How To Set Up An Axolotl Tank [Beginner’s Guide]

If you’re considering keeping an axolotl for the first time, you’re probably wondering if they’re easy to care for and if they have specific requirements.

Axolotls are unique creatures, and whilst they’re actually pretty easy to care for, they have certain needs which need to be met. Setting up your axolotl’s tank correctly is one of them.

In this beginner’s guide, I will teach you how to properly set up your first axolotl tank. Here’s what you’re going to learn:

  • What items you need to buy (and most importantly: WHY?).
  • How to set up your tank (step-by-step guide).
  • Answers to the most frequently asked questions about axolotl tank setup.

If this sounds helpful to you, keep on reading below. Also, please consider sharing this guide on social media as it might help other people out too. Thank you!

Table of Contents

How To Set Up An Axolotl Tank For Beginners

If you’re considering buying an axolotl, make sure to read the guide below BEFORE you buy it.

You should aim to fully set up your tank and make sure everything is perfect – the water parameters in particular – BEFORE you bring your new axolotl home. Doing this will help reduce the time it spends in the bag or tub it’s transported in – and avoid any unnecessary stress.

Items You Will Need To Set Up Your Tank (and Reasons Why!)


The first question I get asked is: “What kind of tank does my axolotl need?” Fish tanks / standard aquariums are perfectly suitable for axolotls. You don’t need an “axolotl-specific tank”.

Once people know what type of tank to get, they then ask: “What size tank does my axolotl need?” Getting your axolotl tank size is very important – fail here and all the information below becomes irrelevant.

It’s vitally important that the tank is the right size (and by that I mean capacity) and the right shape (prefer length over height). A longer tank will give your axolotl more space to swim.

The minimum tank capacity will vary in function of the number of axolotls you want it to hold.

Single Axolotl

The first thing you need to get your hands on is a suitable tank. Axolotl experts recommend a minimum tank size/capacity of 20 gallons for a single axolotl.

Ideally, you should buy a glass tank (glass doesn’t leech chemicals into the water) that’s at least 2.5 feet long. These are often referred to as “long tanks” due to their elongated, rectangular form.

Multiple Axolotls

Whilst axolotls tend to prefer solitude, if you decide to buy multiple axolotls you will need to add at least 10 gallons of tank capacity per additional axolotl.

The table below will help you determine what tank you should buy.

Number of Axolotls in TankMinimum Recommended Axolotl Tank Size (Capacity)
120 US gallons /  75 Litres (approx.)
230 US gallons / 115 Litres (approx.)
340 US gallons / 150 Litres (approx.)
450 US gallons / 190 Litres (approx.)
560 US gallons / 230 Litres (approx.)
Recommended Minimum Axolotl Tank Capacity Per Number of Axolotl(s)

Lid / Hood

Placing a lid or hood on your tank is recommended. It will keep your axolotl in (axolotls have been known to jump out of the water now and again…) and potential attackers out – if you own a cat, you know what I mean!

Most tanks come with a lid or hood of some description. However, they tend to be solid sheets of plastic that cover most of the tank. Some also come with built-in lights. This type of lid isn’t well suited to axolotl tanks because they hinder gas exchange (resulting in poor oxygenation) and heat dissipation (thereby causing the water temperature to rise).

If at all possible, I recommend replacing the lid with a mesh or net lid. You either buy these or make them yourself. The mesh will allow greater oxygenation and better cooling. If a mesh lid isn’t an option, then consider wedging something under the lid so it isn’t completely sealed on all sides to the rim of the axolotl tank. Doing so will create an airflow that can prevent some of the issues highlighted above.

My Recommendation:


The substrate is the material that lines the bottom of an aquarium, or in this case your axolotl tank. There are many different types of substrate available – not all suitable for axolotls.

Indeed, axolotls have a tendency to swallow the substrate. If the substrate is too large or coarse and your axolotl ingests it, it can cause a condition known as “impaction”. Impaction is when your axolotl’s digestive tract gets clogged, its abdomen swollen and it loses its appetite.

Therefore, finer substrates are better. Or even none at all.

Bare-bottom tank

Many axolotl owners don’t add any substrate at all to their tanks. Tanks without substrate are known as “bare-bottom” tanks.

This method is perfectly acceptable and doesn’t seem to stress axolotls out. It also makes cleaning up your axolotl’s poop much easier. Finally, it’s the cheapest method as you won’t need to spend any money.

The only drawback is that the tank looks a bit empty, clinical, and somewhat artificial.


Aquarium sand is perhaps the most popular substrate type with axolotl owners.

It’s fine enough that your axolotl can easily pass it if ingested, yet it gives your tank a more “finished” and natural look.

Drawbacks include difficulty to keep clean as the sand tends to get sucked into siphons and gravel vacuums. Over time the quantity of sand in your tank will deplete and you will need to top it up, so it also adds an additional cost to the overall cost of axolotl ownership.

Stones / Rocks / Tiles / Slates

Certain axolotl owners like to place large stones (too big for axolotls to eat), small rocks, or even tiles or slates at the bottom of their tanks.

These choices of substrates are really smart – and perhaps offer the best compromise. However, these substrates are often overlooked.

They’re big enough that there’s no chance of your axolotl eating them or them being vacuumed up, and they’re really easy to remove from the tank for cleaning. Finally, they’re cheap to buy, and in most cases, you can even find them for free in nature (beaches, quarries, etc.).

Substrate Mix

If you want to mix things up, why not try a mix of all 3 substrate types?

Doing this can really help to break up your aquarium into different “zones”. This can be fun for your axolotl to play in, and aesthetically pleasing for you.

However, it does make cleaning the tank a slightly more complex operation due to all the different substrates involved, and it can also increase your setup costs and running costs.

Substrates To Avoid

Gravel is a popular substrate with fish keepers. However, it must be avoided at all costs when it comes to axolotl tanks. As explained above, gravel is one of the main culprits when it comes to causing impaction in axolotls.

Also, avoid any types of crushed coral. Crushed coral can also cause impaction but is also known to raise the pH of the tank water. As you will see below, axolotls have very specific water pH requirements.

My Recommendation:

Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand, 20-Pound, Crystal River


In the wild, axolotls live in the murky waters of the freshwater lakes and canals of Mexico City, Mexico. They are bottom-dwelling creatures that spend the vast majority of their lives in a dimly-lit, feature-rich environment that provides them with shade, shelter, and plenty of opportunities to find or hunt food.

Decorations will enable you to artificially recreate these natural features in your tank. They also help break up the current flow created by your filter, which is ideal as axolotls don’t like strong currents.

Decorations are perhaps the most fun aspect of your axolotl’s tank. There are plenty to choose from, they’re fun to arrange and enjoyable to look at. Most importantly, tank decorations fulfill important functions for axolotls…

There are so many different types of decorations available for aquariums that it can be hard to know where to start. With that in mind, here’s what I recommend at a bare minimum.


Plants will enable you to create shade and hiding places in your tank. You can choose between artificial plants and real plants, but we strongly recommend the former for beginners.

Artificial Plants

Artificial plants are ideal for beginner axolotl owners.

They’re generally made from plastic, are weighted to prevent them from floating or drifting out of position, and in certain cases are indistinguishable from live plants.

Artificial plants are low maintenance, so you won’t need to care for them like a real plant. This lets you focus on your axolotl instead.

Tip: Aim for fake plants with long, broad leaves and dense foliage which will offer the most shade. Also, make sure that they’re non-toxic (very important) and that the weight isn’t made from lead (which can be poisonous) or iron (which will also interfere with water chemistry).

Live Plants

Live plants look great, and if you’re after that 100% natural look – they’re unbeatable. 

However, real plants require care. Each plant species and variety will have its own requirements in terms of water temperature, water parameters, and lighting. Also, certain plants are toxic to certain animals – which adds another layer of complexity to choosing and caring for both plants and animals.

So, not only will you need to become an axolotl expert – you’ll need to become an aquatic gardener too. For this reason, we prefer to leave live plants for the more experienced axolotl keepers.


Every axolotl needs a hide! As a matter of fact, it’s recommended that you provide at least one hide for every axolotl in your tank.

And in case you don’t know what a hide is – as its name suggests –  it’s simply a place where you axolotl can hide and seek shelter. It may also act as a sort of bedding for your axolotl. You can either buy a hide or make one yourself.

Amphibian/Reptile Hides

Axolotl hides come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, and colors. General fish tank hides are also suitable, as long as they’re large enough.

Some have a more natural appearance and look like hollowed-out logs or miniature rock caves. Others are more whimsical and mimic castles, shipwrecks, or even giant toadstools. I find those a bit tacky but that’s just personal preference.

Whatever style tickles your fancy, just make sure to pick a hide that’s big enough for your axolotl. And think ahead…axolotls grow and can reach up to 1 foot in length as fully matured adults. Buying a hide large enough to fit an adult axolotl will avoid having to buy multiple new hides as the axolotl grows.

DIY Hides

Getting set up can be expensive. So, if you want to save some money why not make your own hide?

Sections of PVC pipes (approx. 8 to 10 inches long with a diameter of 5 to 6 inches) or even clay pots turned on their sides can make perfectly suitable hiding places for your pet axie.


Driftwood refers to submerged wood, such as root systems or sunken branches, that sits at the bottom of your tank. Driftwood adds shade and shelter to your tank and can give your axolotl plenty of nooks and crannies to explore as well as somewhere to perch itself.

Like aquarium plants, driftwood is available in artificial and real options.

Artificial Driftwood

Artificial driftwood is the most beginner-friendly option. It doesn’t decay and doesn’t need much looking after. Plus, you can shop for a model which suits the exact layout you want to give your tank.

Make sure to purchase models made from non-toxic materials.

Real Driftwood

Real driftwood – just like real plants – adds an unmistakably natural look to your setup.

However, driftwood releases tannins as well as decaying organic material into the water – so can have a real impact on water chemistry. In turn, this means that you will need a more robust filtration system and your tank will require more frequent water changes.

So, we also don’t recommend real driftwood for beginner tanks. 

Check Driftwood


Axolotls are quite messy and also very sensitive to water quality. Also, they get stressed out by strong currents. So, it’s important to keep these realities in mind when choosing a filter, and deciding where in the tank you’re going to place it.

Filtration is where things start to get a little technical. It can seem complicated but it really doesn’t have to be.

At the basic level, an aquarium filter removes unwanted debris from your water such as:

  • Axolotl waste (poop and urine).
  • Decaying uneaten food.
  • Decaying organic matter (dead skin, axolotl slime, dead plant matter, etc.).
  • Undesired chemical compounds.
  • Miscellaneous floating particulates.

To achieve this, filters suck/push water through one or several different filtration media. many filters function by pumping a stream of air into the submerged filter to create a siphon and induce a water flow. This flow pulls the unwanted debris into the filtration media, where it’s trapped and/or broken down. 

The air is then redirected toward the surface where it turns into bubbles. These bubbles rise and break the surface film, helping to oxygenate the water. In this case, filters also act as a bubbler.

Filtration Media

Filters use a variety of filtration mechanisms:

Mechanical Filtration

With mechanical filtration, unwanted debris is physically trapped by the media. Media such as sponges, non-woven fabrics, or mesh act like a net. These nets catch and retain the debris, preventing it from circulating in your tank. 

However, the debris is still in your system. Waste, food, or organic material will continue to break down and dissolve into your water. So, mechanical filtration on its own is rarely sufficient.

Biological Filtration

Sometimes referred to as biofilters, biological filters use porous media such as bio balls or ceramic rings that house aerobic, nitrifying bacteria. The beneficial bacteria break down the trapped, unwanted organic matter thereby keeping the water clean and safe.

More about this in section 3, when we will cover the nitrogen cycle of water.

Chemical Filtration

Chemical filtration uses activated carbon, resins, and other absorbent materials to remove dissolved particulates from the water such as chemicals or tannins.

Types of Filter

Filters also come in various types, which may combine one or all of the filtration mechanisms outlined above. Here are the most popular with axolotl owners.

Sponge Filter

The most simple, affordable – and perhaps most popular type of aquarium filter. Sponge filters resort mainly to mechanical filtration. A stream of air is pumped into the filter. As the air bubbles rise through the filter tube, they create an upward current that draws water toward and through a filter sponge.

Filter sponges create a lot of bubbles, which is great for oxygenating the water. And, as axolotls are clumsy and tend to knock into things, a filter sponge might be a good idea. They’re soft so your axolotl won’t get hurt.

However, sponge filters are probably the least effective type of filter.

Internal Filter

Internal filters sit inside your tank, most submerged with the top of the device sitting just above the surface. They suck water in through the bottom of the filter. The water is circulated through different types of media and is then released back into the tank through the top of the device.

Whilst internal filters are pretty good at doing their job – i.e. filtering – they can look rather ugly and are hard to hide. Moreover, the filtration cartridges need frequent cleaning or replacement – which can be time-consuming and expensive.

Hang-On Back Filter (HOB Filter)

As their name suggests, HOB filters hang on the back of your tank. They siphon up water throw a submerged spout, which is circulated through different media (generally mechanical, biological, and chemical). The filtered water is then cascaded back into the tank, breaking the surface tension and helping gas exchange.

A hang-on-back filter is great because the bulk of it resides outside of the tank. So, not only does it look better but it also means that your axolotl has less to knock into.

Whilst HOB filters also use disposable filtration cartridges/media, they tend to be bigger than internal filters and don’t need to be cleaned/replaced as frequently.

Canister Filter

Cannister filters get their name from their shape. They generally sit outside of the tank and are best suited to larger tank setups or aquariums that house creatures that produce a lot of waste. They intake dirty water through one hose and dispense clean water back into the tank via another hose.

Because of their size, they can hold large amounts of filtration media and can filter large volumes of water. However, they’re big and they’re expensive.

For this reason, we don’t recommend canister filters for beginner axolotl keepers.

My Recommendation:

Marineland Penguin BIO-Wheel Power Filter, 150 GPH


By now, you should know that axolotls don’t like intense light. They’re not big fans of high temperatures either. Certain lights can be very bright and emit a lot of heat. Therefore, you need to consider this when choosing a light for your tank.

The choice of light will also depend on what type of plants you have in your tank. 

If you’ve gone down the live plant route, then you’ll need to ensure that the light you choose is bright enough to enable photosynthesis and allow your plants to thrive, whilst also being dim enough not to stress your axolotl.

However, if you settled on fake plants, then you don’t need to worry about choosing a light suitable both for the plants and your axolotl (that’s why I recommend fake plants for beginners).

Natural Lighting

If your axolotl tank is located in a room that receives enough light for you to live in during the day without having to switch on the lights, then your axolotl tank may not need an artificial source of lighting.

However, it’s very important to ensure that your tank is not placed by a window (on a sill for example) and does NOT receive direct sunlight. This could cause your tank to get too bright and too warm, and have devasting effects on your axie.

Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent lighting is the traditional type of aquarium lighting that resorts to filament or halogen bulbs or fluorescent tubes. 

Whilst ideal for certain types of fish habitats (tropical fish for example), this type of lighting is not well suited to axolotls. It tends to be too bright and too hot. Avoid at all costs!

LED Lighting

LED lighting is very versatile and provides a large choice of light intensities and colors. Moreover, LED lights are very durable and last for years, sometimes decades. Finally, they’ve become relatively cheap over the last decade or so.

If you’re keen on adding a LED light to your axolotl tank, go for something pretty dim that you can easily switch off when you’re not busy feeding or observing your pet. 

My Recommendation:

Aqueon Freshwater Aquarium Clip-On LED Light One Size

Cooling & Heating

The ideal water temperature for axolotls ranges from 60 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 18 degrees Celsius).

At the extremes, below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) is too cold for sustained periods of time (unless you’re fridging your axolotl for example). On the other end of the spectrum, above 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) is too hot and can lead to heat stress.

The average temperature in people’s homes tends to be between 68 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it’s unlikely that your axolotl tank will require a heater but possible that it will need a chiller. Check what the temperature is in the room where your tank sits and decide accordingly.

Aquarium Chiller

Aquarium water chillers are designed to lower the water temperature in your tank. There are different types of chillers on the market – some of which can be very pricey.

Cooling Fan

The most basic type of aquarium chiller uses fans to blow air across the surface of the water. The moving air helps accelerate heat dissipation – somewhat like the CPU fan in a PC.

The best cooling fan models can help lower water temperature by a couple of degrees – which is often enough for the average home. Look out for dual fan models, with a couple of speed settings.

Probe Chillers

Probe chillers are electrically powered units that need to be bulkheaded into an area of your tank where the probe is in contact with the tank water (such as a siphon, filter housing or hose, or even the lid) whilst the electromechanical unit itself sits outside of the water. 

These units are ideal for smaller tanks, are more effective than cooling fans yet cheaper than regular chillers, but require some DIY skills to install. However, they also chill continuously – so need to be switched on and off manually, or require an additional control unit to automate the process.

If you are up for the challenge, they might be the right option for your tank.

High Capacity Chillers

Aquarium chillers sit outside of the tank. Similar to external canister filters a hose sucks warm water into the device, which then cools it and pumps cool water back into the tank. Most units also come with built-in sensors and controllers, which measure the temperature of the water constantly, switch the device on when cooling is required, and switch it off again once the water is cool enough.

Whilst very effective at cooling, these devices are bulky and very expensive. Certain chillers can also act as filters (2-in-1 aquarium filter & chiller).

Overall, these chillers are definitely not recommended for beginners.

Check Aquarium Chillers

Alternative Cooling Methods
Reflective Insulation Foil

Certain axolotl keepers or fish keepers recommend placing adhesive insulation foil with the reflective side facing away from the water. This DIY method helps prevent light and air from warming up the water in the tank.

Ice Packs / Frozen Water Bottles

Let’s say that you normally have the water temperature under control, but there’s a sudden heat wave and you’re not equipped with a specialized chiller. Panic not! A fast, effective and cheap way to cool your axolotl’s tank down on a short-term basis is to put an ice pack or frozen water bottle in your tank.


As previously stated, axolotls are very sensitive to the temperature of their tank water. Therefore, it’s vital (literally), that you procure yourself a thermometer to test and ensure that your water is in the correct temperature range. This will also help you ascertain whether or not you need a chiller or even a heater.

A variety of different thermometers are available.

Submersible Thermometer

Submersible thermometers reside on the inside of your axolotl tank, in the water.


These simple thermometers (often called globe thermometers) bob around your tank and provide temperature readings. However, I personally find them hard to read as you will often have to fish it out of the tank to read the gauge.


These thermometers are weighted. Once dropped into your tank they will sink to the bottom. I’m not a big fan of these devices either as they may drift out of place or get knocked around by your axolotl – making them hard to read.

Suction Cup

Suction cup thermometers use vacuum cups to stick to the glass of your tank. They’re relatively cheap, sturdy, low-maintenance, accurate, don’t move around, and are easy to read. I love these!

Stick-on Thermometer

Stick-on thermometers are applied to the outside of your tank. They aren’t actually in contact with the water but instead rely on the thermal conductivity of the glass walls to measure the temperature of the water inside the tank.

They generally use some sort of liquid crystal display mechanism and are a viable alternative to submersible thermometers. However, I personally prefer the latter because there’s a lower chance of a false reading.

Digital Thermometer

Digital thermometers are the most high-tech type of thermometer on this list.

They require batteries to operate. Some come with a probe, others not. The big advantage of digital thermometers is their precision, ease of reading, and ability to set alarms if your water temperature goes below or above certain set points.

However, they can be pricey and add an extra layer of complexity to your setup. They also require frequent battery changes which is an extra cost in itself.

For these reasons, I don’t recommend digital thermometers for beginner axolotl setups.

My Recommendation:

Marina Deluxe Floating Thermometer with Suction Cup

Other Useful Accessories

Multi-outlet Strip

You will need access to electrical power for your filter, lighting, and perhaps chiller. Therefore, you should probably consider getting a fused power strip with multiple outlets for plugging them all in.

Sophisticated models will have individual socket switches and surge protection, which adds an extra layer of safety and makes sense due to the proximity of water.

Tank Stand

Tank stands are useful when you don’t have a surface big, flat or strong enough to position your tank. Always buy a stand capable of supporting the weight of your fully stocked tank.

Cleaning Utensils

As previously highlighted, axolotls are messy creatures. You will frequently have to remove poop or uneaten food. There are several types of utensils you can use to do so.

Fish Net

The most basic and cheapest option to remove unwanted debris from your tank.

Turkey Baster

A very useful option for sucking up axolotl poop. Provides more accuracy than the fish net method.

Gravel Vacuum

Undoubtedly the most high-tech option of the 3. Very useful but requires a bucket to collect the siphoned water. Works great with larger substrates such as rocks or slates but not so well with sand as it gets past the filter and sucked out of the tank.

My Recommendation:

AREPK Aquarium Multifunction Waste Clean Tool

Tank Detergent

Tank detergent is very useful for cleaning the glass and acrylic lid of your tank. I also personally use it to clean all my other tank items (being very careful to give them a thorough rinse with fresh water afterward), before putting them in my tank for the first time.

My Recommendation:

API SAFE & EASY Aquarium Cleaner Spray 8-Ounce Bottle

Water Testing Kit

Water quality is a key requirement for keeping healthy, happy axolotls. Water testing kits will enable you to quickly determine if the pH levels and chemical composition of the water in your tank is suitable. If it’s not, you can use water conditioners to treat it.

Test kits come in different types:

Strip Water Test Kit

Strip test kits are the easiest to use. You simply need to dip a paper test strip in your tank water, let it dry, and compare the colors showing on the strip against the relevant benchmarks to gauge the different water quality parameters. However, paper test strips are not as accurate as liquid test kits.

Liquid Water Test Kit

Due to the axolotl’s sensitivity to water parameters, I personally prefer to use liquid water test kits. Although they’re slightly more complicated and time-consuming than paper test strips, they are far more accurate.

My Recommendation:

API Freshwater Master Test Kit

Water Conditioners

Water conditioners come in many varieties. Dechlorinators will help neutralize chlorine and other undesirable chemicals. pH adjusters will target pH levels and enable you to make your water more alkaline or more acidic.

Tap Water Dechlorinator

Dechlorinators will help condition the tap water – thereby instantly neutralizing chlorine, chloramines, and other chemicals to make your tap water safe for your axolotl tank.

My recommendation:

API Tap Water Conditioner

pH Increaser

If your tap water tends to have a low pH, then you will need to increase it in order to reach the recommended pH level for axolotl tanks (7.4 – 7.6).

My Recommendation:

API pH UP pH Adjuster

pH Decreaser

If your tap water tends to have a high pH, then you will need to lower it in order to reach the recommended pH level for axolotl tanks (7.4 – 7.6).

My Recommendation:

API pH DOWN pH Adjuster

Tank Cycling Products

As you will see in section 3, you will need to cycle your axolotl tank before introducing your axolotl. The products listed out below are what I use to cycle new tanks.

Bacteria Booster

If you can’t find seeded media, then the next best thing to use to kickstart the nitrogen cycle in your tank is a solution that contains a high concentration of nitrifying bacteria.

My recommendation:

API Quick Start

pH Increaser
Liquid Ammonia Solution

Liquid ammonia acts as fuel for the growth and development of nitrifying bacteria colonies in your tank. By dosing liquid ammonia as recommended by the manufacturer, you will help catalyze the nitrogen cycle by feeding the bacteria you added with the API Quick Start.

My recommendation:

Fritz Aquatics Fishless Fuel Ammonia Solution

How To Set Up Your Tank (Step-by-Step Guide)

Right, so at this point, you should have all the items you need to get started building the perfect habitat for your new pet axolotl.

As previously touched upon, you should aim to complete your tank setup before you actually get your axolotl. Ideally, you may even consider giving yourself 2 to 4 weeks between installation and introduction of your axie. You’ll understand why in section 3 (How To Ensure Your Tank Water Is Just Right!).

Important: Always read and follow the instructions provided with the items you buy. If in any doubt, give those instructions priority over what you will read below. Always work safely and ask friends or family for help if you feel out of your depth.

Step 1: Decontaminate Items

The first thing you need to do is give your tank, decorations (artificial plants, hides & driftwood), filter, and thermometer a good cleaning, followed by a thorough rinse. This will remove any unwanted residues, chemicals, bacteria, parasites, etc. which may have contaminated your items during production, handling, storage, shipping, etc.

If you can afford it, I recommend that you buy a specialized tank detergent. If you can’t, just use classic dish soap but make sure everything is thoroughly rinsed and 100% free from any residual soap or suds before moving on to step 2.

Step 2: Find A Home For Your Tank

Secondly, find a suitable spot for your tank. Remember: no brightly lit and/or hot rooms, no direct sunlight, no window sills, etc…Also, make sure the area is strong enough to support the weight of your tank and everything inside it. Water is heavy, and once fully kitted out and filled a 20-gallon tank can weigh close to 200 lbs.

Step 3: Add Substrate

Once your tank is full, you can lay out your substrate. If you’ve chosen sand, simply pour it from the bag into the tank and spread it around evenly with your hands or a spatula.

If you’re using large stones, rocks, tiles, or slates, don’t drop them as they may crack your tank. Instead, carefully position them at the bottom of the tank.

Step 4: Fill Your Tank

Fill your tank with tap water up to the recommended level. To do this you can use a jug or even your garden hose if it can reach inside. Be careful not to splash water everywhere and create a mess!

Later on, you will need to test the water and condition it if required.

Step 5: Add Decorations

Once your substrate is in, you can add your decors such as plants, hides, and driftwood.

Try to space them out and position them in such a way that your axolotl can move freely and has plenty of shade and hiding places. Also, take a few steps back and observe the front of the tank to check how things will look from a distance.

Step 6: Install Filter

Set up your filter by safely following all the instructions that come with it. At this point, we’re essentially testing that your filter fits with your tank and functions properly.

Switching your filter on is a big milestone and a very exciting moment in any tank setup. The bubbles and currents created by your filter will really bring your tank to life.

Note: in section 3, we will be focusing on getting the tank water just right for your axolotl. If you follow my recommended method, you will need to add/replace the filtration media of your filter. You don’t need to worry about this now, but just keep in mind that you’ll be making further adjustments to your filter at a later stage.

Step 7: Test Lighting

The final step in your setup is to add your lighting and test it. Testing your lighting before your axolotl arrives can ensure it’s not too bright, or too hot.

I recommend leaving the light on continuously for a day or two to measure the impact it has on water temperature. 

Step 8: Cycle Your Tank

So, your tank is now set up but there’s one VERY important task we haven’t yet completed. You guessed it: ensuring the water is just right for your axolotl!

This will require you to cycle your tank first, and then test and condition the water. Do not introduce your axolotl beforehand as sub-optimal water parameters can cause your axolotl to fall ill or even die.

Check out my Axolotl Tank Cycling Guide to help you out.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does An Axolotl Tank Starter Kit Cost?

The approximate cost to buy everything you need to set up and cycle a tank for a single axolotl should range from $300 to $400, excluding the cost of your axolotl. The budget to get started will of course vary depending on the brands and items you choose, where you buy them, and what discounts are available to you. If your tank requires a chiller, you can easily add another $500 to that figure.

Can an Axolotl Live in A 10-Gallon Tank?

A 10-gallon tank is too small for an axolotl. Adult axolotls can reach up to 1 foot in length and would be too big to fit in a 10-gallon tank. The minimum recommended tank is a 20-gallon tank but if you can go even bigger it would be even better.

Do Axolotls Need A Heater?

Axolotls thrive in temperatures between 60 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit (16-18 degrees Celsius), and can tolerate temperatures as low as 12 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius). Therefore, if the ambient air temperature in the room where your axolotl tank is located is below mid-50s Fahrenheit (low teens Celsius), you should consider investing in a heater for your axolotl tank. The most popular types of heaters are electric heating pads that sit under the base of the tank and warm up the water.

Do Axolotls Need An Air Pump?

Axolotls will greatly benefit from the oxygenation provided by the presence of an air pump. If you’re using a sponge filter, you will need to use an air pump and plastic tubing to supply air to the filter.

Can I Use a Fish Tank for My Axolotl?

Axolotls can live in fish tanks and do not require axolotl-specific tanks. Make sure to choose a tank with a capacity of at least 20 gallons per axolotl, ideally more. Also opt for “long tanks”, as opposed to cubic tanks as long tanks will give your axolotl more space to swim and move.

Can Axolotls Live with Goldfish?

Check out our article Can Axolotls Live With Goldfish?

Can Axolotls Live in A Terrarium?

Axolotls cannot live in terrariums but instead must remain in a tank filled with water. Axolotls are bottom-dwelling amphibians that spent the entirety of their lives underwater. Unlike most other amphibians, they don’t transition onto land as they mature into adults. Axolotls cannot live on land permanently nor survive out of water for very long.

How Much Aquarium Sand Do I Need For My Tank Size?

To determine how much aquarium sand in lbs you need for a 1-inch deep sandbed in your tank, you need to multiply the length of your tank by the depth of your tank (both measurements in inches) and divide the result by 20.

If you want a 2-inch deep sandbed, simply multiply the result by 2; for a 3-inch deep sandbed, multiply the result by 3, and so forth.

For the Aqueon 20-gallon long tank, you will need (30.5 * 13.125) / 20 = 400.3125 / 20 = 20 lbs approx.


Hello and welcome to Pets From Afar. I'm Glen. My daughter Siri and I are mad about axolotls. I created this website to document our findings and experiences, as we learn more about these amazing amphibians. Follow along and enjoy the fun!

Recent Posts