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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

32 Models Considered
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410 Consumers Consulted
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best fish tank starter kits

Last Updated July 2020

When it comes to choosing a pet, there’s a lot to be said for a tankful of freshwater fish. You might not be able to snuggle with them, it’s true, and you won’t have a purring companion or a wagging tail when you arrive home. But on the upside, you don’t need to walk your fish in inclement weather, they’ll never tear up your couch, and no worries about pet-induced allergies, shedding hair, or overflowing litter boxes. But for many beginning fish enthusiasts, setting up that first tank can be intimidating, which makes a starter kit a great idea.

There’s a lot of equipment required to keep freshwater fish healthy and happy, and learning to separate the must-haves from the would-likes requires a bit of research. Fish tank starter kits make the whole process much easier. These handy kits provide close to everything you need to get your aquarium up and running, and it’s usually more economical to buy a kit than it is to purchase each piece separately.

Our buying guide has what you need to know to choose the kit that’s right for you, as well as a few product recommendations.

As a general rule, it’s best to go with the largest tank you have room for.

Key considerations

While many fish tank starter kits are fairly complete, you’ll just about always have to purchase a few things separately. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need, what’s recommended, and what’s likely to be included with your kit.

Tank

Obviously, you can’t keep fish without a tank to house them.

Material: Most starter kits provide a glass tank, which is sturdy and resistant to scratches but heavy. The other option is acrylic, which comes in a wider range of shapes and weighs less but is very prone to scratching.

Size: The biggest decision you’ll need to make is tank size, which is measured in gallons of water the tank can hold, not by its dimensions. As a general rule, it’s harder to keep your finned friends healthy in a very small tank, because waste material will quickly build up in the water. Most beginners find a tank that’s between 10 and 29 gallons is easiest to maintain.

Lid and light

Starter kits include a tank lid. Typically, these hinge in the middle and are either all glass or half glass and half plastic. While less-expensive starter kits might not include a light fixture, better kits provide a hood, which is a tank lid that incorporates the light.

Filter

Every freshwater aquarium requires a filter, which serves to remove pollutants, waste, and uneaten food, generally by running tank water through layers of activated charcoal and a floss pad. While there are several types of aquarium filters, the least expensive starter kits usually include a box filter, which sits on the tank bottom and requires a separate air pump to suck in tank water. Better kits usually include a power filter, often called a hang-on-the-back or hang-on filter. These external filters have a built-in pump to draw in tank water and are much easier to maintain.

Heater

While some types of pet fish, including goldfish, do fine in an unheated aquarium, most tropical fish require water temperatures of 74°F to 78°F, meaning you’ll need a fish tank heater. Many starter kits include a heater, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to purchase it separately if you want to keep tropical fish. Most aquarium heaters clamp onto the back of the tank and have a dial to adjust the temperature.

Thermometer: Just about every fish tank starter kit includes some type of thermometer to check the water temperature, typically it’s a simple device that sticks or clips to the glass right below the water’s surface.

Net

Often included in aquarium starter kits, a net is necessary for safely transferring your fish in and out of the tank when needed.

EXPERT TIP

Position your aquarium away from direct sunlight, air conditioning vents, high-traffic areas of your home, and heat sources, such as the oven.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Items you’ll have to purchase separately include the following.

Water treatment

Test kit: You’ll probably have to buy this separately, but you should have an aquarium water test kit that allows you to check for potentially harmful levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. This is a must for setting up your new tank’s nitrogen cycle.

Conditioner: While not usually included with an aquarium starter kit, you should add this to your purchase. Water conditioner helps neutralize many of the chemicals in tap water that can be harmful to fish, including ammonia, chlorine, chloramine, nitrate, and heavy metals.

Food

Your fish need to eat, but as the proper food depends on the species, food isn’t usually included with a starter kit. Choose the food formulated for the type of fish you plan to keep, whether that is tropical, goldfish, or betta fish. You’ll also find many types of treats to add some variety to your pets’ diet.

Substrate

The most common fish tank substrate is gravel. You’ll need to buy this separately, and you should purchase enough to cover the entire bottom of the tank with 2 inches of gravel. There are many colors available, so choose your favorite — it won’t matter to the fish.

Tank vacuum

A fish tank vacuum makes it easy to suck away uneaten food and waste from the gravel. You should vacuum the tank at least every other week. You’ll probably need to buy this separately.

Decorations

While some starter kits include a faux plant or two, generally you’ll need to buy tank decorations separately. You’ll find a huge range, including faux plants, coral, rocks, treasure chests, sunken ships, cartoon characters, and just about anything else marine related you can think of.

EXPERT TIP

Don’t overcrowd your aquarium. Doing so stresses your fish and reduces their life expectancy.


Staff  | BestReviews

Fish tank starter kit prices

There’s a wide range of prices for aquarium starter kits. The size of the tank is the biggest determinant of price, but the quality and number of accessories play a part as well.

Inexpensive: For less than $60, you can get a fairly complete setup for a very small tank (under 10 gallons) or a bare-bones kit for a larger tank. These kits often include a box filter rather than the pricier but more desirable hang-on filter.

Mid-range: This is the sweet spot for most beginners. Typically, for $60 to $110, you get a 10- to 15-gallon tank with most of the essentials, including a hang-on filter.

Expensive: For $110 and up, you can expect a larger tank, often 20 gallons, and the majority of essential items with a few nonessentials included as well. The filter is generally a good-quality hang-on filter.

EXPERT TIP

A full aquarium is heavy. Always keep your tank on a sturdy stand or piece of furniture that is able to support its full weight.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

One of the most common mistakes made by aquarium newbies is adding pet fish right away. While your excitement is understandable, and it’s hard to wait, it’s almost guaranteed that your fish will die if you don’t allow the tank water to establish a nitrogen cycle before adding the fish. In simple terms, this means letting beneficial bacteria grow in the water to reduce harmful chemicals released by fish waste. Here’s how to establish your tank’s nitrogen cycle.

  1. Follow your starter kit’s direction for filling the tank with water, hooking up the filter, adding decorations, and placing the heater.
  2. Add 100% pure household ammonia to the water at the rate of 5 drops per 10 gallons of water. Repeat for the next few days. Use your fish tank water test kit daily during this process. You will see the ammonia levels climb.
  3. As soon as your test kit shows positive results for the presence of nitrite, reduce the ammonia to 3 drops per 10 gallons of water per day. You will see the levels of nitrite start to climb, but after several days to a week or so, nitrite should start to decline, along with the level of ammonia. That indicates that beneficial bacteria are growing in the tank water.
  4. Once testing shows no more ammonia or nitrite in the water, you’re ready to add fish. It can take up to a month to reach this point, so be patient.
  5. Start with just a few fish to prevent tank overload. As a rough rule of thumb, an aquarium can safely support up to 1 inch of fish per gallon of water. Most popular species of tropical aquarium fish are between 1 and 3 inches long.
  6. Continue to test the tank water daily. If ammonia or nitrite levels start to climb again, replace up to 25% of the tank water.
  7. Once your tank water is stable, you can add more fish if desired.
A well-tended fish tank not only looks beautiful but watching the fish also helps you to relax.

FAQ

Q. How do I keep my new fish healthy?
A.
Once your tank is set up and your fish are safely in their new home, keep them healthy and happy with the following tips:

  • Spend a few minutes each day observing your fish. Look for any signs of illness, including blotches or rashes on the body, clamped fins, unusual movements, or swollen bellies.
  • Only feed your fish once per day. Give them just enough food to consume within a few minutes.
  • Vacuum the tank substrate at least twice per month. You want to remove waste and uneaten food.
  • Scrape away algae from the inside of the tank as needed.
  • Change around 25% of the tank water every couple weeks.
  • Check the water temperature daily. Adjust the heater as needed.
  • Test the water weekly. You want to be sure the aquarium water is within the parameters needed for optimal fish health.


Q. What are the easiest fish to keep for a beginner?
A.
You’ll find a wide range of fish at your local pet store, but some of the easiest for beginners, aside from goldfish, include rasboras, tetras, Cory catfish, barbs, white cloud minnows, and danios.


Q. What’s the difference between saltwater fish, freshwater fish, and goldfish?
A.
While all three types of fish can be kept in an aquarium, they all require different temperatures and different water conditions. Basically, saltwater fish are native to oceans and seas and so require salted water for survival. Freshwater fish are native to ponds, rivers, and streams. Many popular freshwater fish kept in fish tanks are from warm, tropical parts of the world and so require heated water to survive. Goldfish, on the other hand, are also freshwater fish but are native to much cooler water. Your goldfish will be happiest in water that’s around 65°F, while most other pet freshwater fish need temperatures of 74°F to 78°F. Because of these differences, you can’t keep saltwater fish, tropical freshwater fish, and goldfish in the same tank.

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The team that worked on this review
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    Bronwyn
    Editor
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    Digital Content Producer
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    Web Producer
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    Writer

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