Gold Fish Tank Set Up - Your Step-by-Step Guide

An aquarium is the home of your goldfish. It's important to set it up correctly so that you wont have aquarium maintenance problems later. Your fish will eat, sleep and play here, expecting you provide a healthy environment to live in. I want you to be successful with your freshwater fish tank set up.

Imagine if you could never live your house and that all the food and waste products you had stayed with you 24/7. You would want that house to be as large as possible, comfortable and well-maintained. Imagine you could only breathe the air that was inside the house. You could never go outside. Welcome to the world of aquarium fish.

Minimum Tank Size

Keep in mind that larger tanks are easier to take care of than smaller ones. The reason that large tanks are less trouble because there is more water volume for waste dispersal, more surface area for oxygen and a stable environment.

It's important to decide what kind of fish you want to keep before your fish tank set up can start. Some fish only grow an inch or two, whereas other types like goldfish can grow 10-12 inches or more in length.

The rule of thumb is one inch of fish per gallon of water. Unfortunately this does not apply to for goldfish because they need quite a bit of room and can outgrow a 10 gallon tank quickly.

When keeping goldfish, many experts have found that a minimum size of 10 gallons(38 liters) to be acceptable for one small goldfish. I happily endorse bigger tanks where possible and if your budget will allow.

It's a good idea to start with a fish tank somewhere between small and large - between 20 and 55 gallons can give you a good range of options without being too demanding in terms of maintenance. The golden rule is to have 10 gallons of water for each goldfish - minimum!

Please check out this video by AquaViva for some inpiration.

Tall tanks are attractive to look, but that offer less surface area than wider, lower tanks. Surface area - the surface of your water - is where gas exchange occurs; where oxygen enters your water and waste gases escape.

One very popular gold fish tank set up is the 30 gallon tank housing 2 small goldfish, usually twin tailed varieties.

What Equipment You'll Need

You need to have the entire aquarium equipment purchased, ready and set up at least 1-2 weeks prior to choosing your goldfish. You want to ensure you have the tank, filter and pump working properly.

The following list is essential for all fish keepers and you'll need to be familiar with all items and plan your budget on what to shop for:

  1. Aquarium with cover/lid

    A fitted cover for the aquarium prevents evaporation or your goldfish from jumping out of the tank. The cover will also protect your goldfish from other household pets like cats and it stops insects and dust. The cover is the best place to contain the UV light for you to see your fish.

  2. Aquarium stand

    The aquarium stand holds the aquarium and can be made of a variety of materials. Depending on aquarium size you can place it on a table with strong legs. If it can perfectly withstand your weight, it can hold an aquarium. Keep in mind that a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. Add in the gravel, decorations, water filters, heaters and other additions and even a 10 gallon aquarium can easily exceed 100 pounds! The surface must be level and very sturdy.

  3. A fixed kitchen work top is a suitable surface to use. Unless you can make one yourself or have something else to hand you need to purchase a stand for your goldfish tank.

  4. Aquarium filter

    Essential for removing floating debris from your tank as well as populating it with healthy bacteria necessary for the health of your fish. Internal filters contain a washable replaceable sponge.

  5. Air pump

    The water in your tank needs to have oxygen, more than the surface can prodives. This way your fish get plenty of oxygen so they won't suffocate. You also need to plug in an air stone that brings all the bubbles in the water.

  6. Light

    You want to see your fish clearly, so you'll need a fluorescent light that is pre-fitted to the lid.

  7. Gravel cleaner

    Allows you to siphon off dirty water and remove debris within the gravel. It's important to have this when doing regular water changes as part of your outgoing maintenance for the fish.

  8. Fish food

    You want to get a supply that lasts one to two months. More than that and they will go soft and damp overtime. Buy small amounts in the beginning.

  9. Water conditioner

    It's always important to treat water that you add to the tank to remove the chlorinep harmful to fish. You can also purchase water filters and purify the water before adding it to the tank to reduce the chemicals needed.

  10. Healthy bacterial supplement

    Essential to create the right environment in your aquarium. This allows the tanks ecosystem to start to develop so it can support fish.

  11. Test kits

    You will need to check out the ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels along with a pH kit during the "cycling" phase of your aquarium.

  12. Gravel

    Natural gravel is darker and less prone to get algae growing on it. Sand and gravel are nicer to look than a bare tank floor. This is important if you want live plants in your aquarium. You need at least 2-3 inches to become a substrate.

  13. Heater

    You'll need a heater to maintain a consistent water temperature year round. Lager bodies of water take long time to cool down or warm up. Shifts in temperature that can occur from day to night are dangerous to fish.

  14. Plants and decorations

    Plants and decorations make your aquarium look more attractive and offer your fish a varied environment. Real of fake plants and decoration caves, tunnels or bridges relieve fish stress and make them feel safer.

    Aquarium backgrounds create an illusion of greater depth and can hide the cables and equipment behind the tank. Make sure your decorations are non-toxic and safe for your fish. Example: Sharp objects are harmful to fish like Black Moor or Bubble Eye goldfish.

  15. Fish net

    Allows you to pick up or move your goldfish safely when necessary. You can use the net to remove uneaten food.

  16. 5-Gallon bucket

    Get a plastic bucket to use exclusively for water changes and nothing else!

Placing Your Aquarium

The location where you place your fish tank is important for a number of reasons. Firstly you need to consider it doesn't matter if you spill some water during water changes. You can access at least one power point for the lighting, filtration and pump systems.

Second, you need to avoid placing your tank in the line of windows, fans or air conditioners, which can change the water temperature rapidly. If your tank is placed in direct sunlight, algae will overtake your aquarium.

A final consideration make sure you can find adequate room for the equipment to fit behind and on the sides of the tank. This way you can easily gain access for maintenance.

It's best to pick a permanent location where it will enhance the room by creating a clear view for everyone to enjoy.

Getting Your Tank Set Up and Running

It's important to do these steps in the following order:

  1. Time to decide where you want to put your aquarium. Place your aquarium stand and the tank on it in your desired location. Once it has water in it, you won't want to move or lift it.

  2. Clean your aquarium. Don't use soap or detergents, water only. An alternative to washing is using a piece of clean cloth to remove any dust.

  3. Be sure to wash the gravel in your sink at least 5 times and remove all the floating debris. Transport the clean gravel using a bucket.

  4. Wash out all the plants, decorations and rocks you want to add to your setup in your sink or bath tub.

  5. Place the clean gravel on the bottom of the aquarium. The gravel must be at least 2 inches deep to make a substrate.

  6. Add water to the aquarium. Ensure that no electrical equipment is plugged in. Fill up about 50% of the tank with cold tap water.

  7. Add your plants and decorations. Now you can resume filling your aquarium.

  8. Add the water conditioner(dechlorinator).

  9. Add the biological supplement for healthy bacteria.

  10. Set up equipment. Install your heater, pump and filter but don't plug it in yet. Place your hood and light on the aquarium.

  11. Ensure you have a safety "drip loop" with plenty of cable slack so that if water drains down the cable, it will fall on the floor instead of going into the outlet and causing an electrical short.

  12. Dry any water that has splashed outside of the tank.

  13. Plug all of the equipment and "turn on" your aquarium.

  14. You must wait until your aquarium has cycled before adding any fish. You may notice clowdy aquarium water after a few days, this means the fish tank cycle is kicking in.

Most beginners often haven't heard of the "cycling" process. Fish poop and the uneaten food create ammonia when they discompose. Ammonia is harmful to fish. Bacteria and water changes are the only way to remove ammonia. Bacteria converts the ammonia into nitrite and later into nitrate. Nitrates are not harmful in small amounts.

Cycling a tank can take up to 2-3 weeks. The water is safe for your fish when testing kits indicate Zero ammonia, Zero nitrite and a low nitrate levels. In the cycling process you ensure the tank has no leaks, water temperature becomes an even room-temperature, pump is working and water is well oxygenated.

Therefore, a proper fish tank set up is vital when keeping goldfish for years to come. While setting up and maintaining a fresh water tank might sound like a difficult task, if you follow these instructions you should be up and running in no time. You don't need to use a CMMS or maintenance management software to keep and maintain the tank. As long as you keep up the daily maintenance you should have a beautiful and healthy tank for your new fish.

Please check out this video by AquaViva on how to use a sponge filter.

Introduce your fish to the new aquarium

If all electrical equipment is working perfectly and water is safe, you can add your fish.

You need to have a sensible pre-planned way to get home. Return immediately from shop to home because the plastic bag has limited oxygen and it's stressful for the fish. Ensure the plastic bag is not in direct sunlight, use a large cardboard box.

Place the plastic bag on the water so that it floats. Allow the fish to adjust to the temperature of the tank water for about 15 minutes. Release your fish into the water.

Give the fish an hour to settle before turning the lights on. After 2 hours you can give them a tiny amount of food.

I recommend doing a 50% water change every other day for 2 weeks. Monitor your fish every day and make sure the water stays healthy for the fish. After 2 weeks do weekly water changes of 50-60%. Do not clean filter or sponge for at least a month, these are populated with healthy bacteria.

Feed your goldfish only as much as they can eat in 2 minutes. Remove all debris and uneaten food. Have fun, take care and enjoy your fish.

Quarantine / Hospital Tanks

Setting up a tank where you can quarantine new goldfish or treat sick ones is a must for all aquarists. This tank will be a temporary home for your goldfish.

If you're asking why you need this tank, I can tell you that it will serve double duty for you as it can become a quarantine tank or a hospital tank when needed. You will always need to quarantine new fish you want to add to your main aquarium/pond so that you can spot and cure any diseases. When you have a large community of goldfish and only 1-2 or 3 get sick, you need to treat them separate from the other fish.

This tank is very useful when breeding goldfish. You can move males or females in this tank to stimulate breeding. This will later become your fry tank where you will take care of the goldfish babies.

There are certain rules you need to follow when doing quarantine/hospital fish tank set up:

  • it must be aerated 24/7
  • large enough for the fish to swim freely
  • must have a cover
  • don't place in the sun
  • you will need to heat the water so that its temperature is similar to the main tank

The tank size depends on the number of fish you will be treating. A 10 gallon tank is perfect for small goldfish, a larger one needed for much bigger goldfish.

Basically, the hospital/quarantine tank should be exactly like your main tank, but smaller in size. Goldfish need oxygen so an air pump, air hose and air stone must be fitted. Adding a filter is not really necessary. In this case, you also don't need gravel, plants, or decoration. Water needs to be high quality and it needs to be changed when housing or treating sick goldfish.

Love to you,

Useful Articles

Goldfish Water | Quality and Maintenance
Essential Goldfish Care Guidelines
Feeding Goldfish The Healthy Way | Benefits and Tips

Image credits to: taariqq @ and John Voong