How to Move an Aquarium
Moving large fish tanks
Moving fish and their aquarium probably seems like an intimidating task, especially if your new home is several hours away. Travel can be stressful on fish, so special handling is necessary when transferring them long distance — and you have to be extra careful when disassembling and moving the tank to avoid damaging the glass. But even though it’s a big project, it’s possible to do it successfully with a little thought and preparation. By planning ahead, you can ensure the tank arrives intact and that your aquatic friends remain happy and healthy.
9 steps for moving fish tanks
Step 1: Gather supplies
Having the proper supplies can help the process go quickly and smoothly. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 5 gallon buckets (use new buckets or ones that haven’t been in contact with chemical products)
- Siphon hose
- Plastic baggies
- Duct tape
- Insulating foam sheets
- Packing paper
- Paper pads
- Bubble Wrap®
- Big boxes
Step 2: Prepare the fish for travel
Depending on how far away your new home is, it might be easiest to sell your fish and buy new ones once you settle in. But, if you don’t want to part ways, there are things you’ll need to do to prepare the fish for a move. Stop feeding them 24-48 hours in advance to allow enough time for waste to pass (a well-fed fish can survive a week without food). Then, choose the best transportation method based on travel time. Keep in mind that no matter how close or how far your new home is, the fish cannot travel in the aquarium. Here’s how they should travel instead:
Less than one hour moves
For local moves, put the fish in a plastic bag. Start by filling a plastic baggy with water from the tank. Then, use the net to catch one fish at a time (one fish per bag is best). To help reduce their stress, place the baggies in a dark cooler for the car ride and stuff Bubble Wrap® around the bags so they don’t roll around and burst. And to make sure they can breathe, ask a local pet store about adding pure oxygen to the bags.
One to six hour moves
For longer moves, it’s best for fish to travel in 5 gallon buckets. Fill the buckets about half-way with water from the tank, and then use the net to scoop 3-4 fish into the container (separate the aggressive ones). Seal the buckets with air-tight lids and duct tape the lid to prevent spills.
Moves that last multiple days or weeks
For extended moves, ask your local pet shop about options for boarding them and shipping them to you (via airmail) once you’re ready.
Step 3: Clean out the tank
Once the fish are ready, focus on packing the aquarium. Start by unplugging the lights and the heater so they can cool down. Then, remove plant life and wrap it in damp newspaper or place it in a 5 gallon bucket with water from the tank. After that, take out all the décor (rocks, gravel, ornaments, etc.). Clean them with warm water, dry them off and then pack them in packing paper or bubble wrap. Finally, remove the light, pump, heater and filtration system (the filter should be packed damp in order to preserve good bacteria). Once everything is wrapped individually and securely, pack it into one moving box and label fragile. Having everything in one box will make it easier to find and set up at the new house.
Step 4: Drain the water
Because it’s not safe to move an aquarium full of water, moving companies — including U-Pack®— require the tank to be drained before loading it. Make sure everything is unplugged so that you don’t risk being electrocuted, and then lay down some tarp or towels in case of spills. The best way to drain an aquarium is to use a siphon hose, which can be purchased from a retail store like Walmart®, or hardware stores like Lowes® and Home Depot®.
For local moves, try to save 80 percent of the water from the tank by siphoning it into 5 gallon buckets. Using the same water reduces the chance of toxic ammonia spikes (a dramatic, poisonous increase in the aquarium’s ammonia level), which can harm the fish and their environment. And even though you’ll have to transport it in your personal vehicle, it will be much easier for your fish to adapt when they return. For longer moves, it’s best to empty the tank and just start over with new water.
Step 5: Pack the aquarium
Now it’s time to pack. In order for the fish tank to arrive at destination undamaged, you’ll need to pack it well. Be sure to purchase a box big enough to fit the tank and then complete the following:
- Remove the lid and wrap it separately in packing paper or bubble wrap, and then wrap it in paper padding for extra protection
- Lift the aquarium from the bottom and place it in the box
- Cut an insulating foam sheet to fit on top of the tank
- Cut pieces of the foam insulation to brace the aquarium in the box so it doesn’t shift
- Fill the remaining empty space with crushed packing paper to prevent scratches and breakage
- Label the box fragile aquarium
Step 6: Load it carefully
The way you load the tank in the moving equipment can determine whether or not it will survive the journey. Because it’s heavy and breakable, you’ll want to handle it with extreme care and attention. Start by finding some movers to lift and carry it. Inside the moving equipment, make sure it’s placed onto an even, level surface and that nothing is stacked on top. Secure the box with straps or ropes to prevent shifting during transit.
Step 7: Receive shipment and reassemble
Depending on the moving service you use, your shipment could take a few days up to a few weeks to arrive. U-Pack has estimated transit times of 2-5 business days so that our customers can start unpacking their items quickly, whereas some full-service companies have delivery times of 2-3 weeks. When choosing a moving service, keep in mind that shorter transit times means getting your fish back into their normal environment faster. And once the aquarium arrives, start reassembling it:
- Add gravel
- Add rocks, décor and other accessories
- Put the plants in
- Refill with water (preferably with the water you saved)
- Set up the filtration system, heater, pump and light
Step 8: Regulate the temperature and chemicals
Whether you refill the tank with the old water or add new, you’ll want to closely monitor the temperature, pH balance, chlorine level and ammonia level (ask a local pet store in your new area about testing the water). You may be anxious to get your fish back in their previous environment, but if the conditions aren’t what they normally are, you could harm your fish. So, it’s best to wait and return them once everything is regulated.
Step 9: Reacquaint your aquatic friends with the fish tank
It’s finally time for your fish to return home! Use the net to scoop them out of their temporary homes back into the tank. (if they’re in bags, let the bags float in the water to regulate temperature). Keep in mind that it’s normal for your fish to need plenty of time to adjust, but watch for unusual behavior like erratic swimming. This could mean there’s a problem with the ammonia level and you’ll want to check and adjust the filter system. Contact the local pet store if their behavior doesn’t change or gets worse.
Tips for moving fish and aquariums
Before moving an aquarium and your fish cross country, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:
Designate a location. Think about the layout of your new home before moving day and decide where to place the aquarium. Make sure the new area is close to an electrical outlet, isn’t exposed to direct sunlight and has plenty of space.
Take a picture. It’s a good idea to take a picture of the fish tank from different angles before disassembling it so that you know how everything is set up (especially the filtration system). Remember to turn off the flash so that you don’t startle or stress the fish.
Prioritize the fish. The aquarium should be the last item you pack, but the first thing to unpack at your new home. Your goal is to have them away from their normal environment for the least amount of time possible.
Do you have questions about moving fish tanks long distance?
If you have questions or concerns about moving fish or aquariums, just leave a comment below — we’re happy to help! And, if you’re still looking for a moving service to transport your fish tank and other belongings long distance, try U-Pack. Get a free online quote today or call a friendly moving specialist at 800-413-4799 to see how much your move will cost.