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How to Set up a Healthy Goldfish Aquarium

Three Parts:

A goldfish aquarium is a wonderful addition to any home. You’ll need to carefully consider how many goldfish you want, since goldfish require lots of room to roam. If you want a single-tailed goldfish or more than one fancy goldfish, you’ll need a larger tank. As long as you put in the effort to build up good bacteria in your tank and establish proper filtration and lighting, you should be able to keep your goldfish healthy and strong.


Putting Your Tank in Place

  1. Get the right size tank for the size and number of goldfish.Goldfish require more space because they produce a lot of waste during digestion.Provide at least 24 square inches (154.8 square centimeters) of water for every 1 inch (2.5 cm) of fish. The more space your fish have, the healthier the fish will be.
  2. Place your tank in a convenient location with some natural sunlight.You’ll want a spot that is close to a power supply and a water source. It should get some natural sunlight but shouldn’t be directly in front of a sunny window, as this may cause the tank to heat up.
    • If you are not breeding the goldfish, you want to maintain a consistent temperature of 23 Celsius (74 Fahrenheit).
    • Because goldfish normally live in a fairly bright tropical environment, they need some sunlight during the day and darkness at night.
    • If you use an aquarium light, you’ll need to turn it off at night so that your goldfish can rest.
    • If your goldfish don’t get enough light, their color will fade.
  3. Support the weight of your tank.Because a full goldfish tank is very heavy, you’ll need a tank stand or a very sturdy piece of furniture. If you have a very large tank, you’ll also want to position it so that the weight is evenly distributed across your floor joists.
    • A ten-gallon goldfish tank will weigh approximately 100 pounds.
    • A 100-gallon tank weighs about half a ton.

Setting up Your Tank

  1. Install a filtration system with a strong flow rate.Because goldfish produce more waste than other fish, you’ll need a really strong filtration system.You’ll need a very strong flow rate, which is the amount of water filtered per hour. Pick a filtration system that moves at least five and as much as ten times the volume of your tank per hour. Although both internal and external filtration systems will do the trick, you’re more likely to get that kind of flow rate with an external system.
    • If you are using a twenty-gallon tank, you’ll need a flow rate of 100-200 gallons per hour.
    • If you have a forty-gallon tank, you’ll need a flow rate of 200-400 gallons per hour.
    • Undergravel filters are only recommended if you're on a budget or if you're keeping sharpness sensitive goldfish such as the Bubble Eye.
    • Canister filters are best for large tanks.
  2. Add three to four inches of gravel to the bottom of the tank.Fill a bucket halfway up with fish-safe aquarium gravel. Run water over the gravel and agitate it with your hands. You should see dirt and sediment rising up from the gravel. Dump out the sediment and rinse it again. When it looks clean, you can add three or four inches to the bottom of the tank.
    • If you are using an undergravel filter, you’ll need to install it prior to adding the gravel.
    • A recommended gravel size is 1/8’’ (3 mm).
    • Goldfish tend to put small gravel in their mouth, so you should avoid smaller gravel sizes.
  3. Decorate the tank with rocks and scenery.Pick some colorful rocks from your aquarium store, such as slate or red shale. Put the decorative rocks on top of the gravel. If you have any other special scenery, you can add it at this time.
  4. Fill the tank halfway with cold water.Run some clean, cold, dechlorinated water into a bucket. Pour the water into the tank. At this point, you’ll want to make adjustments to the scenery. Try to make sure the fish have some hiding places but also plenty of room to swim around. If you have some plants that need to be secured in the gravel, you could make those adjustments.
  5. Fill the tank all the way up with clean water.Fill a bucket with clean, cold water. Pour it into the tank until the water is close to the top of the tank.
    • At this point, you can make any necessary adjustments to the filtration tubes. For instance, if you have an undergravel filter, you’ll want to make sure the lift tubes are halfway in and halfway out of the water.
  6. Turn on the water pump.Before putting the fish in the tank, turn the water pump on your filtration system on and keep it running for several minutes. This will allow the water to cycle through and become circulated. You can also add in a few drops of water conditioner to neutralize the chemicals in the water.
  7. Keep your tank at a temperature of 23 Celsius (74 Fahrenheit).Although goldfish can withstand relatively cool temperatures, you’ll need to keep your tank warm to encourage strong growth and overall health. However, if you plan to breed your goldfish, you’ll need to introduce seasonal variations in water temperature.
    • Use either an internal or an external aquarium thermometer to measure temperature.
    • If you want to breed your goldfish, keep the temperature at 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) during the winter months. In the spring, raise the temperature to somewhere between 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and 23 Celsius (74 Fahrenheit) to encourage breeding.
    • Don’t let the temperature go above 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Your goldfish will get stressed out if the temperature gets that high.
    • Avoid extreme fluctuations in water temperature.

Building up Good Bacteria

  1. Get a freshwater master test kit and an ammonia test kit.Many species of fish, including goldfish, are sensitive to water chemistry. If the amount of ammonia, nitrate, or nitrite is off, your fish could get sick or even die. Go to a pet supply store or look online for a freshwater master test kit and an ammonia test kit for your fish tank. Once you’ve bought the kits, read over any directions or additional information that come with them.
  2. Add one drop of ammonia per gallon of tank water.Once you have your tank completely setup with everything except the goldfish, you’ll need to build up the good bacteria by adding ammonia. For every gallon of water in your tank, you’ll need to add one drop of ammonia. Every day, add the required number of drops of ammonia into your tank.
    • If you have a ten-gallon tank, you’ll be adding ten drops of ammonia.
    • You can get bottled ammonia at the pet store.
    • You can also add fish food and let it decompose in your aquarium, which will add ammonia to the water.
  3. Test for ammonia and nitrites with your master test kit.After adding ammonia for a few days, you’ll need to start testing the water for nitrites and ammonia.Take two water samples with the syringes included in your master test kit. Shake the solution for testing ammonia and add the number of drops indicated on the side of the bottle. Next, shake the solution for the nitrites and add the number of drops indicated on the side of the bottle. Finally, match the colors in the test tubes to the color chart to determine the concentration of ammonia and nitrite in your tank.
  4. Test the water for nitrates.After a few weeks of adding ammonia, you should be able to start testing for nitrates. Take a water sample with the syringe included in your master test kit. Shake the bottle for nitrates and add the required number of drops to the test tube. Match the color to the color chart to determine nitrate concentration. Also, test for ammonia and nitrites. If the ammonia and nitrite levels go down to zero but there is some nitrate, your tank is successfully cycled and ready for fish!
    • You’ll still need to add ammonia to feed the good bacteria up until the day you add your goldfish.
  5. Add one fish at a time.You’ll want to change half of your water in order to lower nitrate levels prior to adding your fish. To be safe, you should add one fish at a time. Since the aquarium is a very delicate setup, it is best to see how one fish lives in the tank before adding any more.
    • After you add the one goldfish, you should keep testing the water for nitrates, ammonia, and nitrites. You want low levels of ammonia and nitrites, but some nitrates are fine.
    • You can add the next goldfish after testing the water for two weeks to make sure the tank is cycling properly and there is sufficient water volume in the tank to handle the additional fish.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Does fish food really expire?

    Certified Veterinary Technician
    Deanne Pawlisch is a Certified Veterinary Technician in Illinois. She has been a board member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Foundation since 2011.
    Certified Veterinary Technician
    Expert Answer
    The nutritional value of fish food does degrade over time. The best way to make sure your fish food stays fresh is to only buy enough for about 2-3 months of feeding at a time. That said, people often buy their fish food in bulk and will freeze it until they're ready to use it so that it retains its nutritional value. You can also do this if you prefer.
  • Question
    How many goldfish can I keep in my turtle pond?

    Certified Veterinary Technician
    Deanne Pawlisch is a Certified Veterinary Technician in Illinois. She has been a board member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Foundation since 2011.
    Certified Veterinary Technician
    Expert Answer
    Provide at least 24 square inches of water for every 1 inch of fish at the very minimum. Make sure that there is a good filtration system in place and that your turtle is not carnivorous.
  • Question
    What can I put in the water to clean it?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    To get clean water, you must change the water. Do this at least once a week. In doing so, you may also need to add anti-chlorine, depending on your water source.
  • Question
    Can I use distilled water?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It would be better to go with de-chlorinated, treated tap water. Goldfish require a pH of 7.2 to 7.6, which is about the same tap water. Tap water also contains minerals that are beneficial for both the fish and the live plants. Distilled water lacks these minerals and will turn acidic quickly due to fish waste and uneaten food.
  • Question
    Would changing the scenery in my goldfish tank harm them?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    As long as you do it slowly and try not to stress them out, it shouldn't. If you're planning to change the entire tank, you'll need to put them in a temporary bowl with treated water so they're not harmed. Try to do this quickly if you're removing the fish.
  • Question
    Can I get rocks from the sea and put them in my tank for comet fish?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Only if they are inert and not live rocks (live rocks have little critters and other marine organisms living on them). Before using any inert rocks from the sea, you should place them in boiling water or bake them in an oven for awhile to kill any bacteria. Wash them thoroughly, too.
  • Question
    How can I get rid of air bubbles?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Air bubbles are usually created if the water contains ammonia, so in this case, change the water. Keep changing the water regularly, at least once a week.
  • Question
    What does it mean if my fish has white dots on its fin?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    This usually means the fish has ich, which is usually caused from bad water quality. You can buy special treatments and medications at many pet stores and fish tank stores.
  • Question
    Can I use mineral water for fish?
    Community Answer
    Yes, but you still need to add water conditioner.
  • Question
    Why would my filtration system not work after I replace the filter and clean the box?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Because your filter, gravel and plant decor (but mostly your filter) hold onto the beneficial bacteria. When you change your filter, you are ridding the tank of most of its beneficial bacteria.
Ask a Question
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  • You can use individual test kits for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates instead of the master kit.
  • If you have a very heavy tank, you could put it in the basement.
  • Remember to properly cycle your tank prior to adding any goldfish.
  • Do weekly 25% volume water changes and check on your filter occasionally.
  • Pick gravel that is smaller or larger than your fish's throat.
  • Some types of goldfish are incompatible with other types. Find out the different types and only mix goldfish from their corresponding group.
  • When adding fish to a new tank, float the bag in the tank for about 20 minutes before releasing them into the water. This helps their temperatures stabilize and prevents shock.
  • If you are going to use plants, make sure you choose hardy plants such as Java moss. Goldfish tend to nibble plant leaves. Hardy plants are a very good idea, since they provide oxygen and small amounts of food for the goldfish.
  • Clean the tank regularly to prevent bacterial blooms.
  • You can also add a hiding place for it to retreat in case it gets scared or stressed.
  • You can also add some rocks and ornaments for the fish to swim though.
  • When you have had fish in the same tank with the same gravel, make sure you clean it out well in case of any poop.


  • Do not dump water from the fish store into your tank. This water could contain harmful organisms.
  • Avoid placing the aquarium near a radiator, which will make the environment too hot.
  • Only use decorations meant for aquariums, and remember to boil rocks before adding them to the tank.
  • Water and electricity don't mix! Make drip loops with nearby cords so that no water from your tank gets into the socket.
  • Goldfish are cold water fish. Don't mix them with tropical fish! If your tank is set up properly for tropical fish, your goldfish will suffer (and vice versa).

Things You’ll Need

  • Ammonia
  • Ammonia test kit
  • Master aquarium water test kit
  • Fish tank
  • Filter
  • Heater
  • Bubbler
  • Thermometer (only use thermometers meant for fish tanks)
  • Gravel
  • Water treated with water conditioner
  • Food, fishnet and decorations
  • Algae scrubber
  • Gravel vacuum or siphon

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