What Do You Need For A Fish Tank? (Complete) Checklist

If you’ve ever thought about keeping fish, then you’ve probably asked yourself: what does it take to put an aquarium together? You might have wondered where to start or how to go about choosing the right equipment. Maybe you’ve even thought about the maintenance and how to keep it in good condition. If you’ve ever thought about any of this, then you’ve come to the right place. We did some research and came up with a list of everything you need to get your fish tank going and keep it running.

The Quick List

No matter what species of fish you want, there are four essential parts to the set up.

Tank and Tank-stand: Tanks come in all shapes and sizes, but ultimately, picking a tank is about how you envision it in your house. A Tank stand can be custom made or just a repurposed piece of furniture. It must be solid, durable, and strong enough to bear the weight of the tank.

Hoods, Lights, and Gravel: The hood and the light are the building blocks of the tank. Once you have them, you have the backbone of the tank. Gravel is ornamental and practical. It makes great decoration and acts as a powerful filter of bacteria and debris.

Filter, Thermometer, Heater: It’s important to keep the tank water clean and adjusted to the fish’s body temperature. Tropical fish need their water heated. A filter, a thermometer, and a heater create and maintain the right environment for your fish.

Water Siphon, Algae Scrubber, Test-Kit, a Bucket, and a Fish Net: In some ways, cleaning the tank is the most important part of fish-ownership. Done regularly, it is a manageable—and fairly minimal—commitment. Cleaning a tank means emptying part of the water with a siphon, scrubbing algae from its sides, and topping it off with fresh tank-water. You will also need a large bucket, a water test-kit, and at least one fish net.

The Tank and the Stand; Setting it Up Right

Choosing the tank: Different tanks are made for different types of fish. They range from basic designs to extremely elaborate structures, built for aquatic research. Fortunately, it’s not hard to figure out which type you should be getting. Most fish fall into the category of cold-water or fresh-water. If you think you want to try more specialized aquariums, consult your local pet-store. As a beginner, it may be unwise to start out with anything too sophisticated.

The most important thing is to find a tank that can be fitted with equipment. Jars and glass bowls from your cabinet are not stable options. But tanks do come in all shapes and sizes. You may want something small for a dresser or coffee table, or you may want something big to hold more fish. Whatever you want, as long as the tank is well-made and gives the fish enough space, you can’t really go wrong. As for material, tanks are made with either glass or acrylic. Glass is heavier and breaks more easily, but it scratches less and is the more reliable option.

The tank stand: Tank stands can be custom-made or just regular pieces of furniture. Whatever you decide to use, the most important thing is that it can bear the weight of the tank. Remember, large tanks can be extremely heavy. If you have a tank of 20g or more, consider investing in something professional.

Hoods, Lights, and Gravel

Choosing between two kinds of hoods: Hoods prevent water evaporation, making for fewer water changes and less humidity (they also keep the fish from jumping out). Full tank hoods are generally made of plastic. They cover the tank completely and come with a built-in tank light. Partial hoods—also called canopies—are made of glass. They cover about two-thirds of the tank and require light to be put in separately. If you’re interested in growing plants in the tank, a canopy is your best bet. They can be fitted with a stronger light fixture and make it very easy to change out the bulb. If you’re not growing plants, however, a full hood will be perfectly adequate.

Lights and gravel: Led lights are preferable to incandescent bulbs. They use less electricity and don’t get so hot. Lights can occasionally overheat a fish tank. If you don’t have live plants, don’t choose too strong a bulb. You can get gravel from anywhere. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the pH of the tank’s water, it is safe to use. Not only does gravel makes the tank look more complete, it also gives plants something to take root in. Best of all, it is an effective filter. Water flowing through it disrupts bacteria and prevents the formation of algae and mold. Dark shades of gravel usually set the fish off to best advantage

Keeping the Water Clean and Heated

Filtering the water: Filters keep the water moving and relatively free of debris. There are a couple methods of filtration, namely: biological, chemical, and mechanical. The filter you find at the pet store will probably use all three. The one it absolutely must use is biological. Otherwise, toxic ammonia will develop in the tank. Filters require cleaning, or in some cases, changing. This is not hard, and it ensures that the bacteria they are filtering out doesn’t get clogged inside them.

Heating the water: For the fish’s safety, the water must remain at an appropriate temperature. Most tropical fish need the water heated to 74-78 degrees F. If you live in a very cold house, you might need a more powerful heater. Smaller ones are better on the whole, however, since they are less of a problem when they malfunction.

Thermometers: Thermometers tell you that the water temperature is right. There are a few different kinds. Liquid crystal (LCD) thermometers that stick on the outside of the tank, floating thermometers that go inside, and expensive digital thermometers that attach a probe on the inside to an apparatus outside. Most tank owners opt for the liquid crystal kind, but if you’re anxious to get a very precise temperature reading, you might want to look into the other two.

All the Cleaning Equipment You’ll Need

Organizing your cleaning: People clean tanks different ways. Some like to change 10-15% of the water each week. Some like to change 20% every two weeks. Some like to scrub it down every two weeks, some like to do it every three weeks. How you organize your cleaning is your decision. You’ll soon find out how much cleaning your tank needs and how you like to fit it into your routine.

Water siphons: Water siphons are the best way to remove water from the tank. If you have a big tank (20-40 gallons), you can get a hose to attach to the siphon that will speed it up. Siphons also function as gravel vacuums, stirring up gravel and siphoning debris. If you don’t want to change water manually, look into getting an automatic water changing system.

Bucket for water changes: Designate a large bucket for water changes. If you use an ordinary bucket from the laundry room, you might mix dangerous chemicals into your tank-water. Before you use tap-water to replenish your tank, you’ll need to let it sit in a bucket for a couple days, long enough for the pH to reach the appropriate level.

Algae Scrubber: Scouring pads and scrubbers are good tools for removing algae. They should also be designated for tank use only, not re-used for a multitude of cleaning purposes. For algae that is particularly difficult to get off, try using a straight edge. Just be careful that you don’t scratch the sides of the tank when you apply it.

Test-kit and fish net: Testing the water ensures that no unwanted chemicals have gotten into the tank. A regular kit will tell you if the pH is right. When you take your fish out to clean the tank, it’s safer to steer it into a jar with the net than simply to pick it up with it.

Optional Materials: Improving and Decorating

You’re ready to set your tank up and keep it going! Now you can decorate and personalize any way you choose. There are a thousand options for decorations, but here’s a quick run-down.

Natural objects: Rocks such as lava quartz and slate add new shades to the aquarium and don’t affect the water’s chemical makeup (if you found them in nature, do make sure you wash them off before putting them in). Shells, bits of drift wood, and other seaside items can also spruce up the design.

Plants: If you are interested in growing plants in your aquarium, you can make a real mini-garden in the aquarium. Live plants need special lighting and care, but they add a lot to the look. Plastic plants are another option for bringing green into the tank.

Decorative items: Pet stores sell a range of toys you can add to your aquarium. Some people choose to make a theme with the objects, and even decorate the area around the tank to match it. You can change out decorations as often or as seldom as you choose. There’s no way to go wrong.

Air pump: An air pump is optional, but it helps maintain the oxygen level and moves water into the filter. If you see on your tests that the oxygen is low or feel that the water isn’t circulating well, look into adding one of these. They attach to the top of the tank and move the water with a small inserted tube.


Now you’re ready to get your aquarium up and running! Go ahead and put your ideas into action. Remember, aquariums are adaptable. If you decide later you want more fish, want to change the display, or even change parts of the equipment, you can. Aquariums are projects that stay with you as long as you want them to.

If you have any further questions, please, leave a comment, and we’ll answer you to the very best of our ability.

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