How To Set Up A Betta Tank (Step By Step)

Your first betta fish tank setup doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, if you want to know how to set up a betta tank it’s actually incredibly easy. However, you should be aware that a lot of the information on betta fish isn’t 100% correct. So not only are you going to learn how to set up the perfect tank for your betta, but you’ll also learn what not to do!

How To Set Up A Betta Tank

This guide is going to be broken down into different parts. The first part will explain exactly what you’re going to need to create the perfect home for your betta. The second part will deal with how exactly to set up your tank and what your betta needs to be happy!

First of all, let’s talk about the tank.

What To Look For In A Betta Tank

When looking for a betta tank there is a lot of misinformation around which can cause you to end up buying a tank that is dangerous and cruel for your betta.

The Most Common Myth

The most common myth is that bettas can survive in tanks as small as 1 gallon, or more commonly 2.5 gallons. Both of which are only partially true. Sure a betta CAN survive in tanks that small. But they won’t survive for very long, and they definitely won’t be happy.

If you’re considering getting a tank that small then you should reconsider.

What Tank Size Should You Get?

You should be getting a tank that’s a MINIMUM of 5 gallons in size. Bigger is always going to be better when housing any fish including bettas.

There are so many benefits of using a larger tank including:

  • Giving your betta more room to swim and exercise.
  • More space to add plants and decorations to entertain your betta and give him hiding places.
  • Temperature and pH fluctuations will occur less.
  • You won’t have to perform water changes as frequently.

Want to know how to setup a 5 gallon tank?

Lids Are Often Better

While it’s not essential you should also try to find a tank with a lid. Bettas are known to jump, and if they jump out of the tank and onto the floor, they only have a few minutes to be rescued before they die.

However, a tank without a lid isn’t deal breaker, as there are other things you can do to stop your betta jumping out of the water. Such as creating your own lid, or placing netting or mesh over the top.

Choose Length Over Height

Okay, as long as you’re picking a tank that’s 5 gallons or bigger then your betta will be happy. However, in the back of your mind, you should also be looking for tanks which have more length than height, such as the Fluval Spec V.

The reason for this is because bettas swim from side to side, not up and down.

But until you’re thinking about buying larger aquariums this really isn’t going to be as much of an issue.

Check out the full Fluval Spec V Review.

What Are The Best Tanks?

NameFluval Spec VPenn Plax 5 Gallon CurvedMarine 5 GalFluval Flex 9Marina 10 Gal
Size5 Gal5 Gal5 Gal9 Gal10 Gal

Does Your Betta Need A Filter?

Next, you may be wondering about whether your betta is going to need a filter. After all, you may have seen pictures floating around the internet of bettas in fish bowls with nothing else.

Well, your betta will be a lot better off with a filter in his tank.

Without a filter, the water is going to become dirty a lot quicker and it will also need a lot more frequent water changes (often daily). With a filter, you only have to clean the tank every week or a couple of weeks. So for the sake of $20 you’re going to end up saving yourself a lot of time.

When choosing a filter you should choose one which has a slow flow. Bettas like calm water and if the filter is too strong it’s going to push him around the tank.

  • Try to look for filters with adjustable flow. These are going to be the best ones for the job and can help create the ideal environment.
  • If your filters current is too strong you can try using decorations, plants and filter sponge to slow the rate of flow as well.
  • You should also buy a filter that has 3 stages of filtration. Mechanical, chemical and biological. While you can often get filters with specific cartridges to use, in general, they’re never as good.

Want to know more about why filters are so important?

Does Your Betta Need A Heater?

Next up you’re going to need to get a heater for your betta’s tank. It’s always important to have a heater even if the room your housing your betta in is constantly warm.

It only takes one big fluctuation in temperature or a cold day, to drastically reduce the warmth in a nano tank. Which could potentially cause your betta to suffer from temperature shock.

One thing that you should be aware of is that heaters on very small tanks (3 gallons or smaller) can be dangerous. They can easily overheat the tank which will stress your betta or if it becomes too hot, outright kill him. This is another reason you should use a 5-gallon tank or bigger.

When you’re using a heater as a rule of thumb you want roughly 3-5 watts per gallon of water in your tank. For bigger tanks it can often be better to add a couple of heaters, to ensure the whole aquarium stays warm.

Want to know more about why heaters are so important?

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Which Substrate Is Best?

The substrate is what you’re going to line the bottom of your tank with. In most cases people use gravel, however, you can also use sand, aquarium soil, or choose no substrate (however, this isn’t recommended).

You’re going to want to add substrate for a number of different reasons.

First of all, it’s going to provide a lot of space for beneficial bacteria to grow. The large surface area your gravel has is ideal for bacteria to start multiplying. And when you remove your biological media, you won’t lose all the bacteria in your tank!

As well as that substrate is often perfect for holding plants in place. As you’ll soon find out bettas love plants, so it’s important to make sure you fill your tank with them.

And lastly, your betta will often swim along the bottom of the tank, so you want to make sure it’s nice for him.

Picking A Substrate

When picking a substrate you should make sure it isn’t too large, sharp or rough. The last thing you need is for your betta to get caught or cut himself on the substrate. As well as this large gravel can trap food, which will rot and produce more ammonia in your tank.

If you’re adding plants it may also be better to avoid sand as well. Plants can sometimes have a hard time digging their roots through the sand because of how compact it is.

A choice between gravel and aquarium soil is normally best. Fluval Plant And Shrimp Stratum is what I use, and it’s helped my plants grow beautifully!

While it’s not essential, it’s always nice to pick a natural looking substrate as well. It will make the tank feel more natural for your betta. And as a benefit to you, it will also make his colors pop!

Plants & Decorations

Plants and decorations are going to be what really change how your tank looks. They’re also going to be the key to making sure your betta feels at home.

Large plants, driftwood, and caves are also going to provide shady areas and hiding places for your betta. As well as this, they’ll also entertain him and give him lots of places to explore. Which will greatly reduce the chance of boredom and depression if you’re keeping him by himself

When you’re choosing plants it’s always better to pick lives ones. However, if you really don’t want live plants then you should use silk plants, and make sure they’re soft.

Just remember, live plants are better than silk plants as they provide more oxygen in the water as well as harbor beneficial bacteria and help remove harmful waste from the tank.

You should always avoid plastic plants and any decorations which are too hard, or that your betta may snag his tail on. If you do have a decoration in mind that you desperately want in your tank then you should try sanding it down beforehand.

(Find out about great toys you can put in your betta’s tank.)

Do Bettas Need Lighting?

And lastly, you’re going to want to make sure you get the right lighting for your betta. Believe it or not, your betta has similar lighting needs to you. He’ll need to be able to know the difference between daytime and nighttime.

Without this difference in lighting, he’ll become stressed. And he’ll also have problems knowing when to eat and not.

Ideally you’re going to want to buy lighting that you can change the setting on, however, any LED light will work well.

Setting Up Your Betta Tank

Now it’s time for your betta fish tank setup. This is where things are going to get fun and you can make your tank exactly the way you want it. However, you also need to make sure everything is perfect for your betta. Here are the steps you should follow.

Cleaning The Tank/Checking The Leaks

First of all, you’re going to want to clean your tank and check for leaks. The best way to do this is to place it in the bath, or on a soft mat in your garden. Once you’ve done either, fill it up with water and give the inside a scrub with a cloth.


The cleaning product can linger, poison your betta and even kill him.

While you’re doing this check for any leaks that are coming out of the tank. If there aren’t any leaks then use a gravel vacuum or cup to empty all the water out of the tank.

Do not try to pick the tank up when it’s full of water. Not only is it going to be heavy, but it’s also a lot more likely that you’ll break it.


One of the most overlooked fundamentals when considering the best aquarium setup for betta fish is planning where exactly you’re going to put it.

If you put it somewhere to sunny then the excess light may cause an extreme growth in algae. However, if you put it somewhere too cold, or with constant temperature fluctuations then the temperature in your tank could become unstable.

This can sometimes result in temperature shock, which can be fatal to bettas.

Because of this, it’s generally best to place the tank near the middle of the house instead of by any windows. This will reduce the chance of sunlight and drafts affecting it. However, make sure you try keeping it away from radiators (especially if you live in warmer climates).

And lastly, make sure you place your tank somewhere young children and pets can’t get to it. The last thing you need is to spend all your time taking care of your betta, only for an accident to happen.

(You’ll also need to take into consideration which type of filter you’re using. If you’re using something like a HOB filter then you’ll need to leave a few inches behind your tank for the filter to go.)

Adding Substrate

Once you’ve got your tank placed exactly where you want it, the next step is to add substrate. This is fairly simple and if you’re planning on adding live plants then you should aim for about 2 inches of substrate across the tank.

Fluval Stratum is the best choice if you’re going to be using a planted aquarium, and it also has the added benefit of looking nice and natural.

If you plan on using Fluval Stratum or any aquarium soil then you should just add it to the tank and leave it. However, if you plan on using gravel or sand you should wash it a few times beforehand to make sure it’s clean.

Adding Plants & Decoration

Next step is to add the plants that you want. Before you do this, you should fill your tank a couple of inches high with water. To keep the gravel undisturbed place a plate underneath where you plan on pouring the water.

Once you’ve added a couple of inches of water to the tank use a dechlorinator and wait 10-15 minutes.

Next step is to add any decorations where you want them. If you’re not sure what decorations to add to your tank then here’s a list of the best decorations for bettas. It’s always good to add some sort of cave for your betta to hide in.

Once you’ve added the decorations the next step is to add your plants. When adding plants make sure you’re definitely able to bury their roots in the substrate. Some plants such as anubias will die if their roots are buried and instead will need to latch onto something.

If you’re not sure what plants to add then java moss, betta bulbs and marimo moss balls are great beginner plants that go well in any tank.

However, if you know what plants you want and they need their roots buried now is the time to do so.

And lastly, plant the bigger plants at the back of the tank and decrease their size the closer to the front you get. Not only will this enable you to see into your tank more clearly, but it will also make the tank look bigger.

Filling The Tank

Once you’ve got everything exactly where you want it, it’s time to fill the rest of the tank.

Remember that it’s a lot better to pour water onto a plate in your tank instead of directly in. If you try to pour water directly in, then you’re going to end up displacing all of your plants as well as causing craters in your substrate.

And when you’re filling your tank make sure you give your betta about an inch of space at the top to breathe from. Bettas need to breathe from the air and water to stay healthy.

Another reason to leave about an inch of space is to reduce the chance of your betta jumping out.

Once you’ve poured all the water you need into the tank you just need to add your water conditioner to remove any chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals.

I’d recommend API Stress Coat. Not only is it a water conditioner, but it also doubles up as a stress reliever, for when you add your betta.

Adding Your Filter

Now that your tank is full of water you’ll need to add your filter. In some aquariums, there’ll be a compartment specifically designed to hide your filter.

However, if your aquarium doesn’t have this then choose where you’re going to place it. It’s normally better to place it at the top and back of your aquarium where it’s out of the way. However, depending on the filter you have it may need to go under the gravel or hang off the back of the tank.

And lastly, when you’re adding your filter make sure you try to slow the flow as best you can. If you notice the flow is particularly strong, you can try baffling the filter, adding sponge, or using decorations to block the current.

Here’s a full guide on slowing the flow of your filter.

Adding Your Heater

Next, it’s time to add the heater. When you’re placing your heater you want to get it as close to the filter as possible. Doing this will help warm water circulate through your whole tank instead of being in just one area.

In most cases, your heater will have suction cups which you can use to attach it to your tank.

The temperature should be set to 78°F ideally, however, anything between 76 – 82°F will be fine for your betta. The real key is to keep the temperature stable.

Cycling Your Tank

The final step before adding your betta is to cycle the tank. There are two ways you can do this an in-fish cycle (not recommended) and a fishless cycle (recommended).

Betta fish care is tricky, but with proper guidance, you can succeed! Click here to read a comprehensive guide! 

Fishless Cycle

If you choose a fishless cycle, it basically means you’re going to be giving your tank time to grow bacteria without having any fish in it. Without bacteria, there’ll be a buildup of ammonia that can be fatal to your betta.

One of the most important things you can do when performing a fishless cycle is adding beneficial bacteria that break down ammonia. Fluval Biological Enhancer is my preferred one, but you can use whichever one you think is best.

To find out everything you need to know about fishless cycles I found this article incredibly helpful.

In-Fish Cycle

As well as performing a fishless cycle you can also do an in-fish cycle. Once again you’re going to need a biological enhancer to kickstart your aquarium.

Once you’ve dosed the tank with enough bacteria, check the parameters to see if the ammonia and nitrite are at 0ppm and the nitrate is at 20ppm (parts per million). You’ll need the API Master Test Kit to do this.

If the parameters are met then you can add your betta. However, once he’s in there you’ll need to test the water every day as well as perform frequent water changes to keep the ammonia levels low.

You should also use an ammonia detoxifier like API Ammo Lock to neutralize any build-up of ammonia which could quickly become toxic to your betta.

Because in fish cycles are more stressful, it’s not recommended that you do them. Not only will they cause your betta unnecessary anxiety, but it’s also a lot more likely he’ll die during the process.

(Find what you need to know to keep your betta with other fish.)


There’s a lot to take in on this article. Here are some of the key points you’re going to need to remember in order to make sure your betta stays happy and healthy.

  • It’s a myth that bettas need small tanks. You should keep your betta in a tank that’s a minimum of 5 gallons in size.
  • You should try to find a tank with a lid to reduce the chance of your betta jumping out. However, you can also use netting as a cover for your tank.
  • When choosing a tank pick one that is long rather than high.
  • Your betta needs a filter and heater to be happy.
  • You can choose any substrate as long as it’s not sharp or rough.
  • Live plants are better than fake plants, but if you have to have fake plants make sure they’re silk.
  • Also, add lots of hiding places for your betta.
  • You should have a light in your tank to help your bettas circadian rhythm.
  • Before you fill your tank make sure you clean it and check it for any leaks.
  • When placing your tank you should make sure it’s not near a window or direct sunlight.
  • As you fill the tank, it helps to use a plate to slow the flow of water and keep your decorations and plants in place.
  • You can perform a fishless or in-fish cycle. However, fishless cycles are highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “How To Set Up A Betta Tank (Step By Step)”

  1. Hello! I’m currently planning on getting a betta fish for the first time and I have some questions. I don’t really have the space for a 5 gal tank so I was wondering if either a 3.5 or a 4 gal tank would be okay for a betta fish. And I’ve been researching that if you have a tank that’s less than 5 gallons, you shouldn’t have a filter because the current can be too strong for the betta. I know it’s hard to keep an unfiltered tank clean most of the time, but I was wondering if there was any way I could effectively keep the tank clean. Thank you!!!

    • Hi Amber, 5 gallons is already the minimum size tank you should put a betta in, so I personally wouldn’t put them in anything smaller. They will be able to survive in smaller tanks, but they’re not going to be as happy. And to answer the filter questions, you can always buy a 5-gallon filter, and use filter sponge to slow the flow of the water coming out to reduce the current. Hope this helped!


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