The beginners checklist for your first aquarium


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Like most hobbies, when you first venture in to the world of fishkeeping, things can get a bit overwhelming.

So many products, so many options and so many opinions. How do you make sure you’re well kitted out without wasting money on gimmicks or inappropriate purchases? Simple, just keep on reading…

The tank

It needs to suit your space (away from windows, radiators, air vents, speakers and banging doors) but the tendency for beginners to buy very small tanks (45ltr and less) is high and it’s counterproductive. Small tanks are harder to keep and very limiting for your choice of fish.

Aquaria of 60-80 litres are ideal. Small enough to manage easily but large enough to effectively dilute fish waste and keep an array of different starter-friendly species (they also hold some value as second hand items).


A lot of tanks up to 100ltr are sold as complete kits, with a filter, a light unit, possibly a heater and thermometer, water conditioner and a net. These items should be suited to the tank size but sometimes the budget-end kits include barely adequate items.

Top-tip: get the sales person to  demonstrate maintenance of a  filter – some can be tricky to use.

The filter

The flow rate should be five to ten times the volume of the aquarium (one sticking point of cheaper kits). If the filter uses replaceable cartridges consider the on-going cost and traveling to buy them – it can make sense to buy a dearer filter (not employing cartridges) with cheaper running costs.

The light

Fish don’t need illumination. We use them for viewing our fish and/or to provide energy for plant growth. Basic white lighting is fine for fish and for very low light level plants (Anubias, Java fern, Cryptocoryne) but avoid a lot of blue light – it encourages algae. If you intend to keep live plants then a slightly pink or yellow light will be better.


A small selection of ‘tropical’ fish don’t need a heater (including some Danios, Barbs, Tetras etc). However, using a heater will give you a far wider choice. You will need at least one watt per litre for efficient heating.

Kit accessories

Kits may include essential tap water conditioner, a filter start additive, a net and possibly some food. This can offer good value – these items can add up to £15 or more – but do check dates on any bottles or food included.


No kit includes everything so you will be needing extras. Some shops offer a small discount on products bought alongside a new tank so have a list ready. Items like sand or gravel and rocks or plastic ornaments are obvious and can be added to your tastes. Maintenance products are the more important ones. Algae cleaning magnets or long handled sponges, a gravel hoover and water testing kits are necessary items which aren’t cheap – so a 10% discount can soften the blow if available.