Setting up Your Underwater Playground

If you are setting up either a freshwater of saltwater aquarium, you are going to need a number of essential supplies.

Everything listed below is for both setups, however, if you are opting for a saltwater aquarium you are going to also need additional aquarium testing kits, a protein skimmer, and some live rock, which is an important biological filter.

Reference Books

The species of fish you choose will all have different needs in terms of water temperature, type, and quality, so the equipment outlined below is for general guidance. Whichever choice you make, freshwater or saltwater, will need to conduct research to ensure you make the healthcare of your fish the top priority.

Pick up some reference books which run you through everything you need to know. You can also get a fish atlas to check which species can be kept safely together, and learn more about their care.

Empty fish tank
The bigger the tank you can get, the better.

Aquarium Tank

The larger the tank, the better, but you need to weigh this against the space you have available. As a minimum most people can find space for a 20 gallon tank. Tanks are either glass or acrylic. While many people favor the former, if you have children, acrylic is probably a safer option as it won’t break. Tanks are heavy so you need to plan where you will place it.

In addition, acrylic tanks need support all the way along the bottom, not just at the edges.

Your aquarium will need a lid; sometimes these come with a light already fitted. A lid is needed to slow evaporation, and to prevent fish making a bid for freedom.

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Fluorescent lights are most effective.


If your tank doesn’t come already fitted with a light, you will need to purchase one separately. For the beginner, a fluorescent light is the best choice because the light is much cooler and it costs less to run.

Fish tank
All the water in the tank needs to run through the filter every four hours.


A filter is essential to keep your water clean and the fish healthy. There are many options available but a good choice for a beginner is a bio wheel system. The size of your tank must be matched by the size of your filter if it is to be effective. Filters come with varying flow rates, but ultimately your tank water needs to be filtered at least four times every hour.

As an example, if you have a 25 gallon tank you will need a filter with a flow rate of at least 100 gallons per hour.

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Thermometer submerged in water of fish tank.
You'll need to get a heater to help keep the water at the right temperature.


While fish have different needs in terms of temperature, the average is around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’re going to need a heater to keep the water in the right range.

Most heaters are either submersible or can be hung on the side of the tank. As a general guide the heater will need 5 watts per gallon for smaller tanks, and 3 watts per gallon for a larger tank. However, this depends on the temperature in your house so you are going to need to check the guidance notes on the heaters themselves before purchase.

Thermometer in fish tank.
Always make sure you have a thermometer so you can keep an eye on the temperature of the water.


These are either submersible or can just stick to the glass. The latter is usually going to be accurate unless you are keeping delicate fish that might be sensitive to small changes in water temperature.

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Water condition ensures the water is clean and your fish stay healthy.

Water Conditioner

All water must be purified before your fish can be added. Water conditioner will remove chlorine, heavy metals, and ammonia.

Testing kit
You'll need to purchase a testing kit to test the pH level of the water.

Testing Kits

One of the most important steps before you add your fish to the tank is to test the water. You will need different kits for pH, ammonia, and nitrite, and it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on these to use and store them properly. Missing this step can be fatal for your fish.

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Fish in a tank
Substrate is just the material that lines the bottom of the tank.


This is just the gravel that lines the bottom of the aquarium. You will need about one pound of gravel for every gallon of water in the tank.

Small green fish net
Keeping two nets handy will help you when you need to catch your fish.

Fish Net

There will be times when you need to catch your fish, so you’ll need a net. Keep a couple on hand as fish can be tricky to capture. If you have two nets you can guide the fish in with one and catch them in the other.

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A siphon will help you in cleaning your tank.


You will need to clean your tank and change the water regularly. A siphon is like a mini vacuum cleaner. If you can afford one that uses water pressure from your tap to work, it will be much easier to use, and be more effective.

Algae magnet
An algae magnet is the low maintenance method for cleaning algae in your tank.

Algae Cleaner

Algae will eventually build up in any tank. To deal with it, you have two options. The first is the low maintenance approach which is the algae magnet. This is more expensive but less work. The second, cheaper option is an algae scrubber, but you will have to do more of the manual work.

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Blue bucket
You'll need a container of some sort for tank maintenance.

Clean Container

You will need a water container of some sort, either a bucket or bowl, for aquarium maintenance. It’s important that this has no other role in your house as any residue in it could be fatal for fish.

Saltwater aquarium
The fun part is decorating the inside of your tank!


The last item is purely decorative although it also makes life more interesting for your fish. Choose items that you enjoy, and make the tank look good, whether it’s fancy rock arches or a diver discovering a treasure chest.

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