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How to Relocate Your Aquarium
by Ruby Bayan

Siphon water from the aquarium to a bucket Since moving your tank involves major risks to your fish, to the tank itself, to your flooring, and to your own peace of mind, you will have to carefully plan out the logistics of the move.

Once you have a clear understanding of how you should handle this project and have made all of the necessary preparations, moving your tank to a new location will not prove as stressful or chaotic as you had previously imagined.


Whether you are relocating your fish tank from one area of the house to another, or from your home to a distant location, there are basic principles you will need to keep in mind:

  1. Dislocating fish from their established environment is highly stressful to them. When you move your fish into a holding container during the transfer, try to place them in a holding tank that is as similar to their regular one as possible. Use the regular tank’s water and put in a few plants. The most important thing you can do, however, is to conduct the relocation in the shortest possible length of time. This will minimize the disorientation of your fish and help them reestablish balance immediately.

  2. Fish tanks are delicate and they aren’t easy to lift. Furthermore, moving and transporting an aquarium poses major risks not only to the integrity of the sealant that keeps the glass panels together, but to the glass walls themselves which may shatter if damaged. Depending on the size of your tank, be sure that you have adequate assistance in carrying your setup to its new location. Handle the tank very carefully, keeping the aquarium level as much as possible during the move.

  3. Moving an aquarium can get messy. If your tank is larger than a one-gallon setup, you will need to drain most of the water off before you move the tank. You must then put that water back in again when the tank is in its new location. No matter how careful you are, there will be splashes and spills as you transfer the fish and landscaping and handle the excess water. Have rags or paper towels on hand.


Moving your tank will require you to remove the fish, drain off the water, move the tank, put back the water, and then place the fish back in the tank. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? But before you pull out your net to catch your fish, be sure you have made the following preparations:

  1. Ready the new location. Clear the destination area, make sure the surface is level, and provide new Styrofoam matting for underneath the aquarium, if necessary. Check on the availability of power outlets, and have an extension cord on hand.

  2. Prepare the holding container for the fish. Depending on the quantity of the fish and the length of time they will be in their temporary habitat, provide a relatively large container to minimize the stress to your fish. It is a good idea to use a loose-fitting cover to prevent the fish from jumping out. A somewhat opaque cover will be ideal because fish are less active in the dark; this will help minimize their stress. Make sure the holding container is clean and free of toxins. Needless to say, it is best to avoid using a holding container that is too large to be conveniently carried to its new location.

  3. Have buckets or containers ready to use when transporting the tank water. If you are using the same water for the relocated tank, you will need to have clean containers to hold the water until the new tank is in its new place. If you are using new water, make sure it is ready and properly prepared in terms of chemistry and temperature.

  4. Be ready to use your rags or old newspaper to absorb splashes and spills. You will also need them to clean off the spills and smudges on the outside of the tank walls after the relocation. You might want to put them down on the nearby carpet or flooring for splash protection and easy cleanup.

  5. Prepare the fishnet by soaking it in water for at least 10 minutes before using it. This softens it and minimizes damage to the fish. Get your siphon hoses ready. Make sure they are clean and have not been used to siphon anything other than clean water.

Step-by-Step Move

Now that you know what to look out for, and have made the appropriate preparations, here’s a step-by-step procedure on how to move your aquarium properly:

  1. Siphon off a sufficient amount of water from your tank into the fish’s holding container. Transfer a few plant stems from the tank to the holding container. This will help reduce the shock the fish will experience in their temporary habitat, and discourage or prevent them from jumping out.

    Holding tank for aquarium plants

  2. Gently and carefully catch the fish with the net, and transfer them to the holding container. Partially cover the container.

    Remove fish before relocating the aquarium

  3. Unplug and remove all external attachments that may fall off or get in the way when you are moving the tank. You may want to provide aeration to the holding container to ensure that the fish have enough oxygen while their new home is being set up. This is especially true if you are moving a large tank since that normally takes quite a bit of time.

  4. Continue to siphon off as much of the water as you can from the tank to the buckets you have prepared for transporting the water to the new location. Leave only enough water in the tank to keep the gravel bed and landscaping undisturbed. If you're moving to a nearby location, you may not need to uproot the plants. If you're moving a relatively large tank, you may have to unload the gravel, too.

    Siphon off as much water as possible

  5. Obtain all of the necessary assistance you think you might need and then lift the tank and carefully move it to its new location. Set it down as gently as possible.

  6. Bring the water containers to the new site, and refill the relocated tank by siphoning the water back in. Do not rapidly pour the water directly from the buckets because this will upturn the gravel bed and destroy the landscaping. Add new water as necessary to fill the tank to its ideal water level.

  7. Reinstall the external attachments you had removed, and plug in the heaters, lights, and aerator pumps.

  8. Test the water’s integrity (temperature, pH, and chlorine/ammonia content), and adjust it as necessary. You can also add a normal dose of a stress-reducing product for fish.

  9. As soon as the tank’s conditions are "back to normal," gently return the fish to the tank using your fishnet. You can dispose of the water in the holding container because, depending on how long the fish stayed there without the benefit of filtration, the water may already be polluted.

  10. Clean up the spills and put away the buckets; then sit back and enjoy your "new" setup.

Long Distance Relocation

Transferring your aquarium to a place that requires you to travel for more than a day makes special handling of both your tank and your fish necessary.

Do your homework and find out which movers in your area have the skills and protective materials available to transport your tank safely. Be aware that you may have to personally handle the special requirements of your fish.

If you must handle all aspects of the relocation by yourself, remember to provide your fish with the proper long-term traveling environment that they will need. Be especially mindful of extremes in temperature and water leakage issues. Review all your safety precautions carefully before trying to transport your extremely fragile aquarium.

See also: Step-by-Step Aquarium Installation

Suggested Reading:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Setting Up a Freshwater Aquarium

The New Aquarium Handbook : Everything About Setting Up and Taking Care of a Freshwater Aquarium

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