How To Move A Fish Tank To Your New Home

Move a Fish Tank

Fish Tank by vectorlyme via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Having to move a fish tank to a new home might seem quite daunting, especially when the moving process in general can be stressful. However, Robert Woods, fish enthusiast and editor of Fishkeeping World, has some suggestions and advice on how to move your fish tank to ensure a “happily ever after” for both you and your pet fish.  

Move A Fish Tank
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Steps to Move a Fish Tank

Ideally, your fish tank should be one of the first things set up in your new home. If possible, plan an entire, separate day just to move your fish tank. This will save both you and your fish some stress. Do not feed your fish the day before the move. 

#1) Unplug the heater about an hour before dismantling the tank. Some heaters might breakdown if removed from the water without first being allowed to cool off. 

#2) Remove plants and ornaments from the tank and place inside waterproof bags and containers. Make sure there aren’t any fish inside (try to not shake anything; just wait for the fish to swim out). Place plants inside sealable bags to prevent them from drying out.

#3) Start to catch your fish. It is easier if some of the tank water is first removed; siphon some of it into the bags which the fish will be placed. Usually, it is best for large fish (such as loaches, catfish and cichlids) to be kept in separate bags. Fill the bags approximately 1/3 with water to leave enough space for air. Do not blow or breathe inside the bag as this will consume all the oxygen. 

#4) If you use a net, make sure to use your hand to cover and prevent the fish from jumping out. Also keep the safely-bagged fish in a dark container to prevent any extreme stress.

#5) Save as much of the existing water as possible in containers; this will save your fish from undergoing traumatic water changes when they are transferred back into the tank at the new home. Use containers specifically for fishkeeping; do not use for any other purposes (to avoid water contamination from any other chemicals).

#6) Remove any other equipment. Keep heaters, filters and pumps damp to preserve as much of the water characteristics and beneficial bacteria as possible. Filters and heaters are quite delicate and should not undergo significant temperature changes.

#7) Remove the substrate (material used on the tank bottom, i.e., gravel). Note that waterlogged substrate can be very heavy, so place it into a separate bag or container.

#8) Set up the fish tank in your new home. Add the fish the same way after buying them from the pet shop: allow them to float in their bag for about 30 minutes, then every 5 minutes, add a cup of water until the bag is full. Finally release the fish back into the tank. Keep bright lights off and not feed your fish on this day.

How to Keep the Good Stuff

Move a fish tank
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When the filter and other fish tank equipment are removed before transported to your new home, it is essential to preserve as much of the beneficial bacteria as possible, to ensure good water quality. Beneficial bacteria builds up in a fish tank during a four to six week cycling process. If the beneficial bacteria dies, the cycling process needs to start over (and the water is not suitable for your fish until over a month later). Here are some tips to help preserve the beneficial bacteria: 

  • Do not rinse of any of your equipment or transport it in new water; instead make sure to use the already-existing water in the tank.
  • If your move entails a long journey,  transport the filter inside of a container filled with the existing tank water. Also use a battery-powered air pump to keep the water oxygenated, which helps to preserve the good bacteria.

Good luck with your move. May you and your fish have stress-free moving experience.

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Robert Woods, Guest Contributor  

Robert Woods has been a fishkeeping enthusiast ever since his parents bought his first tank at age 4. Since then, he has gone on to keep hundreds of different species of fish and now educates aquarists through his online publication, Fishkeeping World.