How to Choose a Fish Tank

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2023
3 min read

Properly caring for a fish requires more than just finding a fish tank and filling it with tap water. There are many aquarium options available, so you’ll want to take a little extra effort in picking out the right one to support your aquatic pets.

Fish tanks come in all shapes and sizes, and some include a few more bells and whistles than others. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money on a fish tank, but you will want to spend some time considering what type of tank is best for you and your fish.

Your fish tank purchase will be influenced by the type of fish you own or will own. When choosing your fish tank, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind, including: 

Any extra equipment. Along with the fish tank itself, you’ll need to also consider the extra items needed to support a healthy aquarium environment. These include air pumps, gravel, heater, thermostat, and chemical additives to remove chlorine from the water in the tank. Taking shortcuts on equipment might impact the health of your fish.

Good lighting for your fish—and you. Make sure your fish tank has balanced lighting. Excess lighting could cause the water to get too warm, leading to algae buildup. Not enough lighting means you may have difficulties seeing your pet fish.

Lighting depends on the size of your tank, too. You’ll likely need to purchase more lighting for a larger tank than a smaller one. A good rule of thumb is to try and have one to two watts of lighting available per gallon of water.

The filtration system. Filtration systems remove debris and particles that tend to build up in fish tanks. Some use a mechanical system that filters water in the tank through a charcoal-filled spongy material. This kind of system tends to work best in small tanks, so you may want to look at different filtration options for a larger one.

The visual appeal. Your fish tank doesn’t just have to be a cozy home for your fish. It can also be an attractive piece of decor for your home. When picking a tank, consider how to make it look good and the maintenance that comes with it. 

You can fill the bottom of the tank with sand, small gravel, or glass stones. Sand can give your tank a more tropical look but can be harder to maintain. Gravel works well in freshwater tanks and is easier to clean. From here, you can choose from various decorations, including plants. Fish like having a place where they can hide, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding which accessories to include in your fish tank.

The size. Think about where you’ll place your fish tank and how many fish it will hold. Some tanks are as small as one gallon, while others can contain up to 200 gallons. Buying the right size fish tank from the beginning is important. Moving your fish can put extra stress on them. 

The placement. Make sure your fish tank is out of direct sunlight. Also avoid putting it too close to sources of heat or air. These factors can affect the water temperature and promote algae growth.

The temperament of your fish. Get to know the types of fish you want to fill your tank with. Different types may not get along. Some fish have an aggressive nature and may end up harming or even killing other, more passive fish. 

Fish with semi-aggressive and aggressive personalities can live together if your fish tank is large enough for them to avoid running into each other. Neon tetras, guppies, and mollies are a few types of mellow fish that live well with others.

How much time you have to care for your fish. Fish are fairly low maintenance pets, but they still require time and care. Start each day by checking on all the fish in your aquarium. Remove any dead fish immediately with a net.  You’ll also need to regularly check the water temperature, ensure filters are working properly, and clean the tank.