what do you need for a fish tank

What Do you Need for a Fish Tank ? | 7 Must-Have Items

If you have asked yourself the question, “what do you need for a fish tank?” you’re not alone. In this guide, I’ll give you a complete guide to putting together what you will need for your fish tank.

I’ve been setting up Aquariums for the last five years and I’m constantly learning. It’s going to be a pleasure sharing with you what I’ve developed as my setup guide.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

What is important for your setup and other supplies that are considered optional add-ons.

What do you need for a fish tank?

We will discuss the following fish tank additions and accessories in detail:

  • Aquarium/fish tank
  • Filtration system (I always recommend a canister filter)
  • Heater
  • Water Conditioner for Fish
  • Plants
  • Substrate
  • Lighting

Important Factors to consider when setting up your tank

The one factor: Always be open to experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try new things and methods. Have fun. You’ll continuously keep getting better at this.

Questions to Ask Before You Start

  • What are the upkeep and habitat requirements of the fish I will be stocking?
  • Does my schedule allow me to look after the fish?
  • What kind of initial purchase and maintenance costs are required?

How to Find the Right Equipment (Our Buying Guide and Reviews)

All About Tanks

fish tank air ta

You can answer the question, “what do you need for a fish tank?” without first getting a nodding acquaintance with fish tanks.

Aquariums come in many sizes and shapes, with the most common materials they’re made of being glass and acrylic. Your best choice would be to go for a glass tank and this review will soon show you why this is the best option.

The belief that larger (here we are not talking about the overly large-sized tanks commonly found in commercial Aquariums) tanks do necessarily require more maintenance than smaller tanks, is not true.

One important point to note is that it is much easier to keep your tank’s water chemistry stable for a large tank than for a smaller one. With smaller water quantities a small chemical composition change in the water will result in a more profound change in the overall concentration.

Most of the routine tank maintenance will not translate to double the work because the tank is double the size. The quantity of fish a tank can optimally hold will not only depend on the tank’s water volume but also on the type of fish in the tank.

See also: How to eliminate air bubbles in fish tank

A good example is some fish which spend their entire lives near the bottom of the tank.

Having a tank with a higher wall and hence more water capacity, will still not increase your tank’s capacity for holding the no of this type of fish.

Actually, a tank’s surface area is more crucial than the volume when calculating how much fish your tank can hold.

1. Glass tanks

Glas tanks are the most popular and of the reasons is that they are hard to scratch and glass also tends to give a clear view of the tank.

2. Acrylic Tanks

These tanks are light and easy to fabricate though they have a serious flow in that, over time they become brittle and turn yellowish.

Pro Tip

  • It’s best to always start out with a large tank if you eventually plan to have more fish. This will save you the hustle of buying a new tank and maybe items such as the filter depending on the capacity of your new tank.
  • Less water in the tank translates directly to less oxygen level in the water which means that the same surface area will reduce the oxygen intake levels. This is not an ideal environment for your Fish’s survival..

Fish tank filtration system (I always recommend a canister filter)

filtration system

What do you need for a fish tank as regards filtration systems? There are three filtration types all achieved with different processes and technologies.

See also: What is a 20 gallon fish tank good for?

Biological Filtration

Biological filtration works by decomposing the toxic ammonia waste that fish produce. This type of filtration is not optional and all fish tanks must have it.

But on the flip side, this is also the cheapest, most reliable and most efficient process to keep your tank water clean.

Excess food, plant debris and other organic material that decay in the tank are also converted to ammonia. Also through their respiration process, fish produce ammonia directly both as a by-product.

The build-up of ammonia in the tank is one of the highest causes of fish deaths in tanks.

Mechanical Filtration

Mechanical filtration involves moving the tank water through a material that acts like a sieve and catches solids and removes them from the water. This helps remove particles from the tank before they decompose into ammonia.

For this reason, the most filter material is designed to catch only the larger, more visible solids.

Of course, as the filter material catches large particles, the openings in the material through which the water flows become increasingly smaller and thus trap increasingly smaller particles. The material does clog eventually, but it takes much longer.

Chemical filtration

Aquariums require chemical filtration to remove a number of invisible compounds dissolved in the water that cannot be removed by mechanical filtration.

This filtration will help remove heavy metals, and residual fish medicine from the water, it is also useful for cleaning tap water before it goes into the tank as it may contain a wide range of dissolved contaminants.

While these compounds are not toxic to the fish directly, they can inhibit their growth and cause chronic, low-level stress that eventually leads to disease. Most of these compounds are dissolved organic substances produced by natural biological decay.

If the dissolved organic matter is not removed regularly, then it gradually reaches concentration levels high enough and becomes visible as a yellow tinge in the water.

These compounds are not toxic to the fish but can inhibit their growth and cause chronic, low-level stress that eventually leads to disease. Most of these compounds are dissolved organic substances produced by natural biological decay.

Fish Tank Heater

Battery Powered Stock Tank Heater

Aquarium Heaters are not considered as optional equipment if a tank is stocked with tropical fish species and you are not living in the tropics.

Heaters will maintain an ideal habitat for your fish during winter and protect them from eventual death or freezing to death directly. So what do you need for a fish tank when it comes to heaters?

Common heater types

Immersion heaters
These are mostly made of glass and are very popular due to their efficiency and ease of deployment.

1. Under gravel Heaters

These ones are commonly made out of flexible heating tubes that can be buried in the tank’s substrate. They are popular for use in heavily planted tanks with the flexible tubing facilitating a more even distribution of heat on the tank’s floor.

Pro Tip

Always invest in a quality heater for your tank. Failure/Malfunctioning of your heater will usually be a matter of life or death for your fish. Battery-powered heaters may be a good choice if you are looking for a place to start.

Water Conditioner for Fish

Water conditioners are great for treating tap water so that it becomes safe for your fish. This is achieved by the conditioner neutralizing chlorine and other chemicals in the water.

What do you need for a fish tank water conditioning?


Aquarium plants

Real Plants (Live Plants)

Real plants may be good to look at, but they also do require quite some maintenance to keep them healthy and your tank clean.

Some plants will also change colour with time depending on their age or because of other factors e.g. the contamination of the water in your tank.

Plastic plants

The advantage of plastic plants is that they require zero maintenance once they have been placed in the tank. These plants also offer a wide range of colours as they also come in colours that are not available in nature.

If you buy a decent quality you can be sure they will not change colour any time soon. Probably not even in your lifetime.

There are two kinds of plants (depending on who you talk to): real and plastic. Both kinds provide decoration and hiding places for fish. Plastic plants are (obviously) easier to maintain.

Although it is possible to grow real plants in an aquarium, it is not always trivial to do so (e.g., plants have special lighting requirements). If you are at all interested in trying to grow real plants, consult the plant section before purchasing your tank and hood.


One of the uses of the substrate is decoration of the tank. The substrate is available in many colours and textures and in skilful hands, it can greatly transform the aesthetics of your tank.

But great care should also be exercised when choosing the substrate to use as some have sharp edges which may not be ideal for your fish, especially the bottom-dwelling breeds.

If you have not sourced your substrate from a reputable store, it might be a good idea to thoroughly wash it before putting it in your tank.

It also would not be considered too extreme if you were also to boil it first as this would kill any harmful bacteria it may contain.

The substrate is also useful for a planted tank as it holds the plant’s roots.


Lighting is good for your tank as it brings out the colour of your fish and makes your tank great to look at even with the lights dimmed or off in your room.

It is also great for your planted tank as it supports the growth of your plants. You should take into consideration that too much light will not be comfortable for your fish.

Avoid incandescent bulbs as they give off too much heat and this will raise the temperature of your tank considerably and that is not good for your fish.

I did say light is good for your tank but unfortunately, it also presents a very ideal environment for algae to grow in your tank which can be another major headache.

Additional Fish Tank Supplies

Automatic Fish Feeder

automatic fish feeder

If you have a busy schedule or are the forgetful type, I am one, this is a great buy as it ensures your fish will not skip meals.

Automatic fish feeders such as this Eheim fish feeder also come with the added function of releasing to the tank a preset amount of food. This will help keep your tank clean as excess food released into the tank ends up decomposing and contaminating the tank.

Test Kits

It is a good idea to equip yourself with a test kit to enable you to regularly check the quality of your tank water.
siphon (gravel vacuum)


This come in handy when you want to carry out some maintenance on your tank or just want the fish out of the tank for any other reason.

One can do but two fishnets make work easier as you use one net to herd the fish into the other net. Remember to buy a fishnet appropriately sized for your fish.

See also: Buddha fish tank ideas

Fish tank stand

Lastly but not least, do remember that you will require to have somewhere to place your fish tank. Be it a table, shelf, ready-made stand or other surfaces.

Take into consideration the size of your tank and its weight when filled with water and your fish stock.

Where do you buy all these equipment

Most local Pet stores will usually have all the above equipment and more in stock.

Another option is to order all this equipment online. Buying online saves the hustle of physically visiting stores to compare brands and hunt for bargains.

Shopping online in the mainstream stores also gives you the opportunity to select your equipment from numerous suppliers/manufacturers.

What to Expect

You may face some minor challenges when setting up your first tank, but ultimately you should have a lot of fun and satisfaction doing these.

Mistakes you Should Avoid

Not making a list of the items you require before you go shopping.

Double check the compatibility of all the equipment you will be buying.

Take things easy. This may seem overwhelming initially but once you get rolling You’ll start loving this journey.


WikiHow.Pet: How to Set Up an Aquarium

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