Updated: Nov 14, 2021
Like most people, I hate moving. All those boxes, wrapping everything up, labeling everything, carrying furniture down stairs, and the boxes, so many boxes. Every move includes some valuable and fragile items. Some of the most fragile items I own are my aquariums, and if your like me, you want to make sure your fish tank, the equipment, and livestock make it to their new home all in one piece.
Moving an aquarium can be easier than it seems if done correctly, setting yourself up for success will prevent lifting injuries, damage to the tank seals, glass and equipment, and reduce stress on the livestock. Let's go over what I've found to be the best method for moving an aquarium. We'll go over the process step by step and at the end I'll include a list of the equipment you'll need to make your next aquarium move easy.
First, make sure you have chosen and measured a new spot for your aquarium. You definitely want to avoid hauling everything over and then realize your tank won't fit, or it's covering an air vent, or there are no outlets nearby, or a nearby window shines direct sunlight on it for a portion of the day (avoid south facing windows).
Once you've nailed down the perfect spot it's time to break down your tank. Begin by unplugging all your equipment. Wrap up your lights, glass lids, heater, thermometer and any other diffusers or glass parts. If you have a hang-on-back filter, drain the water out, but keep the media wet by placing it in a 5 gallon bucket for now. If you have a canister filter you can leave it filled as long as it can be safely lifted and carried. Same goes for your reactors or any other sealed, water tight filtration equipment. If you have a sump, drain the water from the sump to nearly and inch. As long as you refill the sump within a couple hours, the media shouldn't dry out enough to kill off any beneficial bacteria. Your bio media should be porous enough to keep from drying out as the water is not directly exposed to the air.
Now you should be left with just the tank, its decorations, livestock, and the stand. Start by removing the livestock. Fill a 5 gallon bucket half way with tank water for every 10-20 small fish ( >3 inch), 1-5 medium fish (>6 inch), and 1 large fish you have (<6 inch). For example if you have 15 small chromis fish and 1 large pufferfish, you'll need two five-gallon buckets filled halfway. If the fish will be in the buckets for more than two hours, I would recommend using a battery operated air bubbler in the buckets to keep oxygen levels up. If you are moving much farther, you will also need to replace the water in the buckets every 6-12 hours to reduce ammonia build up. If your just going across town, the agitation from the moving vehicle will be enough to oxygenate the water. Seal the lids on each bucket and your ready to go.
Your coral and invertebrates in saltwater can also be placed in 5 gallon buckets with bubblers if necessary, If your coral or anemone is attached to live rock and can't be removed without harming it, leave it on the rock and place the whole rock in the bucket, making sure its completely submerged. For freshwater plants, heavily rooted plants should remain in the tank. If the plant can be easily removed you can wrap it in a paper towel dampened with tank water and place it in a plastic bag.
Next, it's time to break down the tank itself. The first goal here is to keep as much original water as possible. You don't want to introduce the stress of moving and a total water change on your livestock. At most, I would add no more than 20% new water, just like a normal water change. The second goal is to reduce the weight of the tank as much as possible. This includes removing most of the water, but also any rock or wood that can be easily dislodged. Leave the substrate and any pieces that will cause more disturbance than not if removed.
Start by removing unburied rock, driftwood, decorations, and live rock. and place them in buckets, completely submerging anything with living creatures on or inside it, like the live rock, or driftwood with plants attached. Next, you'll siphon any remaining water into empty 5 gallon buckets with lids until you can't siphon any more water from the tank without vacuuming up substrate. Only this remaining water can be added back into the tank later as the other buckets had livestock releasing ammonia into it. Make sure you have enough RODI or tap water and conditioner to fill your tank the rest of the way at the new location. For example, if you had 40 gallons of remaining water in a 60 gallon tank, make sure you have 20 gallons of new water with you to completely refill the tank. You'll have some extra water too, as a 60 gallon tank will hold about 45 to 50 gallons of water total as the substrate and decorations will displace about 20% the tanks total volume. Finally, add wet towels to cover your remaining plants and rocks. Don't bother covering the substrate, it will remain wet.
Now that you have broken down your aquarium's weight into separate parts, it is hopefully light enough to move. If your tank is less than 90 gallons, a few muscle bound individuals should be able to safely remove the tank from the stand and place it onto a thick blanket. Wrap the blanket around the tank and tape it up. Then move the tank into the moving vehicle with the stand, equipment, and buckets. If your tank is above 90 gallons or is too heavy to lift with substrate, you want to err on the side of caution and not risk twisting the seals apart. In this case, go ahead and remove the substrate and remaining rock and or plants into buckets. This can be done easily with a clean shop vac. Or you can use a clean dustpan or feed scoop to shovel the substrate from the tank. Depending on how dirty our substrate is, you can keep it and use it again or replace it with new substrate. If you've been wanting to change your substrate, now's the time. Then wrap the tank in a thick blanket or use foam padding and move into your vehicle with the equipment and buckets.
After everything is moved into your new place, just reverse the process. Start by placing your stand in position and use a level to make sure the stand is level. Place composite, not wood, shims underneath the tank to adjust as necessary. Then place the tank atop the stand and re-level, adjusting shims as necessary.
At this point you can reinstall the equipment or fill up the tank with substrate, decor, and water first, dealers choice. I prefer to add my equipment first so I can redecorate to hide the heater and filter inlet and outlets. Next, refill the tank with the water in the water-only buckets. Do not add the water the fish or live rock were in as they have been releasing ammonia this whole time. Dispose of that water down the drain or in your garden if its freshwater. Fill your tank the rest of the way with new water and plug in your equipment.
Check everything is running smooth and add your corals or plants back in. While your doing this, drip acclimate your fish and inverts and then add them to the tank as well.
Boom, there you have it, tank is moved, easy right? If you scoffed at that last part, just give me a call or scroll down to contact me and I'll either walk you through the process for your individual system, or I can come to you and take care of the whole process for you. Good luck and happy moving.
List of Items
5 Gallon Buckets
Scoop or shop vac
New RODI or tap water
battery powered bubbler
thick blanket or foam pads