The Essential Aquarium Equipment & Supplies List – Must Haves

This is a list of all the essential aquarium equipment you’ll need to start a new aquarium along with a few add-ons.

We’ll break it down into a super easy format that even a beginner will be able to succeed.

If you’re sick of reading the old complicated beginner guides then check out our guide: Best Freshwater Aquarium Setup. Check it out!


Top Equipment For Your Aquarium

What Equipment Is Essential For Your Aquarium?

Affordability and the fish you are planning to keep will impact what size (and material) aquarium you choose. The general rule here is the bigger, the better, since it gives your fish plenty of room to swim about, and you get a lot of aqua-scaping options.

Aquarium Heater

A water heater is a fully submersible heater (mostly) that’s used to increase the temperature of your aquarium water.

Most tropical fish need a higher than average (room) water temperature to stay healthy and comfortable. Therefore, a heater is an essential piece of equipment for most aquariums.

It needs to be plugged into an outside source and turned on only when it is partially or fully immersed in water, or you’ll damage the heating element. Suction cups are typically used to keep them in place.

Further Reading: Learn How To Use An Aquarium Heater (Everything You Need To Know About Setting Up, Installing & Regulating Your Aquarium Heater)

Thermometers To Set The Right Water Temperature

On its own, an aquarium heater will just keep raising the aquarium water temperature. And since your plan isn’t to cook the fish in your aquarium, most heaters come with a thermostat and automatically turn off when the water reaches a set temperature.

You’ll still need a thermometer to ensure that your aquarium water is within the right temperature range (since most fish are sensitive to temperature fluctuations).

A thermometer is usually installed as far away from the heater as possible, to make sure that the aquarium water is heated uniformly and that the heater isn’t just creating a hot pocket around itself.

Further Reading: Find A Great Thermometer With Our Guide To The Best Aquarium Thermometers.

A Filter To Establish Biological Filtration

Another essential equipment for your aquarium is a filter.

Its job is to keep the aquarium water clean and establish a colony of useful bacteria that converts dangerous ammonia into less dangerous nitrates (read Nitrogen Cycle). The ammonia is generated by the natural breakdown of fish waste and leftover food.

Most good aquarium filters take care of three elements: Mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration, each of which is necessary to keep your aquarium water in pristine condition for your fish.

Without an effective filter in place, your water will accumulate harmful ammonia, making your fish sick.

Further Reading: Find The Right Filter With Our Guide To Finding The Best Aquarium Filter.

Gravel Or Substrate

Even if you don’t have any plants in your aquarium, keeping a bare glass-bottom is not a good idea. It makes your fish feel like it’s trapped in an alien environment, which can stress them.

A substrate, whether it’s aqua sand, aquarium soil, or the most common substrate – gravel, covering the bottom of the aquarium will make your fish feel more “at-home” since it mimics what its natural habitat looks like.

Aquarium gravel also aids in establishing a beneficial bacteria colony. It can be coarse or fine, but it should never be sharp enough to damage your bottom-dwelling fish’s fins.

Fine gravel is better for bottom feeders. Gravel’s color can be chosen based on your fish’s natural habitat as well as aesthetic reasons. It can help anchor many aquatic plants.

Further Reading: If You Plan On Using Live Plants Use One Of The Best Substrates For A Planted Tank.

Every Tank Needs Lighting

If you have a planted aquarium, lighting is a must. Aquarium lighting is usually a dedicated lamp or strip of LEDs powerful enough to diffuse a sufficient amount of light in the tank water, needed for plant growth.

Some fish need light as well, but not too much and not all the time. These lights can either be installed under the lid or clamped on the walls of an open aquarium.

Depending upon the fish and plants in your aquarium, you will have to choose a light with adequate power, and rated for the right light spectrum needed for plant growth.

Further Reading: If You Want To Keep Live Plants You’ll Want To Read Our Planted Aquarium LED Lighting Guide & Calculator.

A Good Stand

A typical 20-gallon glass tank weighs about 225 lbs when filled with water. It’s quite a weight, and it needs to be supported by a strong enough stand.

A good stand doesn’t stand out against the aesthetics of its surroundings and blends in with the aquarium. And it’s sturdy enough to bear the weight of a water-filled aquarium.

Stands for smaller tanks may come in cabinet styles, but larger stands are usually table-top type. Metal is an economical and sturdy choice, as long as it doesn’t rust.

Tropical Fish food

Tropical fish food is what your little aquarium dwellers need for sustenance. It comes in different varieties (with separate price tags), and you can create your own at home.

For carnivore and omnivore fish, live or frozen feed is most natural (including earthworm, bloodworm, water flees, etc.), but it is also costly (live feed is more expensive).

A better option is to keep good quality palettes and flakes. They come in a variety of ingredient mixtures (some are animal protein-heavy, some are for herbivores), and the choice depends mostly on the kind of fish you have.

It’s A Good Idea To Get A Book About The Many Fish Species And Different Types Available

It’s part of the research you have to conduct before you buy the tank and other equipment.

It will help you with all your other decisions, like what size tank do you need, should it be planted, which substrate is better, etc. You will also learn which fish are compatible with each other. It can help you create a colorful (and peaceful) community tank.

Further Reading: Expand Your Knowledge With One Of These Best Aquarium And Tropical Fish Books

Lid or Hood (Optional)

A lid or a hood can keep your tank covered. It prevents evaporation, and the tank doesn’t add to the humidity in your room (essential for rooms with low ventilation).

A hood is also important to prevent some of the more freedom-loving fish to jump out to their demise. But it’s not compulsory.

Powerheads (Optional)

A powerhead creates a strong flow of water inside a tank, desired by many fish species whose natural habitat has strong water currents. It also helps with uniform temperature across the tank.

Further Reading: If Your Setting Up A Smaller Tank Try A Powerhead For A 10 Gallon Tank

Air Pump – Is An Air Pump Necessary For An Aquarium?

In most cases, no. An air pump introduces more oxygen in the water and ensures better gas exchange (Oxygen coming in, Carbon dioxide going out).

But if your aquarium has enough surface disruption, an air pump isn’t necessary. You also can’t use it when you are pumping carbon dioxide in the tank for your plants.

Further Reading: Learn About Air Pumps And Where Does The Air Pump Go In A Fish Tank?

Aquarium Cleaning Equipment

A clean aquarium is imperative for the health of your fish.

Below are just a few things you might need to clean your aquarium but be sure to check out our guide on using the right tools to clean fish tank

Gravel Vacuum To Clean Substrate And Complete Your Water Change

A gravel vacuum is simply a siphon tube that pumps water out of an aquarium by leveraging gravity.

You can also clean off any food debris and fish waste that’s littering the gravel (and polluting the water) by upsetting the gravel and sucking off the pollutants (gravel sits back). It also helps with a full or partial water change.

Further Reading: Get The Best Aquarium Vacuum Cleaner.

Bucket To Make Water Changes Easier

If your siphon tube doesn’t extend to a sink or out in the garden, you’d need a bucket for partial water replacement or completely draining the tank.

Make sure it’s easy to carry and has adequate capacity so that you don’t have to take several turns just to drain your aquarium.

Algae Scraper To Clean Glass

Algae generously “decorates” aquarium walls that get too much sunlight (or aquarium light), or the water is rich with nutrients. And if you don’t have any algae eaters in the tank, you need an algae scraper to keep the walls clean and maintain a beautiful aquarium.

Fish Net To Help Remove Fish

A fishnet helps you remove existing fish, or introduce new fish to the tank. You may need to put your fish in another tank or a container during full water changes, gravel changes, when adding driftwood, etc. It’s also used to remove a sick fish to a quarantine tank.

What Chemicals Do You Need To Start A Fish Tank?

You need to have certain chemicals handy when you have an aquarium.

Tap Water Conditioner To Remove Chlorine

Tap water is the most commonly used water source for freshwater tanks, but it needs to be treated. A high dosage of chlorine (a common disinfectant in tap water) can damage your fish’s gills and skin.

Make sure to choose a good water conditioner that doesn’t just remove chlorine, but also neutralizes ammonia that’s produced as a by-product.

Further Reading: Check Out My Favorite Conditioner In Our Seachem Prime Review And You’ll Also Learn How To use Seachem Prime Properly.

Test Kits To Monitor Water Quality

To ensure that the treated tap water in your aquarium is suitable for the fish, you need to check water parameters.

You need a test kit to do that, which can help you test your aquarium water for pH levels, ammonia, chlorine, nitrates, water hardness, etc.

Live Bacteria Seeding Product To Kick Start Nitrogen Cycle

Naturally, establishing a nitrogen cycle in your tank takes time, a lot of effort, and frequent water changes.

Therefore, many aquarists prefer to establish a tank and introduce beneficial bacteria as early as possible, which requires using a bacteria seeding kit.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Every aquarium can do with some add-ons.

Decorations – Rocks, Driftwood, Plastic Plants, Ornaments

Aquarium decorations like live rocks and driftwood give fish places to hide (which is very important) and make the aquarium resemble their natural habitat.

In either case, it helps make the fish comfortable in the tank. Be careful, introducing decorations, though, and don’t add harmful elements to aquarium water by accident.

Further Reading: Need Some Inspiration Check Out These Aquarium Decoration Ideas.

Live Plants Are Best

Live plants give an aquarium a naturally beautiful look, and they provide places for fish to hide and play in. They also help with the water quality, mitigating algae growth, and better gas exchange.

Further Reading: Learn How To Keep Live Plants In An Aquarium.

Aquarium Backgrounds

Aquarium backgrounds are colored, designed background images that you can add to your aquarium’s back wall. They add to the aesthetics of your aquarium, certainly more than a bland wall.

Further Reading: Want A Fun Weekend Project Try One Of These DIY Aquarium Background Ideas.

Where To Get Your Fish Tank Hardware?

Local fish stores, Amazon, and online fish stores are the three most common options to get your aquarium hardware.

You can compare the prices and quality from different sources, then make your purchasing decision accordingly.

Dedicated aquarium websites sometimes offer better deals than and higher quality than local stores or even Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

This article is part of a large series of articles to help you understand the benefits, myths, cost, and steps you need to take to set up a successful aquarium.

Below are links to the next and previous chapters in this series.

Now let’s get started on setting up your new aquarium.

Jack Dempsey
Follow Me