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How to Set Up a Goldfish Tank – A Complete Guide

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So, you’re thinking about setting up a new goldfish tank?

That’s great!

You’ll want to make sure you do things right so you can have a happy, healthy pet.

I’m going to give you some pointers so you can get off to a fantastic start!

The best part?

It’s really not that hard.

Let’s dive right in:

1. Choosing Your Goldfish Tank

There are a few things to consider when picking out your aquarium.


(This is probably one of THE most important things you’ll want to get right from the start.)


You’ll save time, money and do your fish a big favor.

I highly recommend people get the biggest tank they can afford when they’re starting out.

The bigger tank you get, the more fish you can keep.

And trust me, you will probably fall in love with another fish.

And another… and another…

Bigger tanks can even be easier to maintain than small ones, because the larger water volume dilutes the waste products.

This means less frequent cleaning than a smaller tank (with the same number of fish).

Lots of folks start out with a small tank, then realize they need to upgrade.

So be sure to calculate the volume of water you’ll need to support the number of goldies you intend to keep.

What exactly is that?

Well, it’s not a simple black and white answer like you might think.

Check out our article on tank size to see why.


Aquariums come in to main materials:

Glass or acrylic.

Which one is best?

I like (and use) both, but I’m crazy about the Seaclear acrylic aquarium line.  These tanks are super lightweight, strong and don’t have a distracting trim.

Glass tanks can be more affordable (especially if used), but watch out for leaks.

You can do a leak test by filling the tank with water outdoors or in a garage for 24 hours as a preventative.

Tank Stand

You’ll also want to get a stand to put it on.

good stand will support the number of gallons you are going to have.

Plus, there are different styles to choose from, depending on your preferences.

Some are cabinet-style, allowing you to store your equipment and/or filters underneath.  Others are open, which can allow you to stack tanks or leave it open for a minimal look.


Where should you put your new aquarium?

Good question.

Placing it in a source of strong light – direct or indirect – can lead to algae problems and an unstable temperature.

You’ll want to make sure the surface is level to avoid placing uneven stress on the aquarium bottom.

In a corner or against a wall is ideal (that’s where the floor is strongest).

And of course, you’ll need to be close to an outlet and a source of water.

Oh, and one more thing…

The area should be able to tolerate a water spill.  It happens to the most careful of us!

2. Filtration for the Aquarium

Do you have to have a filter for your goldfish aquarium?

For most of us, the answer is a definite YES.

A good filter reduces the maintenance you have to do on your tank (i.e. water changes), keeping your fish safe for longer.

There are many options for you to choose from, depending on your aesthetic preferences and budget (as well as the amount of work you want to do).

The kind of filter you get has a big impact on your workload as well.

I’ve spent a long time researching and testing different filters so I can give you the lowdown.

You can check out the most useful filter options for goldfish here.


Filter Media

Most filters require some additional filter media to work how they should.

Filter media provides home for beneficial bacteria to live!

Those bacteria are what keep your aquarium safe for goldfish for a longer period of time (until you need to do a water change).

I like the kind that not only removes ammonia and nitrite, but nitrATE as I talk about in this article on filter media.

3. Aquarium Substrate

What substrate is best for your new goldfish’s home?

Whatever you choose…

PLEASE don’t get regular aquarium gravel.

It is the perfect size to get stuck in the mouth of your goldfish.  I’ve talked to so many goldfish owners over the years who lost their fish from choking on gravel.

Many times by the time they found out… the damage had been done.

Not only that, but gravel traps waste like nobody’s business.

Of course, bare-bottom is the easiest to keep clean…

But it’s kind of boring for your fish (and for you to look at).


Goldfish are foraging creatures by nature, so they need a substrate that won’t lodge in their mouth and that stays clean.

Aquarium sand is an excellent option.

The waste sits on top, easily vacuumed when needed, and goldfish can spit it out easily.

I love Caribsea aquarium sand.  I use several of their varieties, but am especially partial to Crystal River due to its larger grain size that doesn’t suck up easily in the siphon.

There are also other options if you want to get creative, such as a reverse-flow undergravel filter with denitrifying filter media.

See More: Best Substrate for Goldfish Aquariums

4. Plants & Decorations for Your Tank

Get this:

Goldfish who have more complex environments tend to live longer lives.

So the more interesting you can make your tank’s aquascape

… The better it is for your fish!

I’m not fond of plastic decorations (and it’s doubtful that goldfish are).

As much as you can try to recreate a natural habitat, the better – and happier – your fish will be ?

Every goldfish tank looks better with some live plants!

They also have a beneficial effect on the nitrogen cycle.

Read more: Live plants that are goldfish-friendly.

To add an even more realistic look, you might consider using aquarium-safe rocks (in moderation).

Oh, what about that background?

Not all tanks need them, but the right one can really elevate your aquascape to the next level.

Here’s my favorite realistic background for goldfish tanks.

5. Lighting for Aquariums

Did you know that light actually plays an important role in the health of your fish?

That’s right…

Goldfish NEED light.

They use it to create essential vitamins and display more vibrant colors.

Full-spectrum lighting should be a part of every tank that does not receive much natural light to prevent your fish from having deficiencies (or even turning white!).

Light will also encourage plant growth in your system.

Read More: Goldfish Tank Light for Healthy Fish & Plants

6. Temperature

Goldfish have temperature requirements that can differ from other species of fish.

If you keep fancy goldfish, you’ll probably want a heater for your goldfish.

That’s because fancies are delicate, and do better in warmer water that doesn’t have much fluctuation.

You’ll want to get a good quality brand that won’t blow out or fail after a few months.

A heater is also very useful to have on hand in case your fish gets sick (some sicknesses can be helped with raising the temperature of the water).

Under normal circumstances, slim-bodied breeds aren’t so picky and do fine in cooler water.

7. Preparing Your Tank’s Water for Goldfish

Got your equipment, decor and filtration for your tank?

You’re now ready to add water!


It’s not as simple as just adding water before you add your fish.

Goldfish need proper water conditions, and tap water contains chlorine and chloromines.  These will burn your fish alive and have to be removed.

A good water conditioner is Prime.  It totally removes those, in addition to temporarily detoxifying deadly ammonia and nitrite.

Next, I recommend testing your tap water first before you even add fish to make sure it’s safe.

To do that, you’ll want to get a test kit.

Your water may have a low pH and need buffering.  Your water may be too soft.

The only way to know is a test!

Done? Great!


You still aren’t ready to add your fish yet.

A new tank has no beneficial bacteria in it. ZERO.

This means it’s UNcycled.

Without a colony of beneficial bacteria to process the waste, your fish will very quickly poison themselves and die (called New Tank Syndrome).


You can cycle the tank (a 4-6 week long process of adding liquid ammonia until you grow your culture) to prevent New Tank Syndrome.

But there is a workaround.

I recommend adding a high-performance bacteria “jump start” called ATM Colony for every new tank.

It really shortens the time frame of being in the risk zone.

I also add StressZyme to every new tank to help keep any emerging bad bacteria problems low.  New fish are also prone to sickness just from the stress of being transported to your house.

Okay, you can add your fish now ?

Be sure to do lots of big water changes every other day for a while until your colony has completely grown.  And feed sparingly!

Overfeeding is a major cause of problems in a young system.

It’s important to test the water EVERY DAY for a new goldfish tank.  Be sure to check ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, GH and KH levels to ensure they are in the safe zone for your goldfish.

Once your tank has been running for a couple months or so, you can cut it back to weekly water tests for everything but pH (check that daily).

Now it’s Your Turn

Are you thinking about setting up a new tank for goldfish?

Did this article help you know what you need?

Drop me a line to share your feedback in the comments section below.

I always love hearing from you!

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