How to set-up a goldfish aquarium
How to set-up a goldfish aquarium

In my last article we discussed what goldfish supplies you need to buy if you are planning to get goldfish. In this article we will discuss how to set-up a goldfish aquarium, from finding the right locations to introducing your new goldfish to it.

This aquarium is most likely going to be your goldfish home for the rest of their life. So it is a good idea to set it up correctly before your purchase your goldfish. This will avoid issues later along the line and thus reduce stress for both you and your new pet fish.

I already wrote a detailed post about all the equipment you will need in order to set-up a goldfish tank, but I just wanted to quickly summarise this. Before you take the next step  ensure that you have:

  • An adequately sized tank (not a goldfish bowl)
  • A sturdy aquarium stand
  • A filtration system
  • A thermometer
  • Water conditioner
  • A freshwater Test Kit
  • An Aquarium Gravel cleaner

Other items you might want to consider purchasing include:

  • An air pump
  • An aquarium heater
  • Aquarium Lights
  • A UV Steriliser
  • Substrate
  • Aquarium Decoration
  • Aquarium Plants

Once you have bought all these items you are ready to set-up a goldfish aquarium.


It is important to find a good location for your goldfish tank, because this can have a huge impact on the happiness of your fish and the amount of maintenance your aquarium will need. The location you pick should also be permanent. Goldfish aquariums are large and heavy. It isn’t easy to move them, once they have been set-up. Once you fill your tank with water, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon!  A filled tank is extremely heavy and virtually impossible to move when full.  Moving it would require you to completely empty the tank and remove everything inside – a big hassle.


Do not place an aquarium in a high traffic area. Avoid anywhere where children or other pets are likely to run around. The tank might get bumped or jostled. Small children and dogs could end up running full-pelt into the aquarium. And the constant movement and vibration will stress out your fish. Stressed fish are much more likely to get sick and then die as a consequence.

Try to avoid locating your aquarium in an area that gets vacuumed regularly. Vacuum cleaners can prove to be disastrous when they get to close to the tank stand, causing it to wobble if rammed.


I would not recommend placing your aquarium too close to a window. Too much direct sunlight encourages excessive algae growth. And whilst this isn’t dangerous to your fish, it is rather unsightly. Avoid locating the aquarium below a window, across from an from an east-facing window or directly across from a westward-facing window. Ideally you need to find a wall that is perpendicular to the rising or setting sun, so that it is out of reach from direct sunlight. Natural light can be good for an aquarium, especially if you have filled it with aquatic plants. You just want to avoid excessive amount of direct sunlight.

Placing your tank near a window or air conditioner can also cause rapid fluctuations in water temperature. This stresses out fish and can make them sick.

Do not place your tank in the dark either. Doing this can not only result in a reduction of colour vibrancy in your fish, it can even lead to ill health.

In the wild, fish similar to goldfish in ponds do best in indirect light – not in total darkness or total light.  Mimicking these conditions can lead to the most ideal situation when it comes to placing the tank.


Whilst you are in the process of finding the best location for your goldfish aquarium, keep water changes in mind. It is a good idea for instance to place your aquarium in the vicinity of a tap. You should also ensure that water changes, during which you will probably spill at least some water, won’t destroy the floor. Tiled floor or at a push a timber floor are best.

You will also want to check that your aquarium has access to at least one power point so that you can connect your filter, air pump, UV filter and lighting. Make sure that there is adequate room for all the equipment behind or on the sides of the tank.

When placing the tank near to a wall, it is a good idea to leave a space of about 4-5 inches in between the tank stand and the wall.  This will allow your hand to fit behind it to arrange wires and chords of tank equipment.


Below I have listed out the steps of setting up your new goldfish aquarium. It is a good idea to follow them in the order listed.

  1. Find a permanent location for your goldfish aquarium. If you haven’t done so yet, read the tips above.
  2. Place your aquarium stand in the desired location. The tank will be set on top of this, and I would recommend putting a rectangular piece of Styrofoam underneath to help absorb trapped condensation and level out the base. Make sure the tank is not tilted – you will want it to be perfectly even with the floor.
  3. Now clean your aquarium, to ensure there are no harmful chemicals on its surfaces. Don’t use soap or detergents, water only. An alternative to washing is using a piece of clean cloth to remove any dust.
  4. Now that you have your empty tank and stand set up where you want it to be, it is time to put in your decorations.  I would suggest waiting to fill it up with water until after this step is done, as it really isn’t that much fun to be up to your armpits in water while trying to arrange things.
  5. If you have decided to add an air pump to your set-up, place the airstone where you want on the bottom of the tank before you add the substrate.  You will need to connect the stone to plastic airline tubing. Hook up the airline tubing to an air valve and connect this to your air pump. You can plug in the air pump once the tank is filled with water.
  6. Before you add your substrate you need to rinse it out. Pour the substrate into a bucket, then wash it out at least five times or until the water runs clear. This will help remove impurities and floating debris that come from the factory process.  Once done rinsing, begin to lowly pour the substrate along the bottom of the tank, using your hands to distribute.  If you are going to plant live plants, the substrate needs to be at leach two inches thick.
  7. Remove your live plants, rocks and aquarium decoration from their packaging and rinse them under tap water. I generally dip them in a bleach solution to remove any snails and parasites. Do read my article on adding plants to an aquarium.
  8. Now is the time to place your filter where you want it to go. But don’t plug it in yet! Also think of adding the aquarium heater and thermometer.
  9. You are now ready to fill the tank with tap water. Ensure that no electrical equipment is plugged in. Fill up about 50% of the tank with cold tap water.
  10. Add your plants and decorations. This should be relatively easy since the tank is half filled with water.
  11. Finish filling your aquarium until the water is just below the black rim (or wood rim, if you have one).  Then treat the entire tank with a dechlorinator / water conditioner. Add a biological supplement for healthy bacteria.
  12. Place your hood and light on the aquarium. Ensure you have a safety “drip loop” with plenty of cable slack so that if water drains down the cable, it will fall on the floor instead of going into the outlet and causing an electrical short. Dry any water that has splashed outside of the tank. Plug all of the equipment and “turn on” your aquarium.
  13. You are now finally ready to cycle your aquarium. This is an essential step. Do not skip it or you might experience new tank syndrome.


I have written a far more detailed article about how to cycle your goldfish aquarium, but I felt it was important to emphasise this step. If you are planning to become a goldfish keeper you need to understand the Nitrogen Cycle.

Before you add your goldfish to the aquarium you need to ensure that your tank is ready for them. A tank is ready when there is a strong colony of beneficial bacteria built up in the filtration system. These beneficial bacteria turn the toxic waste product (ammonia) excreted by your fish in to a somewhat less toxic substance (nitrate).

If you do not cycle your tank first, your fish will probably have a really hard time when you add them to the aquarium and could even die. This is called New Tank Syndrome. Symptoms of new tank syndrome in goldfish include blackened edges on the fins, frequent gasping on the surface, bottom sitting and sudden death.

Cycling a tank can take up to eight weeks. The water is safe for your fish when testing kits indicate Zero ammonia, Zero nitrite and low nitrate levels. Be patient before you add your fish.


Once you have ensured your tank is fully cycled, the water has the right temperature and all your equipment is working correctly, you can finally add your goldfish to the aquarium. I have written a detailed post about choosing your goldfish and bringing the back home, but here is a quick summary.

Have a plan before you go and buy your fish. It is always best to get them from a reputable goldfish breeder, if you want to ensure they are healthy and do not carry diseases.

Return home immediately after you have bought them. There is only a limited amount of oxygen in the carrier bag and running low can be stressful to your fish. Protect the plastic bag from direct sunlight and ideally bring a cardboard box.

There are many ways to acclimatise your fish to the aquarium water. The simplest way, is to float the plastic bag in the tank for fifteen minutes, to allow the fish to adjust to the temperature. I prefer to empty the plastic bag into a container and then gradually add aquarium water to it. This allows the goldfish to not only acclimatise to the temperature but also to the ph. levels.

Release your fish into the aquarium and give the, an hour to settle before turning the lights on. After two hours you might consider feeding them a tiny amount.

I recommend doing a 50% water change every other day for two weeks. Monitor your new fish and the ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels of the tank every day . After two weeks you can reduce your water changes to a weekly schedule of 50-60%. Do not clean the filter or sponge for at least a month. Doing so could shock your population of healthy bacteria.

Feed your goldfish only as much as they can eat in 2 minutes. Remove all debris and uneaten food. Have fun, take care and enjoy your fish.


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