10 Essential Items Every Beginner Fish Tank Needs

Tank SizeAt least 20 gallons for beginners
FilterChoose from HOB, canister, or sponge filters
HeaterNecessary for maintaining proper temperature
SubstrateOptions include gravel, sand, and plant-specific substrates
LightingChoose appropriate intensity, duration, and type of lighting
Live or Artificial PlantsConsider the benefits and maintenance requirements
Water ConditionerUse dechlorinators or complete water conditioners
Water Test KitEssential for monitoring water parameters
Gravel VacuumUseful for cleaning substrate and maintaining water quality
Fish FoodChoose from flakes, pellets, frozen, or live food

1. What size tank is best for beginners?

When it comes to choosing the size of your beginner fish tank, it’s important to consider the needs of the fish you plan to keep. Generally, a tank size of at least 20 gallons is recommended for beginners. This provides enough space for a variety of fish species and allows for better water stability. However, if you’re planning to keep larger fish or a larger number of fish, you may need a larger tank.

It’s also important to consider the space you have available for the tank. Make sure you have enough room to accommodate the size of the tank and any additional equipment, such as a filter and heater.

Remember, the larger the tank, the easier it is to maintain stable water conditions. A larger volume of water helps dilute any toxins and provides a more forgiving environment for beginner fish keepers.

2. What type of filter should I use?

A good filtration system is crucial for maintaining a healthy and clean environment for your fish. There are several types of filters available, including:

  • Hang-on-back (HOB) filters: These are popular among beginners due to their ease of use and affordability. They hang on the back of the tank and provide mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.
  • Canister filters: These are more advanced and offer superior filtration. They are placed outside the tank and provide excellent mechanical and biological filtration.
  • Sponge filters: These filters are air-driven and provide biological filtration. They are often used in small tanks or as supplemental filtration in larger tanks.

When choosing a filter, consider the size of your tank, the type of fish you plan to keep, and your budget. It’s important to choose a filter that can handle the volume of your tank and provide adequate filtration for the waste produced by your fish.

3. Do I need a heater for my fish tank?

In most cases, a heater is necessary for maintaining the proper temperature in your fish tank. The temperature requirements vary depending on the species of fish you plan to keep, but most tropical fish require a water temperature between 75-80°F (24-27°C).

Aquarium heaters come in different wattages, so it’s important to choose one that is appropriate for the size of your tank. It’s also a good idea to invest in a reliable thermometer to monitor the water temperature and ensure it remains within the desired range.

Remember, sudden temperature fluctuations can be stressful for fish and may even be fatal. A heater helps maintain a stable and comfortable environment for your fish.

4. What substrate should I use?

The substrate refers to the material that covers the bottom of your fish tank. It serves both functional and aesthetic purposes. Some common substrates include:

  • Gravel: Gravel is a popular choice for beginners. It comes in various colors and sizes, allowing you to create different looks for your tank. It also provides a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow, which helps with biological filtration.
  • Sand: Sand is another option that can give your tank a natural and beach-like appearance. It’s important to choose a sand specifically designed for aquarium use to avoid any potential issues with water chemistry.
  • Plant-specific substrates: If you plan to keep live plants in your tank, you may opt for a substrate specifically formulated to support plant growth. These substrates often contain nutrients that promote healthy plant growth.

When choosing a substrate, consider the needs of your fish and any plants you plan to keep. Some fish species prefer a sandy substrate, while others may require a substrate that mimics their natural habitat. Additionally, consider the ease of cleaning and maintenance when selecting a substrate.

5. How important is lighting for a fish tank?

Lighting plays a crucial role in a fish tank, both for the health of your fish and the growth of any live plants. It helps simulate natural day and night cycles, provides visibility for your fish, and supports photosynthesis in plants.

When choosing lighting for your tank, consider the following:

  • Intensity: Different fish and plants have different lighting requirements. Some may thrive under low-intensity lighting, while others require high-intensity lighting. Research the specific needs of your fish and plants to determine the appropriate lighting intensity.
  • Duration: Most tanks require 8-12 hours of light per day. Using a timer can help automate the lighting schedule and ensure consistency.
  • Type of lighting: There are various types of aquarium lighting available, including fluorescent, LED, and metal halide. LED lights are becoming increasingly popular due to their energy efficiency and customizable features.

Proper lighting not only enhances the visual appeal of your tank but also promotes the overall well-being of your fish and plants.

6. Should I use live or artificial plants?

The decision to use live or artificial plants in your fish tank depends on your personal preference and the needs of your fish. Both options have their advantages and considerations:

  • Live plants: Live plants offer numerous benefits, including oxygenation, natural filtration, and a more natural habitat for your fish. They also add visual appeal to your tank. However, they require more care and maintenance, such as regular trimming and fertilization.
  • Artificial plants: Artificial plants are low-maintenance and do not require special lighting or fertilization. They are also more durable and do not decay, which can be beneficial for certain fish species. However, they do not provide the same benefits as live plants and may not look as natural.

Consider the specific needs of your fish, your level of experience, and the time you can dedicate to maintaining live plants when deciding between live and artificial plants for your tank.

7. What type of water conditioner should I use?

Water conditioners are essential for removing harmful chemicals, such as chlorine and chloramine, from tap water before adding it to your fish tank. There are various types of water conditioners available, including:

  • Dechlorinators: These remove chlorine and chloramine from tap water and make it safe for your fish.
  • Complete water conditioners: These not only remove chlorine and chloramine but also neutralize heavy metals and detoxify ammonia and nitrite.
  • Stress coat conditioners: These conditioners not only remove harmful chemicals but also help reduce stress and promote the healing of fish wounds.

When choosing a water conditioner, consider the specific needs of your fish and the quality of your tap water. It’s important to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure the proper dosage.

8. Do I need a water test kit?

A water test kit is an essential tool for monitoring the water parameters in your fish tank. It allows you to measure important parameters such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. Regular testing helps ensure the water quality remains within the appropriate range for your fish.

There are different types of water test kits available, including liquid test kits and test strips. Liquid test kits are generally more accurate and provide more precise readings. Test strips, on the other hand, offer convenience and are easier to use.

Investing in a water test kit is highly recommended for beginners, as it helps you understand the water chemistry of your tank and take appropriate actions to maintain a healthy environment for your fish.

9. Should I use a gravel vacuum?

A gravel vacuum is a useful tool for cleaning the substrate in your fish tank. It helps remove debris, uneaten food, and fish waste that can accumulate on the bottom of the tank. Regular use of a gravel vacuum helps maintain good water quality and prevents the buildup of harmful substances.

When using a gravel vacuum, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off any equipment, such as filters and heaters, to avoid damage.
  2. Place the vacuum into the tank and start a siphon by gently shaking the vacuum up and down.
  3. Move the vacuum over the substrate, allowing it to pick up any debris. Be careful not to disturb the fish or plants.
  4. Empty the collected debris into a bucket or sink.
  5. Repeat the process until you have cleaned the desired area of the tank.
  6. Turn on the equipment and monitor the tank for any changes in water parameters.

Regular use of a gravel vacuum helps maintain a clean and healthy environment for your fish.

10. What type of fish food should I use?

Choosing the right fish food is essential for the health and well-being of your fish. There are several types of fish food available, including:

  • Flakes: Flakes are a common type of fish food that is suitable for a wide range of fish species. They are easy to feed and provide a balanced diet.
  • Pellets: Pellets are another popular option and come in various sizes to accommodate different fish species. They are nutritionally dense and can sink or float depending on the type.
  • Frozen or freeze-dried: These foods offer a more natural diet and can be beneficial for certain fish species. They are typically available in the form of bloodworms, brine shrimp, or daphnia.
  • Live food: Live food, such as brine shrimp or blackworms, can be a treat for your fish and provide additional nutrients. However, they require more effort to maintain and may carry the risk of introducing diseases.

When choosing fish food, consider the dietary needs of your fish species. Some fish are herbivores, while others are carnivores or omnivores. It’s important to provide a varied diet to ensure your fish receive all the necessary nutrients.

Remember to feed your fish in moderation and avoid overfeeding, as it can lead to water quality issues. Observe your fish’s behavior and adjust the feeding schedule accordingly.


Setting up a beginner fish tank requires careful consideration of various essential items. From choosing the right tank size to selecting the appropriate filter, heater, substrate, lighting, and plants, each component plays a crucial role in creating a healthy and thriving aquatic environment.

Additionally, using water conditioners, regularly testing the water parameters, and maintaining proper cleaning practices with a gravel vacuum are essential for maintaining optimal water quality. Finally, providing the right type of fish food ensures the nutritional needs of your fish are met.

By following these guidelines and providing the necessary items, you can create a beautiful and successful beginner fish tank that will bring joy and fascination to both you and your fish.

For more information on setting up your first fish tank, check out our articles on the best beginner fish tanks and a comprehensive guide to setting up your first fish tank.