What you need for your first aquarium

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African-Cichlid-Aquarium - The Aquarium Setup, Filtration, and ...

Setting up a new fish tank can be exciting, and the possibilities for creating a beautiful aquatic ecosystem in your home or office are nearly endless since you need to ask yourself – What you need for your first aquarium. Don’t let the myriad options and products to choose from overwhelm or discourage you.

Navigating the prospects can be confusing, but the whole process is much simpler once you know the basics.

This check list will help you make sure that everything in your fish aquarium is in working order when you’re ready to bring home your new freshwater fish friends.

Fish are often thought of as simple, no-fuss pets. While it’s true that fish often don’t require much care and keeping, setting up an aquarium can be a much larger project than many anticipate.

An ill-kept aquarium can be deadly to fish so it’s best to learn as much as you can before purchasing any pets to go in it. Below you’ll find a handy checklist as well as detailed explanations of what to look for when buying your first fish tank.

17 Most essential aquarium accessories for Your Fish Tank


These are the most essential aquarium equipment list you need to take care of your aquarium.

1. Aquarium tank

Larger is better, but keep in mind the space you have available. A 55-gallon tank is not practical for a dorm room. However, almost anyone can find a place for a 20-gallon tank. Avoid tall thin tanks and stick with shorter longer tank, as they provide more swimming space and surface area for air exchange.

Glass tanks are preferred by many, however, acrylic tanks weigh less and because they don’t break, are preferable for use with children in the household. Remember that acrylic tanks require support along the entire bottom surface, not just the edges.

Best aquarium tank: Fluval SPEC Desktop Glass Aquarium

2. Tank Stand

Aquariums are heavy, figure 10 pounds per gallon of water capacity, so plan accordingly. A particle board bookcase is usually not sturdy enough to hold anything more than a very small tank.

Be sure to use a real aquarium stand designed to hold the weight of a fish tank. Most aquarium warranties are void if the aquarium is not placed on an appropriate aquarium stand. There are plans available for making your own stand, if you are handy with a hammer and saw.

3. Water Conditioner for Fish

Having the right bacteria in the aquarium water is important. Water conditioner for fish helps inoculate your tank with the exact kinds of bacteria required to break down and digest the ammonia excreted as waste by your aquarium inhabitants.

Ammonia is toxic, and a buildup of it in the tank water can kill your freshwater fish. Using water conditioner, like Fluval cycle biological enhancer, enables you to jumpstart your system’s bacterial colonization and prevent the toxic buildup from happening in the first place.

Best water conditioner for aquarium: Fluval Water Conditioner for Aquariums, 16.9-Ounce

4. Fish Tank Filter

In addition to generating essential water movement, a fish filter, like the Fluval aquarium power filter, provides your water with three important types of filtration: mechanical, chemical and biological. Each filtration type offers important benefits.

Mechanical filtration happens when the water passes through a fish tank filters pad designed to trap debris. Chemical filtration occurs as the water flows through activated carbon, which removes toxins. Biological filtration occurs as the water comes in contact with a medium that is colonized by healthy, nitrifying bacteria; it breaks down ammonia and makes the tank water safe for your freshwater fish.

Best fish tank filter: Fluval Power Filter

5. Aquarium Heater

If you plan to keep tropical fish, they need water that consistently is warm. And if you’re thinking, “My house thermostat is set at 72 degrees Fahrenheit; that’ll keep the tank warm enough,” think again.

Your fish will survive, but keeping them comfortable makes them healthier and less stressed. Specific temperature requirements vary depending on species, but the general range for tropical fish is between 75- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Keep your freshwater fish tank at the ideal temperature by using a device like the FREESEA Submersible Aquarium Heater

Best fish tank heater: FREESEA Submersible Aquarium Heater


6. Air Pump

Water flow is important because it promotes gas exchange between the air and the water. Employing an air pump, like the Tetra Whisper Air Pump for Deep Water Applications, keeps the water oxygenated, which makes it easier for your fish to breathe. It also aids in making sure the water is heated evenly instead of just pockets of stagnant warm water around the heating element.

Best fish tank air pump: Tetra Whisper Air Pump for Deep Water Applications


7. Substrate

While fish tank substrate assists with aesthetics, it serves functional roles as well. In its simplest form, the substrate on the bottom of your fish tank filters offers another surface upon which good bacteria can grow. If you plan to grow plants that require covered roots, you will need the proper substrate for this as well.

There’s a wide variety of sizes, colors and shapes of substrate out there when choosing the right one for your tank. Having a vision of the finished aquarium you want will help you decide on the best substrate option for your system.

Polished gravel is a good option for many freshwater aquariums, like the Exotic Pebbles polished mixed gravel. Bioactive substrate, like the Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate, can also be a great way to jumpstart plant growth if you’re planning to keep live plants in your tank.

Best fish tank substrate: Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate


8. Lighting

There are loads of lighting options out there for fish tanks, and they vary extensively in size, price and appearance. As with the substrate, figure out what works for your overall tank appearance and your wallet.

While LED lights are a larger initial investment, they tend to last much longer than traditional compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs. LED lights, like the Curret USA satellite freshwater plus aquarium LED light, also generate almost no heat and use a minimal amount of energy.

Best LED light for a fish tank: Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus Light Aquarium


9. Fish Aquarium Test Strips

As you wait for your aquarium to cycle before adding your freshwater fish, test the water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Test strips, like the Tetra Easy Strips 6-in-1 test strips, also enable you to measure the water pH, hardness and alkalinity.

In about 60 seconds, test strips will give you a good overall picture of what’s happening in your freshwater fish tank. This information is critical if you want to maintain a healthy system.

On these test strips, the most important readings to pay attention to, especially with a new tank, are nitrite, nitrate and pH. Ideally, nitrite should be undetectable, nitrate should be as low as possible and a neutral pH is generally safe. That being said, freshwater fish can thrive in a pH range from 5.5 to 7.5 depending on the species.

Best aquarium test strip: Tetra Easy Strips 6-in-1 Aquarium Test Strips for Fresh/Salt Water


10. Lid or Hood

Tanks are sold with lid separate from the light, or the lid and light may be joined into one unit referred to as the “hood.” The lid portion covers the tank and serves to prevent fish from jumping out of the tank. It also reduces evaporation, and protects the light from getting wet. If the lid is combined with the light, it is often made of plastic, which is less expensive, weighs less, and is not as easy to break. Glass lids are easier to clean, provide a tighter cover, and allow more outside light to enter the aquarium.

Best fish tank hood: Aqueon Aquarium AAG29024 Versa Top

Aqueon Aquarium AAG29024 Versa Top


11. Thermometer

The liquid crystal stick-on thermometers are inexpensive, easy to read, and generally accurate enough for general use. If you plan to breed fish or keep delicate fish, you should opt for a thermometer that goes in the water.

12. Fishnet

Choose a medium-sized, good quality net. Better yet, get two nets. Catching fish is easier with two nets, and it’s always wise to have a spare net on hand. You never know when you may tear or misplace one of your nets. Handle length should be proportionate to the size of your aquarium, so that you don’t have to stick your hand into the water when catching fish in a large aquarium.

Best fish net: Penn Plax Aquarium Fish Net


13. Siphon

A siphon tool is necessary to vacuum the gravel and to do water changes. There are simple types that use gravity to siphon, and more sophisticated models that use water pressure from your tap. If you can afford it, purchase the tap run models as they are much easier to use to remove water and then replace it.

Monthly water changes are made much easier to do when using gravel vacuums. They clean the waste off the bottom of the tank while removing water for the partial water change. Be sure to add dechlorinator when adding the tap water back to refill the aquarium.

Best fish tank gravel cleanerAquarium/Fish Tank Siphon and Gravel Cleaner

14. Algae Scrubber

It’s a fact of life that algae will grow in an aquarium eventually. An algae pad or scraper is an important maintenance item. Another option is the algae magnet. This allows you to clean the algae off the inside of the glass by using a magnet on the outside, so you don’t have to put your hand into the aquarium. You’ll pay a little more, but the convenience is worth it.

Best algae scrapper: FLiPPER 2-in-1 Magnetic Aquarium Tank Algae Cleaner

15. Water Bucket 

Doesn’t everyone have one? Yes, but if it has had soap or other chemicals in it, the residue could be lethal to fish. Purchase a brand new one to use only for aquarium maintenance. Label the bucket “For Aquarium Use Only” with an indelible marker for safety.

Best water bucket for aquarium: OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Mop Bucket, 4 Gallons

16. Reference Books

Pick up a good all-purpose aquarium reference book or two to complete the package. For experienced fish keepers, a fish atlas is a good option. These will tell you about the natural habitat, life history and breeding practices for the fish species you chose to keep in your aquarium. You will need good books like: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist.


17. Decoration/Plants

Decorations for your aquarium will vary based on personal tastes. Do you want mermaids and divers? Shipwrecks? How about caves and natural rock work, or to duplicate the look of an ocean coral reef? All of these are possible with decorative items from your local fish store.

Be sure anything placed in to your aquarium, whether rocks, wood, or other decor items, are safe for the fish, and are thoroughly rinsed before adding them into the aquarium. Many fish prefer to have a place to hide, especially when sleeping, so having rock work caves in the tank, or decor with big holes in them, will make the fish feel more comfortable. Examples of good decors for your aquarium are: volcanos, pebbles, spongebob and plants

Best volcano for fish tank: Sunyiny Aquarium Decor Small Air Bubble Stone Volcano Boat Oxygen Pump Resin Crafts for Aquarium Fish Tank Ornament Decoration


The Sunyiny Aquarium small air bubble decorator stone volcano can help you achieve your goal of a beautiful fish house for your pet.

The artificial decoration of the Sunyiny makes for a perfect landscape for your aquarium.

This best aquarium decorator comes from resin materials that are non-toxic and safe for your fish.

The Sunyiny features a practical design that creates abundant small bubbles; suitable for aquarium, fish tank, and circulation systems.


Plants are one of the best decorative items to add to an aquarium, and they are functional too. Live plants help remove ammonia, nitrite an nitrate from the water. They provide a hiding place for the fish, and also food for herbivorous species. Plastic plants are also available to give your aquarium a natural look, without requiring the lighting and care that live plants take.

what you need for your first aquarium illustration



Once you decide what kind of finned friends you plan to keep in your fish tank, the rest of your system requirements will fall into place. One of the most important things you can do is to research the types of fish you want.

Find out where they’re indigenous to, what water parameters they need, what they eat, how much space they need and how well they get along with other fish. This information makes it much easier to create the right habitat.

Keeping aquariums is a blast, especially if you’re prepared. Take it slow, do your research and enjoy the ride

Goldfish being scooped from tank with a net


Best Aquarium Fish For A New Tank

Best Starter Fish Tank For Kids

Best Heater For Small Fish Tanks

Best Filters For 29/30/40 Gallon Aquariums

Best Aquarium Air Pump

Best Aquarium Glass Cleaner And Algae Scrapper

Best Aquarium Aquascaping Tools Kits


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