Making your Aquarium Move Safe and Manageable

So you need to move your aquarium. This at first can seem to be a daunting task, whether you desire to move it across the room, across town, or to a different state. It can be done however, and of course the goal is not to loose a single fish in the process. We will look at ways of accomplishing this without damage to the aquarium, our finned friends or the bacteria which help to maintain the biological filtration cycle.


Moving an aquarium

Never attempt to move an aquarium with water in it. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon and a fifty gallon tank would weigh four hundred pounds, not including the weight of the gravel. An attempt to move your aquarium across the room even half full could create a wave action and cause the a side to break, crack or split at a seam, any of these accidents would be disastrous. If the need is to move across town or out of state, you will need a container which will resist temperature changes. Your local fish store has Styrofoam shipping containers which they are usually quite willing to give away. An inexpensive Styrofoam cooler will also suffice. Rinse these out well to remove any foreign materials, use no detergents of any kind of course. Within the home, buckets will suffice. You will also need a couple four to five foot lengths of " or 5/8" clear vinyl tubing which can be purchased at a good home store. Saving as much water as possible is the key to success. The rule of twenty percent water change still applies because we need to preserve as much of the biological cycle as possible. The easiest way to do this is to purchase new, clean plastic thirty-two gallon trash cans. Buy as many as you will need to move seventy-five or eighty percent of your water. Rubbermaid makes a great trash can for our purpose. It's sturdy and has wheels which make things go a lot easier. If your moving your household, remember the fish leave last, and get unloaded first. This places them at the back of the truck where you can take care of them during the journey. On arrival the aquarium comes out first, and gets set up so that the fish can get back to normal as soon as possible. For moving out of state, go to a bait store and by a bait bubbler. This battery operated device will allow you to use an air stone to help keep your fish alive, and happy. Don't forget to get some extra batteries. Other things required are: water de-chlorinator which also removes ammonia (Amquel), and a good bacteria starter to boost the biological filter. Termin-ITE Power Plus by HBH is the best, and fastest I have ever used.


Having your kids help with the entire process not only helps things go faster it's good, quality time. With a little imagination and explanation as we go, it can also be a great hands on science experiment. Remember we are using the laws of physics, and manipulating water quality through aeration, and control of the bacteria cycle. Kids love to help and understand what is really going on here. Because my daughters have helped with the aquariums over the years, they often find themselves ahead of the game in science class. They have also saved my butt a few times when things have gone wrong in the aquarium when I wasn't home.


1. Start a syphon action and fill your containers with water from the aquarium, about three quarters full. Add a couple cap fulls of ammonia remover, such as Amquel as your fish will be in the container for a time without filtration.


2. Remove all decorations and start catching your fish. I have found that larger nets are easier on me and the fish. My daughter also loves to help with this part of the job. I have found that kids, with their sharp eyes and quick reflexes are great at catching baby fish. Place each fish directly into your container.


3. Now its time to clean. Use your gravel vacuum tube, and give the gravel a good cleaning. Throw away this dirty water.


4. Now set your trash cans in front of the aquarium, line them with large trash bags, folding the open end of the bag around the edge of the trash can. The bags help keep foreign materials out of the water.


5. Unplug and remove the heaters.


6. Dig a hole in the gravel exposing the bottom of the aquarium about six inches across. Using your gravel siphon tube start a siphon action and fill your trash can. Place the business end of the tube in the hole you just cleared. Have the cans arranged so that you can fill one and then the next without breaking the syphon action. You can stop temporarily by placing a thumb over the end of the tube. Fill each can three quarters full. Be careful, if the syphon action is broken in the last three inches of water it will be impossible to start again. Keep it going and drain out all of the water, the area you cleared will allow you to drain the water out of the gravel. Here comes the sucking sound and your aquarium should be empty.


7. Close up the bags and secure them with twist ties. Put the lids on and lock these in place with the handles. Now your water can be easily moved because your can has wheels. Be sure to have a friend help you if you need to lift them, or push them up the ramp and into the truck.


8. If your moving the aquarium on the same level within your home, leave the gravel in, and with two people pick up the stand and aquarium at the same time. Carry / slide it to the new location. If you don't have wall to wall carpet, placing a small piece of carpet under the stand will help you to slide it over the floor. If the trip is longer than that, scoop the gravel into buckets. Keep it wet, to keep that good old bacteria alive.


9. If the move is local don't rinse or clean any filters, you'll need the bacteria living there too.


10. If your moving, pack up all your aquarium stuff and keep it handy for the end of the trip.



If you've moved you'll be in an empty house, choose the location carefully, and try to imagine the furniture arrangement in this room. Have your spouse there to help with this or you could go through all of this again. There you are. Your aquarium is empty, be sure to take advantage of the situation and do any extra maintenance at this time. If you have been wanting to attempt the " Ultimate Over Engineered Reverse Flow Under Gravel Filter" as described in Mr. Ricketts' article last month in AquaSource, now's your chance. Clean your power heads, you are going to need them operating at their peak performance level.


1. Place gravel and rock work in the empty tank.


2. Test the pH of the tap water. PH can vary widely form location to location even in the same city. You don't want to kill your fish after all this work. If the house has been empty for more than a few weeks let the water run 15 minutes to remove any heavy metals and hydrogen gas that may have built up in the plumbing.


3. Fill the aquarium with the amount of water you threw away. Adjust the temperature here so that the temperature you end up when full is the temperature of your tank. For example if you keep your tank at 80 degrees, and your saved water is now 60 degrees you may need to use hot tap water now.


4. Put in the de-chlorinator as directed by manufacturer. If the water is over chlorinated as it is here in Southern California, double the recommended dosage.


5. If you moved African Cichlids add the Salts, and buffer mixed in a bucket of fresh water. You can adjust pH here to match the pH your fish are accustomed to. If the pH was the same (you're lucky) add only enough salts to match the amount of water you threw away.


6. Now you have two ways to get the water from the trash cans back into your aquarium. You can either bail it in with a bucket, or take some vinyl tubing and attach it to the output of your power-head. Lower the power-head into the bottom of the trash can and pump it into the tank. This saves your back.



Be sure that the pump is fully submersible. Be sure that your hands are dry before plugging in the power head. It is best to plug it into a power strip so that the circuit breaker on the power strip will help protect you if something does go wrong.


7. When the water from the trash cans is back in the aquarium, take temperature and pH readings. If the pH is more than 1 point different you need to acclimatize the fish. Do this by using a small container (four cup size). Take water from the aquarium and add it to the container holding your fish. Do this several times over the course of an hour. If the fish container is getting too full transfer a couple of pitchers full into the aquarium. This action will acclimatize the fish to pH and temperature. Then dump them in the aquarium.


8. Top off the aquarium with dechlorinated tap water as required.


9. Get your filtration and aeration going immediately.


10. Add your bacteria starter now. This will keep ammonia and nitrite from getting too high. Even with all the care we have taken it is probable a lot of existing bacteria was killed or eliminated. It is a good idea to increase the amount of aeration you normally use. Cycle starters use up a lot of dissolved oxygen. Having more dissolved oxygen will also reduce stress in already stressed fish.


11. Be ready to test for pH, nitrite, and ammonia daily. You may have do partial water changes daily if the ammonia or nitrite levels spike. Look for ammonia to spike, and level off. This will be followed by a nitrite spike. Partial water changes of twenty percent and bacteria starter added as directed by the manufacturer will help. A generous quantity of Amquel on hand or ammonia removing resin chips added to your filter will also help keep your fish alive. These are used along with water changes, NOT instead of water changes.



Sometimes saving all the water is not practical. This is either because of the distance of the move or the size of the aquarium. 180 gallons or 240 gallons of water is a lot of water. There are some ways to avoid an ammonia and nitrite disaster. Occasionally I have been forced to throw away fifty per cent of the water. This is the most I would even consider throwing away. If you have to get rid of more than that, sell your fish and start over.


Be careful the devil is in the details here. Keep your gravel wet with water from the original set up. The gravel bed is the largest part of your bio-filter. If you had lava rocks or dead corals, keep this wet in the same manner, the little critters are in all those excellent nooks and crannies that this type of rock work provides. I have been known to place these rocks right in the same trash can with the water I am moving.


Clean all canister or power filter media one week before the move. This will have you setting up with wet, clean, efficient, seeded filter media on arrival. One of the keys to pushing the envelope is over filtering. Most of the literature recommends filtering all the water in an aquarium a minimum of five times an hour. I always filter at least eight times an hour. I use a canister filter, a power filter, and an under gravel filter powered by two power heads.


Some stores sell water that is already cycled in their tanks. All you have to do is show up with your own containers. This is an excellent option but test the pH. Beware, however, do this only if that store has an outstanding filtration system of it's own. Snoop around and check it out. If this is the case go for it. You can also ask one of your fish buddies to bring you twenty percent of his water. During an ammonia and nitrite spike on a new set up, doing a partial water change and adding twenty gallons of water from my friend's tank saved my fish. I can not emphasize enough on keeping the bio-filter alive and boosting it with Termin-ITE Power Plus by HBH. That stuff really works, and it works in a matter of days.


Don't push the envelope unless you have to. If you have to, the keys are over filtration, increased aeration, and great care in preserving every part of bio-filter possible. On more than one occasion I have changed fifty per-cent of the water during a move and had no ammonia or nitrite problems. Other times, ammonia and nitrite spike. Death of fish can be avoided in either case by careful testing of the water, water changes as needed and observation of the fish themselves. If they are at the top gasping for air, check out your water. If they are lying around at the bottom, breathing hard, it could be pH shock. For both problems partial water change is required. Good luck and work carefully.


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