SUPER Easy 10-Gallon Fish Tank Set-Up Instructions For Beginners

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In the post below you’ll learn how to set up a 10-Gallon Fish Tank in an easy to follow format with pictures, videos, and guides.

Whether you are a novice at fish keeping or a seasoned fish enthusiast, you may have thought about setting up a small 10-gallon fish tank.

A 10 Gallon aquarium is a very common size that might be considered perfect for beginners, but you need to be aware that small tanks can be more of a headache than larger aquariums.

Although it is small enough to be placed almost anywhere and typically very affordable, I always recommend that beginners look to get at least a 20-gallon tank when starting in the hobby.

With that out of the way, there are a few benefits to setting up a 10-gallon tank that make it appealing to beginners.

Because it’s a small size, you won’t find it difficult to find equipment, decorations, and accessories for your tank.

Because of this, a 10-gallon aquarium or kit is often purchased by beginners or parents who want to set up a small tank in their child’s room.

That said, let’s get into some things you might want to consider before getting wet with the hobby.

What You Need To Know About A 10 Gallon Fish Tank

You can get a 10-gallon fish tank as a standalone unit or in a starter kit.

Before you head out and get that tank you should consider three important factors when purchasing your aquarium, they are the weight, material, and construction of the aquarium, which we will discuss below.

Weight

Whenever you buy an aquarium, you need to know what it will weigh once it’s fully set up.

The tank’s weight is essential to consider if you’re placing it on a table or another piece of furniture because you need to know if your stand can handle the weight of a filled fish tank.

Also, note that water is not the only thing you place in your tank.

The material your fish tank is made up of (glass or acrylic) dictates how much it would weigh when it is empty. Once you fill it, water will make up for most of the weight. The substrate and decorations also determine the final weight of your full tank.

Let’s consider a simple fish tank weighing 10 lbs when empty. If you fill it to the top with just freshwater, it will weigh about 93.4 lbs.

One gallon of fresh water weighs around 8.34 lbs. (Density of water can make the weight higher or lower)

8.34 lbs per gallons x 10 gallons = 83.4 lbs

83.4 lbs of water + 10 lbs of fish tank = 93.4 lbs

Usually, a 10-gallon fish tank with a layer of substrate weighs around 110 to 115 lbs.

The tank’s dimensions and shape do not affect the weight of a fish tank once it’s filled since 10-gallon of water will always weigh the same (regardless of shape).

The kind of substrate you use will also influence the weight of the fish tank. Gravel, aqua soils, and other substrates all have different densities, and they all displace the water differently.

Materials & Construction

The two most common materials used for making a fish tank are glass and high-strength acrylic.

Glass-made fish tanks are cheaper, easier to clean, and they stay clearer for extended periods. But they are also heavy and do not allow much flexibility in shapes. They also tend to break easily.

Acrylic is a clear plastic that can withstand the significant weight and pressure of water. Acrylics are light, hard to break, and offer a great variety in design. But acrylic tanks are expensive, hard to clean without scratching, and they tend to turn yellow over time.

A 10-gallon fish tank is usually rectangular in size, with four sides and a bottom made with either glass or acrylic where all sides are held together with a silicone sealant to prevent leaks.

Most aquariums will come without lids, but when there is one, it is most often another material like plastic, glass, or acrylic.

Everything used is in the construction of a fish tank is strictly non-toxic for Fish.

What are the dimensions of a 10-gallon fish tank?

Standard dimensions of a 10-gallon tank are: 20″ x10″ x12″ (LxWxH). Most 10-gallon fish tanks you will find will stick to these dimensions.

Some other sizes are 20.25″ x 10.5″ x 13.31″, and taller ones like 11.81″ x 11.62″ x 17.05″.

Sometimes, the dimensions affect the Fish you choose. Some would be happier in deeper tanks, while others would prefer shallow tanks with a larger surface area.

10 Gallon Fish Tank Kits

Starter kits are perfect for beginners. They come with “most” of the equipment you need to set up and start your first fish tank.

However, you will still need to do your research about the kind of Fish you want to keep, but a starter kit can help you with the rest.

What should you look for in an excellent 10-gallon fish tank starter kit?

What you should look for in a 10-gallon fish tank starter kit

Apart from a high-quality 10-gallon tank, a good starter kit might have some of the following items:

1. A good filter and media – Since the water in smaller fish tanks can become toxic quickly, a Filter is essential. Also, Filter media for the filter, along with some spare media, should be included.

2. Substrate – A sufficient supply of substrate, whether gravel or aqua sand, maybe part of the kit. The type of substrate you use depends a lot on the Fish you are planning to keep.

3. A Heater – All Fish have different heating requirements. Some prefer colder waters, while others need water that is warmer than room temperature. A heater is crucial for every starter kit.

4. Water Conditioners – Tap water is usually chlorine-treated, and not very desirable for delicate Fish. Water conditioners tweak the hardness and mineral content of the water in the fish tank so that the water is in optimal condition for your Fish to stay healthy and thrive.

5. Lighting – Lighting is essential for your Fish, the display of your tank, and especially for the plants. Make sure your starter kit has sufficient light according to your needs.

6. Fish food – Even though it will be in a limited quantity, food may come with a starter kit.

I don’t think food is a great idea to include since the manufacturer of the kit has no idea what type of Fish you will be keeping, you’re better off buying food from your local fish store based on the needs of your specific Fish.

Additionally, a starter kit can have:

1. Decorations: Fish love to hide and play. If there are rocks, plants, and other types of decorative items, it usually keeps the Fish happy and active. We put together a great list of decorations ideas you can use in your aquarium such as using Lego as an aquarium decoration.

2. Fish Net: When you clean your fish tank, you will need to relocate your Fish to another tank or container. A Fish net will help make this process easier.

3. Water Testing Kit: Some rudimentary water testers for hardness and other elements. It may be hard for beginners to understand, but it’s an integral part of controlling the environment of your fish tank.

Should you buy a starter kit?

The answer to this question depends entirely on your requirements.

A starter kit would be perfect if you’re a beginner and want to start keeping Fish as a hobby, without investing too much time in preparations and research.

If you’re going to keep a fish tank only for its aesthetic value, a starter kit is better for you. It would give you an easy way to keep and maintain a fish tank without much hassle.

However, if you are planning on fish keeping as a serious hobby, and you are ready to invest time and money into it, don’t buy a starter kit.

Instead, do your research and prepare a fish tank yourself from scratch. It would help you better understand the needs of your Fish. And with sufficient research, you might be able to design a much better fish tank for your Fish than any standard starter kit.

How Much Are 10 Gallon Fish Tanks?

If you are going for just the fish tank, they range anywhere from $15 to $60, depending upon the material and the quality. But you should be able to pick a decent one for about $20-30.

Remember, the fish tank is just one item. A complete 10-gallon fish tank will cost much more. You will need to add the gravel, a good filter, lighting, a lid (if there isn’t one), a heater, and conditioners. These are just the essentials for preparing a tank.

Fish and food are a separate expense. However, food, conditioners, and filter media would be considered a running cost of a fish tank.

If you choose the easy way and go with a starter kit, it will cost you somewhere between $100 and $400.

You can also but everything you need for your aquarium yourself for lesser than that. With about $150 – $200, you can buy all the necessary equipment as well as the tank and maybe a stand.

Essential Equipment for a 10 Gallon Fish Tank

Now that we’ve discussed the different options available to you, we should consider what you need at a minimum.

Below you’ll find the necessary equipment need to set up your new 10-gallon aquarium properly.

Stand

If you’re not planning on placing the fish tank on a table or desk, then choosing the right stand is essential.

Remember, your 10-gallon tank might weigh around 111 pounds when filled- that’s about as much as an average 14-year-old child.

So you need a stand that is sturdy and can support your tank’s weight and dimensions.

Stands are made from wood or metal. They usually accommodate the fish tank at the top, but some cabinet types have space in the middle for fish tanks.

A nice stand for a 10-gallon fish tank might cost you about $75. If possible, try to choose a stand that can accommodate a larger and heavier aquarium so that you can be sure your tank will be supported.

Heater

Another essential part of a fish tank is the heater. With a 10-gallon tank, you don’t need a heavy-duty heater.

Both a 50W and 100W heater will work in a 10-gallon tank. Though 50W is often sufficient enough to heat the tank, a 100W does it faster and without too much effort.

Most heaters cost somewhere between $20 to $50.

Choosing the right heater also depends on the climate where you live. If it gets cold in winter, it’s better to have a powerful heater to keep the water temperature up.

Maintaining the temperature is necessary, depending upon the Fish you are keeping. Most Tropical Fish species prefer warmer temperatures.

Filters

The filter is one of the most important pieces of equipment for your tank as it provides greater surface area for your beneficial bacteria to grow. There are many different options for filters in a 10-gallon tank from the hang-on-back filter to sponges, even canister filters can be used for a 10-gallon tank? Well, you can as well a

Air Pumps and Bubblers

Even though air pumps and bubblers are not essential parts of a fish tank, many people like to use them.

Air pumps help with surface agitation allowing oxygen to enter into the water and provide better circulation, sometimes aided by a bubbler. Oxygenation of the water helps with the removal of carbon dioxide.

Powerheads can also be used in a 10-gallon tank to help keep the water circulation going and can even be used to run sponge filters.

You can get a great pump and a bubbler for about $12.

Lights

Lights are necessary for fish tanks, especially if the aquarium is in a poorly lit room. Fish need lights to get a better sense of day and night.

Lights can be internal, placed underneath the lid of the fish tank, or they can be external, directed from the top or side of the fish tank.

Lights are mandatory if you have a planted fish tank. Plants need light to grow and make their food. For a planted aquarium, you have to have adequate light with the right power, diffusion, and color according to your plant’s needs.

Four common types of lights used in fish tanks are fluorescent bulbs, metal halides, LED bulbs, and halogens.

For a 10-gallon tank, fluorescent and LEDs are the best options since the other two are too powerful for small fish tanks.

Depending on the functionality, remote control features, and other options, the light for a 10-gallon fish tank can cost anywhere from $10 to $120.

If you’re looking for a great light for your 10-gallon set up then check out our post: The Best LED Lights For Your 10 Gallon Fish Tank

Lids and Hoods

Some fish tanks come without lids. Some don’t require a top, depending upon how they are set up.

If your fish tank doesn’t have a lid or hood, you’ll need to buy one according to your fish tank dimensions. Covers can are of wood, plastic, acrylic, or glass.

You can usually find a suitable lid for about $20.

Gravel and Substrate

Gravel or other types of substrates are recommended for a fish tank.

If all the sides are glass as well as the bottom of the tank, the Fish can get disoriented. They need a layer of substrate in the fish tank for it to mimic their natural habitat. You also can’t plant anything without the right substrate.

Most people prefer gravel as the primary substrate. Others prefer sand or aqua soil.

Need to know how much gravel you need? Check out our post: How Much Gravel For 10 Gallon Tank And Other Substrate Options You Can Use

The kind of substrate you use depends a lot on the type of Fish or plants you have. Bottom feeder fish need a substrate that is not too sharp to hurt them. Fish that like to bury and hide prefer sand.

If we go by the general rule of 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon of water, you will need 15 pounds of gravel for your 10-gallon fish tank. You can easily get that much good quality substrate for less than $20.

Plants

Plants are a great way to beautify your fish tank. They also give your Fish places to hide and play. Some Fish may even feed on certain kinds of plants.

The plants you choose for your fish tank depends upon the Fish, size of the fish tank, and the substrate you have.

Since beginners often use 10-gallon fish tanks, most plants used in these tanks need to be easy to grow. Plants like Java Moss, Java Fern, Amazon swords, Anacharis, and Hornworts require minimal care and are available for around $10.

If you’re interested in setting up a planted tank there are a few different requirements. Lucky for you I shared my very own experiences and show you my exact setup along with pictures and videos in my post: A Complete Guide to Setting up Your 10-Gallon Planted Tank

Here is my first 10-gallon planted tank.

Decoration Ideas

Rocks are the most common decorative items for fish tanks. They help make Fish feel more comfortable as they tend to mimic their natural habitat.

Go easy on the decorations though, shoving too many decorations into a small fish tank will limit the amount of room your Fish have to swim in.

An excellent mix of plants and rocks is considered optimal natural décor. Additionally, you can choose small toys, structures, and items where Fish can hide. Make sure these items are easy to clean.

Shells and tiny rock formations are also good options. You may even go all out and try aquascaping, but be warned it’s a costly endeavor.

Other Equipment

Apart from these necessary items, additional equipment can be used to set up your fish tank as well. You can use protein skimmers for better waste management. Carbon dioxide diffusers are used for planted fish tanks.

There is also other specialized equipment available, such as monitoring systems, testing kits, automatic feeders, as well as gravel vacuum that can be used for 10-gallon tanks.

A UV sterilizer, for example, can help enhance the filtration process and ensure cleaner water with fewer bacteria.

Keeping Fish is an exciting hobby. You can start with small fish tanks and simple setups that wouldn’t be so costly. Or you can build it up to more expensive and elaborate setups. Whatever set up, you prepare, make sure it has all the necessary and fundamental items.

Once you have a functional fish tank, you can upgrade it later per your budget.

How to Set Up a 10 Gallon Fish Tank

Once you have all the necessary equipment and decor ready to go, it’s time to start setting up your 10-gallon fish tank.

Setting Up the Equipment & Tank

From placement to cycling, there are several easy steps involved in setting up a tank.

The first step, even before you buy the tank, is to decide on the Fish and plants you want to keep. This decision will heavily influence everything else.

Placement of Fish Tank

The first step is, of course, placing your fish tank. It may seem trivial, but choosing the right place is essential.

You may relocate the tank at a later time, but it is always better to put the fish tank in one spot and not move it around too much.

Make sure the stand, table, or cabinet you are putting it on will be able to hold it once it’s filled. The fish tank should be level, and no side should be hanging off the surface.

Wherever you are placing it, make sure you have sufficient room for its cleaning, maintenance, and feeding. The location should be near electrical outlets and water supply.

Wash the Substrate

Whether you choose sand or gravel, you need to wash your substrate correctly.

Gravel is easy to clean; you can place it in either a colander or a large sieve. Run water through it and stop once the water collecting in the bottom becomes clean.

Don’t use soap or detergent, as they can be toxic for the Fish.

You can clean the sand by burying a water hose inside the sand layer in a bucket. Fill the bucket almost to the top. Keep moving the sand to get the dirt out. Let the water overflow until it’s clear above the sand. Then drain the water.

It’s essential to wash a bit more sand than you need, so even if you lose some in the washing, you still have enough for your tank.

Lay the Substrate

For almost all substrates, a level layer about an inch high is enough. Unless you plan on some aquascaping, make sure the substrate is even at the surface.

Add the filter, pump, and heater

Once you’ve placed the substrate, add the filter unit and heater in the fish tank, but don’t plug them in at this stage. The most commonly used filter type is hang-on-the-back, with only a suction tube in the water. But the heater unit needs to be completely submerged.

Where you install your pumps air stone, or diffuser will depend on whether your Fish are bottom dwellers or if they love to swim in the middle.

Most air stones and bubblers come with a suction cup that can be attached to any inside wall of the fish tank. Just place it where you want it.

Decorate

Now for the fun stage of setting up a fish tank. Now that the substrate, filter, and heater are in place, you can decorate the fish tank.

You can place small rocks, driftwood, or plastic plants in the aquarium. You should decorate the tank, keeping in mind the Fish you plan to keep. You can also add a background to the back wall of your tank for a complete look.

Fill and Check

Once you’re done with the decoration, fill the tank with water. If you have sand as a substrate, pour the water in very gently.

After filling your aquarium, you can check if your filter, heater, and pump are working correctly. Lastly, always ensure the heater is submerged before turning it on.

After all this, you might be itching to put your Fish in! Well, you can’t just yet.

But this might be the perfect time for introducing any live plants into your fish tank. Make sure the plants you are growing in the fish tank have almost the same water requirements as your Fish.

Now comes the all-important part of cycling the tank.

Cycling the Tank

Cycling is the process of growing the bacteria needed for a healthy fish tank.

Fish release their waste into the water, which accumulates and converts to ammonia. Ammonia is very harmful, and even a minor growth of ammonia can make your Fish sick and even kill them.

The right kind of bacteria that grows in the filter, as well as on the substrate, breaks down fish waste, creating a nitrogen cycle.

The cycle works in three stages.

First, the waste is broken down into ammonia. The ammonia is then broken down into a harmful nitrite (NO3). The toxic nitrite is broken down into an almost benign nitrate (NO2).

Introduce dry fish food in the tank and record the nitrate values during the cycling process. It will help you keep track of the progress of the bacterial growth.

Only when the ammonia and harmful nitrite values start coming up nil can your tank be considered ready for the introduction of the Fish. Nitrate values shouldn’t be more than 40 ppm, either.

This process can easily take up to three weeks. You may expedite the process by introducing live bacteria, but it will still take time.

Adding Your New Fish

After cycling, make sure to check other parameters too.

The pH value should be right for the Fish, and there shouldn’t be phosphorus buildup. In essence, your fish tank should mimic the Fish’s current habitat.

Adding the new Fish can be exciting, but make sure you do it right. Most pet shops give you the Fish in a plastic bag. Once you are home, turn off the lights of the fish tank and dim the lights in the room.

The presence of rocks, plants, or artificial décor is essential because the new Fish will want to hide.

If you plan on moving more than one fish in the tank, make sure you introduce two or three fish together. Only do this if they are the same type, though, so they don’t fight or bully each other.

Once home, place the bag in your tank for about twenty minutes; this will slowly match the temperature of the Fish in the bag to the room temperature.

Then, open the bag and place the water from the tank into the bag — equal parts. If the bag has 200 ml, add 200 ml from the fish tank.

After fifteen to twenty minutes, take the Fish out of the bag using a fish net, and place them in the tank.

And now, your fish tank is alive!

How to Clean a 10 Gallon Fish Tank

Maintaining the fish tank is just as important as setting it up the right way.

Proper cleaning of your 10-gallon tank means a partial water change at least once a week and cleaning or siphoning off the waste and rotting food from the substrate as often as you can.

For partial water change, you can remove about 2.5 to 3 gallons of water from the fish tank. Then add the new, treated tap water.

Make sure the water you are adding has the same temperature as the water in the fish tank. A sudden change in temperature can be harmful to the Fish.

Also, you should not change your filter media at the same time during a water change. You can clean your filter of any solid waste or debris that is stuck, but changing all the filter media all at once will remove all the beneficial bacteria you worked so hard to create during cycling.

Clean the filter at least once a month. Replace media/cartridges as per the manufacturer recommendations, or when they are too degraded to continue using. Don’t change the all filter media at once, and make step by step changes.

What Fish can you keep in a 10-Gallon Fish Tank

Once you have your aquarium all set up, you should make an informed choice regarding the Fish you want to keep.

A general rule of thumb to follow is 1-inch of Fish per 1 gallon of water.

So ideally keep a few tiny fish in the 10-gallon tank, or one or two large ones. Small aquariums are also hard to maintain since they need frequent cleaning. Therefore, the Fish you plan to stock in the 10-gallon tank should be relatively less messy, small, and peaceful.

The best Fish to keep in a 10-gallon fish tank are:

1. Tetras – Neon, Glowlight, Cardinal (Inactive and small fish. Prefer to live in schools. Since they only reach up to 5 inches, at least 5, 6 tetras can be kept easily in a 10-gallon tank.)

2. Dwarf Corydoras (Small bottom dwellers. They can live happily with Fish that prefer to dwell in the middle or top of the tank. Grow up to 1.4 inches, you can keep as many as 6-8 in one tank)

3. Sparkling Gourami (Peaceful omnivores. Keep them with other peaceful Fish and in pairs. Up to three couples in a 10-gallon tank.)

4. Betta (Beautiful but aggressive. Can only be kept single, with other very peaceful Fish).

Other than that, guppies, zebra dinos, cherry barb, least killifish, and white cloud mountain minnows are also good options.

If you want to explore the option of stocking different Fish in your 10-gallon tank, some ideas are:

1. One Betta+ 4-6 Dwarf Corydoras

2. 4-6 guppies (male)

3. 4-6 Neon Tetras + 3 Tea Cup Platies

Make sure you understand each Fish when you are introducing a different species of Fish in your 10-gallon tank.

Some fish are too aggressive to let others live peacefully. Some are too timid, and they get depressed around other species of Fish.

Looking for some specific stocking ideas for your 10-gallon tank then check out any of my articles below:

  1. Stocking A 10 Gallon Tank
  2. 12 Hungry Algae Eaters For Small Tanks 10 Gallons & Under
  3. Best Small Catfish for a 10-Gallon Tank Setup
  4. Bottom Feeder Fish for a 10-Gallon Tank
  5. How Many Neon Tetras In A 10 Gallon Tank
  6. How Many Guppies in a 10-Gallon Tank
  7. How Many Goldfish in a 10-Gallon Tank

Setup Ideas for Your 10 Gallon Tank

There are many ways to set up your 10-gallon fish tank. You can set it up as a breeding tank, a quarantine tank, a planted tank, single species, or multiple species tanks.

A breeding tank would require plants for the fry to hide in, and bushes or mossy growth for breeder fish.

A quarantine tank is for sick Fish that may need to get healthy before joining the main fish tank.

A planted tank focuses equally on aquatic plants in the tank and the Fish. Water parameters must be strictly kept in check, so that both plant and Fish may thrive.

Apart from these setup suggestions, there are some decoration themed setup ideas for 10-gallon tanks as well.

They need the right combination of decorations, pieces, lighting, plant, and Fish to look beautiful.

Did you know some Cichlids are small enough to keep in a 10-gallon tank? Learn more in our article Easy 10-gallon Cichlid Tank Ideas

Final Thoughts

Even though beginners might prefer a 10-gallon tank, many experienced and seasoned fish-enthusiast keep them as well. They may use them for small Fish, or as breeding tanks, among other reasons.

But the bottom line is that a 10-gallon tank is a fun and inexpensive option for the hobby.

There are enough ideas, tips, and equipment available for setting up a 10-gallon tank.

From the initial preparation to taking care of Fish, a 10-gallon fish tank can help transform you from a beginner in fish keeping to an expert.

More Info About 10-Gallon Tanks

  1. Guide to Setting up Your 10-Gallon Planted Tank
  2. 12 Hungry Algae Eaters For Small Tanks 10 Gallons & Under
  3. Stocking A 10 Gallon Tank
  4. Best Small Catfish for a 10-Gallon Tank Setup
  5. Bottom Feeder Fish for a 10-Gallon Tank
  6. How Much Gravel For A 10 Gallon Tank
  7. How Many Neon Tetras In A 10 Gallon Tank
  8. How Many Guppies in a 10-Gallon Tank
  9. How Many Goldfish in a 10-Gallon Tank
  10. Easy 10-gallon Cichlid Tank Ideas
  11. Best Powerhead for a 10 Gallon Tank
  12. What Is The Best Canister Filter For A 10 Gallon Fish Tank?
  13. Gravel Vacuum For 10 Gallon Tank & Smaller
  14. Best Stands For 10 Gallon Fish Tanks