freshwater: community

Welcome to the exciting world of fish keeping!  Make this guide your checklist for everything you’ll need to get your aquarium started and set up for success!

Aquarium and Stand

Aquariums come in all sizes. The larger the environment the better quality of life the fish will have. The size aquarium you choose depends on the size and quantity of fish (bio load) you will be keeping. Aquariums are available in glass or acrylic, with acrylic being the more expensive of the two. Either will offer a wonderful fish-keeping experience. Make sure and attain a stand capable of withstanding the weight of the aquarium (nearly 10 lbs / 4.5 kg per gallon!)

When your glass or acrylic needs cleaning pick up ATM Mirage, a cleaner and polish that is non-toxic to your aquatic friends.


A hood on top of the tank accomplishes a few important things. First, it keeps fish prone to jumping out of the tank safely inside. Second, it slows down the evaporation of water that otherwise would dissipate into the room. And third, it houses all-important lighting for your fish and plants. The best options for lighting are fluorescent bulbs and LED’s, with fluorescent bulbs being the most economical. Appropriate lighting is crucial to plant health and the circadian rhythm of your fish.


The best optics toward aquarium keeping is that taking care of your fish means achieving great water quality. Canister filters are recommended as the best filtration for your aquarium, as they offer a variety of crucial filtration methods in the most practical layout. Filtration is made up of physical filtration and bio-filtration. Physical filtration consists of pads, sponges, and sometimes carbon to filter particulate. Bio-filtration, however, utilizes media that houses important nitrifying bacteria required to remove toxic ammonia from the system. This media is typically included in canister filters.

A flow rate of between 4-6 times the gallons per hour (depending on bio-load) is required to adequate filtration. So, for a 20 gallon (75.7 L) tank moderately stocked, a filter with a 80 gallon-per hour flow rate (303 L per hour) would suffice. A heavily stocked tank of the same volume would require a 120 gallon-per-hour (454 L per hour) flow rate.


There are many substrates to choose from when putting together your freshwater aquarium. Typically, gravel is the best way to begin. Thoroughly rinse and add one pound of gravel per gallon (1” to 2”) to the bottom of the aquarium prior to filling it with water.

Decorations And Plants

Aquariums are far more enjoyable with a natural look. Decorations, including real or synthetic plants will simulate a natural environment for the fish, which they will even use as needed hiding places. This is very important for fish health as being in an open and exposed environment can cause stress and possibly aggressive behavior.

Heater / Thermometer

Fish require a consistent, non-changing temperature for optimum health. Make sure and get an adjustable heater that is adequate for your tank size and a thermometer to monitor water temperatures.

Gravel Vacuum

Gravel vac acts as a siphon to remove detritus and other organic waste from the substrate of the aquarium. It also removes the water for water changes at the same time. It is one of the most important tools to a healthy, clean aquarium!

Test Kits

Without test kits it’s hard to get a feel for your water parameters. But test kits are not created equally. They range from low quality test strips, which are the least expensive all the way up to EPA standard field kits that are hundreds of dollars. Luckily, there is a range of reagent test kits for aquarium that are economical and are accurate enough for the aquatic environment. The essential test kits are for pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. They will help you keep your water safe for your fish from the cycling process and beyond.

Water Conditioning Additives

The good news is that there are not a lot of products that you need. Freshwater aquariums work the best with tap water, as it contains a host of minerals necessary for the aquatic ecosystem (never use RO/DI water or bottled water). However, it also contains toxic chlorine and/or chloramine. A good quality dechlorinator, such as Blue Shark Paradigm, will instantly remove toxic chlorine and chloramine. An authentic nitrifying bacteria additive, Blue Shark Colony, will make the aquarium safe for fish in days by installing bio-filtration that filters out toxic ammonia naturally. Additionally, an organics-consuming product, as in Blue Shark Outbreak! will keep aquatic pests like algae at bay. It would also be a good idea to keep an emergency ammonia remover on-hand, the best of which is Blue Shark Triage.

Other Tools

The right tool for the job makes aquarium keeping fun and efficient. Fish nets are useful for many applications, including moving fish, removing debris from the tank, and even scaping the substrate on the bottom of the tank. Also, keep an algae scrubber to eliminate any algae that might accumulate on glass/acrylic or decorations. A typical 5 gallon bucket is good to isolate specifically for aquarium use during transferring of water during water changes.




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