Neon Tetra Tank Setup: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide

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Preparing a neon tetra tank isn’t that simple, as there are many factors to consider. It’s impossible to throw the fish without proper preparations, or they won’t survive.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to pick the right equipment, how to adjust the water, and which tank mates can leave with your neon tetras. Let’s dive in.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Care Guide

Tank Size And Water Parameters

I suggest considering 10 gallons as the smallest acceptable size for neon tetras. This tank size is widely recognized as the minimum requirement for neon tetras.

Yet, even a 10-gallon tank has its limitations:

  • Limited Space: Neon tetras are small fish, but they are active swimmers and they thrive best in schools of 6 or more. The space provided by a 10-gallon tank may be inadequate for the free-swimming behavior of neon tetras, particularly if the tank is shared with other species of fish.
  • Stressful Environment: Overcrowding can lead to stress, which can increase susceptibility to diseases. Neon tetras are known to be sensitive to stress, and an overcrowded tank might negatively affect their health and lifespan.
  • Water Quality: Smaller tanks can have issues maintaining stable water conditions. Changes in temperature, pH, or nitrogen compound levels can happen rapidly in a small volume of water, and this can stress or even kill the fish.
  • Difficulty in Establishing Biological Cycle: In smaller tanks, it can be more challenging to establish and maintain a stable biological cycle. This cycle, also known as the nitrogen cycle, is crucial for converting harmful waste products into less harmful substances.
  • Limited Community Options: Because neon tetras should ideally be kept in schools and a 10-gallon tank doesn’t allow for many fish, you will have fewer options for adding other species to create a diverse community tank.
  • Aggression: In small, confined spaces, there can be an increase in aggression among fish, even in typically peaceful species like neon tetras.
  • Difficulty in Breeding: Neon tetras, like many fish, need specific conditions to breed. A 10-gallon tank may not provide enough space for the adults and for the fry to grow and develop safely.
  • Lack of Natural Environment: In the wild, neon tetras inhabit large, wide rivers with plenty of space to roam. A 10-gallon tank cannot mimic these natural conditions, which could impact their behavior and well-being.

Ideally, neon tetras should be kept in a 20-gallon fish tank, and their group size should be of at least six individuals.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Tank Size

Try to maintain the following water parameters within that tank:

  • Temperature: 72°F to 80°F (22°C to 27°C)
  • pH Level: 6.0 to 7.5
  • Water Hardness (GH): 4 to 8 degrees
  • Ammonia Levels: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite Levels: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate Levels: Below 20 ppm

Also Read: What Is The Best pH Level For Neon Tetras?

Essential Equipment For Neon Tetras

Once you’ve figured out the dimensions of your aquarium and the number of tetras you plan to have, you might start wondering about the necessary equipment and maintenance requirements.

Here are the fundamental items needed for a beginner neon tetra enthusiast:

1. Filter

  • Filters out harmful toxins such as ammonia and nitrites that are produced by fish waste, which could otherwise harm or kill the tetras.
  • Oxygenates the water by disturbing the surface, which is necessary for fish survival.
  • Helps maintain clear water for better visibility and a healthier environment.

My recommendation: Fluval C4 Power Filter (link to Amazon). It is reliable and reasonably priced.

Also Read: Do Neon Tetras Need A Filter?

2. Heater And Thermometer

  • Neon tetras need a consistent temperature range (70-81°F/21-27°C) to thrive, which is maintained by the heater.
  • A thermometer helps in monitoring the water temperature to ensure it stays within this ideal range, preventing stress or disease.

My recommendation: Tetra Submersible Heater (link to Amazon). I also suggest having a thermometer to monitor the water temperature accurately.

Also Read: Do Neon Tetras Need A Heater?

3. Canopy And Lights

  • Canopy prevents tetras from jumping out and reduces water evaporation, maintaining the water level.
  • Adequate lighting imitates the tetras’ natural environment, promoting normal behavior and showcasing their vibrant colors.

Also Read: Do Neon Tetras Need Light?

4. Air Bubbler

  • Raises oxygen levels in the tank, essential for the tetras’ breathing.
  • Enhances water circulation, preventing potential issues with stagnation and maintaining a healthy environment.

If you’re considering using a bubbler, I would personally suggest the Hygger Aquarium Air Stone (link to Amazon), which is remarkably quiet and offers great value for the price.

Also Read: Do Neon Tetras Need A Bubbler?

5. Air Pump

  • Drives the air bubbler and helps increase the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.
  • Helps maintain a steady flow of water, ensuring uniform temperature and distribution of nutrients.

If you have a well-functioning filter, an air pump is not mandatory. However, some fish keepers enjoy the visual appeal of bubbles in their tank.

Also Read: Do Neon Tetras Need An Air Pump?

6. Aquarium Siphon And Mesh

  • Siphon helps in removing detritus, uneaten food, and plant matter during water changes, keeping the tank clean.
  • Mesh is useful for safely capturing or moving tetras when needed, reducing stress and potential injury.

Aquarium Design And Foliage

The design and foliage in your aquarium play a vital role in enriching the environment for your neon tetras:

Plant Life:

  • Include a variety of live plants as they provide shelter and a sense of security for tetras. Examples include Anubias, Java Fern, and Amazon Swords.
  • Floating plants can provide shaded areas, mimicking the tetras’ natural environment and reducing stress.


  • Include natural-looking decorations such as driftwood or rocks to create hiding spots and make the environment more interesting.
  • Ensure the decorations are smooth without any sharp edges to prevent injury.


  • Use a dark-colored substrate, as it not only enhances the vibrant color of the tetras but also replicates their natural riverbed environment.
  • Make sure the substrate is fine-grained, like sand or fine gravel, to prevent injury to the tetras.


  • Ensure there’s enough open swimming space for the tetras. They are schooling fish and need space to swim around freely.
  • Remember, a larger tank is generally better. A 20-gallon tank is usually recommended for a small school of neon tetras.


  • Use subdued lighting as neon tetras come from shaded, tropical environments. Too bright light can stress the fish.
  • Lighting should mimic a day-night cycle, as a consistent light-dark period helps maintain healthy behavior.

Placement of Elements:

  • Arrange plants and decorations toward the sides and back of the tank, leaving the central area open for swimming.
  • Position larger plants and decor in a way that they don’t obstruct the tetras’ view, allowing them to swim freely.

Also Read: 11 Plants Your Neon Tetras Will Love In Their Tank

Setting Up And Maintaining Your Neon Tetra Aquarium

Setting up an aquarium for neon tetras is relatively easy. You have the option to use any base material or none at all.

Arrange your stones, woodwork, and foliage, whether real or artificial and fill the aquarium with dechlorinated water.

Before adding fish, check the water conditions and prepare the tank to prevent fish deaths.

1. Conditioning The Water

  • Start by filling the tank with tap water and use a de-chlorinator to remove harmful chlorine and chloramines. My recommendation: Seachem Prime (link to Amazon).
  • Use a water conditioner that also neutralizes heavy metals, which can be harmful to fish.
  • Adjust the water’s pH level to match the range preferred by neon tetras, which is typically between 6.0 and 7.0.
  • Maintain a consistent temperature between 70-81°F (21-27°C) using a heater. Use a thermometer to ensure accurate temperature control.
  • Implement water changes regularly (usually 10-20% of the tank volume per week) to maintain water quality, replacing the lost water with properly conditioned water.

Also Read: Neon Tetra Temperature

2. Nitrogen Conversion And Beneficial Bacteria

  • Understand the nitrogen cycle: Fish produce waste (ammonia) which is toxic. Beneficial bacteria convert this ammonia into nitrites (also toxic), and then into less harmful nitrates.
  • Use a starter culture or an aquarium cycling product to introduce beneficial bacteria into the tank. These bacteria colonies will help convert toxic ammonia and nitrites into less harmful nitrates. My recommendation: API QUICK START (link to Amazon).
  • Regularly test your water for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. High levels can be harmful to your fish.
  • Allow the tank to ‘cycle’ before introducing your neon tetras. This can take several weeks, but it’s necessary to establish the beneficial bacteria that will maintain the balance of the tank.
  • Do regular partial water changes (20-50% every week or two) to keep nitrate levels down. Always dechlorinate new water before adding it to the tank.

3. Feeding And Hygiene

  • Feed the neon tetras a diet of high-quality flake food or micro-pellets designed for small tropical fish. This can be supplemented with occasional feedings of live or frozen foods like brine shrimp or daphnia.
  • Avoid overfeeding. A good rule of thumb is to feed only what the tetras can consume in 2-3 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to water quality issues.
  • Remove any uneaten food after feeding time to prevent it from decomposing and polluting the water.
  • Clean the tank regularly, removing any visible waste or decaying plant matter. An aquarium siphon can be used for this.
  • Monitor the fish’s behavior and appearance closely. Changes could indicate illness or stress, which should be addressed immediately to prevent spread and maintain a healthy environment.

Also Read: How To Feed Neon Tetras

Neon Tetra Tank Tankmates

Peaceful freshwater fish of similar size make excellent tankmates for neon tetras. Some suitable options include:

  • Corydoras catfish (Corydoras sp.)
  • Harlequin rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)
  • Dwarf gourami (Trichogaster lalius)
  • Ember tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)
  • Honey gourami (Trichogaster chuna)
  • Cherry barb (Puntius titteya)
  • Endler’s livebearer (Poecilia wingei)
  • Black skirt tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi)
  • Pygmy corydoras (Corydoras pygmaeus)
  • Celestial pearl danio (Danio margaritatus)

On the other hand, I would avoid aggressive tankmates, such as:

  • Betta fish (Betta splendens)
  • Tiger barb (Puntigrus tetrazona)
  • Red-tailed shark (Epalzeorhynchos bicolor)
  • Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)
  • Cichlids (Various species)
  • Serpae tetra (Hyphessobrycon eques)
  • Silver dollar fish (Metynnis spp.)

You can also keep snails and shrimp alongside your neon tetras, they are usually a great addition to any fish tank and keep the environment clean.


Let’s quickly summarize the main points I covered earlier:

  • Building a suitable habitat for neon tetras involves more than just filling a container with water and adding fish.
  • Understanding the specific needs of neon tetras is crucial for their well-being and thriving in your aquarium.
  • Maintaining a happy and healthy community in a neon tetra aquarium requires considering the appropriate tank size and maintaining proper water conditions.
  • Essential equipment for neon tetras includes a suitable filter, heater, canopy or lights, air bubbler (optional), and aquarium siphon.
  • Proper aquarium design, including the use of live plants, provides hiding spots, oxygenation, and a natural environment for the tetras, contributing to their well-being.