Axolotl care

How to Set Up an Axolotl Tank: 8 Steps

How to Set Up an Axolotl Tank: 8 Steps

Setting up your axolotl tank is a fun and surprisingly straightforward project!

And it's really as simple or as complex as you make it.

In general, there are some basic things you should have, but once you have those in place, you can expand it with your own creative genius!

This is one of the most exciting stages of axolotl ownership.

So with that, this post is here to help guide you on your journey :)

Steps to Setting up an Axolotl Tank

There's nothing really complicated or special about the tank I'm using for example.

It has:

  • Basic tank
  • Dechlorinated water
  • Easy live plants
  • 1 hide per lotl
  • Filter
  • Substrate
  • Snails
  • Light

1. Tank

A finished axolotl tank:

10-20 gallons per axolotl is the general rule of thumb when it comes to tank size.

That said, this is just a guideline - not a hard and fast rule.

When the axolotl is smaller, a bigger tank is not always required.

With proper filtration and water quality, it is possible to start with a smaller tank and upgrade as the axolotl grows.

In this example, we have 2 axolotls in a standard 10 gallon aquarium, but there is a 30 gallon tank in store once they outgrow this setup.

Some even keep really young babies tubbed until they are big enough to fend for themselves in a bigger tank.

2. Filter

What kind of filter is best for axolotls?

There are many filters to choose from, but not all are ideal for an axolotl.

At Fantaxies, the main two kinds of filters we use are low-current hang-on-the-back-filters and sponge filters.

In this example, we are using the Aquapapa sponge filter, which has 2 sponges.

Why sponge filters?

Sponge filters are inexpensive, provide lots of oxygen, afford large surface area for beneficial bacteria and low current.

They are easy to operate.

You just need the filter, an air pump and airline tubing.

We also like the Aquaclear filter for larger tanks.

Don't forget:

A filter is not much use unless it has good bacteria in it!

When setting up a tank for the first time, it's a good idea to either cycle it using liquid ammonia OR use a beneficial bacteria supplement such as Seachem Stability.

3. Hides

It is recommended to have at least 1 hide per axolotl.

I like coconut hides because they are inexpensive, organic and have no sharp edges.

We recommend avoiding PVC hides, though they are popular, as they have quite a few nasty chemical additives.

Another option is to stack pieces of slate rock to create hides and glue it together with aquarium safe silicone for added stability.

4. Water treatments

Most water sources contain chlorine and chloromines.

These chemicals are harmful to axolotls, burning gill filaments and skin.

A dechlorinator is the perfect solution.

Prime is a staple and works very well to make the water safe for axolotls.

It also helps to detoxify heavy metals and ammonia/nitrite in an emergency.

Read more about water conditioners for axolotls and if they are necessary.

5. Substrate

There is a lot of debate and confusion on what is the best substrate to use for axolotls.

At Fantaxies, we (along with many other axolotl owners and breeders) have found that 2-4mm fine gravel is the ideal substrate for juvenile to adult axolotls.

My favorite kind to use this size is Silver Pearl or Gold Pearl aquarium gravel (Gold Pearl shown above).

It is swallowable, small enough to prevent impaction and potentially prevents the axolotl from seeking to satisfy its desires for gastroliths by consuming unfit objects.

You don't need much.

A thin 1/4" layer is all you need, which will give the axolotl something to grip on while it walks and be easy to vacuum.

Deep substrates can lead to toxic formation of anaerobic bacteria, unless there is some mitigation with the breakdown of organic debris as is implemented in a dirted aquarium.

For dirted aquariums, there is typically a 1-1.5" layer of soil capped by 1.5" of gravel.

The bacteria in the soil help to break down organic waste and fertilize plants.

6. Plants

Using plastic plants is an option, but we highly recommend using live plants if you can.

The benefits are numerous!

Live plants help purify water, block excess light, and act as natural antiseptics.

Of course, they look beautiful too.

In this example we are using Brazilian pennywort, guppy grass, elodea and some moss.

There are many other good species as well.


To grow live plants, there is something they will need...

7. Lighting

Do you need a light with your axolotl?

It's not always a must, but it probably is if you want to try to grow plants!

Axolotls don't like a lot of light.

We've found that cheap clamp lamps work perfectly and don't produce a strong amount of light, while still giving the plants the light requirements they need to grow properly.

Healthy growing plants = cleaner water = less disease.

Other lights, such as those made for aquariums, can work as well, provided the light is moderated in some way.

Floating plants such as duckweed or elodea are great at blocking out excess light and helping the axolotl feel secure.

They don't like feeling blinded!

8. Cleanup crew

Let's face it:

Sometimes our axolotls are not always the tidiest and they will leave uneaten food at the bottom.

Leftover pellets, worm bits, gel food...

This WILL rot.

Rotten food can contribute to fungus outbreaks, so if possible we want to minimize that.

One way to help with this problem is to have a cleanup crew in your tank.

The main two helpers are shrimp and snails.

Snails are also especially good at keeping nuisance algae at bay.

Cherry shrimp, ghost shrimp, amano shrimp, etc. can be useful, however their populations often get totally demolished by the axolotls.

If given enough hides though (such as cholla wood) sometimes the colony can sustain.

Snails on the other hand seem to not ever get quite eliminated, though the axolotls will eat small snails such as ramshorn and bladder snails and help keep the population in check.

Larger snails such as mystery snails are too big to get eaten in most cases and do not reproduce quickly.

(Read more about keeping snails with axolotls here.)

Having a cleanup crew is useful to the overall ecosystem of your axolotl tank.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this post helped you understand more about how to set up a tank for your axolotls.

So, what are you waiting for?

Get that tank ready for your water dragon friends ;)

Reading next

How to Tell the Gender of Your Axolotl: 5 Sexing Tips
Do Axolotls Need Light? Best Lighting for Your Axie's Tank

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