• Get the NEW AquariaCentral iOS app --> http://itunes.apple.com/app/id1227181058 // Android version will be out soon!

New tank journal


this is bat country
Hi all,

A friend of the family is looking to get rid of their 20g high tank setup. It's been running for years and with the exception of quite a bit of algae looks to be pretty healthy. I'll have to get rid of the current gravel (clown puke) and all of the fake decorations (pirate ship, airplane wreck, etc)... so I'm basically trying to redo the whole tank while keeping the fish alive. The current stocking is pretty bad (imo): 3 neons, 2 mollys, 1 glass catfish, 2 brown khuli loaches, 2 panda cories.

So my plan is to keep the fish in a 5 gallon bucket with the filter/heater on it for a couple of days while I sort out the tank. Plan for the tank is to empty it out and give it a good cleaning. Refill with Eco-complete (or something similar) for the substrate, and get some natural driftwood and live plants for deco, then pop the filter and heater back on and once the temp is stable, the fish go back in.

I'm planning to rehome the neons, glass cat and mollys. So once I'm sure parameters are stable, I'll add 3ish more kuhli loaches and 3-4 more panda cories (if I can find them local). So I'm left pondering what else to add to make the tank pretty and interesting.

The main goal for this tank (after healthy and happy critters obviously) is to get my -soon to be- wife interested in tanks so I can get a larger set up going. I don't think its ideal to take on this project with my wedding 1 month and 1 day away, but i've been wanting to set up a tank for a while now and at this point, can't pass up a free set up.

So I'm planning to use this thread as a journal of the build/evolution of the tank. Any and all thoughts/suggestions/advice most welcome.

A couple of questions to start off:

1. Eco-complete... it's been several years since I last had a tank. I used to use eco-complete for all my tanks... is this still a thing? is there something that's come along that's comprable/better?

2. I know it's not ideal, but for a couple of days the fish should be ok with the 5 gallon bucket plan while I work on cleaning/setting up the tank, yes?

edit to add... I'll be picking up the tank and critters on Saturday, so I've got some time to prepare.
for substrate, if you are looking to save cash, go with SafeTSorb oe Oil Dry or such. Or get a specific. modern soil like Stratum or Aquasoil,, which are more expensive.

lots of substrates, like eco-complete dont add much other than a high CEC, and don't actually contain any nutrients

And beware of high nitrates.


this is bat country
Good to know. Thanks! I'll check out that article.


Global Moderator
Staff member
Congrats on the free tank and getting back into the hobby. Eco-complete is still a popular choice for the middle of the road substrates, not too expensive but gives high CEC and nice black color but no major nutrients comes with it. SafeTSorb (which I use in my pond for a couple yrs now) is a super cheap alternative, fired clay, high CEC, no nutrients, natural color. Oil Dri (my top choice in aquariums for almost 10 yrs now) is also super cheap, fired clay, high CEC, no nutrients, dark natural color. Haven't had either break down like kitty litter yet and the oil-dri has been submerged for 8 or 9 yrs straight.

Not to discredit Eco, I used it in the past and it's pretty good, great color, but there were enough drawbacks that it wasn't worth the price tag in comparison. I either wanted to spend less for the same results or more for better results (never got to this option though lol). A more expensive option I would like to try is fluval stratum for sure. It has buffering capabilities.

If it gonna be a couple days may I suggest one of those rubbermaid totes instead of a 5g bucket. Better surface area, more swimming space, straight sides (better for HOB filter placement), easier to get a heater into (if needed) and good for future use too (could be a quarantine tank or storage).

Good luck to hooking the wife to be into the hobby and congrats on the wedding! You're crazy for doing this so close to the wedding though lol. Just remember pay her as much attention as possible, if the fish tank becomes a distraction she won't like it. ;)


Global Moderator
Staff member
I don't have much to add in regards to your Eco complete substrate question, given the only "plant" substrate I've ever used was Caribsea FloraMax. I tried it in a 10g and the rooted and non-rooting plants went crazy in that tank. Can't say if it was all because of the substrate. It's expensive, but for a 20g high you don't need that much.

Those fish could live forever in a 5g pail provided you change water and keep the water parameters in check.


AC Members
cation exchange capacity...it sort of means the ability to hold onto positive & negative ions (++ & -) from ferts until plants need to use them...my very simplistic explanation, lol. Now look it up to get a real understanding ;)


AC Members
Oops, I forgot to respond to jbradt, the OP, sorry.

Congrats on the upcoming wedding & free tank!

I have had Eco in a tank or 2 for ~15 years, my original purchase of 6 bags for a 75g. I like the color & size & it's much better than a totally inert substrate like sand or smallish gravel I've used before & since.

It seems fine for my bottom feeders & plants but, as mentioned, doesn't add to the plants ferts needs. I use root tabs of several kinds but I am a really poor water column fertilizer doser.

I'm way into low maintenance plants & fish...& you may want to be too, at least for the next 2 or 3 months. You've got too much going on to do more than get the tank & fish you want to keep moved & stable. I agree on a tub over a bucket.

I hope you & your new wife can have this tank be a fun "couple's project" when you have time later. You've gotten to choose kuhlis & corys, my favs. When the wedding excitement is over, then you might see if she has interest in your hobby. Take her to fish stores & look online; a betta, neons, cardinals or rasboras--any of those are pretty & easy to keep in your 20g. But let her see the "other" possibilities & fantasize together on "cool" but big fish you can't have in a 20. Angels, discus, spangly cichlids &/or roseline sharks come to my mind, lol, but you probably have ideas too. Listen hard to what she likes be it color, behavior or shape. There almost always "similar" fish of a more suitable type.

Make it fun!!


this is bat country
Thanks for all the replies. Lots of stuff to think about here.

I didn't even think of getting a rubbermaid tote instead of a bucket. This is an awesome idea, and exactly what I'll be doing. I'm also going to check out the oildri... it looks like lowes carries it and I'm all about saving a few bucks atm.

Right now the wife has no real interest in the tank. We went to the store last night so I could pick up some supplies... prime, water test kits, and a really cool piece of spider wood... and she didn't even go into the fish section. My hope is that I can create something that will draw her in over time by setting up a really cool natural tank. We'll just have to wait and see on that one. Our daughter on the other hand (15 years old... gaaahhhh teenagers!!!) is very interested and wants to learn all about the care and maintenance and wants to be involved in the selection of everything, so it will be a good bonding experience there.

The plan is definitely for a low-tech set up. I'm thinking java ferns, anubias, maybe some crypts/vals. The shop I was at last night had a bunch of plants, but outside of the java ferns everything was covered in algae and didn't really look great. So the search continues.

LOL on the timing. I had put the thought of getting a tank out of my mind about a month ago, thinking that I'd wait until after the wedding and all, but then I got the call about the free tank and the folks giving it away wanted it out of their house, so I couldn't say no. I think I'll end up keeping the current stock until after the honeymoon when I can devote much more time and attention to the tank.

I'll be posting some pics of the before and after come Saturday/Sunday as things start to take shape.

Another question... I'm not a huge fan of the filter that's on the tank now, so I'll be replacing it with an aquaclear that I have from a while ago. How long should I run them concurrently to seed the new one before removing the old?