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What to focus on when choosing the first aquarium

Aquarium air stone, resized image Aquarium cave, resized image Aquarium heater and filter, resized image Internal aquarium filter, resized image Liquid aquarium plant fertilizer, resized image This article was written in order to help people who would like to buy the first aquarium and need advice.

First of all you should decide how big you want your aquarium, the first mistakes people usually do are: choosing a too much small tank and overpopulating it; both big and small aquariums have pro and cons, value them all and then choose your solution. Most of time aquarium shops staff can help you in your choice, but sometimes they tend to suggest you more products than those you really need.

Small or big aquarium

If you already have in your mind what fish you would like to have, choose the aquarium big enough according to their necessities. Most of time anyway beginners do not have any idea at all, so you can decide the aquarium size thinking about the free room you have to place it, or how much money you want to spend. A too much small aquarium has two major problems: chemical values tend to fluctuate, even dangerously, due the small amount of water, poor filtration and fish overpopulation; moreover beginners usually decide to buy a bigger tank, once taken confidence with the new hobby; for these reason even if you do not want a big tank (100 litres or over), take at least a 60 litres tank and avoid aquarium smaller than 30 litres.

Big aquariums do not have problems with chemical values fluctuations if the filter is working and you do not make big mistakes, but can create some problems as well. Usually the most common problem with a big tank is the maintenance, working with great quantity of water can give you some troubles cleaning the ground, planting and take care of plants, controlling all the fish and these tanks are also more expensive.

If you have to choose between a closed and an open aquarium, prefer the first one. Even if open aquarium can give you great satisfactions with plants and are really beautiful to the eye, if you are a beginner is better if you do not create yourself more troubles deciding the right illumination, filtration and controlling water evaporation. A closed aquarium usually come with a standard neon tubes illumination that is enough for the most common pants and fish; as for the filter you are not confined to choose an external and can use the one coming with the aquarium no matter what kind this filter is.


There are a lot of accessories meant for aquariums in shops, anyway not all are necessary. A well working aquarium needs:

- A good dimensioned filter. Even if you plan to have only one fish, you always need a filter to clean water. For clean water we do not only mean looking clear water, but chemically clean water, not polluted by nitrites, nitrates and ammonia.

Fluval 305 external aquarium filter, picture 1

Fluval 305 external aquarium filter, picture 2

Fluval 305 external aquarium filter with cartridges

- Illumination. Plants are necessary for the aquarium balance. Being a beginner you can think you will not be able to take care of aquatic plants, but if you choose easy and fast growing plants your job with them will be really fast and easy; plastic plants are not only expansive, useless and ugly, fish can accidentally eat them and get sick. Plants can not live without lighting; do not think to solve the problem putting the aquarium near a window, this would create water temperature dangerous floating and algae growing. One or two standard neon tubes for aquariums are enough.

- Water heater. This is necessary for exotic fish, while you do not need it in case you are going to have goldfish or similar.

- Thermostat. This is necessary to set the temperature you want and to control the heater, anyway now almost every water heater comes with a thermostat inside.

- Thermometer. Even if the water heater has its thermostat, it is better to have a thermometer inside the aquarium to be sure about water temperature. There are various models, but a cheap standard mercury thermometer works perfectly.

- Timer. A timer is really useful to make lights switch on and out at the same hours everyday. This is not really necessary, but fish and plants need a routine and everybody can return home or wake up later than usual, or can stay outside a whole day sometimes. There is no need to take a specific one for aquariums, a standard 24hours timer works perfectly to give 10-12 hours of light everyday.

The accessories above are necessary and you can decide to house fish and plants in your aquarium only if all these things are present and working.

Moreover there are few optional things you can decide to buy or not:

- Glass cleaner accessories. They come in different models, some are like razors, some other are hard sponges made of two magnetic parts, one goes inside the tank and one goes outside, so you can move the external part and make the internal part moving at the same time without wetting your hands. These accessories are used to keep the glass clean from algae and other dirt, if your aquarium works fine maybe you will never need them, anyway they are usually cheap and you can decide to buy it in advance.

- Gravel cleaners. They come in various models too, both manual and electric; they are a sort of vacuum cleaner, that take off all the dirt present in the gravel. This can be useful and a standard manual one can be enough, anyway if you do not overpopulate the tank, do not overfeed fish, and do not let all the plants die, you can avoid to use it, because plants and filtering bacteria will clean the gravel themselves.

- Automatic fish-feeder. This object can be filled with the necessary food for a week or more and can feed your fish daily during your absence. Automatic fish-feeders have various price range, depending on the optionals they have. Buy it only if you plan long absences (more than a week), while if you can not feed your fish for 2 or 3 days, you can leave them without food, there is no need to buy an automatic feeder.


Decorations are a personal decision, but some are better than others for the aquarium maintenance. For the ground you can decide among various materials, some works better, anyway every ground you choose must be made of materials that do not alter water values and made for freshwater aquariums. You can choose among:

- Sand. It looks really beautiful, but needs some more maintenance, because it gets easily dirt, moreover some plants can have difficulties to stay anchored on the ground. fish usually like to dig the sand, this is not a problem but the tank can look really untidy. Remember to take sand for freshwater purposes only, sea sand is not good at all!

- Small gravel. Maybe this is the best solution, you can find it in many colours both natural and artificial, plants stay anchored without spoiling the roots and fish can dig without messing up everything; small gravel has also more resistance to dirt.

- Big gravel and stones. Maybe these are the worst solution you can choose: they can spoil plants roots, fish can not dig but can get injured, but mainly the deposited dirt among stones is really difficult, or almost impossible to be removed and this can collapse the aquarium balance.

As for the decorations you can decided between natural ones (like stones or woods) and plastic ones (they come in every shape for every taste). The first solution being more natural can influence the aquarium balance, but usually look better and fish seem to feel more comfortable with. The second solution being made of plastic do not influence water values, but are really expansive and do not look so natural most of time.

- Natural stones: choose stones made of materials that do not influence water chemical values (i.e. avoid calcareous stones), and without pointed edges that can injure fish. You can find various kind of stones of many colours with different prices in shops, while if you have a stone and would like to put it in the tank, put some lemon juice or vinegar on the surface, if there are not reactions you can use it, while if the surface sparkles the stone is too much calcareous and is not right for the aquarium.

- Natural woods: choose woods for aquariums only, do not use other woods because they usually go bad and can pollute the water. If an aquarium wood make water yellow do not get worried, the colour comes from the acids presents in the wood and they are not dangerous, and most of times are also useful; anyway only new woods loose colour, this will stop after some time and some water changes.

- Plastic decorations: they are really expansive and often look bad in the aquarium. If you want something special in your tank like a submerged galleon, or a skull, they can be fine, but maybe to have a balanced aquarium, natural decoration are the better choice.

Chemical products

There are a lot of chemical products for aquariums and some of them can be really expansive; anyway only few of them are really useful for an aquarium:

- Filter activator. This contains the filtering bacteria that take care of the biological filtration. They are really important specially at the beginning. They come in different kinds, liquid, pills and more, and have also various prices depending on the brand, but almost all work good.

- Plants fertilizer. There are a lot of different fertilizer, from cheap to expensive, different for composition, made in pills or in liquid solutions; every fertilizer you choose must be for aquarium use, or will kill your fish. If you do not have particular plants you do not need special products, anyway a standard liquid fertilizer to use monthly is useful.

Florapol fertilizer from JBL

Aquarium plants fertilizer, Florapol from JBL, picture 1

Aquarium plants fertilizer, Florapol from JBL, picture 2

Aquarium plants fertilizer in empty fish tank - placed under gravel; Florapol from JBL

Other products such as algae killers, active carbon, disinfectant and other special product must be used carefully and only in particular situations, there is no need to buy it in advance but only if you really need them.

Copyright note: This article is originally written by Michela Ferretti. owns the full copyright of this article.

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