Moving an Aquarium: How to Move a Fish Tank Safely
A daunting challenge that almost every fishkeeper will have to face sooner or later, moving a fish tank is no easy feat. Not just a case of asking your strongest friends to lend a hand, telling your fish to hold tight and lifting on the count of three, moving an aquarium is a long process which takes a lot of care and patience. Only through this will your established underwater ecosystem be able to survive the trip, long or short, to its new home.
Whether you’re moving house with a fish tank, or are just rearranging your own home and need to know how to move a fish tank a short distance, our handy guide will take you through everything you need to know. To help make the move as safe and stress-free as possible, for both you and your fish, our step-by-step guide also includes a list of essential equipment, advice on how to transport fish safely and a list of FAQs to give you all the information you could need before you start the process of moving your fish tank.
What's the best way to move a fish tank?
As any experienced fishkeeper will know, the most important factor in keeping healthy, happy fish is to keep their stress levels as low as possible. Not unlike other pets, and even ourselves, high stress levels can leave fish more susceptible to illnesses. In most cases, the best way to keep fish stress levels low is to maintain a comfortable environment that supports their well being. Unfortunately, when moving an aquarium, this is a near-impossible task, but there are ways to reduce the impact moving can have on your livestock, all of which we will cover below.
Essential equipment for moving a fish tank
When moving a fish tank of any size, there are a few essential pieces of equipment that you’ll need to have on hand to make the process go smoothly. Some of these you’ll likely already have, such as a fish net, while others you might need to purchase. Fortunately, all of these items can be used more than once, and some of the larger items you might even be able to rent from your local pet store to help keep costs down.
1. Aquarium fish net
At Aquacadabra, our aquarium fish nets collection features nets in a range of sizes and shapes suitable for fish of all species. For a sturdy, hard-wearing option that will last, the Interpet Aquarium fish net is a great option, with size options ranging from a 3 inch net up to a 10 inch net, with more options available in between for medium sized tank dwellers.
2. Fish transportation bowls or bags
The most important item on the list, finding suitably-sized bowls or bags to transport your fish is key to keeping them alive and calm until they can be reintroduced to their home. Spacious and secure, the Superfish Koi Bowl with Zip Cover is a great option for this and, with the addition of an air pump, fish can be left for hours at a time.
3. Clean plastic tubs or buckets with lids
While specially-designed bowls are best suited to transporting fish safely, for moving the rest of the water from your fish tank you’ll need to get enough clean plastic tubs or buckets with tight-fitting lids. This not only gives you peace of mind that you won’t spill any water, but, if you’re also transporting live plants, this is also the way to do it.
4. Syphon hose
Needed for syphoning the water from your tank into your fish transportation bowl and any additional water buckets, you may already have a syphon set in your fish tank accessory kit to use for water changes and cleaning. If you don’t, however, the Superfish Aqua Syphon Set is a great affordable option that is perfect for small to medium sized aquariums. For larger tanks, the Oase Gravel Cleaner and Syphon Water Change Set is another ideal choice.
5. Battery powered air pump
Depending on how far you have to travel with your fish safely stored in their transportation bowl, it might be worth investing in a battery powered air pump to ensure their water remains aerated for the duration of their travels.
Step-by-step guide to moving an aquarium
With all of your equipment gathered and ready, the last two things you’ll need before you get started is some help (moving an aquarium is not a one-person job, no matter how small the tank is) and plenty of time. From syphoning the water into buckets to carefully removing the fish, decor and equipment, moving a fish tank is a time-consuming process, and it's not over until everything has once again been set up and is running smoothly in its new location.
Step 1 - Avoid feeding your fish
Before you do anything, it's important to remember not to feed your fish for 24 hours before removing them from the tank. This will limit the amount of fish waste they produce while they’re being transported, which will in turn keep harmful ammonia levels low in their temporary environment in the absence of a filter.
Step 2 - Turn off and remove equipment
When you’re ready to start the process of moving your fish tank, your first task is to turn off and remove any equipment you use in your tank, including any heaters, pumps or filters. Each piece of equipment requires a different removal and transportation method, so read each individual piece of guidance below to make sure nothing is damaged in the move.
- Heaters: Turn off your heater and allow it to cool down for around 30 minutes before removing it from the water. This eliminates the risk of any sudden temperature changes, which can damage the equipment. Once removed, your heater should be carefully wrapped in bubble wrap or towels to protect it during the move, as some heaters can be quite delicate.
- Filters: Essential to protecting your tank’s ecosystem once it’s been set up again, keeping the friendly bacteria in your filter alive is the best start your new tank can have. To make sure your filter media is safe, keep it damp during its journey by packing your established filter media into a partially-filled bag of tank water.
- Pumps: The least delicate piece of equipment in your tank, any air pumps or stones should be unplugged and removed before being packed safely away ready for transportation.
Step 3 - Syphon water into containers
With the equipment safely removed, it’s time to get your water containers and syphon and begin moving the water from your tank into the lidded plastic buckets or boxes. It’s best to move around 75% - 80% of the tank water into your storage containers, with some also used to fill the containers you’ll move your fish and any plant life into. By saving as much of your water as possible, you can also limit the amount of water changes you’ll need to do when setting up your tank in its new location.
Step 4 - Remove your fish
Carefully remove the fish from your tank using your aquarium fish net to catch and lift them from the water, before adding them to their temporary container. While we would recommend removing fish before touching anything else in the tank to limit stress levels of your tank inhabitants, if you have large decor pieces such as rock structures, pirate ships and anything in-between, these may need to be removed first. This limits the hiding places your fish can swim into to evade the fish net, allowing this step to go more smoothly.
Our top fish transporting tips:
- As already mentioned in step 1, be careful that you aren’t moving your fish on a full stomach, as they will lower the quality of the water in their container faster. Once your fish are rehomed, their regular feeding schedule can be restarted.
- If you’re looking for advice on how to transport fish when moving house, rather than just within your home, we recommend setting up an air pump in your container to ensure your fish have well-oxygenated water for the duration of their stay.
- Always store fish in an enclosed container, whether this is a bowl with a lid, or a tightly closed bag, as fish may try to jump out to escape. The darkness of a covered bowl is also ideal for keeping your fish calm.
- If you have a particularly aggressive species of fish, make sure to separate them in a way that avoids any conflict, while more peaceful fish can be kept together.
Step 5 - Remove your plants
If you have life plants in your aquarium, these can be removed next by gently lifting them from their place and putting them into either water-filled containers or bags. Make sure to seal the container to prevent water spillages and remove the risk of drying out the plants.
Step 6 - Remove your decor
The next thing to remove from your fish tank is any decor, including fake plants, rocks, ornaments and anything else in-between. These should be stored in water-tight containers, with the weightiest items spread out to ensure no single box is too heavy to lift.
Step 7 - Syphon out remaining water
With all but the tank substrate removed, the next step is to syphon out as much of the remaining water as possible. This will give you the best start possible when setting up your aquarium in its new position as you will need to spend less time doing water changes, or treating and preparing new water if a large volume is needed.
Step 8 - Remove tank substrate or gravel
While some may be tempted to skip this step to save some time, especially if the moving distance is particularly short, the best way to move a fish tank is always to remove everything in the tank - including gravel or sand. This is because the substrate is quite heavy, and can damage the seals on a fish tank if left in place.
When removing gravel from an aquarium, all you need to do is scoop out as much as you can using whatever you have to hand, whether that be a clean dustpan, jug or plastic scooper, and place it into more water-tight containers. One of the most important rules to remember when removing your tank substrate is not to rinse or wash it, as this could remove the helpful bacteria living there.
Step 9 - Move your fish tank
Finally, with the water, fish, plants, equipment, decor and substrate all removed and safely packed away, you can now move your fish tank. How you do this will depend on how far you’ll be moving it, so follow the instructions below which suit your situation best:
- Moving a fish tank to another room. When moving your aquarium a short distance, the most important thing to do is set up your cabinet (or desk or table - whatever the base of your tank will be) before you start. This will ensure you can safely set down your tank without having to hold it for too long, or risk putting it down on a surface not designed to hold its weight while the cabinet is assembled.
- Moving house with a fish tank. If you’re moving house and are taking your fish tank with you, the best advice we can give is to properly pack up your tank using a cardboard box with proper packing supplies such as bubble wrap, styrofoam and sturdy tape. Fish tanks are an investment, and you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure it survived the trip undamaged. We would also recommend transporting the tank in the boot of a car or moving truck with nothing balanced on top or near it to ensure it isn’t at risk while on the move. For transporting fish when moving, it’s also best to keep these close by so you can keep an eye on them.
Step 10 - Set up your aquarium
The very last step in moving your aquarium is to set it back up. This is a time-consuming process so, in order to reduce the amount of time your fish spend in their temporary home, make sure to start it as soon as possible by doing the following:
- Add aquarium substrate and even it out along the base, and add any decor pieces on top.
- Refill the aquarium with the water saved in the containers, which should bring the water level to around or just past half full.
- Add all equipment back into the aquarium, turning them on once they’re repositioned. For the heater in particular, ensure enough time is passed before adding the fish to bring the water up to the ideal temperature.
- Re-plant any live plants you have, using our easy Guide to Aquarium Plants if you get stuck. If you have a lot of plants, and this step will be quite time-intensive, it might be worth leaving this for another day in favour of prioritising your fish.
- Reintroduce your fish to their tank slowly, as you would if you were adding a brand new fish to your aquarium. If your fish were transported in bags, float them on the surface of the water for around 45 minutes before releasing them. It is best to keep the lights off at this stage, and for the following few hours, as this will help to keep stress levels at a minimum.
- Top up the water as needed using dechlorinated water to ensure the tank is filled to proper levels. For this you’ll need a suitable water dechlorinator, such as Tetra’s Aquasafe Dechlorinator, if you don’t have some already.
- Monitor your tank closely for around one month after the move to ensure the quality of the water is sustained, and that your fish and plants are in good condition.
How do you move a fish tank a short distance?
While it may be tempting to avoid going to the effort of carefully emptying, moving and re-filling your tank if you’re only moving it a short distance, especially if it’s reasonably small and not too heavy, this is something we absolutely advise against doing. Beyond it being the best and safest way to keep your fish and plants happy through what is an understandably stressful time, this is also the cheapest way to move your tank. After all, should something go wrong, buying new livestock, replacing damaged equipment and purchasing a brand new tank is significantly more expensive than investing in the short list of supplies needed to safely move a fish tank.
Can you move a fish tank with water in it?
No, you should never move a fish tank with water in it, or anything else for that matter, as the weight and sloshing of the water presents a number of safety hazards that put both yourself and the tank in danger. Common hazards include slippages caused by water spillage, as well as broken seals caused by excess weight.
Can you move a fish tank half full?
No, even when some of the water is removed, any remaining water and gravel weight continues to pose a threat to the safety of all involved. No matter how many safety precautions are made to protect those moving the aquarium, the tank itself also remains at risk of broken materials and compromised seals, which is a particularly expensive risk to take.
How do you transport a fish tank with fish?
You should never ever move a fish tank with fish in it. On top of the regular risks associated with moving an aquarium with water in it, this choice puts all of your tank inhabitants in physical danger, as well as heightening their stress to unacceptable levels. Even the most hardy fish will react badly to such a situation.
How do you move a heavy fish tank?
When moving a heavy fish tank it is essential that as much weight as possible is removed from the tank. This means following the above instructions on how to move a fish tank to the letter, ensuring that water, fish, plants, decor and gravel are all carefully and safely removed before ever trying to move the tank itself.
Our tips for moving a heavy aquarium:
- Clear the area the fish tank is being moved to, making sure the surface is completely flat and is in easy distance to plugs for heaters, lights and other equipment.
- Plan the route to the new placement of your tank before lifting it, making sure all corners and turns are wide enough to pass through to ensure you don’t get stuck holding the aquarium for any longer than needed.
- Get plenty of strong hands to help: moving large, heavy aquariums is not a one person job.
Find all you need to move an aquarium at Aquacadabra
From small-but-essential equipment that you’ll reuse time and time again, to large transportation containers that will keep your fish safe and calm during the move, moving a fish tank is a big operation - and one which calls for a range of supplies.
If you’re planning to move your aquarium and want to do everything you can to make it go as smoothly as possible, revisit our suggested essentials at the beginning of this blog, or browse through our wide range of practical aquarium accessories and water quality products online.