What aquarium equipment do you need to start a fish tank? The Aquarium Equipment Hub is your aquarium supplies checklist. We explain what aquarium equipment, accessories and supplies are essential and what you may be able to live without.
Essential aquarium equipment
What equipment is essential for an aquarium? There are 8 must-haves, including the tank itself. It’s essential for every fish tank to have a hood, a stand, a filter, a thermometer, lighting, cleaning equipment, and a net.
Read on to find out what this aquarium equipment is for and why we think these items are essential aquarium equipment for every fish tank.
Please note that images and links in this article direct to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, Aqatic earns from qualifying purchases.
We know this is stating the obvious, but clearly every home aquarium needs a tank. You’re going to end up with a very wet floor without one!
Seriously though, it is vital that you choose a suitable fish tank for your circumstances.
We recommend finding a suitable place for your fish tank, then working out what size you should buy based on the space available. The size of the tank then determines what fish you can keep.
For stable water parameters and the most space for your fish, it’s best to buy the biggest fish tank that you can afford and that will fit in a suitable space in your home.
You should never keep any kind of fish in a small bowl and we also recommend avoiding unusual shapes. A standard horizontal rectangle fish tank will be the easiest to maintain and will allow the most oxygen to dissolve into the water.
An aquarium hood is the lid that stops your fish jumping out of the fish tank.
It’s also common for lighting to be installed inside an aquarium hood.
Your fish tank may come with a hood, in which case you won’t need to purchase one separately.
If you buy a fish tank and it doesn’t have a hood then you’ll just have to take care to buy one that fits. Remember that you’ll need the hood to be the correct size, both lengthways and in terms of depth.
You may also want to consider your lighting needs when purchasing a hood, as different hoods will be able to hold different types of light.
You can’t just put your fish tank on the floor, so you’re going to need some kind of stand for it.
Some fish tanks come with special cabinets that they are designed to sit on top of. The advantage of these cabinets is that you can be sure they’re strong enough to hold the fish tank, and they provide space to store other aquarium equipment, such as an external filter, fish food and cleaning supplies.
If your tank doesn’t come with a cabinet or stand then you can buy one separately. You’ll just need to make sure that the stand you choose is designed to hold the size of tank that you have.
Finally, you could of course put your fish tank on top of a table or other piece of furniture. We don’t recommend this option. Fish tanks are extremely heavy when filled with water and furniture that isn’t designed to hold that amount of water could easily collapse under the weight.
A filter is a crucial piece of aquarium equipment that every fish tank needs. Your filter contains media that cleans the aquarium water and is a place where a colony of “good bacteria” will build up. These bacteria then remove harmful chemicals from the water.
Internal and external filters are available. Internal filters sit inside the tank water, while external filters sit outside the tank.
Filters come in different sizes for different size tanks. When choosing a filter, a good rule of thumb is to buy one with a flow rate that turns over 4 times the size of your tank per hour.
For example, if you have a 20 gallon tank, your filter should have a flow rate of at least 80 gallons per hour. If in doubt, go for the model with the higher flow rate.
Water temperature is hugely important to the health of your fish, so a thermometer is a little piece of aquarium equipment that every fish-keeper needs.
Each species of fish is native to bodies of water that are within a certain temperature range. The fish’s body is adapted to living at these temperatures and it is this environment that you’re trying to recreate in the home aquarium environment.
Without a thermometer, you’ll have know way of knowing what your water temperature is and whether water that is too warm or too cold is having a negative effect on your fish’s wellbeing.
Thermometers can be as simple as strips that stick to the aquarium wall. Alternatively, for a little bit more money, digital thermometers are available and will give more accurate temperature readings.
We’ve decided to list lighting as essential aquarium equipment.
While it is technically possible to have an aquarium that receives enough natural light (but not too much), it’s difficult to achieve the right balance without having an electrical light that you can control.
If you want to keep aquarium plants in your fish tank then they will also need a strong light source to encourage healthy growth.
Lights are often installed in the hood of the aquarium, just above the surface of the water. However, submersible lights, which go under the water, are also available.
Every fish-keeper needs to establish a regular routine of tank maintenance, which includes cleaning the tank to remove algae from the walls and waste from the substrate.
In order to clean your tank, you will need a set of cleaning tools.
Cleaning equipment usual includes a siphon to remove water from the tank and vacuum the substrate, a scraper to remove algae from the glass, and a bucket to transport dirty and clean water to and from the tank.
Cleaning supply kits, like this one, are available to purchase or you can buy each item separately if you prefer.
If your cleaning supply kit doesn’t already come with one then we recommend purchasing a fish net.
We don’t recommend removing your fish during cleaning – and you generally want to put your fish in a net as little as possible, as there is always the risk of them getting injured or stressed – there will be times when a net is required.
You may need to remove a fish because it has died, is sick, is fighting with another fish, or perhaps your fish have bred and you need to remove the parents or fry. All of these situations will need a fish net.
Finally, a net is useful for removing other objects from your aquarium too, such as leftover pieces of food or rotting bits of plant.
A net may only be cheap and simple, but it’s a crucial piece of aquarium equipment that our fish couldn’t live without!
Optional aquarium equipment
Not all aquarium equipment is essential to every tank. Some equipment is only needed in certain circumstances. We consider heaters, air pumps, plants and decorations to be optional types of aquarium equipment, which you may or may not need.
Whether a heater is an essential piece of aquarium equipment really depends on the type of fish you plan to keep.
Clearly, if you intend to keep tropical fish that need warm water to survive then you are likely to need a heater in order to maintain your aquarium water at the right temperature.
However, if you’re planning to keep cold water fish – particularly fish that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures – then a heater probably isn’t essential aquarium equipment for you.
One other situation where you might need a heater is if you plan to breed your fish, as spawning is often triggered by temperature changes. You’ll need a heater in order to recreate the natural temperature fluctuations that fish experience in the wild inside your home aquarium.
An air pump has two key advantages: Firstly, it helps to add oxygen to your water, which helps your fish to breathe. And secondly, the bubbles created by the air pump are aesthetically pleasing.
The interesting thing about the first advantage is that the air pump doesn’t add oxygen in the way you probably think.
It’s not actually the bubbles coming out of the air pump that add much oxygen to the water, it’s the agitation that the bubbles cause at the water’s surface.
The ripples caused by the air pump increase the surface area of the water, which helps more oxygen dissolve into the water from the air.
The reason we’ve listed an air pump as an optional piece of aquarium equipment is because many tanks will have plenty of oxygen in the water even if they don’t have an air pump.
While very popular with most fish-keepers – you’ll find aquarium plants of some kind in most fish tanks – they are definitely an optional item in most cases.
The only time that plants are really essential is if you are keeping a species of fish that needs to hide among plants to avoid becoming stressed by being out in the open all the time.
If you do choose to add plants to your aquarium then your first decision will be whether to add live plants or plastic plants.
Plastic plants have the advantage of being low maintenance and allowing you to control exactly what your aquarium looks like. Whereas live plants have the advantages of adding oxygen to the water, removing chemicals from the water, giving your fish something to nibble on, and creating an ever-changing aquascape.
Like plants, decorations are largely an optional item of aquarium equipment.
There are only really two reasons why you would add decorations to your tank:
- Because you like how they look
- To give your fish objects to explore and hide within or behind
These aren’t bad reasons by any means, and you can certainly go ahead and add decorations to your tank if you want to. It’s just a matter of personal preference.
Consumable aquarium supplies
We consider aquarium equipment to be permanent items that won’t run out. Aquarium equipment is the hardware that makes up your aquarium setup. But there’s another kind of equipment – consumable supplies – which you’ll also need to buy. Consumables are items such as test kits, water treatments and food, which you’ll use up over time and need to purchase on a regular basis.
There are a number of water parameters that need to be within the correct range in order for your fish to survive and thrive.
These parameters include ammonia levels, nitrite levels, nitrate levels and pH.
In order to monitor these water parameters and know when you might need to take action to correct them (such as performing a water change), you’ll need a test kit.
We recommend the API Freshwater Master Test Kit for freshwater aquariums, as it has all the tests you need to monitor ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH.
When you notice a problem with your water parameters – or perhaps to stop a problem beginning in the first place – you’ll likely need to add some form of water treatment to make your water healthy for your fish.
There are all kinds of water treatments available, as well as medications to treat a wide variety of illnesses, so the treatments you need will vary depending upon your own circumstances.
One water treatment that we do however recommend for all fish-keepers is Seachem Prime.
Prime works in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums, removing chlorine and chloramine from tap water so that these chemicals don’t harm the bacteria in your tank. This allows “good bacteria” to build up in the tank and remove ammonia and nitrite, which would otherwise harm your fish.
An essential consumable that you’re going to be buying on a regular basis. Fish obviously need food!
We recommend stocking up on a wide variety of foods in order to feed your fish a healthy varied diet.
Learn more about the types of food fish eat.
Saltwater aquarium equipment & Supplies
If you plan to keep saltwater fish then there are a couple of specialist pieces of aquarium equipment and supplies that you will need in order to maintain the correct salt levels within your tank.
Saltwater fish need a certain level of salt in the water. Too much or too little salt could be lethal, so it’s hugely important that you keep salt levels within an acceptable range.
But how do you know how much salt is in your aquarium? That’s where a clever piece of aquarium equipment known as a hydrometer comes in.
A hydrometer, such as this one from Instant Ocean, will tell you exactly what level of salt is in your tank. Allowing you to add more salt, or lower the concentration with more water, whenever necessary.
A hydrometer is only needed if you’re keeping saltwater fish.
Sea Salt Mix
A hydrometer will help you measure the levels of salt in your aquarium, but how does that salt get there in the first place?
If you’re keeping saltwater fish, you’ll need to manually add salt to your aquarium water until it reaches the right concentration for your fish.
You do this by purchasing a bag of sea salt, designed specifically for use in aquariums, and mixing the salt into your water to the desired level before adding the water into your fish tank.