How to Move Your Shrimp or Fish Tank

How to Move Your Shrimp or Fish Tank

Are you ready to move? Are you stressing out about how you are going to get your shrimp or fish over to your new place? Do you know how to move the tank from one end of your house to the other? Have you decided to buy a new, better tank for your pets and want to make sure that they will actually still be living to appreciate the change? Well, I am here to give you guys the tips you need to successfully move tanks. Stick around and I will tell you everything about this process.

Actually, it is not as hard as you might think. Make a plan, dedicate specific time to do it and keep everything as wet as possible. Following these rules will keep your shrimp, fish, and beneficial bacteria alive.

It sounds quite simple and to make it even easier I will give you details about moving different tank set ups. Without further ado, let’s start.

Stuff That Can Help You to Move Tour Aquarium

Depending on the situation these things can help you out in the moving process (links to check the price on Amazon).

Of course, it does not mean that you need all this stuff because every situation is unique.

1. Make a Plan Before you Move Your Tank

The most important piece of advice that I can give you is to make a plan. Try to make a plan and picture the entire move in your head exactly how it is going to be. Ask yourself such questions as:

  1. How long will it take you to move your shrimp and fish?
  2. How heavy is your tank? (Check out my article “Shrimp Tank Weight and Size (with examples)”)
  3. Will you need any help to lift the tank?
  4. Where are you going to put your shrimp and/or fish?
  5. What do you need to make sure that they will be okay while you are moving?
  6. Will your shrimp and fish need aeration during moving?
  7. How are you going to keep your beneficial bacteria alive?
  8. Is it cold or hot outside? Will you need a heater or a cooler?
  9. Will you need to house your shrimp or fish until the move is done?
  10. How fast you can reassemble your tank set up?
  11. Where are you going to put the tank?
  12. Is the new place prepared for the tank?

Think about all of these things beforehand. Once you do that it is going to help you out a whole lot. You will know what you need to do before you even get started.

2. Time management

I would like to start off by saying that you need to dedicate some time exclusively to moving your tanks. Do not move your tanks with the rest of your stuff. This is very important! If you move your tanks with everything else more than likely you will definitely forget something or break something in a hurry. You will be lucky if your tank is not going to completely dry out.

Basically, it will be significantly easier to do it on a separate day. However, if you cannot commit an entire day to do that, I would advise you to move the tank the last and put it up first on arrival. In this case, your shrimp and/or fish will not have to suffer and it is going to be a lot less stress on you and more importantly on your shrimp and/or fish.

3. Preparing your Shrimp and Fish for a Move

The preparation for the move starts a couple of days before you actually move.

  1. A few days before moving, change 15 – 20% of the water each day to make sure the water is clean. In addition, it will lower the stress factor on the inhabitants.

Note: Do not do that if you have a shrimp tank. Shrimp do not like big and (or) frequent water changes. Actually, it is a recipe for disaster. You can read more about it in my article “Dwarf shrimp and Molting problems. The White Ring of Death”.

  1. This step can be done only when you are moving far away and it can take you several hours. In this case, you can fast the fish for 24 – 48 hours before the trip. That way you will reduce the amount of waste the fish are producing while they are locked up. Therefore, the water conditions will stay a lot cleaner. Actually, you need to do the same with the snails in your tank. It is a well-known fact that snails produce a lot of bioloads.

It is completely another story with the shrimp. If you are moving a shrimp tank, you do not need to fast them because they barely add any waste to the tank. However, when they are hungry it is easier to catch them. I will talk about it later.

Note: If you know that your shrimp, snails, and fish will not have to spend several hours in buckets or bags, you can skip this step.

4. Moving day. Preparation

  1. You need to start by clearing a very nice path all the way. Make sure that everything is clear and there are no toys, shoes, etc. on the floor. Make sure nobody is in front of you, nothing is in front of you when you are walking with the tank. It can be very dangerous if you are carrying a heavy object made of glass and not really being able to see your feet.
  2. Measure the doorways. You must be sure that they are big enough and you have sufficient turning space.
  3. By that time you need to know how you are going to transport your shrimp, snails, and fish. This is a very tricky part. Lots of people do it in different ways because it also depends on the tank size, how heavily your tanks are stocked, etc.
  4. Make sure the floor in your tank’s new place can hold the weight and is level.

5. Dismantle the Aquarium Accessories

  • Remove the light.
  • Remove the lids.
  • Next, you will need to remove all the decorations, driftwood, and rocks.

Tip: When you break apart your tank, you want to zip tie all the wires. Get yourself a label maker and label all your wires and where they go (filter, heater, air stone, etc). So when you unplug something, wrap it up zip tie it. It will not take you more than five minutes. However, it will be a lot easier when you will have to reinstall everything back. Especially, if it is going to do somebody else.

If you have rocks and driftwood in your tank it is important to take them out because if they tip or fall over while you are carrying the tank the glass can break. Thus, this is definitely something you do not want to happen.

Note: Personally, I would never do it but some aquarist leave rocks and driftwood in the tank if they are not too heavy. If you are one of them I can still help you.  There are some of the ways that you can support your hardscape. For example, you can use bags filled with air, expandable foam, or bubble wrap. Crumple it up and I pack it all around every part of your scape. It will prevent any of your hardscape from shifting and possibly damaging the aquarium or damaging your scape. In addition, it will prevent the water from sloshing around from the move.

However, that stuff is not safe for your critters until it is secure so you would want to make sure you have them all removed. Nonetheless, it is an option, especially for really complicated stone escapes.

Important: Do not place rocks or heavy objects in containers that will house fish or shrimp, as they may shift and injure your animals.

6. Draining the Tank. Substrate and Beneficial Bacteria

Drain your tank water almost all the way down into buckets. Here comes another extremely important detail. Are you going to leave the substrate in your tank or are you planning to remove it as well?

The point is that you need to keep all that beneficial bacteria safe. If you do not know but these bacteria do not reside primarily in the water column. They occupy various surfaces (the filter media, the substrate, etc). In order to keep beneficial bacteria safe, you have to keep them in the water (not just wet). Therefore,

  • If your tank is not too big and heavy for you, it is possible to leave the substrate in the tank. In this case, your substrate should be fully submerged under the water. Maybe an inch (~3 cm) of water down at the bottom.

Warning: Keep in mind that substrates that have not been stirred up or clean regularly or very fine particles can contain anoxic bacteria or organic matter that can be toxic if released into the water.

  • If the tank is too big and heavy, it will be best to remove (just scoop it out or use the siphon to suck up all the sand) all substrate and put it into a bucket with tank water. This makes the tank considerably lighter and easier to carry, reduces the chance of damaging it, and keeps the bacteria alive.

I will repeat it once again because this is a very important part. You want to keep everything as wet as possible so that you do not kill off that bacteria. You do not want to break down the ecosystem in your tank.

Tip: You can clean the glass while the water is draining. Just do not use any soap or chemicals! If need be, you can use vinegar. Just be sure to rinse the tank very well and then be sure to use a water conditioner when you fill it.

Important Tips to Move the Tank Successfully

1. Do not use tap water to keep things wet!
Use the old water from your tank for that.

2. Use the air stone.
If you put your substrate into a bucket. It will be better to turn on the air stone to keep the beneficial bacteria alive.

3. Understand the risks.
Especially if you decide to leave some water and substrate in the tank of 10 gallons or more. Even with most of the water out of the tank, it can still create enough stress on the corners to weaken the silicone seal if you have a lot of substrate. Next thing you know, you have a flood… maybe the first night, maybe a few weeks later. Therefore, In case of doubts, play safe and remove it.

4. Do not use any containers that have held chemicals in the past since chemicals can leech into the plastic, and may poison your shrimp and/or fish.

5. Completely sealing off the containers can deplete the oxygen and suffocate your shrimp and/or fish in it.

6. If it is possible, put the driftwood and stones into a separate bucket with the tank water.
If you do not have enough containers – just wrap them in wet towels.

7. Although it is quite possible to move the small tank with some water in it, I would not recommend doing it anyway.

8. Do not leave a tank with dark painted background in the sun.
It can damage the back and bottom panels.

6.1. Moving Tank: Plants

 There are several options here.

  1. You can cut the roots and promote new root growth and they will grow right back no problem.
  2. If your plants are water column feeders (they do not root into the substrate), you can put them in the bucket with the old water from your tank.

Actually, it is very easy to move a planted tank.

6.2. Moving Tank: Filters

Next, we need to move your filters. Once again, the most important rule here is to keep your filters as wet as you possibly can. You want to make sure that the filter media does not get exposed to air for long and that it stays in the tank water.

Remember, if beneficial bacteria dry out they will die off and you are going to have to recycle the tank (read my article about fishless cycling). So whatever you can, keep it submerged in aquarium water. 

Hang on the back filter (HOB)

If you are using hang on the back filters, disconnect the intake tube, lift the filter off the back of the tank and just keep all of the water that you possibly can in it. Do not dump it out!  I know this is difficult to transport but you can put it in a big Rubbermaid tote. This way if it tips over it is not going to flood your car.

Another way is to take all of the media out and stick it into the buckets or fish bags with some tank water.

Canister Filters

Basically, it is the same. Just unplug it and disconnect the hoses. Do not drain the water out of it. Carry it completely full of water over to the new place. Again, this way you can plug it back in fire it up and you are good to go.

Be careful because the water can slosh out and make a mess in the back of your car.

Sponge Filters

This is the simplest. Remove the sponges from the filter and put them in the bucket with the old water from your tank. Keep them submerged in aquarium water.

6.3. Moving Tank: Shrimp

The main problem with moving shrimp is that there can be loads of shrimplets everywhere. Therefore, it is going to take forever trying to catch and pick all of them. Frankly saying, you are probably going to miss loads of them anyway.

If your tank is not too heavy and the trip will not take much time, probably the best way will be to leave your shrimp in the tank:

  • Turn off the filters.
  • Drop the water level down to the point when it is easy to carry. You need to be really careful that you do not suck up any shrimp during siphoning.
  • Lift the whole tank and then drive off to the new destination.
  • Use the old water to put it back.

If your tank is too heavy and the trip will take some time (2 and more hours), packing them into plastic bags or fish bags would be the best option. You can put about 20 shrimp per bag. Do not forget to put something (for example, the moss) in the bags for them to hold onto and double bag them (just in case). If using fish bags, fill 1/3 with water and 2/3 air, or 50% water and 50% air.

As for trying to catch them, do not feed them for a few days. Put some food into a net on the substrate. The shrimp will group onto the food and then you can slowly lift it out.

Tip: if you have an active substrate, you might want to remove your shrimp. Lowering the level of water can significantly change your water parameters. Therefore, if there is something wrong that you can address it before adding the shrimp back to the tank.

Warning for those, who do not want to remove the shrimp.

I have already mentioned that substrates that have not been stirred up or clean regularly or very fine particles can have toxic gas pockets (Hydrogen Sulfide). You can read about it my article “Benefits of Snails for a Shrimp Aquarium”. Can you imagine what will happen if the toxic gases are released in such a small volume of water?

6.4. Moving Tank: Fish

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to leave the fish in the tank during the trip unless:

  • The tank is very small and you can leave at least 1/4 of the water in it.
  • You can lift the tank with water. Once again, it can be very risky!
  • It will not take more than a few minutes to move.

In all other cases, you will need to secure your fish:

  • Put the fish in a five-gallon bucket or in a Rubbermaid container.
  • If your fish are jumpers you will need to put a lid on there. DO NOT seal the lid! Leave a gap so that the air can still get in. Keep it as safe as possible, as stress-free as possible on the fish.

Note: Add an air stone so they do not suffocate. How do you plug an air stone inside a car? Battery operated. Purchase lots of batteries, depending on the length. Add bags of activated carbon in each bucket. Check fish and temperature at each rest stop. Carry ice and plastic heat pads in case you need them. If you are using fish bags, fill 1/3 with water and 2/3 air, or 50% water and 50% air. It would be better to double bag to prevent any punctures.

Tip: Do not keep your fish, shrimp, and snails near the doors. Especially, when it is cold outside and you are in and out all the time. Make sure you are going to put them in something that they can be in for a while where you are not going to have to worry about them.

6.5. Moving the Tank Itself

There are some tips which I can share with you.

  1. Lift with your knees.
    DO NOT ever lift anything heavy (like aquariums) with your back. This is the best way to get injuries.
  1. Grab the tank from the bottom.
    DO NOT ever grab the tank from the sides. The pressure from grabbing it on the sides can actually quite easily crack it.  Make sure you are holding it very sturdily and securely from the bottom.
    Tip: You can use auto body suction cups. They work wonders.
  1. Get some plywood.
    Cut it a little bit bigger than the actual size of the tank in order to give it a platform to carry. This way it will be easier and safer to move. Keep in mind that moving any aquarium empty or not, without fully supporting all four corners is asking for disaster.
  1. Use a reasonable approach.
    Large tanks with water will put a lot of stress on the seals.
  1. There are professional services you can hire to do it all for you.
    Nowadays it is possible to find almost anybody.

 7. Setting up The Tank in a New Place

  1. Put it on a stand and check for its level placement. Make sure it is evenly supported.
  2. Add the substrate (If it was removed).
  3. Fill the tank with water. Make sure that it has all the necessary parameters and the temperature.
  4. Add decorations, stones, driftwood, etc. (If they were removed).
  5. Reinstall the filter, the air stone, etc.
  6. Check water parameters once again.
  7. Take at least 1 hour to drip acclimate the fish or shrimp (if you took them out).
  8. Add shrimp, snails, and fish. If you have a community tank, I would advise adding shrimp first.
  9. Do not turn on the aquarium light or feed until the next day.
  10. Next few days carefully monitor parameters, watching for ammonia spikes. The point is that even though your tank can be matured and established, after a move it can experience “New tank syndrome” because the biological balance has been disrupted.
  11. If the water turns cloudy, you need to reduce the feeding and put additional carbon in the filter until it clears.

Should You Use Old Tank Water or Not?

Frankly saying, if you have a fish tank, in this case, using old tank water is not needed, or even recommended. Consider it as a big water change. New, clean and conditioned water is the best choice.
It is more complicated if you have a shrimp tank. They do not like changes and the most important thing for shrimp is consistency. Therefore, I would use at least ½ – 2/3 of the original tank water.


Nobody likes to move the tanks. It takes a lot of planning, but with the right tools and tips, it is possible to do it safely and without any mishaps. However, if you have done the way that I have been telling you to do it, with keeping everything as wet as possible you should not have any problems.

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