The Perfect Axolotl Tank Set Up – Step By Step Guide [2022]

Axolotl Tank Set Up

With their adorable faces and feathery, brightly colored gills, axolotls are an extremely popular amphibian pet that has some pretty specific tank requirements. Axolotl gills can only breathe underwater, so unlike other salamander setups, the axolotl tank set up must have a completely aquatic tank. But the axolotl tank set up isn’t as easy as just filling an aquarium with water and popping them in. 

Axolotls are fascinating creatures, and these salamanders actually stay in their larval forms their entire life, which explains those frilly, unmistakable axolotl gills! We know you want to have the best setup possible for your new axolotl, and with this article, you can start off on the right foot right away. 

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the perfect axolotl tank set up, including the must-haves for the tank, decorations, water types, maintenance, and more. 

Getting The Axolotl Tank Set Up Right

While the axolotl won’t need much in their tank, they are notoriously sensitive creatures, especially when it comes to chemicals in the water and dehydration, so getting everything right for them the first time around is critical. 

If your water level is too low and your axolotl is left out of the water for too long, they can dehydrate and die, and if too many chemicals are added to the tank water, it can scald the axolotl’s sensitive salamander skin and axolotl gills. 

As long as you get your axolotl tank set up correctly and in a way to make them comfortable, they will be relatively easy to care for. Below, we’ll go into all the details about the tank components, so nothing is left up to guesswork.

In this portion of the article, we’ll go over:

  • Type of tank: How large the tank needs to be and some of the related costs.
  • Decorations: Including decorations purely for aesthetics and ones that your axolotl will enjoy as well.
  • Substrate: Whether sand, gravel, bare bottom, or something else is appropriate for your tank. 
  • Water parameters: Axolotls can be sensitive to PH levels, and like all aquatic creatures, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates need to be monitored. 
  • Tank maintenance: How to clean and cycle your axolotl tank. 

Axolotl Tank Size

axolotl tank set up

If you get your axolotl from a chain of pet stores, you may be told that a 10-gallon tank is a good size for your new salamander friend, and that just isn’t true! The minimum sized tank for an axolotl tank set up is 20-gallons, but ideally, your axolotl tank should be 40-gallons.

A 10-gallon tank might be suitable for a baby axolotl, but there are a lot of reasons that bigger is better. You might think that a bigger tank is harder to care for, but in reality, the more water that is in your tank, the less water maintenance and changes you have to do.

A full-grown axolotl isn’t a small animal, with adults reaching nearly a foot (12 inches) long! While this is smaller than a dog or a cat, it’s still quite large for an amphibian, especially one that is permanently in its larval stage. Because of their size and diet, Axolotls produce a lot of waste, and a lot of waste equals a lot of water changes.

Dirty water full of waste can burn an axolotl’s gills and skin, and even cause their death if ignored too long, so stick to a tank that is 20 to 40 gallons in size. 

Axolotl Tank Cost

The end cost for your axolotl tank, including filtration, heaters or chillers, and the tank itself, should be between $150 and $300.

There are tanks you can buy already put together for an axolotl that have the filters and everything else your salamander will need to be included, but you can often save money buying the pieces individually. 

For the minimum tank size of 20 gallons, the Aqueon Standard Glass Aquarium Tank 20 Gallon Long is a good choice.

In the long run, we recommend something bigger, like the Aqueon Standard Glass 40 Gallon Breeder.

What Do Axolotls Need In Their Tanks?

axolotl tank set up

Unless you’re planning on planting your tank heavily or including other types of livestock in your axolotl tank like fish, axolotls actually have pretty simple tank setups. Just because the axolotl set up isn’t overly complicated, though, doesn’t mean it’s easy. 

Since axolotl gills and skin are so sensitive, it’s important to have the axolotl tank set up just right. Below, we’ll go over decorations, air pumps, air stones, filtration, heaters, and lights so you know exactly what your axolotl friend needs from the get-go. 

Axolotl Tank Decorations

You’ll see a lot of axolotl tanks set up with very few decorations, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, axolotl tanks don’t have to be boring! You can provide your axolotl with enrichment, places to feel secure, and more natural living space with the right decorations. 

Some of the best types of axolotl decorations for your axolotl tank set up are:

  • Plants: Axolotls will dig up plants, so it’s best to choose plants that grow on decorations live java fern, java moss, and anubias. These plants also grow well in low light, which is a must for axolotl tanks since they have sensitive eyes and like a dim environment. 
  • Driftwood: Always buy driftwood from a trusted source so you know it’s free of any bugs or other harmful critters. Driftwood is great for plants to grow in, and can really make a tank look more natural. 
  • Hiding places: Also called hides for short. Hiding places can be natural, like driftwood, or they can be artificial stone or plastic cave-like structures for your axolotl to hide inside.
  • Rocks: Rocks are also relatively safe for axolotl tanks, but it’s very important to make sure there are no sharp edges that could hurt axolotl gills, and that there are no holes big enough for the axolotl to get caught in. 

Do Axolotls Need An Air Pump?

No, axolotls don’t need an air pump in their tank set up.

Axolotls will need filtration, and this will provide enough aeration to the water without an air pump. 

Do Axolotls Need Heated Water?

No, axolotls don’t usually need heated water. In fact, it’s more likely you will need a water chiller to keep their water cool. 

Axolotls do best in water that is 57 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Do Axolotls Need A Filter? What Type Of Filter?

axolotl tank set up

Yes, axolotls produce a lot of waste and therefore need a filter. Filters are necessary for a clean tank, and most of them agitate the water enough to aerate the tank. 

The best type of filters for axolotls are canister filters and sponge filters. 

Canister filters are larger, but most of the filter resides outside of the tank, leaving more room for decoration and for your axolotl to move. They provide great filtration and will also aerate with water enough that you won’t need an air stone. 

Sponge filters are also great choices and have the added benefit of hosting lots of beneficial bacteria. Sponge filters will aerate a decent amount without having any powerful flow to make it hard for your axolotl to swim. 

Do Axolotls Need An Air Stone?

No, as long as the filter is providing enough aeration, axolotls don’t need an air stone. 

Axolotls are clumsy swimmers, and too many bubbles or powerful flows in their tank can make it difficult to swim. 

Do Axolotls Need Light?

No, axolotls don’t need a tank light and can get by with just the ambient lighting of the room the tank is in. 

Axolotls don’t have great eyesight, and an overhead tank light can make them uncomfortable while also heating the water, which we want to avoid. 

Axolotl Substrate

Axolotls don’t necessarily need substrate, but the right substrate can help to better mimic their natural habitat while also making their tank more pleasing to look at.

The best substrate for an axolotl tank is sand. Make sure to get aquarium-specific sand, as other commercial sand can contain unwanted particles. Aquarium sand is soft on your axolotl’s feet and won’t irritate the axolotl gills when it is kicked up. 

The worst substrate is gravel, especially smaller pieces of gravel. Axolotls have an unfortunate habit of eating gravel and anything else they can fit in their mouth, and eating gravel can cause impaction in your axolotl’s digestive system, which can eventually cause death. 

Axolotl Water Parameters

Essential part of your axolotl tank set up is the getting the water parameters just right! This includes the water type, pH, water temperature, nitrate and ammonia levels.

The appropriate water pH for axolotls is 7.4-7.6. For axolotl tanks, you should maintain parameters of 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrites, and between 5 and 20 ppm for nitrates.

Chlorine levels are another thing to watch out for with these amphibians. Chlorine, which can be present in tap water, is toxic to axolotls, so either use a de-chlorinator or let the water sit for 24 hours before adding it to the tank. 

If your filtration is good, you shouldn’t need to change over 10% of the tank water per week. Have a water testing kit on hand to monitor water quality. 

Axolotl Water Temperature

The ideal water temperature for the axolotl tank set up is 60.8 to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit and should never exceed 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Unlike a lot of aquatic pets, axolotls need cooler water. Water that is too warm can make them sluggish and vulnerable to infections and other diseases, while water that is too cold can also make them sluggish.

Large changes in temperatures can shock your axolotl’s system, which is why it’s important to have a thermometer in their tank to monitor the water temperate. 

Axolotl Type Of Water

Axolotls are strictly freshwater amphibians, and the salinity of the water needs to always be at 0%.

For axolotls, clean, salt-free, chlorine-free water is the way to go.

Water hardness, which is the amount of minerals like calcium and magnesium in the water, should be kept at GH (general hardness) of 7-14 deg (125-250ppm).

As far as tap water goes, it’s likely you’ll need to use a dechlorinator, since most tap water contains chlorine and chlorine is toxic to axolotls. Other than chlorine, tap water is fine for axolotls, but if you use well water, it’s a good idea to test your water before using it in case there are other minerals or chemicals present. 

Axolotl Tank Maintenance and Cleaning

Keeping your axolotl tank clean and free of waste is one of the most important parts of tank maintenance. 10-20% water changes weekly or biweekly depending on filtration is almost always necessary. 

The waste your axolotl produces, as well as any food that goes uneaten, can cause ammonia to build up in the water. Too much ammonia can burn axolotl gills and skin, making them red and painful to the touch. Eventually, water full of ammonia can even kill axolotls. 

Keep your axolotl’s water clean, and they’ll be much healthier. 

How Often Do You Clean an Axolotl Tank?

Clean your axolotl tank and change their water at least 10-20% weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the type of filtration you have. 

Sand vacuums are great tools for removing waste, and algae build-up can be removed with a glass scraper or paper towel. Never use cleaning chemicals in your axolotl tank.

Best Axolotl Water Conditioner?

A water conditioner is a must-have if you’re using chlorinated tap water for your axolotl. We prefer Seachem Prime. 

Prime is a great water conditioner because it is an all-in-one conditioner that is exceptionally hard to overdose on and is axolotl safe.

How Do You Clean Axolotl Poop?

Use a sand vacuum, sometimes called a gravel vacuum, to remove axolotl poop from their tank. 

A good filtration system will keep poop levels acceptable between water changes, but a good sand vacuum is invaluable during water change time. It can both help you clean detritus and easily drain water all at the same time.

To read the full guide on axolotl poop, head over her Guide On Axolotl Poop – Healthy vs Unhealthy

Axolotl Tank Cycling Steps

For an axolotl to live safely in its tank, the tank needs to be cycled. Here are the steps to cycle an axolotl tank:

  • Fill the tank with dechlorinated water. If you’re using tap water, add a water conditioner to remove the chlorine.
  • Set up the tank and run the filter with biological media. Biological media can include sponge filters, filter inserts, or ceramic media disks.
  • Start the cycle process by adding kickstart nitrifying bacteria or by introducing already cycled biological media from an established tank. 
  • Using a test kit, determine water parameters such as pH, KH, nitrites, nitrates, hardness, or GH.
  • Allow 10-14 days to complete the cycling.
  • Introduce your axolotl once the nitrogen cycle is complete.

How Long Does It Take To Cycle An Axolotl Tank?

It takes, on average, 2 weeks to cycle an axolotl tank. 

This process can be made quicker using media from an already established tank, or take longer if the beneficial bacteria don’t have enough to feed on. 

Axolotl Water Test Kit

In order to determine if your tank is cycled or not, you’ll need a water testing kit. We recommend the API Master Test Kit.

Final Thoughts

Axolotls are sensitive amphibians, but their sweet personalities and frilly axolotl gills make all the extra work worth it. They can survive in relatively bare tanks, but a more decorated tank can provide enrichment and enjoyment to your axolotl, so consider making them the best environment you can. 


How Do You Acclimate An Axolotl To A New Tank?

To acclimate an axolotl, we recommend drip acclimation. If you can’t do drip acclimation, remove ¼ cup of water from the container the axolotl came in and replace it with ¼ of the new tank water over the course of a few hours.

Can Axolotls Have Too Much Oxygen?

Yes, too much oxygen has been known to cause gas bubble disease in axolotls. One of the symptoms of gas bubble disease is bloated belly. To learn more about gas bubble disease and about other causes for bloated axolotl belly, head over here Axolotl Bloated Belly? Causes And Treatment For Bloated Axolotl



My name is Iliyana and I'm a passionate animal lover and pet owner. As there is significantly less information online about unusual and exotic pets, I decided to found this website and recruit expert writers to help pet owners.

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