Moving Impossible: Aquariums

Author: Alecia Pirulis


We’ve all acquired items that, at the time, seemed like a great idea. Then life took a sudden turn – a job change, a major family event, or an economic development — and you find yourself faced with an unexpected move. Now you are staring at your 500-gallon saltwater aquarium, your professional (heavy!) fitness equipment, your king-sized waterbed, your baby grand piano, or your hot tub and thinking – how am I supposed to move that?

One of the trickiest items to move is an aquarium. You have live fish, several gallons of water, and a bunch of equipment to deal with. Don’t panic – or give up and leave your fish behind. Aquariums can be moved! Here’s how:

Step One: One or two days before the move, don’t feed your fish. (They can survive not eating for a day or two, but they may not survive being transported in a bag contaminated with waste.)

Step Two: The day of the move, fill plastic, resealable bags (or fish bags — you can get these at the pet store) about 1/3 of the way full. Put each fish in a separate bag and add pure oxygen to each bag (you can get this at the pet or aquarium supply store, as well).

Step Three: Seal the bags and put the bagged fish in a cooler (with lid) to maintain the water temperature. Make sure the bags are packed tightly — you don’t want the bags to fall over and flatten out. Stuff extra spaces with rolled hand towels (you may need them anyway if you have any accidental spills). Being in the dark will help keep the fish from getting stressed.

Step Four: Put any live plants in bags with some aquarium water. Cover them completely to keep them from drying out.

Step Five: You want to save as much of the water as possible, so empty your aquarium and put the water into clean (don’t use anything that once held paint, chemicals, or household cleaners) 5-gallon buckets with lids (reusing the water will get your aquarium back up and running quickly and will reduce the possibility of a spike in ammonia). Even though it may be tempting, don’t leave the water in the tank – it can add too much stress to the seams of the tank when the water gets sloshed around during transport.

Step Six: Pack your pumps, heaters, and other equipment carefully in a box. Keep this with the tank – don’t let it get tossed into the back of the moving truck.

Step Seven: Figure out what you will need to get your aquarium back up and running as quickly as possible at your new home. Gather these items now and pack them with your equipment. Hopefully, you already know where the power outlets will be for your tank because you’ve already scoped out the new location. If you need extension cords, put these in with your equipment, as well.

Pack your aquarium up last and put it at the back of the moving truck. When you arrive at your new home, take it out first and set it up as quickly as possible. Don’t try to move the aquarium with the fish still inside – even if you are only moving a short distance.

When you set your tank up at your new location, be sure to carefully siphon the water back in – don’t pour the water directly out of the bucket because doing so will upset the gravel. Set up your equipment, test the water’s temperature, pH, chlorine, and salinity with a test kit, add some stress-reducing product for the fish, and if the temperature is the same as the water containing the fish, add your fish carefully back to the tank (if the water isn’t the same temperature, set the fish in the bags into the tanks until they are acclimated).