How to Successfully Move Your Aquarium

Moving your aquarium can be a daunting task, especially with large tanks filled to the brim with fish and decorations. With proper planning, you can feasibly safely relocate an aquarium and its residents from one room to another, across town or every further than that. However, if you are moving across the country, consider re-homing your fish or ship them overnight.

Even though every move will be unique, the checklist and tips we have should help you successfully complete your aquarium move.

Equipment Needed Check List

Before you even begin moving your fish tank, make sure you have all the necessary equipment:
– Siphon hose or gravel vacuum
– Fishnet
– Containers to transport water, livestock, gravel, decorations, etc. (Including clean buckets or tubs with secure lids, coolers or Styrofoam shipping containers with liners and fish bags and rubber bands)
– Wire strainer or colander
– Water conditioner or slime coat replacer
– A battery-operated aerator or air pump
– Tarps or appropriate floor protection
– Blankets, bubble wrap or other types of protective padding
– Trash bags to move gravel
– Wet or dry vacuum
– Hand cart or dolly
– Leveling shims

Before the Move Preparation

After you get your equipment together, make sure you cover some essential preparation tips. First, make sure that the floor of your aquarium’s new location is level and can support its weight. Also, check that there is electrical access nearby.

Check the tap water at the new location to compare pH, alkalinity and other water chemistry. Make sure you have plenty of help and vehicle space for the move. If possible, avoid moving the aquarium during extreme heat or cold, so check the weather forecasts.

A week before the move, perform a 25 to 30% water change and vacuum the substrate. Also, clean the filter and avoid disturbing biological filter media. A day or two before the move, set aside water at the new location; try to have at least 20% of your tank’s volume ready, and don’t forget to use the conditioner. Stop feeding your fish one to two days before the move as well.

Moving the Fish and Plants

The most important detail to do is save and transport as much of the old water as possible – about 70 to 80% of the tank water will work. This will help minimize the stress to the fish and also help re-establish the important biological balance quickly when the aquarium is up and running at the new location.

This can be done with a 5-gallon bucket with lids. If you use plastic tubs to transport the water, gravel or rock, make sure they are sturdy and won’t bend when filled. Also, be sure that you can physically pick them up when they are filled.

The fish should be transported in buckets, tubs or coolers. Small to medium-sized fish can also be transported in fish bags placed in coolers or Styrofoam containers to help maintain a proper temperature. If you are transporting small fish in buckets, separate them from the larger fish.

Fish Transferring Tips

Use a battery-operated air pump in the containers with the fish, especially if you are moving the aquarium over long distances or in hot weather. When using fish bags, fill them 1/3 with the tank water, leaving the rest with air, or 50% water and 50% pure oxygen; some fish stores will pack your fish in oxygen. Do not blow into the fish bag to inflate it. It is always best to double bag your fish to prevent punctures and leaks. Lay the bags on the sides when transporting to increase surface exposure to the air or oxygen inside the bag.

Moving the Aquarium

To being moving your fish tank, unplug the heater and allow it to cool before removing it from the aquarium. Then remove the filtration equipment and any circulation pumps or other equipment. Keep the biological media wet by placing it in old aquarium water for transport.

Next, siphon or drain the tank water you intend to take with you into transport containers. Remove the decorations and artificial plants and pack them. Inspect all the decorations to ensure that no fish are hiding in a cavity or crevice. Do not place tocks in containers that will house fish or other livestock; the movement during the transport may hurt the animals. Live rock (saltwater) and freshwater plants can be transported n water or wrapped in wet paper towels and placed in sealed containers or plastic bags.

Catch and contain all the fish in appropriate containers. If you remove the decorations before draining, allow any stirred up dirt and debris to settle before filling the transport containers. It will be easier to catch the fish in a mostly empty aquarium with all hiding places removed. Once all the fish have been removed, drain and discard the remaining water.

Then you need to remove all gravel or sand using a net, wire strainer or colander. Never lift or transport an aquarium with water or gravel in it, regardless of how small; the weight and sloshing water and damage the aquarium and the compromise seals. Pack the gravel or sand in buckets or containers. Gravel should always be kept wet to ensure that the nitrifying bacteria are kept alive. Once the tank is empty, use a wet or dry vacuum to do a final cleaning or wipe it with paper towels. Be sure to dry all surfaces before moving; no one wants to drop a heavy aquarium down the stairs.

Once the aquarium is carefully loaded into the vehicle, wrap blankets or other protective material around it. Fragile items such as covers and lights should be wrapped and placed inside the aquarium for protection. Don’t leave the containers with fish in direct sunlight, as it will cause the water to overheat and kill the fish.

Setting Up the Aquarium in the New Location

Start by placing the stand in its new location and, if necessary, use shims to level it. Make sure it is stable and doesn’t wobble. Place the aquarium on the stand with enough clearance behind the tank for filters and other equipment. Once the tank is properly positioned, add the gravel or sand and other decorations.

Next, install the heater and filter, but don’t plug them in yet. Fill the aquarium about halfway with the old water, pouring it onto a place or shallow bowl to avoid disturbing the gravel or sand too much. Add the plants and any other decorative items. Then add the remaining old water.

Gently introduce the fish and other livestock back home. Top off the aquarium with new water that has been conditioned. Plug in the filter, circulation pumps and heater. Check that everything is working properly. Install the lid and lighting but leave the light off for a few hours or until the next day to give your fish time to adjust to their new surroundings.

Don’t feed your fish for one day after the move. Then feed sparingly for the first week. Don’t be alarmed if some fish refuse to eat for a day or two.

After Move Aquarium Care

Though your aquarium may have been well established for years, it will most likely experience “new tank syndrome.” Since the biological balance has been disrupted, you may experience temporary cloudiness, as well as ammonia and nitrite spikes.

If the water turns cloudy, cut back on feeding, use a clarifier and place additional carbon in the filter until it clears. Test for ammonia and nitrite every three to five days for one month after the move and take action if levels start to elevate. Also, check the water temperature for the first few days and adjust the heater as needed. Observe your fish for signs of disease.

If you moved to a new city, check out the local aquarium shops. Look for filter cartridges, food and other supplies you use. If the shop is not stocked, ask them to carry the items for you. Get to know the staff and try to gauge their levels of expertise, as well as the health of their livestock.

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