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What Kind of Water Do Neon Tetras Need?

For neon tetras to thrive in captivity, they need a specific environment similar to their natural one and conducive to their unique needs. This is directly connected to the type of water conditions present in an aquarium. Right now, you may be wondering to yourself, ‘what kind of water do neon tetras need to survive?’

What kind of water do neon tetras need? Optimal aquarium conditions for neon tetras include a temperature between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit and a PH level between 5.5 and 6.2. A hardness or mineral level of 2 to 10 is preferred. Regular cleaning (including partial water changes and scrubbing down the aquarium walls) is also required.

Now that you know neon tetras require a specific tank environment, not only to survive but to thrive, let’s take a closer look at this below. We will discuss if they need an air pump, filter or water heater as well as explore in more detail what temperature and PH level are required.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about neon tetras and their aquarium water requirements, then let’s get started?

Do Neon Tetras Need an Air Pump?

Air pumps force oxygen into the tank so fish can breathe. In most cases, neon tetras do not require any extra oxygen and can do well in an aquarium without an air pump. However, it can only be an added benefit to have one.

Do Neon Tetras Need a Water Heater?

Neon tetras are tropical fish and therefore need a water heater in their aquarium to keep the temperature between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They also require a filter to allow for beneficial bacteria to grow as well as to aerate and clean the water in the tank.

What Water Temperature Do Neon Tetras Need?

The ideal temperature conditions for neon tetras in an aquarium is anywhere between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is slightly higher than average room temperature or equivalent to a lukewarm bath. They need an environment comparable tropical water conditions in order to survive.

What PH Level Do Neon Tetras Need?

The ideal PH level for neon tetras in a tank is somewhere between 5.5 and 6.2. However, they can do quite well in an environment with a PH as high as 6.8. A hardness or mineral level of 2 to 10 is okay. It is important to test the PH level regularly (2 weeks to once a month) as well as the nitrite and nitrate levels using test strips that you can purchase either online or at your local pet shop.

Do Neon Tetras Die Easily?

In a tank with the proper water parameters, neon tetras can live up to 10 years. However, should the conditions change drastically, they will die. Therefore, it important to monitor the water conditions in the tank regularly. Keeping the water conditions consistent, cleaning the tank regularly and adding live plants to the aquarium will keep harmful bacteria at bay.

What Size Tank Do Neon Tetras Require?

Neon tetras can be kept in a 5-gallon tank as long as there is no more than 4. They do much better in a larger tank, however, such as a 10-gallon one. In a 10-gallon tank, 4 to 8 will thrive nicely. They are a schooling fish that like to swim freely so a bigger tank is always better.

Do Neon Tetras Need Salt?

Aquarium salt is safe for neon tetras, in very small amounts only (less than 1 tablespoon per 2 gallons of water). Marine salt, however, is not the same as aquarium salt and is not suitable for tetras or any other tropical fish. Tetras are a freshwater fish and will not survive in a saltwater tank.

How to Care for Neon Tetras

Specific water parameters are required in order to care for neon tetras. These include the following:

Buy a Larger Aquarium

The bigger the better when it comes to neon tetras in a tank so choose one that holds at least 10 gallons of water. In an aquarium this size, you can keep between 12 and 16 tetras easily.

Tetras can live in smaller tanks (such as a 5-gallon one) as long as long it’s just a few (4 or less) but it really is not recommended as they like to swim freely around the tank and need the larger space in order to do so.

If you are looking to purchase an aquarium I have a recommended aquariums page you should have a look at for my suggestions on great choices for tanks.

Cycle the Tank

Be sure to cycle the tank a few weeks before adding the fish to be sure any harmful bacteria has been eliminated. The steps to cycling include the following:

  • Fill the tank with fresh water and then run the filter.
  • Add NH3, which is ammonia, to the water to raise it to 2 ppm (parts per million).
  • Test the water daily to see how long it takes for NH3 (ammonia) to break down into NO2 (nitrite).
  • As the level of NO2 rises, add more NH3. This encourages the growth of nitrate bacteria which will cause the nitrite levels to decrease.
  • Keep testing the water daily.
  • When the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels are no longer detectable (0 ppm), it is safe to add the fish.

Cover the Filter Intake

Tetras as very small and can get sucked into the filter, possibly causing harm (or even death) to the fish.  Use a piece of mesh or foam and cover the filter. This will protect the fish while still allowing the filter to regulate the bacteria in the water effectively.

Add Organic Life

Neon tetras in the wild love to swim among plants and reeds in the water. Add some aquatic plants to your tank as well as driftwood in order to mimic their natural environment. Live plants also help keep the water clean while providing the fish with hiding places.

Monitor the PH Level

Mildly acidic water is the best for tetras so a PH of 5.5 to 6.2 is required. They can survive in a tank with a higher PH (up to 6.8) but lower is preferred. Buy PH testing strips online or at your local pet shop or Amazon and test the water each time you do a partial change (approximately every 2 weeks).

Consider adding a ‘peat bag’ to the tank lower the PH and soften the water, if necessary. Simply buy some nylon pantyhose and a bit of organic peat moss. Stuff the pantyhose with the peat moss, cut off the foot part and then tie it both ends tightly. Put the ‘bag’ into the water and squeeze it gently to release the peat moss. Replace it every 2 or so.

Control the Temperature

Freshwater fish such at neon tetras require a water temperature of 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Buy an adjustable water heater and install it in the tank. To monitor the temperature be sure to place an aquarium thermometer in the tank as well.

Monitor Food Requirements

Too much food can negatively alter the water parameter of a tank. Uneaten food decomposes in the water, clouding its appearance. It also contributes to excess waste which increases both ammonia and nitrite (harmful bacteria) levels in the aquarium.

Neon tetras need only be fed twice a day with flake foods, brine shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms or micro-pellet foods available online at your local pet shop. Variety is the key to their overall health.

Clean the Tank Often

Keeping the water clean is the key to healthy fish in a community tank. Low nitrites levels are a must for fish health. Replace 10 to 25 per cent of the water in the tank every other week and scrub the aquarium walls to get rid of excess algae.


In conclusion, neon tetras need very specific water parameters to not only survive but thrive in captivity. Conditions such as water temperature, PH level and hardness level matter greatly to their overall health. Keeping the water clean and by installing a filter, doing partial water changes and removing excess waste, bacteria and algae are all necessary. Good luck fellow aquarium hobbyists!

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