Starting A Fish Tank: Tips For Beginners

There’s something so soothing about an aquarium. The gentle bubbling of the filter, the fish darting in and out of the plants. It’s easy to spend hours gazing at a fish tank. Want to start your own? With all the varieties of fish, the huge selection of tanks, and the maintenance to consider, starting your own can feel very intimidating.

Don’t worry; we’ve got some tips and tricks to make starting your own underwater wonderland a breeze.

The advice below is for a freshwater tank. A saltwater tank comes with its own unique set of challenges, and you may want some experience before starting one of those. And just so you know, my dream is to one day have a huge saltwater tank with seahorses!

tips for beginner fish tank

Choosing A Tank

Many fish tank kits for beginners contain aquariums that are 5 gallons or smaller. While these may be easier to find space for and hold all the basics, stop before you reach for that 5-gallon starter kit. It seems odd, but a larger tank is a better choice for beginners.

A small tank allows for water conditions to change quickly. The large amount of water in a tank that holds 20 gallons or more allows for wiggle room for changes in the water. A larger tank also allows more time between tank cleanings. If you’re just starting out, it will be easier for you to maintain the water quality of the fish tank.

Are you concerned about price? You can find a 20-gallon tank complete with a starter kit for as little as $60.00. If purchasing a kit, make sure the filter system can turn over the water volume of the tank at least four times per hour. You will also want to look into biological filtration, also called a “bio-filter.”

Most regular filters come with “bio-rings.” These are areas where the good bacteria that help break down substances the mechanical filter can’t live. If your filter does not come with bio-rings, there are bio-filtration products you can add to the regular filter.

You’ve purchased your tank, filled it with water, now you need to add fish, right? Hang on a second. Before adding some aquatic friends, make sure you add a water conditioner and run the tank for at least two days. This allows you to check for leaks, gives the pH time to stabilize, and lets the water get to the correct temperature for the fish varieties you want to add.

choosing fish for starter fish tank

Goldfish? Blue Fish? How to Choose Fish

When choosing fish, there are a few things to keep in mind. Before you choose, decide if you want a cold tank or a heated tank. Keep in mind that a heated tank will give you more species to choose from. Look for fish that do well in groups. You don’t want to start a fish Fight Club accidentally. Look for varieties that do well in the same temperature water.

For heated tanks: Mollies, Black-Skirted Tetras, Zebra Danios, and Platies are popular varieties that you will often see suggested for beginners. These fish are gentle and have a sturdy constitution. A Bristle-Nose Plecostomus also makes an excellent addition to a freshwater tank. They may not be the most attractive fish, but they help keep things clean by eating algae and settled food particles.

For cold tanks: White Cloud Mountain Minnows,  Rosy Barbs, and goldfish are all easily maintained starter fish.

Be sure not to add too many fish to your new aquarium all at once. Start with 3 to 5, then slowly introduce more. Doing so allows the nitrogen cycle to occur in your tank. This cycle is an essential part of tank health. It helps establish bacterial colonies that live in the bio-filter. It can take several weeks for the tank to “cycle,” be sure to test the water before adding more fish. For more on water testing, keep reading.

Testing, Testing: Maintaining Water Quality in Your Tank

Water quality is an integral part of keeping your fish healthy and happy. Ammonia levels, nitrogen, nitrates, nitrites, and pH are the most important when learning to maintain a healthy habitat for your fish. Ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and nitrogen, are all part of what is referred to as “the nitrogen cycle.” This sounds complicated, but it’s all just products of bacteria breaking down waste from the fish, and excess food particles.

Be sure to test the water once a week to make certain everything is staying in balance. This sounds tricky, but most tests are straightforward, and test kits are available at most pet stores. Tests can come as strips, or with a test tube and test solution. Test kits come with detailed instructions, and only take a few minutes to run.

choosing fish for starter fish tank

Setting the Stage 

You’ve picked your tank, decided on fish, and purchased a water testing kit. Now it’s time for the finishing touches. Fish tank gravel, also known as “substrate” is appealing to look at and serves an important purpose. It acts as a filter for the water and harbors beneficial bacteria.

There are many types of gravel,  but many fish experts recommend using natural-colored gravel to emulate the natural habitat of the fish. Natural-looking gravel may also help lower the stress levels in your fish, which is an integral part of keeping them healthy and happy. Be sure to thoroughly rinse gravel before adding it to the tank to prevent cloudiness from dust particles.

Plants add that final touch to the world you’re building in your aquarium. We’re all familiar with the plastic seaweed you see in the bottom of a goldfish bowl, but artificial fish tank plants have come a long way. Many of them are hard to distinguish from their natural counterparts and are easy to disinfect.

Wanting to go with something closer to nature?  Live plants make a beautiful addition and are easier to manage than you might think. They can even make maintenance of your tank easier! Live plants do need special lighting, and if not appropriately sourced may contain parasites, so keep that in mind when deciding between live and artificial plants.

These tips should make the idea of setting up your own tank a lot less daunting.  While the initial set-up seems like a lot of work, routine maintenance and proper testing make keeping a fish tank a fun and engaging hobby. Seeing your fish thrive in their new habitat, makes it all worthwhile.

Going on vacation and not sure who can feed your water babies? No problem! Our pet sitting services also include fish!



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