man starting to remove the fish from an aquarium before emptying the tank

How to Move a Fish Tank and Your Pet Fish

Packing all your belongings into boxes and moving to a new home is a major job, especially if you’re moving with a pet. Even moving with a pet fish can be challenging. Your aquarium is fragile, heavy, and requires special treatment, so moving it is a project on its own. When learning how to move a fish tank, you must consider how to move both your fish and their delicate home safely.

Packing Supplies Needed to Safely Move Your Fish Tank

Having the right supplies on hand will help you prepare for each step of how to move a fish tank. It can also help you avoid damage to your aquarium. As a fish owner, you may already have many of these supplies on hand. Your supply list for moving your fish tank should include:

  • Fish nets
  • Siphon hose
  • Clean 5-gallon buckets or tubs with secure lids
  • Fish bags (or similar plastic bags)
  • Packing tape
  • Wire strainer or colander
  • Water conditioner
  • Blankets, bubble wrap, and padding
  • Wet/Dry vac
  • Leveling shims
  • Tarps or other floor protection

How To Move a Fish Tank: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Taking careful steps to prepare your fish and their home properly provides your finned pets with a higher chance of surviving the move and the first days in a new home. Begin preparations to move your fish about 48 hours before you’re ready to move the fish tank. This will also give you an opportunity to clean your fish tank. When learning how to move a fish tank, following these steps is essential:

1. Prepare Your Fish for the Move

The first step in deciding how to move a fish tank should be about moving the fish inside. Stop feeding your fish 24 to 48 hours ahead of the move. This will allow waste to pass through their system and also give the filtration system time to clear out. It’s perfectly safe for most adult fish to go without food for up to a week. Use water from the tank in the containers used to transport your fish.

Take these steps to safely move your fish before planning how to move a fish tank:

Choose the Right Transport Container for Your Fish

For short moves, use fish bags. One fish can be placed in each fish bag. Bags should be doubled for safety, and only about one-third filled with water to provide ample oxygen. Seal the bags shut with tight rubber bands Moves that take over an hour will require buckets, and you can place three or four fish in each five-gallon bucket for transport. Buckets should be only half full and have tight-fitting lids reinforced with duct tape.

Remove Your Fish From the Tank

Scoop water from the fish tank to fill the travel containers to the desired level. Use a fish net to safely catch your fish one at a time and place them in their travel container.

Pro Tip:

Fish are easier to catch when all decorations have been removed from the tank. After removing decorations, allow sand and debris to settle before siphoning water for the fish to travel in.

 

Prepare the Fish to Travel Safely

If you’re using fish bags, place the bags in a cooler. Also, surround the bags with bubble wrap for added protection. For buckets, make sure the buckets are tightly sealed and are on a flat surface during travel. Avoid spaces that allow containers to be exposed to direct sunlight during transport. This will help keep the water at safe room temperature levels.

If you are traveling for more than 6 hours, then you’ll need to take additional precautions. Longer moves are very stressful for fish. Talk to your local pet store owner about how to safely move fish long distances. Pet shops can help you make arrangements for air shipment. You may even decide to rehome your fish with local friends or family members who already have an aquarium. Either of these options will allow you to travel with the fish tank only and get new fish closer to your new home.

2. Empty the Tank

a half-full fish tank being emptied for a big move

Can you move a fish tank with water in it?

No; you should never leave water in your fish tank while moving it, even just a short distance. When deciding how to move a fish tank to another room, people often mistakenly assume you can leave some water in the tank. While your tank is sturdily built, the force applied when you lift the tank can cause damage to the tank’s seams.

Follow these steps to empty your tank of all the fish tank equipment:

  1. Unplug the lights, air pump, and heater.
  2. Allow these items to cool before taking steps to empty the fish tank.
  3. Remove live plants and place them in a five-gallon bucket half-filled with fish tank water.
  4. Remove rocks, decorations, and gravel.
  5. Clean these items with water only.
  6. Dry the items and wrap them in packing paper before transferring to a moving box.

3. Disassemble the Fish Tank

You will need to remove the filter and other working parts from your tank before transport. Remove the lights, heaters, chillers, tubes, and filtration systems. Wrap and pack these items into the moving box.

Note: The filter should be packed damp to preserve the good bacteria.

4. Siphon the Water, and Clean and Dry the Tank

It’s essential to empty the tank of any remaining water and gravel from your tank. Siphon water from the tank into five-gallon buckets, and then remove any remaining gravel or sand. When the fish tank is empty, use a wet/dry vacuum to clean the tank. Completely dry your fish tank before packing it.

5. Pack Your Fish Tank

If you have a small or medium tank, then using a moving box is your best bet for a safe trip. Grab a helper to avoid adding stress to the tank’s seals, and gently place your aquarium into a similarly sized moving box. Add foam sheets to prevent shifting during travel.

Finding a box for larger fish tanks can be difficult. Instead, wrap your fish tank in packing paper, bubble wrap, and moving blankets. Pillows may be placed inside the tank, and padding should be taped in place. This step may be tedious and time-consuming, but it’s crucial for protecting the large glass faces.

6. Move the Fish Tank Carefully

Even when they’re empty, fish tanks are surprisingly heavy. Never try to move your aquarium alone. Twisting or shifting the tank can damage its seals, and the heavy load could also cause a back injury. It’s essential to decide how to move a fish tank before even lifting it. With one person holding each end of the fish tank, slowly carry it to the moving vehicle, and provide a flat resting place for travel. Plan your route and its spot in the moving van before picking it up.

Pro Tip:

If you have hired a moving company, then make sure they can move the fish tank in their moving truck. Some companies don’t allow this.

7. Prepare the Fish Tank for Transit

Your fish tank should be protected to avoid damage during travel. Make sure the aquarium is covered in padding and resting on a flat surface. Also, do not place any items on top of your fish tank. After it’s in place, trap or tie the tank in place to avoid it sliding and shifting during travel.

Pro Tip:

If you have a small or medium tank, try to transport both the tank and fish in your personal vehicle.

8. Set Up Your Aquarium in Your New Home

Upon arriving to your new home, tending to your live pets should be your first priority. Set your aquarium up as soon as possible after reaching your destination, before unpacking your other belongings.

The spot you’ve chosen for your fish tank should have a firm surface. It should also provide easy access to the electrical outlet needed to power the working units of the aquarium.

Follow these steps to set up your aquarium:

  1. Place your fish tank on the stand, retape the background material, and add the sand or gravel.
  2. Put the artificial decorations in place.
  3. Install the power strips and filters, but leave them unplugged.
  4. Fill your tank halfway with the old aquarium water you transported in pails.
  5. Put the live plants in place, and add the remaining old water.
  6. Gently add fish to the tank. If you transported your fish in bags, then place the entire bag into the tank, and give your fish time to adjust. Use your fish net to transfer fish from their buckets.
  7. Top off the tank with new, treated water, not just tap water.
  8. Plug in the filters, circulation pumps, and heater.

When you’re learning how to move a fish tank, you should be aware that it will likely take your fish a few days to adjust to their new surroundings and recover from the stress of the move. Leave the light off for the first 24 hours, and also avoid introducing food. Feed your fish sparingly at first. Don’t worry if it takes them some time to return to their normal diet, but make sure they aren’t demonstrating these potential signs of disease in their new home.

Pro Tip:

If possible, investigate your new home before the move and decide where your aquarium will be placed.

Learning how to move a fish tank will help you keep your fish safe and also avoid potential damage to the tank. Moving large aquariums is a difficult procedure, but it isn’t impossible.  Then follow these additional moving and packing tips so you can also settle into your new home.

Additional Moving Resources

Browse all our guides for moving and packing:


Other helpful moving resources:


Rent Out Your
Unused Space

Make $50-$500 each month renting your garage, driveway, shed or other storage space

List Your Space
Save 50%
on Storage

Find storage in your own neighborhood at half the cost of a self storage unit

Find Storage