ChewyPet Parenting / Pet Supplies

7 Essentials for Your Freshwater Fish Tank

Setting up a new fish tank can be exciting, and the possibilities for creating a beautiful aquatic ecosystem in your home or office are nearly endless. Don’t let the myriad options and products to choose from overwhelm or discourage you.

Navigating the prospects can be confusing, but the whole process is much simpler once you know the basics. This check list will help you make sure that everything in your fish aquarium is in working order when you’re ready to bring home your new freshwater fish friends.

1. Water Conditioner for Fish

Having the right bacteria in the aquarium water is important. Water conditioner for fish helps inoculate your tank with the exact kinds of bacteria required to break down and digest the ammonia excreted as waste by your aquarium inhabitants.

Ammonia is toxic, and a buildup of it in the tank water can kill your freshwater fish. Using water conditioner, like Fluval cycle biological enhancer, enables you to jumpstart your system’s bacterial colonization and prevent the toxic buildup from happening in the first place.

2. Fish Filter

In addition to generating essential water movement, a fish filter, like the Fluval aquarium power filter, provides your water with three important types of filtration: mechanical, chemical and biological. Each filtration type offers important benefits.

Mechanical filtration happens when the water passes through a fish tank filters pad designed to trap debris. Chemical filtration occurs as the water flows through activated carbon, which removes toxins. Biological filtration occurs as the water comes in contact with a medium that is colonized by healthy, nitrifying bacteria; it breaks down ammonia and makes the tank water safe for your freshwater fish.

3. Aquarium Heater

If you plan to keep tropical fish, they need water that consistently is warm. And if you’re thinking, “My house thermostat is set at 72 degrees Fahrenheit; that’ll keep the tank warm enough,” think again.

Your fish will survive, but keeping them comfortable makes them healthier and less stressed. Specific temperature requirements vary depending on species, but the general range for tropical fish is between 75- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Keep your freshwater fish tank at the ideal temperature by using a device like the Fluval Submersible glass aquarium heater.

4. Air Pump

Water flow is important because it promotes gas exchange between the air and the water. Employing an air pump, like the Fluval Air Pump for aquariums, keeps the water oxygenated, which makes it easier for your fish to breathe. It also aids in making sure the water is heated evenly instead of just pockets of stagnant warm water around the heating element.

5. Substrate

While fish tank substrate assists with aesthetics, it serves functional roles as well. In its simplest form, the substrate on the bottom of your fish tank filters offers another surface upon which good bacteria can grow. If you plan to grow plants that require covered roots, you will need the proper substrate for this as well.

There’s a wide variety of sizes, colors and shapes of substrate out there when choosing the right one for your tank. Having a vision of the finished aquarium you want will help you decide on the best substrate option for your system.

Polished gravel is a good option for many freshwater aquariums, like the Exotic Pebbles polished mixed gravel. Bioactive substrate, like the Activ-Flora planted aquarium substrate, can also be a great way to jumpstart plant growth if you’re planning to keep live plants in your tank.

6. Lighting

There are loads of lighting options out there for fish tanks, and they vary extensively in size, price and appearance. As with the substrate, figure out what works for your overall tank appearance and your wallet.

While LED lights are a larger initial investment, they tend to last much longer than traditional compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs. LED lights, like the Curret USA satellite freshwater plus aquarium LED light, also generate almost no heat and use a minimal amount of energy.

7. Fish Aquarium Test Strips

As you wait for your aquarium to cycle before adding your freshwater fish, test the water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Test strips, like the Tetra EasyStrips 6-in-1 test strips, also enable you to measure the water pH, hardness and alkalinity.

In about 60 seconds, test strips will give you a good overall picture of what’s happening in your freshwater fish tank. This information is critical if you want to maintain a healthy system.

On these test strips, the most important readings to pay attention to, especially with a new tank, are nitrite, nitrate and pH. Ideally, nitrite should be undetectable, nitrate should be as low as possible and a neutral pH is generally safe. That being said, freshwater fish can thrive in a pH range from 5.5 to 7.5 depending on the species.

Once you decide what kind of finned friends you plan to keep in your fish aquarium, the rest of your system requirements will fall into place. One of the most important things you can do is to research the types of fish you want. Find out where they’re indigenous to, what water parameters they need, what they eat, how much space they need and how well they get along with other fish. This information makes it much easier to create the right habitat.

Keeping aquariums is a blast, especially if you’re prepared. Take it slow, do your research and enjoy the ride!


Alexandra Rose is a biologist, diver, musician, and underwater photographer. She is the science editor of and a principle writer for Ocean Geographic Magazine and is the managing editor of Ocean Geographic Explorers. Alex founded her own company, Blue Ring, in 2017 in an effort to create a new method of ocean conservation accessible to and inclusive of everyone who wants to better understand and protect our seas.

Featured Image: By Marietta Losada

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