How To Acclimate Betta Fish (2 Methods Explained)

Are you planning on adding a new betta fish to your tank? Acclimating your new pet properly is very important to make the process as comfortable as possible and prevent unwanted problems like spreading diseases or introducing pests to your aquarium.

Opinions vary about the best method for acclimating your betta, but the suggested techniques described in this guide are good starting points that work for bettas and most other freshwater fish.

Ready to learn how to acclimate betta fish? Then, let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Set up and cycle your betta’s tank long before you buy your fish.
  • Avoid moving a new betta fish directly from its bag or cup and into its new tank. Rather acclimate slowly to help your betta fish survive the change in water parameters.
  • Choose an acclimation method that you feel comfortable with. Different aquarists use different methods, but it’s always best to stay cautious and keep your pet’s safety in mind.
  • Consider quarantining your new betta before adding it to a community tank to protect your other fish from diseases spreading inside their tank.
  • Consult an aquarium specialist if you’re uncertain about how to acclimate and care for your betta.

Why Do We Need To Do It?

Moving a new pet fish between the transfer cup or bag it was transported in and the fish tank where it is going to live can be very stressful for your pet1. According to a study by The University of Queensland, fish are subjected to lots of stress when transported, as quoted below:

Common stressors associated with live transport are inappropriate handling, air exposure, food deprivation, poor water quality, inappropriate transport densities, sudden changes in water temperature, and rapid water movement

School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland

Being in the aquarium hobby for over 25 years, I’ve seen it all and continue to see Betta fish quickly placed in poor conditions. Part of this issue is how the pet store exhibits these fish in tiny containers when selling them. Every new Betta owner I advised in person I got through these same steps. I hope I can get you in the know how to give your Betta the best start possible in its new home.

The conditions at the store or breeding facility where you got your betta fish are probably very different from the conditions you will be providing for your new pet. That’s why it’s important to make the transition as smooth as possible.

The process of carefully introducing your betta to its new home is known as acclimation, and it’s a vital first step!

The New Tank

This article is about how to acclimate betta fish, but we can’t move on without (briefly) discussing their new tank setup first. Let’s run through some of the basic requirements for a great betta fish tank setup.

Tank Size

Each aquarist has their own preference for tank size, but I recommend a tank of at least 5 gallons for a single betta fish.

Heating

Bettas are tropical fish, which means they need warm, stable temperatures in the range of about 76-81 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need a small aquarium heater of 25-50 watts to heat your tank.

Filtration System

Your betta tank needs a small aquarium filter to house beneficial bacteria and keep the nitrogen cycle running safely. I recommend a small sponge or HOB filter for a small betta fish tank, but be sure to select a model that fits your tank size.

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Cycling Your Aquarium

Many beginner fish keepers add fish to a brand new aquarium without giving the system a chance to cycle. This can lead to a common and dangerous side effect called new tank syndrome, and that’s something you definitely want to avoid!

There are many ways to cycle your tank, and the process can take several weeks, depending on your chosen method. The idea is to introduce nutrients into your tank water and then allow beneficial bacteria to colonize your filter media and get the nitrogen cycle up and running.

With a source of ammonia in the water, like some fish food or live plants and some fertilizer, bacteria colonies will begin to develop on their own. However, you can get faster results if you add nitrifying bacteria in a bottle or some filter media from an old tank.

Whichever method you use, you’ll need to monitor your ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels to know when your tank is ready to add fish. Your tank is cycled when it has shown readings of ammonia, and then nitrite, and then finally shows some nitrate but zero ammonia or nitrite.

Want to learn more about aquarium cycling? Check out my guide to fishless cycling for an in-depth look at this important process!

Water For Your Aquarium

Are you wondering which aquarium water to use in your betta tank? It may seem like an obvious question, but many fishkeepers overlook this important choice.

Tap water is probably fine (depending on your area), but you’re going to want to test your pH, hardness, and nitrate levels to give you a baseline reading.

Tap water is typically treated with chlorine or other chemicals to keep it safe for human consumption. Unfortunately, this can be harmful to your fish, so make sure you treat your tap water with a water conditioner/de-chlorinator before introducing your fish.

Don’t worry if your tap water is not suitable for betta fish – there are other options. Rainwater or well water is often suitable for a small tank, but you can also use RO/RODI water. However, RO water contains no minerals, so you’ll need to remineralize it with a product like Seachem Equilibrium and an Alkaline Buffer.

Water Parameters

Fish are sensitive creatures and they are affected by all sorts of things that we can’t see. Your betta will do best in the following water parameters:

  • Temperature: 76 – 81°F (24 – 27°C)
  • pH level: 6.5-8
  • Water hardness: 5-20 DH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: 10-20 ppm

How to Acclimate Betta Fish To A Community Tank

Adding a new betta (or any new tank mate) to an established community tank is risky.

Very often, the betta fish you buy from larger pet stores are not in good condition. They may have been kept in a small cup where the water is not temperature controlled and filtered, and this causes stress, which weakens their condition and can cause infections and illness.

Unfortunately, these infections can spread to your other fish, and that’s why it’s so important to quarantine and treat new fish before adding them to a community tank.

Now, this step is optional, especially if you know your fish has been well-cared for and is in great condition. However, if your new pet fish is showing any signs of poor condition, you should definitely quarantine him or her to be on the safe side.

Setting Up A Quarantine Tank

A quarantine tank does not need to be a large or carefully decorated aquarium. A plastic tote or a small tank that holds a few gallons of water will work just fine. It does not need any substrate, but it should have its own filter, air stone, heater, and a secure lid to prevent your fish from jumping out.

Fill your quarantine tank with about 50% water from your community tank and 50% dechlorinated tap water. It’s a good idea to seed the filter with some media from your community tank filtration system to jump-start the nitrogen cycle too.

Acclimate your betta carefully to the water in your quarantine tank and observe it for 2 to 4 weeks before moving it to the community tank. During this time, you can treat the new fish with aquarium salts and medicate if you notice any signs of illness.

Avoiding Unwanted Pests

The water in the tank at your local pet store or in the plastic cup your betta fish came in may contain some things you really don’t want to put in your community tank. Organisms like parasites, invasive plants, or even pest snails can easily go unnoticed, so you want to avoid adding any of the original water to your own tank.

One simple way to do this is to net your betta out of its plastic bag after acclimation and then add him/her to your aquarium.

Now that we’ve covered some of the most important concepts you need to know about betta acclimation, let’s dive in and learn about two highly effective methods!

Method 1: Gradual Water Switch Acclimation

This is my favorite method of acclimating a betta fish. Use this technique to adjust the water temperature and parameters in the betta’s bag or transfer cup before adding it to its new home.

This technique is easy to perform but can take an hour or more to do properly, so make sure you don’t have any other commitments.

Let’s take a look at the basic procedure.

Supplies needed:

  • Clothes peg
  • Thermometer
  • Small, fine mesh fish net
  • Small cup or jug

1. Prepare the New Tank

I’m assuming you already have an aquarium ready for your new pet fish. The aquarium water is cycled, the temperature and parameters are correct, and you already have lighting, substrate, and decorations in place.

If you don’t yet have a cycled betta aquarium set up, you’re going to need to return your fish or do a fish-in cycle. This is not ideal for the health of your pet but it is possible with careful management of water quality.

Tips

  • Check out my guides to betta fish care and tank setup to learn how to create a great betta tank!
  • Set up your tank in advance and learn about the nitrogen cycle to avoid new tank syndrome.

2. Purchase Your New Pet

Take your fish straight home if you’re collecting your betta from a store. Your fish will be packaged either in a bag or a cup, and you should take great care to keep the container from getting punctured and leaking out.

I recommend transporting the bag or cup in a small cooler (no ice!) if you need to travel in very high or low temperatures and avoid shaking the container too much in transit.

Tips

  • Buy from reputable fish retailers and breeders that take good care of their livestock
  • Buy just one male betta fish if you have one aquarium

3. Float the Bag/Cup

Once you’re home, go ahead and add the bag or cup to tank so that the temperature can begin to equalize with your tank water. Let it float at the surface but make sure the bag or cup does not leak into your tank. You should open the transfer cup lid or bag and secure it to the side of your tank. Keep the lights low during this process to limit stress on your fish.

Tips

  • Use a thermometer to measure and compare the water in your tank and in the bag
  • A clothes peg works great for securing a fish bag to the rim of your tank

4. Add and Remove Water

Now it’s time to start acclimating your fish. Remove and discard about 20% of the water from the cup/bag and replace it with the same amount of water from your tank.

Wait 15 minutes or so and repeat the process. Do this four or five times until all the water in the bag is new tank water, and the temperatures are completely equalized.

  • Try to avoid adding any water from a fish store or someone else’s tank to your aquarium.

5. Transfer Your Pet

Now you can transfer betta fish to its new home! Remove the betta fish from its bag or cup with a net and add it to the tank. Consider keeping your aquarium lights off for a day or so to let the fish adapt to its new environment in peace.

Method 2: Drip Method Acclimation

There is an even smoother betta acclimation process that you can use to minimize the chance of transfer shock. This technique takes a little longer, but many aquarists report excellent results!

Let’s take a look at the basic steps of drip flow acclimation. You can also use a kit, though I usually recommend a kit for saltwater fish or inverts.

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Supplies needed:

  • A few feet of airline tubing
  • A T-valve and a bleed valve
  • A plastic container or small bucket
  • Small air pump and airstone
  • Small fine mesh fishnet
  • Thermometer

1. Tank setup

Again, I’m assuming you already have a cycled betta tank set up and ready to go for your new pet.

2. Set Up a Separate Container

Set your betta fish in its cup or bag in an empty bucket or other plastic or glass container that can hold at least a few gallons. Position your container on the floor below or next to your aquarium, but make sure the bottom of the container is not above your tank’s water level.

Tips

  • Place a towel around the area and have a few rags nearby in case you spill some water

3. Aerate the Water

Drip acclimation can take an hour or more, so it’s a good idea to keep your betta fish oxygenated during the process. Run an airstone in the cup or bag that your betta fish was bought in, but be very careful not to hurt your fish with the stone. You’ll also want a bleed valve on the airline tubing to keep the airflow really low.

  • Do not use a large, powerful air pump for this step
  • The airstone can injure your fish if it moves around in the bag/cup. Secure the airline tubing to the rim of the bucket to prevent movement

4. Start the Drip

Add a T-valve (flow control valve) to a length of airline tubing that is long enough to reach from your tank down into your betta’s bag or cup. Suck on the hose to start a siphon, and turn the flow down with your valve to where there’s about one drop per second.

Tips

  • Secure the airline tubing to the rim of your tank with a clothes peg or your aquarium hood
  • Try to avoid getting tank water in your mouth

5. Acclimate Your Betta Fish

Let the tank water drip into your betta’s bag or cup for an hour or two. Don’t worry if the water overflows into the bucket during this process. Once your betta has acclimated to the new water, catch the fish in your net and add it to its new home!

Tips

  • Don’t add the old transport cup water back into your tank
  • Top up your tank with new, dechlorinated water instead

FAQs

How long does a betta need to acclimate?

Some fish keepers acclimate their fish for just 15 minutes to equalize the water temperature, while others stretch it out for up to two hours during drip acclimation. In most cases, 30 minutes to an hour is enough to safely acclimate a betta.

Can I put my betta fish in a new tank right away?

Many new and experienced fishkeepers simply add bettas directly to their tank, although this can be very risky for the new betta and the other fish. Fish to the new before cycling shouldn’t be done!

At the very least, you should float the new betta in its transport bag to slowly equalize the water temperature, although a gradual water switch or drip acclimation process is even better.

How long can bettas stay in the cup?

Betta fish might survive a few weeks in a cup, but this is a really unhealthy environment for these beautiful creatures. It’s best to move them from their temporary container to their new tank as soon as possible after slowly acclimating them to the new tank’s water.

How do you acclimate betta fish?

You can slowly acclimate your betta fish by floating its open bag or cup at the water’s surface of its new tank. Add a small amount of new water to its bag every 10 – 15 minutes and discard an equal amount of old water from its transport container. Use a net to transfer your betta fish to its new environment after about an hour.

Do you have to let a betta fish acclimate?

You should always acclimate a betta so that it can slowly adjust to the conditions of its new home. This will reduce stress and give it a healthy start to its new life in your care.

Do I have to wait 24 hours before adding betta fish?

You can add your betta fish to its new surroundings right after acclimation if the water in its new tank is cycled and its temperature and parameters are correct.

Final Thoughts

I hope the suggestions in this guide make it easier to acclimate your betta to its new environment! My number one tip to make the process as smooth as possible is to prepare ahead of time. Do this by setting up your betta tank and preparing everything you need for the acclimation process long before you buy your fish.

If you’re just starting out with betta fish keeping, go ahead and check out some of my other helpful guides on betta fish care, tank mates, tanks set up, and how to cycle your aquarium!

2 COMMENTS

  1. So I received a betta in a 2 gallon bowl and it’s decorated and cute but want to move him to a 5 gallon tank. How would you recommend me doing that? Should I cycle the water a few days with the heater running? Do I scoop him into a baggy with the water from his current bowl and then acclimate him to the larger tank by floating him?

    Reply

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