Fish are often considered to be ooze-free, easy to keep pets. But creating a home for them is a large project and can be complicated.

Before purchasing fish to live in your aquarium, you should learn as much as you can about setting up a healthy environment for them.

Below you will find a handy checklist and detailed instructions on what to look for when buying your first aquarium. 

Aquarium Supplies Checklist

  • Aquarium
  • Aquarium Stand
  • Decorations/plants
  • Filtration system
  • Fishnet
  • Heater
  • Hood/lid
  • Light
  • Water test kit
  • Thermometer
  • Water bucket: 5 gallon
  • Water conditioner

Find the perfect size aquarium

  • Choose the right size aquarium. The first step in creating a successful aquarium for your home is choosing the best-sized tank for your space and budget. Fish tanks range from small, five-gallon aquariums to massive ones that can be as large as a human body. Once you’ve decided how much area you have available in your home (you might need a bookshelf or another piece of furniture to put it on), choose an aquarium that will fit in this space and leave room for maintenance, such as cleaning and fish feeding.
  • Determine the right size for your tank. Whether you’re filling it with goldfish or tropical fish, saltwater or freshwater, a 2½-gallon tank is perfect for beginners who want a small but impactful accent piece in their home, while those looking to make a bigger statement should consider a 55-gallon tank to fill with bright tropical fish or elegant goldfish.
  • Pick the best placement for your new tank. While some people opt to use an empty corner of their house as their new pet’s habitat, others find that placing the tank near the door creates interest without becoming an eyesore like most traditional decor pieces do when placed there. After all, it’s not often you see someone with an empty corner who needs something cute and unexpected to brighten up their space!

Choose an aquarium stand.

Your aquarium stand should be sturdy. It should not wobble. You do not want your aquarium to fall and break, spilling water all over your floor or carpet, possibly injuring a pet or child. It is also important for the aquarium stand to be the correct size for the aquarium. A small stand would not support a large aquarium, and a large stand would look disproportionate with a small aquarium. Finally, it is essential that your aquarium stand is waterproof because water could damage it if it isn’t waterproof.

Type of fish you want to keep.

If you’re a beginner, it’s advisable to stick to common freshwater tank fish. These include goldfish (which require more space to live comfortably), tropical fish (which require a heater), and many others. To determine how many fish you can keep in your tank, you’ll have to do some calculations based on the volume of water in the tank and the size of the fish. The general rule is not to stock more than one fish for every gallon of water in your aquarium, but this will change based on the type of fish you’re using. You also don’t want to mix species that are incompatible with each other (such as aggressive fish with peaceful ones).

What types of aquarium decorations do I need?

Pick a hood, lights, and accessories.

Next, you’ll need to purchase a hood for your tank. A hood is basically a flat top that covers the back and sides of the aquarium. It will provide some light and keep fish from jumping out of the water. Most tanks come with integrated hoods, but if yours doesn’t, or you want something nicer, you can always get a separate hood that fits your tank’s dimensions.

If it’s not already installed, put in your light and turn it on before adding any fish. The right lighting will make plants grow faster (which helps keep water clean), and also makes any fish look more attractive. Make sure it provides enough light for the plants you’re growing and turn it on for four hours per day (a timer is helpful).

Finally, add the accessories like thermometers, gravel vacuums, extra decorations—anything else you may have picked up at the pet store.

Purchase a water test kit.

Testing water in a newly set up aquarium is critical. You should have kits to test for ammonia, nitrite, and pH, at a minimum.

You should use it-
-once a week to establish a baseline of your aquarium water quality
-before performing water changes to ensure you have treated the water appropriately.
-after performing water changes to make sure the new water is appropriate for the fish.
-if the fish are acting strangely (for example, spending more time at the surface).

If the test results show something unexpected or different than usual, immediately perform a 25% water change and retest in 1 hour.

Get a heater, thermometer and water conditioner.

If you’re putting tropical fish in your aquarium, the tank should be set up to match the temperature preferences of those species. A heater and a thermometer will therefore be essential for most tropical fish keepers. These devices allow you to maintain a consistent temperature within the range required by your particular fish. Since temperature is such an important factor for the health of your fish, having these items is non-negotiable. Each species of fish has an optimum temperature range to maintain health. Most fish require a temperature of about 74 to 77 degrees F.

Filtration System for aquarium

You must have a filtration system in order to keep the water clean, which will keep your fish healthy! It helps remove waste products like fish poo, uneaten food and other contaminants. If you don’t want to put your fish in a dirty tank, invest in a good filtration system. The size of the filter must be appropriate for the size of the aquarium. For example, a 10-gallon tank should have a filter with a flow rate of at least 40 gallons per hour.

Add live plants or decorations.

Whether you choose live plants or decorations, you need to consider the type of fish that will be in the tank. If your tank is going to house fish that like to hide in caves, then you would put a cave-like structure in your aquarium. Also think about what your fish like to eat. For example, if they are herbivores (eat plants), then live plants are good for them.

If you choose live plants for your aquarium, more care is required for them than decorations. Live plants help keep carbon dioxide out of the water and produce oxygen so that the fish can survive.

Be sure anything placed into your aquarium, whether rocks, wood, or other decor items, are safe for the fish, and is thoroughly rinsed before adding them into the aquarium.

Gravel or sand for your aquarium floor.

Selecting gravel or sand for your aquarium floor is a matter of personal preference. If you want to grow plants, sand is a better substrate because it doesn’t hold roots back as much as gravel. Also, your fish will have more room to swim and display their beautiful colors if they are not swimming in an area filled with large pieces of gravel and rocks. Sand is also easier to clean than gravel, especially when you use an under-gravel filter. However, if you choose sand as your substrate, be careful not to purchase too fine a grade–if the particles are too small they may become suspended in the water column which will cause the water to appear cloudy.

Sand is an ideal substrate for fish that like to burrow, such as loaches and catfish. Unless you want a very natural look for your tank, don’t use beach sand or construction sand from outside; these types of sands often contain salt which can harm freshwater fish. Choose either color-enhanced aquarium gravel or plain white play sand from home improvement stores; both substrates are safe for your fish and plants.


A good fishnet is an important tool for all aquarium owners, as it can be used to snag any debris that makes its way into the water. It’s also useful when a fish escapes your tank and you need to catch it without harming it.

When picking out a good fishnet, pay attention to two things:

  • Size: The size of your fishnet should be appropriate for the types of fish you have in your tank. Larger, tropical fish are going to require a bigger net than smaller ones, so make sure you pick out something big enough for them.
  •  Better yet, get two nets. Catching fish is easier with two nets, and it’s always wise to have a spare net on hand.


A gravel vacuum or gravel siphon can make water changes less messy. A siphon tool uses gravity to vacuum the gravel and remove water. Some models come with a release valve so that the vacuumed water doesn’t splash back into the aquarium. Monthly water changes are made easier when vacuuming the gravel; it’s as simple as rinse and replace. Be sure to add dechlorinator when refilling the tank with tap water.

Water Bucket

Just because everyone has one doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you to recycle one. Because there may be chemicals on the inside of the bucket that can harm your fish. so get a bucket that’s only for your aquarium.

And there you have it—the complete aquarium checklist for beginners! Now that you’re armed with all of the details, the only thing left to do is get your hands dirty.

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