Keeping fish and caring for them, is awesome. When we think of fish tanks, we picture clear water, calming bubbles and artful swimming fish. Getting there can be difficult though. Fish tanks for beginners can become overwhelming if you lack experience in setting up a fish tank.
Fish Tank Guides – Everything You Need To Know About Starting a Fish Tank For Beginners
Don’t let being new to fish keeping stop you from setting up an aquarium that looks like an expert created it. Fish tanks are easier than you think to set up and manage, but you will want to take note of a few things. If you are able to follow these instructions you can quickly become an expert at keeping fish as pets.
Fish Make Great Pets
Fish are one of the best pets you can own. Caring for them is much like caring for any other pets. Making sure they have a healthy environment, feeding them regularly, and cleaning up after them. Fish deserve to have the best care.
Unlike fish in their natural habitat, where water is naturally purified, fish in an aquarium need mechanical and physical means to keep things healthy. That means that as a fish owner, you will need to purchase a good fish tank filter, clean the tank regularly, feed your fish the proper amounts of food, keep the water at the proper PH levels and not overcrowd your fish in their tank.
This might sound overwhelming but in reality, it should only take around 30 to 45 minutes a week. The rest of the time you can sit back and watch them enjoy their new home. Caring for fish as a new fish keeper is easy.
To get started you will need:
- A proper fish tank filter – There are a few different filters to consider. Check out our fish tank filter guide & reviews.
- LED fish tank lighting – The cooler the better. I prefer LED lights for fish for their low energy consumption and antibacterial properties.
- Fish Tank Decor – This is my favorite part of set up. It gives the opportunity to be creative. Currently, I have a nice Star Wars themed fish tank.
- Water Conditioners – I typically use filtered water, reverse osmosis style, but if you live in an area with high chlorine you might need to invest.
- Fishnet – When cleaning you will need to relocate fish from time to time.
- Food – Who Doesn’t love to eat? Fish included
- Gravel and Gravel Washer – They go hand in hand. One without the other is useless in a fish tank.
Before you start to set up a fish tank as a beginner, there are a few things to avoid for your’s and your fish’s safety…
20 Beginner Fish Tank Mistakes To Avoid
- Using fake, plastic plants – Using live plants in your aquarium is a good way to help filter water and prevent algae from forming. These live plants will consume the same nutrients that algae feed on, reducing exposure to algae blooms.
- Overfeeding The Fish – This is the most common scenario when it comes to beginners. Fish can’t tap on their bowl when they are hungry or alert you to the fact. Fish will continue to eat no matter how much you add to the bowl or tank. This gives the impression that the fish are still hungry. It also creates more fish poop and pee, which, in turn, can disrupt nitrogen cycles. Stick to feeding your fish once per day and if you have children, make sure they understand this as to not overfeed.
- Overlooking Nitrogen Cycles – Say what??? It sounds highly technical and people typically stress about it, but really it is pretty straight forward and something to monitor regularly. Using best practices when performing water changes is the key. This will reduce nitrate in the water and remove fish waste that can add to it. Clean your tank once a week!
- Overstocking The Aquarium – I know you want to throw hundreds of fish into the tank from the start, but this is a bad decision. This will quickly clog your filter, create water imbalances and hurt your swimmers. To know the maximum number of fish for a tank, multiply your tank’s water capacity by .75 and this will tell you just how many fish are appropriate in length for your tank.
- Too Many Fish To Start – The golden rule when starting an aquarium as a beginner is to only add 3 fish at a time. After the first cleaning add 3 more if your capacity allows for it.
- Using a Budget Filter – The filter is one of the most functions of a fish tank for the health of your new pets. Don’t skimp here. There are many affordable filters that work wonders. Check reviews, styles, and price before you buy.
- Poisoning Your Fish – Beginners have a tendency to overcompensate with chemicals, or not understanding what a fish needs. This point falls in line with many of the beginner fish tank mistakes that people make on this list. Be kind to your fish.
- Purchasing a Small Fish Tank – Bigger is better. If you are trying to save money a small aquarium may sound tempting. You might even think cleaning a smaller aquarium is easier. To that point, you may be somewhat correct, but a bigger fish tank is easier for the water to remain more stable and fall in line with what your fish require. 40 gallons to 60 gallons is just about the perfect size tank.
- Adding Fish Before The Tank is Ready – Complete a full nitrogen cycle, PH balance, and temperature test before adding any fish. If the tank water is not stable, your fish will die. It’s that simple. Be patient.
- Fish That Hate Other Fish – Adding fish that are not compatible with other species of fish will ultimately lead to a blood bath. You will need to understand what kinds of fish work better with other fish. By adding fish that have a symbiotic relationship with the others will enhance your love for fishkeeping all the more.
- Ignoring Biological Filtration – No matter the tank, biological filtration is a must. A biological filter will increase the growth of bacteria that is beneficial to the ecosystem.
- Moving Decorations Consistently and All The Time – This can piss off fish. Enjoy your tanks decor and layout before you add the fish. It’s the human equivalent of consistently losing your car keys.
- Chemical to Water Overload – Careful not to get too heavy-handed with the chemicals. Algae and health are always top of mind, but don’t let that sway you into adding more than what’s really necessary.
- Over/Under treating Algae – Live plants help and its better than adding a ton of chemicals to treat an explosion of algae in the tank. If left untreated, however, your fish will not be happy and healthy.
- Freshwater vs Saltwater Tanks – Not understanding the key fundamentals in this department will lead to your fish’s demise. Each needs a unique set of standards with maintenance and care.
- Complicating Fish Tank Maintenance – Keep it simple. If you overcomplicate things and second guess yourself, you will not enjoy your new hobby as a fish master.
- Not Being Patient – It takes a lot of time and patience between setting up a new aquarium will you will be forced to hurry up and wait. Take your time and don’t rush the steps.
- Ignoring Water Changes – During weekly cleanings, the rule of thumb is to change out 15% of the water. This helps balance the healthy bacteria and reduces algae. Without regular water changes, the fish will easily become stressed.
- Not Testing Your Water Regularly – Don’t assume your water is fine. You should always check the PH, nitrates, nitrites, water hardness, and ammonia levels.
- Not Setting a Schedule – Maintenance of your fish tank is a requirement for all who care for these pets. There are even apps online you can use to ensure you are maintaining your fish tank.
Fish Tank Set Up
A perfect size fish tank for beginners, in my recommendation, would be between 40 and 60 gallons. This larger size will allow for water conditions to remain more stable. A smaller tank makes nitrogen cycles more difficult to maintain.
Always handle your tank with extreme care. After all, most cases are made from glass, but even acrylic aquariums can break or become damaged, exposing you to hazards.
- Move only empty aquariums. Water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon. Things can get clumsy and awkward fast, even if a fish tank is only half full.
- Carry an aquarium from the bottom and with dry hands. Never lift from the top or the edges or frame.
Prepping Your Fish Tank
Now that you understand some basic safety, it’s time to set up your first fish tank as a beginner to fishkeeping.
You will want to start by wiping the interior and exterior of the tank with a damp towel or cloth. Just use water and avoid cleaners, soap, and anything chemical based. I like to do this on a solid surface or the floor. Something close to the ground if possible to avoid drops and breakage to the frame of the tank.
Once you have wiped everything with a damp cloth, follow up by using a dry cloth to remove any leftover residue.
Decide On Your Tank’s Placement
Water is very heavy at over 8 pounds per gallon of water and not to mention all the decorations adding to that. You will want a sturdy support base for your fish tank that can support this massive amount of extra weight. The support should also be level with access to a power outlet for your filter and light. Remember that water and electricity are dangerous when combined, so keep away from other electronics, heaters or AC and use a power surge protector in case of a mishap.
You will also want to avoid direct sunlight. Light is a necessity for algae growth and to minimize this you will want a space that is not under constant attack from light.
Add Your Gravel
Now that the tank is placed, it’s time to add gravel into the tank itself. Beforehand, be sure to rinse and repeat. The water should rinse clear before adding gravel. Just use plain water. No soap.
The amount of gravel for your tank should be about 2 pounds per gallon of water that your aquarium holds. From there, a slight downgrade from back to the front of the tank should be applied. This gentle slope adds a visual component to an aquarium and can mimic natural lake bottoms.
How To Fill An Aquarium
Once you have added gravel, adding water to the tank is fairly easy. In order to not disturb the freshly laid gravel, you will want to pour into the tank with some sort of “breakwater” instead of pouring directly into the gravel. I recommend using a plate, placed on top of the gravel. This way it will hit the plate instead of the gravel which will leave a giant crater.
Simply and slowly pour the water onto the “breakwater” that’s at room temp. Colder water will cause condensation on the outside of the tank. Not a big deal but none-the-less.
Lastly, your water should be treated if necessary before adding it to the tank. This will allow for proper dissipation of the chemicals and to not hurt your fish with pour chlorine levels.
Adding Fish Tank Decorations
It is always easier to add decorations to an aquarium if the tank is about half full. This is where you can introduce living plants, decorations and more. They will need to also be rinsed much like the gravel. Larger plants should be placed towards the back of the tank for better visual appearance.
You will also want to stick with approved aquarium items as a beginner. If it is not an approved aquarium decoration such as a toy, the plastics can seep into the water which is harmful to aquatic animals as they live and breath in the tank.
Once the tank decorations are placed in the positions you like best, top the tank off leaving a couple of inches at the top as we will be adding the filtration system next.
Adding The Filter
A good filter will have all 3 functions necessary to maintain fish life. Biological, chemical and mechanical functions. Once you have identified and purchased the proper filter you can use the directions provided by the manufacturer to set up and install the fish tank filter. Check out our fish tank filter guide if you are confused or not sure which one to purchase. But, overall this step is straight forward. Turn the filter on and let the circulation begin.
As a beginner, you will want to also test the water’s temps. You should have a good aquarium water thermometer to be able to monitor this. You will also want to have a heater for the water. There are specific heaters made for just this.
Water temps (depending on your fish) should be in a range between 75 and 80 degrees unless it is a cold water fish which would need lower temps to thrive.
Fish Tank Lighting
Fish also have a night-day schedule as do live plants in an aquarium. Lighting can also provide unique environments and make your decor “pop” and look nice. I prefer to use LED lights as they help with plant growth and fish night/day functions.
Full spectrum LED lights are perfect for giving off the full benefits of light growth as well as being energy efficient. I use a timer with my lights to give fish rest during their nighttime cycle as well as daytime cycles. A timer set for 10 hours on and 12 hours off is perfect, but if you notice algae growth then 7 hours on then 15 off.
Before Adding Fish
Be patient! Your tank needs to run for at least 24 to 48 hours before you add the first set of 3 fish. Choose fish that are compatible and work with the store you buy them from to ensure what temps they like, what food they like and how they behave.
Fish, when purchased from a supplier are typically placed in plastic bags. Let the bag sit in the tank with the fish for about a half hour so the temp in the transfer container matches that of the water or it will stress out the fish.
Adding Fish Into the Tank
It is finally time to add the fish. Starting with the first fish, add some water from the tank to the plastic bag containing the fish. From this point use a net to scoop the fish out of the container and gently lower the fish into its new home. Repeat the process for the other fish.
Be sure not to add the water from the temporary container to your aquarium water and use the net instead. If you do this right, your fish should love their new home!
Care For Your Fish and Aquarium
Set up a maintenance schedule and stick to it. Clean healthy water and a beautiful fish tank is always the way to go.
Replace your filters according to manufacturer specs, change out your water at a rate of 15% per week and vacuum your gravel to eliminate excess waste. If you have not already, purchase a proper siphon vacuum made for fish tanks. A fish tank siphon will save you tons of time and energy.
All in all, it should only take you about a half hour a week with the proper equipment. Keep designated equipment for your aquarium and never use buckets for other household chores or cleaning. Cross-contamination can and will occur. Trust me, I made this mistake once and, sadly ended the life of some of my favorite fish.
3 Best Fish Tanks For Beginners in 2019
If you are new to keeping fish as pets, we recommend starting with some of these fish tanks. The tanks below are user-friendly, easy to set up and come equipped with everything you need to get started as a beginner to fishkeeping.
1. SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set
The 40-gallon SeaClear tank is perfect for a beginner fish tank. Made with acrylic it is built tough and this combo starter kit comes with the light, a reflector and is made 17 times stronger than glass and is half the weight.
It is safe as a saltwater or freshwater aquarium and is styled beautifully. This model, in particular, is a 40-gallon rectangular fit perfect for a canister filter which you will have to purchase separately, but none the less buying this tank will save you money in the long run. The light fixture is a standard 20-watt bulb and would recommend swapping it out at some point for a better LED fish tank lamp, but other than that it is a great tank.
- Very Clear Acrylic
- Stable Water Temps
- Light is somewhat cheap- consider replacing it down the line
2. Tetra 55 Gallon Aquarium Kit with Fish Tank, Fish Net, Fish Food, Filter, Heater and Water Conditioners
If you are of the mindset of going big or go home, this tank is a great addition for beginners new to fish tanks. It is a massive 55-gallon tank made by Tetra that includes many bells and whistles you will need to get started. It comes with chemicals, food, net, heater, filter, thermometer, hood, plants and instruction sheets. Really, everything you need. The lighting uses LED’s which is great to reduce algae and is energy efficient.
It does weigh about 79lbs and when filled about 521lbs so you will want to get a sturdy base for this fish tank. It measures in at rectangular 48 x 12 x 20 inches so make sure you have room for it.
- Complete kit to get up and running
- LED light included for better lighting and energy efficiency
- Very sturdy fish tank
- The filter could use an upgrade
3. SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Junior Executive Kit
The SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Junior Executive Kit is an outstanding choice for new fishkeepers. A full kit that comes with a 50-gallon power filter, lava rocks, plastic plants (swap out for live plants) thermometer, and fishnet and fluorescent light. (light bulb sold separately).
The tank is designed with acrylic, eliminating the frames typical with glass and has a curved effect. Because of this, the tank looks fantastic. Marketed as an office fish tank it would still look good at home. This tank is perfect for salt or freshwater and even turtles or reptiles if that is your thing.
It has an acrylic blue background that makes your fish standout. This is one of our top picks for a beginner fish tank for its low entry cost and ease of use.
- Lower weight compared to glass aquariums of the same size
- Complete kit to get started
- Energy efficient and economical
- A bit hard to open