tank with no plants or ornaments, and you may even consider adding a few betta toys to keep them stimulated. I wrote an article on whether betta fish get lonely or bored, which provides plenty of ideas on tank decorations and ways to keep your betta stimulated.

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 silk or plastic plants.

The best plants for a betta are live plants that 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 I recommend are:

  • Wooden Logs – 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 they can also provide shelter to invertebrates that keep your tank clean and healthy, eating excess food particles to help with the biological cycle.
  • Plant Pot – A simple plant pot, even a broken one, will provide shady areas for your betta fish to hide.

Similar to 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 that you don’t want to bring into your new aquarium.

Below is an example of a wooden log-styled ornament that will look great in most betta tanks, providing an ideal hiding spot.

ZooMed Ceramic Betta Log

Zoo Med Ceramic Betta Log
Zoo Med Ceramic Betta Log

Find more examples of ornaments suitable for betta tanks on Amazon or Chewy.

7. How To Put Betta In A New Tank

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

Your new betta fish may become stressed which you will know if their fins are clamped and they dart about on top of the water surface. The stress is likely to be caused from spending too much time in isolation.

To avoid serious health problems from stress, it is important for your betta to adjust to the new water conditions in their new tank which is a process called acclimatization.

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 their new tank, into the bag or container with your betta fish. This will help them gradually adjust to the different water types and temperatures.

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 temperature in the container slowly adjusts and your betta can see their new surroundings before being released.

Step 3. Put some food into their new tank to give them some focus and let them know their new environment is one where they can relax.

Step 4. Release your betta gently by gently tipping their container, or netting them with your hands behind their head and slowly release them.

Your new betta should now be well acclimatized to its 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”, a condition where your betta won’t eat, will have clamped fins, dart about the tank, or hide a lot.

Although these behaviors are generally caused by the stress of a new environment, the actual cause of new tank syndrome is 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 to avoid this syndrome.

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. I wrote an article about emergency cycling which may be helpful to get things improving quickly.

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, and 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

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Jon O'Connell

I have kept both marine and freshwater fish and set up almost 100 aquariums. Although I am no longer doing it professionally, I hope I can help others to enjoy keeping happy, healthy fish by sharing my many years of experience.

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