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Gold Fish Tank Set Up Guide

Updated on January 30, 2016

How to set up a cold water fish tank

Setting up a fish tank for the first time is no easy task, no matter what the sales person tells you. The truth is that there is much more to starting up and maintening an aquarium than just filling it with water and a few plants and rocks and adding some fish. Your goal is to create and especially maintain a miniature fish-friendly ecosystem in which your fish may be happy and healthy for a long time.

I am not a fish expert but I have managed to create and maintain a goldfish aquarium for nearly ten years now. I had my share of unhappy accidents and minor disasters and I have been learning from my mistakes and the result is a low maintenance goldfish tank with five mature happy and healthy fancy goldfish which I have had since they were babies. Aquarium fish are very sensitive and delicate creatures and I have learned that it is always better to take all the necessary measures and precautions to maintain a healthy water environment than trying to heal an ailing fish.

If you are a beginner and have just decided to set up your first fish tank - and you obviously wouldn't be here otherwise- your best option is to start with a cold water aquarium. They are much easier and cheaper to start up and maintain and cold water fish like goldfish are generally hardier, tougher and less demanding than tropical fish. So read on to see a step by step guide on how to set up and maintain your first cold water goldfish tank.

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Excellent value for money Aquarium with Stand

Very well made and well finished large 75 gallon silver trim fish tank with stand. The tank and stand feature cut-outs at the back to incorporate tubes and cables. Made of high quality float glass and water-resistant medium density fiber board. Includes twin T5 complete lighting system. The stand is roomy enough for all necessary fish supplies and equipment. Excellent value for money.

Nautilus Collection Rectangular with Silver Trim Aquarium and Stand, Black, 75-Gallon
Nautilus Collection Rectangular with Silver Trim Aquarium and Stand, Black, 75-Gallon

Perfect for goldfish. Large enough for 6-7 fancy goldfish and will complement all home styles


Choosing your Fish Tank

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Goldfish cannot live in fish bowls. This is one of the cruelest myths ever. A goldfish can live for more than 10-15 years in a proper environment but will be condemned to a very short and sad life confined in a fish bowl.

Goldfish need lots of space. Depending on your available space, budget and the number of fish you are planning to keep, you should opt for the largest possible fish tank and certainly allow no less than 20 gallons of water for one fancy goldfish and no less than 10 gallons for each additional one.

The shape of the tank is also quite important. Goldfish prefer to swim across rather than upwards or downwards so you should choose a tank that is longer and wider rather than taller.

Another thing which is often overlooked is the stand that will hold the tank. A 55 gallon tank full of water can be too heavy for most common household furniture.The last thing you want is a broken table and tank and a ruined floor full of water and dead or dying fish! Many fish tanks have their own specially constructed stands. Otherwise, make sure the surface you will place your aquarium on is sturdy enough for its weight.

Setting up your Fish Tank

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Step 1: Decorate your aquarium

Now that you have bought your new fish tank and found a place for it in your home, it is time to set it up and decorate it.

Start with a 2 inch layer of aquarium gravel at the bottom. Aquarium gravel is not only pleasant to the eye, it also provides a home for the bacteria which help break down ammonia caused by decaying food and fish waste. It is best to buy gravel specially designed for aquariums because gravel you may get outdoors or around river beds may contain harmful sediments for your fish. After putting in the gravel, half-fill your aquarium with water. The water will instantly go cloudy because of the gravel dust, but this is quite normal and will soon clear. Test for leaks.

Now you may arrange your decorations. A large rock or two look nice and fish like to hide behind them. Natural or colored pebbles, sea glass, a few pieces of driftwood (all very well washed and rinced) are also nice additions. Place a few plants at the back of the aquarium and around the rocks, creating a natural habitat for your fish, If you decide to go for goldfish, especially fancy goldfish, refrain from choosing real live plants because goldfish like to eat them!! Also, keeping live plants in an aquarium along with fish, is not easy for beginners. You have to find the right balance of water quality and lighting to suit both fish and plants and this can be quite tricky. There are beautiful artificial plants, plastic or fabric, that you can buy and that look really nice. Do not go overboard with decorating and overfill the tank. You must leave plenty of free space for the fish to swim around.

Step 2: The filter pump and lighting

After you have finished decorating your fish tank, you should think about the filter pump and lighting. Goldfish are rather messy fish and produce a lot of waste which fouls up the water quite fast. You will need a high quality filter pump with a capacity approximately double the volume of your tank. This means that if you have a 55 gallon aquarium for example, you should buy a 110-120 gallon capacity pump. Fix the pump to the rear wall of the tank with the special hooks or suction caps provided.

Most aquariums have inbuilt lighting, fitted inside the hood, so you don't have to worry about it. Never keep the lights on constantly or your fish will go crazy. Fish need about 10-12 hours light (including natural light) per day. I use a timer to switch the lights on at 4.00 p.m ans off at midnight when I normally go to bed. This way, I can enjoy the sight of the brightly lit tank and fish swimming inside during the evening, and give the fish the peace and quiet and darkness they need during the night.

Best value for money hanging power filter

Excellent versatile power filter. No need to spend money for new filter pads like with many other filters. This filter works with foam blocks which trap the larger dirt debris and which you can wash in aquarium water whenever you do your water change. This will make the carbon filter and bio filter last longer.

AquaClear 70 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 70 Carbon, AquaClear 70 Foam & AquaClear 70 BioMax
AquaClear 70 Power Filter - 110 V, UL Listed (Includes AquaClear 70 Carbon, AquaClear 70 Foam & AquaClear 70 BioMax

A top rated excellent value for money hanging power filter for aquariums up to 70 gallons


Step 3: Get the tank running and treat the water

Assuming there are no leaks, it is now time to fill your tank with water up to about 1 inch below the rim. Use normal tap water, and fill the tank gently so as not to disturb the gravel and plants. Turn on the filter pump. Add the special additives necessary to remove chlorium and heavy metals from tap water. Be careful to use the correct quantities for the size of your tank. Let the tank run this way with no fish for a week.

Adding Fish

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After the week t is over and you are confident that your equipment is working as it should and the tank is not leaking, it is time to bring your new fish home. Depending on the size of your tank, start with one or two fish for the first couple of weeks, then you can add one or two more. Adding too many fish at once in a new aquarium will produce too much waste for the filter pump to deal with, causing ammonia and nitrate levels to rise dangerously and putting your fish at risk. Once you have chosen your fish and brought them home, it is time to introduce them to their new environment. Do not just dump the fish from their transportation bags into the tank! Instead, place the closed bag in the aquarium and let it float around for a few minutes. Then open the bag and gently start mixing some aquarium water in it and some of the bag's water in the aquarium. Let the open bag float around for a while, gently moving the water around, until the fish in the bag eventually swims out of it. Do the same with all of them, and again every time you introduce a new fish to your fish tank. The next day and every day for a couple of weeks, test the water with the special test strips to make sure that ammonia and nitrate levels remain within acceptable limits as fish waste builds up and beneficial bacteria multiply to deal with it. Ammonia is extremely dangerous for your fish and it is very common for fish to die during the first couple of weeks in a new aquarium before it is fully cycled.

Water conditioners and testers

All the additives you need to treat and condition your aquarium water and test the water quality

Cleaning and Maintening your Aquarium

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You should clean your fish tank and change the water at least once every two weeks. A gravel cleaning pump will make things easier for you. Switch off the filter pump and remove it from the tank. While moving the gravel pump around the tank, siphon off up to 1/3 or 1/2 of the tank water. Never change all of the water in the tank or you will disturb the bacterial equilibrium of your ecosystem. Use a scraper to scrape off dirt and algae from the glass walls. A magnetic scraper which you can move around from the outside is a really good idea as it will keep you from getting too wet.

Now take the filter pump apart and rinse the sponge filters by squeezing them in a container of aquarium water. Never rinse the sponges under tap water as you will kill off all the good bacteria living in them and put your fish at risk.

Put the pump together again and fix it to the aquarium. Add all additives and water conditioners to the water before adding it to the tank. Gradually fill the tank and start the filter pump again.

Aquarium cleaning products

Gravel cleaner siphons, glass algae scrapers, fish nets, all these tools will help you clean and maintain your aquarium with the least amount of effort

Watch a video on how to set up your goldfish aquarium

Aquarium books on Amazon - Information on cold water aquariums and cold fish species

All the information you need to set up and care for a cold water aquarium and cold water fish like goldfish

Aquariums and aquarium products on ebay - Great fish tank deals

Aquariums, especially large ones, can be quite costly. You may find very good deals on ebay however

© 2013 Aquamarine18

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    • profile image


      24 months ago

      You've got some helpful information here, especially about housing goldfish. It always bothers me when I see people keeping goldfish they won at the fair in these tiny bowls. I've been keeping about a dozen comet goldfish in a pond outside and they've done so well over the years. Keeping the water clean is imperative to ensure their longevity as they produce so much waste.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      The tanks in the YT video seem too small for goldfish; honestly, they are better off in either huge aquariums (75+ gallons, 20 gallons per fish; rule may be fudged in even larger tanks), stock tubs, or ponds. The Chinese bred most varieties of goldfish to be pond fish anyway, only bringing them inside to show off to guests.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Thanks for all the info. I am trying to set up a 100 gallon tank. It was a horse trough. I need ideas on a filtration system.

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 

      5 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      You have some great ideas here. I am a tropical fish keeper and your lens about the goldfish is very close to a couple of my lenses about tropical fish. A fish bowl is a killer. About the only thing I can figure it is good for is to keep a Betta in so it will have plenty of room. I feel so sorry for those that are kept in those cups until they are sold. They look so sad, like they are in prison and no one loves them.


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for the idea on how to setup gold fish tank. I have a smaller tank with only 2 gold fish.


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