One of the most common problems that we see time and time again for beginners to the fish keeping community is that they don’t have the budget or space available for a full blown quarantine tank.
With beginners often being the ones who end up having problems with their fish that results in them needing to be quarantined for treatment, the lack of a quarantine tank can often cause problems and result in a fish, unfortunately, dying that could have otherwise been saved.
Due to this, we wanted to publish this article going over how you can quarantine a fish in a bucket with ease as the process really is surprisingly easy once you get the basics down.
Not only is this method very easy but it is also very cheap and in many cases, you can use it to quarantine a sick fish for treatment or to quarantine a new fish prior to adding it to your main tank.
Can I Quarantine A Fish In A Bucket?
Although an actual quarantine tank is usually going to be a better option for most people, you are able to quarantine a fish in a bucket provided the bucket is set up correctly.
This is the part that people make mistakes with time and time again, they get a random bucket, pour water in it, and then add their fish.
This is not enough to successfully quarantine a fish in a bucket and you really do have to make sure that the bucket is clean and has everything that your sick fish needs to make the bucket as comfortable as possible during the quarantine process.
Thankfully, this is usually much easier than the vast majority of people initially think and it should only take a couple of minutes to correctly set up a quarantine bucket for your fish.
What Do I Need to Quarantine Fish in A Bucket?
Depending on what you currently have available, you may have to go out and purchase a couple of things but even if you do have to buy some new gear, it will usually still work out to be much cheaper than setting up a full blown quarantine tank.
Here is the basics that we would recommend for a quarantine bucket for your fish:-
- A Large Bucket!
- An Adjustable Heater!
- A Water Test Kit!
- A Hide!
- A Net!
- A Filter System!
Depending on the species of fish that you need to quarantine in a bucket as well as why you are quarantining the fish, you may not need all of the items above but we will go over each of them below to explain each item.
A Large Bucket!
You really do need a large bucket to use as a quarantine bucket and we would recommend that the bucket is at least slightly larger than the minimum tank size requirements for your fish species if possible.
We know that this will not always be possible but it really is worth it due to a bucket basically having a tall tank design rather than a long tank design and most fish preferring a long tank.
For example, if your fish needs a minimum tank size of 10 gallons, try to find a 15 gallon bucket if possible as that additional width on the bucket really can help.
Make sure you clean your bucket prior to setting it up with boiling water being highly recommended if you are using an old bucket.
As a general rule for an old bucket, if you are not able to get the bucket clean enough where you would be happy enough to feed your child a meal off it then don’t use it as a quarantine bucket and get a new bucket.
Even a new bucket will have to be cleaned due to the various impurities that new buckets can have though so don’t overlook the cleaning step if you are going with a new bucket.
An Adjustable Heater!
You may not need an adjustable heater depending on the species of fish that you keep but a cheap adjustable heater can be a great investment.
Not only does it make it quick and easy for you to be able to adjust the heat through a wide range for different fish species in a quarantine bucket but it can also be used as a back up heater for your main tank too.
We have lost count of the number of people that we have seen have problems with the heater in their main tank only to be able to get a new one when it’s too late for their fish.
A Water Test Kit!
You really should have a water test kit as a fish keeper anyway but you will need something to test the water parameters of the water in your bucket during the quarantine process.
Although we usually recommend that you go with the $20 master test kits if possible, the cheap $5 test kits can work but they are inaccurate. If you do use the cheaper test kits, use three test strips pet test and then go with the average reading of all three strips.
Ideally, you will be trying to fill the quarantine bucket with water directly from the fish you need to quarantine main tank anyway so there shouldn’t be any major differences in the water parameters initially.
Over time though, these water parameters can change drastically so daily monitoring of the water parameters in your quarantine bucket is needed.
A sick fish is almost always a stressed fish so making sure there is something for your fish to hide in while in the quarantine bucket is well worth the effort.
Something as simple as some live aquatic plants can be enough but there are a wide range of different things that you are able to use as a fish hide for your quarantine bucket.
Not all nets are create equally and some of the cheaper nets that you may try to use to transfer your fish to the quarantine bucket can actually cause damage to your fish.
A decent net is only around $10 so we would highly recommend you pick one up if possible, there is no point risking injury to the fish you need to quarantine when going through all of this effort for the sake of spending an extra $5 on your net.
A Filter System!
Depending on the species of fish you are quarantining, you may not need a filter system.
Just like with the adjustable heater though, a spare filter can be a great investment just incase you have problems with your main filter in your primary tank.
How Do I Quarantine Fish in A Bucket?
The two most important sets of quarantining a fish in a bucket is to make sure that the bucket is clean and that the bucket is large enough for the fish to be comfortable.
It is usually easier to just purchase a new bucket to meet these two requirements but even a new bucket will need you to clean it prior to adding your water.
Cleaning The Bucket
With a brand new bucket, leaving some boiling water in the bucket for an hour or so and then scrubbing the bucket will usually be enough, for old buckets, you may have to put a large amount of time and effort into cleaning it.
Once you are confident that your bucket is clean, add water to it, ideally existing water from the tank that your sick fish lives in.
Making Tap Water Safe
If you do have to add water from your tap then be sure to use a tap water conditioner product to make the chlorine in the tap water safe to reduce the chances of there being problems with your fish.
If you do use tap water, would still recommend that you try to add a least some water from your main tank that the sick fish lives in to try and match water parameters as best you can.
Checking The Water
Once you have water in your quarantine bucket, check that it is suitable for your fish with your water test kit.
It can be very difficult to correctly match the required water parameters in a bucket freshly filled with tap water so you may have to compromise on this step.
Places To Hide
If possible, add at least once place to hide in the quarantine bucket to help reduce the stress and anxiety in your fish while it recovers.
We would always recommend live plants but some clean driftwood leaning across the bucket can work but there really are a wide range of different fish hide options that you are able to use in your quarantine bucket.
Setup The Heater And Filter
As we mentioned earlier in the article, depending on the species of fish you need to quarantine, you may not actually have to use a heater or filter.
If you do, make sure that you give them both the required time to do their job.
If you are using a heater, double check the water temperature and make sure that it is within a suitable range for your fish prior to moving on to the next step.
Add Your Fish
Use your net to catch your fish and then move it across to your quarantine bucket.
This can be more difficult than most people think and depending on the species of fish you have, even when sick, they may still be fast and agile.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, try to remember that the cheaper nets may damage your fish and the better nets are usually only around $5 more making them well worth it.
Cover The Top
A sick fish is usually a stressed fish and even if the species is not known for jumping, they may try their luck when in a quarantine bucket due to it being a totally new environment to them.
There are a wide range of things that you can use as a cover for your quarantine bucket and many buckets will come with a lid if you purchase them from a hardware store.
Just be sure that your heater and filter are not impeeded when applying the lid to the bucket so that they are still able to function correctly.
Monitor Water Parameters And Apply Medication
At this stage, you simply have to monitor the water parameters in the quarantine bucket by checking them daily while applying any medication or treatments that your fish requires to get better.
Depending on the problem that your fish is suffering from, you may need to keep your fish in the quarantine bucket for over a week so you may have to implement water changes too.