Fish acclimation is not a new term for experienced keepers. That is why they rarely complain about troubles with petting an aquatic species.

But in general, we all have heard of queries from hobbyists about fish struggling to stay alive at the home aquarium in a few days of buying from pet stores.

Most fishes or other aquatic species are susceptible to their surroundings and water conditions. Therefore, experts advise acclimating the fish before transferring it to the aquarium.

There are several methods to let fish acclimate after bringing them home, but before discussing the procedures, it is essential to understand why it is necessary.

Why Should You Acclimate a Fish: Proven Factors

I purchased a pair of betta fish from a pet store a few years ago. The shop owner gave me instructions about how long to acclimate fish, but I forgot to do that.

I was highly fascinated with the fish’s beauty. In a hurry to introduce the pair to other community mates of my aquarium, I dipped the fish bag into the aquarium and released the bettas into it.

My excitement and ignoring the guidelines given by the storekeeper troubled the fish. Soon, they started behaving miserably, and the male betta died the next day, followed by the female.

It happens because most of us do not know why the fish go into shock and die after the water change. That’s when I understood the necessity of acclimating the fish before Introducing it to a new Tank.

What is the Fish Acclimation Process?

People fall into arguments with the fish seller when they observe that the pet does not respond eventually or the response is fatal.

But the fact is that the species which looked pretty healthy at the store could not adjust to the sudden change because they were not acclimated fittingly.

There are many factors that affect the fish’s health which causes them to go into a shock state. It could be changed in the surrounding, water temperature, pH, salinity, and other conditions that they were familiar with, or where they felt secure.

Therefore, after bringing the fish species to your home, you must acclimate them first using specific methods so that they can adapt to the new settings.

It will allow the fish to take time and accept the conditions without feeling nervous or insecure.

I came across three different fish acclimation procedures approved by fish-keeping experts. You must read them carefully before transferring the fish to the aquarium.

How to Acclimate Fish?

The fish is received in a sealed bag with little water and oxygen while shipping or purchasing from the store. This phenomenon often irritates certain species if left in the same condition for a long time.

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There are three popular methods that anyone can apply to acclimate the fish immediately after getting them home from the pet store.

Experts recommend specific methods for freshwater and saltwater fish acclimation. You can apply them accordingly to let them live a long-lasting life in your home aquarium.

Preparing the Tank Method or Quarantine Method

This method is suitable for most marine species like sea stars. All you need is a separate tank with all the necessary equipment like a filter, and water heater.

Tank Method or Quarantine Method

While using a new tank, please ensure you “break it” by completing a nitrogen cycle. This process creates biological filtration. It adds good bacteria to the tank environment, which will help maintain the nitrogen, ammonia, and nitrate levels in the tank water naturally.

  • Step 1. Make sure to note down the tank water temperature, pH, copper, and salinity parameters in the sealed fish bag to replicate it in your tank water.
  • Step 2 .It will minimize water change stress on the fish.

Note: If other mates are living in different parameters, you will need to keep the new and old species separated until they get accustomed to similar conditions.

It is hard to say how long you need to acclimate the fish in such a situation, but it can take approximately two to three weeks.

Drip Method

This method is commonly practiced by most keepers to acclimate saltwater fish. You need to arrange a small cup and one or two temporary containers of about 5-6 gallons of water capacity. Also, get a long drip line or tubing for dripping water from the aquarium to the tank.

Drip Method

The drip line has an attachment at the end to control the drip speed, similar to the saline drip used in hospitals. You can easily find them in aquarium shops.

  • Step 1. To begin the drip acclimation process, float one of the containers and the sealed bag simultaneously in the aquarium water. Wait for about fifteen minutes or more to let them attain equal temperatures.
  • Step 2. Take out the container and keep it next to the main fish tank.
  • Step 3. Connect both of them with a drip line that will transfer water from the aquarium to the container.
  • Step 4. Open the sealed bag into the container and gently release the fish into it.
  • Step 5. Adjust the dripping speed to 2-4 drops per second, and allow the aquarium water to fill the container slowly.
  • Step 6. Keep monitoring the fish’s activities in the temporary tank during the process.
  • Step 7. Once the temporary tank gets fully filled with water, throw away 50 percent of it (do not add it back to the original tank.)
  • Step 8. The process should be repeated five to six times or for approx. 3 – 4 hours. You need patience as it takes a long time to complete the drip acclimation procedure.
  • Step 9. Now, you can use a small bag to capture the fish with water and pour it into the main tank. The fish should be comfortable now.
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Note: The dripping speed will depend upon the salinity of both the main tank and the container. For a higher difference you must keep the dripping rate at which the container increases or decreases in salinity by 0.02 in an hour.

Cup Method or Floating Method

Cup Method or Floating Method

This method is simple but quite an exercise for some. It is best suited for freshwater fish. All you need is a small cup and a container.

  • Step 1. Follow the similar process as in the Drift method of immersing the fish bag and a container in the aquarium to equalize their temperature.

Note: You can follow this process without using the container by filling the water in the bag. For this, you should cut open the bag from the top after fifteen minutes of dipping in the aquarium, and roll up the sides. This will create air space in the bag.  Then it will start to float on the surface.

  • Step 2. Now pour the bag water and fish into the container (if you are using it) while keeping it outside the aquarium.
  • Step 3. Use the cup to add aquarium water to the tank (or the floating bag in the aquarium.)Add a small quantity of water at a time (about 0.25 pints initially,) and wait for 5 minutes.
  • Step 4. Check if the fish looks comfortable during the process. Keep adding this small volume of water till the container (or bag) gets filled.
  • Step 5. Now carefully discard 50 percent of the water into the sink, and repeat this process for approx. 2 – 2.5 hours. By now, the fish has become adaptable to the surrounding environment and temperature.
  • Step 6. After acclimating, add your new fish to the main tank, or if it is a sea star, leave it on a rock inside the tank quickly and gently without exposing it to air.

What to do After Finishing the Acclimation Process?

Closely observe, if the new one is comfortable in the tank (overall).It should feel safe eventually and move freely (as expected) inside the tank.

If their color has faded due to stress, it should normalize and look vibrant over time.  Also, observe if other tank mates are alright after the new addition.

Instructions for Adding a New Fish to a Community Tank

It is clear now that you cannot directly add new fish from the store to your tank. It can be dangerous for them as well as the ones already living in the tank.

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You can follow the below-given precautionary steps before beginning the fish acclimation procedures.

  • Deworm the fish if you caught them from the wild.
  • Quarantine them for two weeks to ensure they are in good health. Observe them for physical and behavioral issues, if any.
  • While bringing home the new addition, dim the lights slightly, so it does not feel shocked due to bright light, etc. You must also lower the visibility of the aquarium by dimming or turning off the tank LEDs.
  • Avoid adding too many fish(es) to the home tank. That might spike the nitrate and ammonia levels.
  • Add them in smaller lots so the biological filter can work effectively with additional waste in the tank.
  • Clean your hands and equipment to avoid potential infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it necessary to put off lights during fish acclimation?

Fish and other water species are too sensitive to unexpected changes in their habitat. They take some time to settle down and feel safe adjusting with it.

Unnecessary bright light will grab their attention and make them insecure, which will endanger their health.

That is why it is advised to either turn off or dim the lights in the room or the surrounding area, where you introduce them to the new tank.

How long can a fish stay in the sealed bag of the pet store?

The online or offline pet stores provide the fish in sealed plastic bags because they are portable. There is sufficient oxygen in the bags for fish to stay active for 8-10 hours, while there are few exceptions of species that can stay alive without oxygen for up to two days.

However, most experts suggest instantly beginning the fish acclimation process or do not allow the fish to stay in the locked state for more than five or six hours.

What is the ideal time to let fish acclimate in each water addition?

Ideally, it depends upon the delicacy of the fish to get accustomed to the new tank setup. You can wait for about 5-8 minutes before adding another cup of water to the acclimation setup, to avoid sudden changes in the parameters. For saltwater species, use the drip acclimation method, and begin with slow dripping.

Final Take Away

Petting a fish is a delightful hobby, while they interestingly become a live decoration to the living area. But every species has its own living pattern and thus requires special attention and maintenance.

It is vital to follow the fish acclimation procedures attentively. This will protect your fish from going into a state of shock or dying due to negligence in obtaining adaptable conditions.

The procedure may seem hectic and take a long time to finish, but ultimately it will keep the fish healthy and alive.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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