The Basics  Putting it Together  Choosing An Aquarium  Water Filtration  Aquarium Substrate  Rock and Wood  Living Plants  Goldfish Bowls

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" When you obtain a goldfish as a pet, you are obtaining a responsive and intelligent (for a fish, anyway) creature that you can expect will live as long as a dog or cat would. Based on this, the goldfish keeper is a collector of individual fish rather than a collector of indistinguishable schools of interchangeable specimens."

- SniperY



"Survival" is not "thriving".

Just because a fish can survive in an environment, doesnt mean that the environment is a suitable home for it. You want to provide a permanent home for a pet, not a display case for an aquatic ornament.

The first consideration before you buy anything should be how many fish you want to keep, and how big you can expect those fish to get. This will determine how large a tank you need.


These are the bare minimum you will need to keep Goldfish:

1 - An aquarium, 10 gallons or larger. You should assume a minimum size of ten gallons no matter how small your goldfish are. Read the "Choosing a Tank" section for more information on how to select6 an aquarium. Ten gallon aquariums are typically the cheapest you can get (even cheaper than smaller aquariums, because they are mass produced). Expect to pay around $12.

2 - A filtering system. The most common filters used for Goldfish aquariums are power filters and undergravel filters (which also requires an air pump). Read the "Choosing a filtering System" section for more information on filters. A basic power filter will cost around $12.

3 - Dechlorinator. Tap water contains Chlorine, which will chemically burn your fish if you expose them to it. Dechlorinator (sometimes called Water Conditioner) will instantly remove the chlorine in tap water. Follow the directions on the bottle. It is cheap (typically $2 or $3) and available at any pet store that sells fish.

4 - Fish Food. Common flake food is widely available and cheap. But you should consider buying pellet food if available. Read the "Feeding Your Goldfish" section for more details on what type of food to buy. Common flake food can be found for under $2.


The following are not required, but will enhance your experience:

5 - Substrate. The most common substrate is aquarium gravel. Read the "Substrate" section for more information on the types available. Substrate will vary in price depending on what kind you get, but $2 a pound is reasonable.

6 and 7 - A Hood and lamp. This covers the top of the aquarium. The hood serves to contain moisture and prevent evaporation. Most hoods are plastic, and include lamps to light the aquarium. Lamps are either Flourescent or Incandescent. Flourescent lamps are more expensive, but emit less heat, last longer, and are more energy efficient. In addition you can buy specialty bulbs for them that will enhance plant growth or fish colors. Glass tops are available that you can use in place of a hood. They are more expensive because you usually have to buy the lamp separately, but they are also better at retaining moisture and give you a better view, eseciall from the top. A plastic hood/Incandecent lamp combo is the cheapest option at $15 for a ten gallon aquarium. A Glass hood with Florescent lamp will run upwards of $30.

8 - Plants. You can use plastic plants, but live plants are better in almost every way. Read the "Live Plants" section for more information on live plants. Live plants are typically around $2 to $5 each. Plastic plants are a bit more expensive.

9 - A Heater. Goldfish do not require a heater, but they are healthier in warm water. Make sure you also purchase a thermometer to keep track of the temperature. If the water is too hot it will kill your fish. Adhesive thermoneters are as cheap as $2. Heaters are somewhat expensive, most starting at around $12 (for a ten gallon aquarium).

Most pet stores sell Goldfish Aquarium kits that will minimize the start-up cost. The components wont be the highest quality, but the kit will be significantly cheaper than purchasing all the components separately. These include all the items above (except maybe the heater and substrate) for around $35 or $40.



Once you have all the compontents for your aquarium, follow these steps to set it up and put in your fish. It is important that you do NOT buy fish or ;ive plants ahead of time if possible. Rushing this process will greatly increase the chances of a catastophic problem like ammonia spikes, which will kill your fish. Skip the optional steps that dont apply.

1 - Clean the Aquarium with aquarium salt and warm water. Do not use cleaning products such as windex or soap. Even a small amount of these (less than you can see) will pollute your water and cause problems. At best it will probably make your fish sick. At worst, it could kill them. You only can use water, aquarium salt, and vinegar safely. But be sure to rinse thoroughoy to remove any residue. Vinegar is an acid, and will lower the pH of your water, so never use it unless the aquarium is empty.

2 - Place undergravel filter if you are using one. Make sure all ports that dont have a tube in them are dont want gravel getting under the plate in an undergravel filter. You do not need to add the carbon filters at this time (the undergravel filter will work without it) but carbon filters will be very useful at this stage, clearing out the fine particulate matter in the water (that the undergravel filters and power filters can reach) and making it much more clear.

Connect and set up power heads and/or external pumps, but dont turn them on yet.

3 - Add substrate in the tank. It should be rinsed thoroughly before being placed into the tank. If you are using a fine substrate (like sand) you may want to soak it for a few days before putting it into the will save you a lot of time getting air bubbles out of it later on. Obviously you dont want to use a substrate other than gravel if you are using an undergravel filter.

4 - Add thermometer (and any other gauges) if you have not already done so.

5 - Add water at 50-72 degrees (F). Cold tap water usually fits within this range. If the water feels warm to the touch, it is probably too hot. It should feel cool but not freezing cold. Temperature can be adjusted later by adding cold or hot water. Make sure your thermometer reads the desired temperature range before set up is complete.

6 - Add water conditioner (also known as Dechlorinator) to remove chlorine and heavy metals. It should work instantly. All pet stores and many grocery stores carry this. Follow the directions on the box. When in doubt, use more rather than less.

7 - Set up and start filters. Start power heads and/or pumps. Power heads need to be submerged to work. If you are using a power filter, it needs to have water in it (and the intake tube opening needs to be submerged) in order for it to create the suction it needs to work. Do not start power filters dry, as this will burn out the motor.

8- Add heater if necessary. Submersible heaters must be COMPLETELY submerged. Do not turn on a submersible heater unless it is compeltely covered by water. This is very important. Outside of water the heater will heat up very very quickly. Submerging it at that point will cause enough stress to crack the glass on it. Read the directions for your heater carefully.

9 - Let it run for 24 hours. Set up aquarium at least 1 day before purchasing fish or plants. This will filter out any debris in the water and allow the temperature to stabalize.

10 - Add live plants (and aquarium fertilizer) if you want. Now is also a good time to arrange any ornaments the way you want them as well, and complete any terracing you plan on doing. Live plants (like fish) carry the same benign bacteria that makes up your Billogical Filter. Adding live plants will jump start this process. Live plants can tolerate imperfect water conditions and temperatures much better than fish.

11 - Add fish. Ideally, you should start with only one fish. Until the aquarium is cycled, it is vulnerable to chemical spikes that may suffocate and kill the fish. You can mitigate this and reduce your5 risk by doing water changes every day or every other day for the next couple weeks.

12 - Add Salt if desired. You can now begin adding aquarium salt if desired. Add in 1/4 incriments (typically 1 or 1.5 teaspoons) every other day. Do NOT use iodized table salt. Only Aquarium salt. The salt should be fully dissolved in water before being added to the tank. Adding undissolved salt to the tank may chemically burn your fish.

Cloudy water may occur within the first week. This is normal. Most tap water is slightly cloudy. Carbon filters will screen out much of this and make the water more clear.


Also called a "tank", an aquarium is any container designed to hold aquatic life. The first thing you need to choose is what type of aquarium you want. The three main choices are Plexiglass, Glass, and Plastic. Bowls are an inadequate environment for Goldfish, for reasons explained in the "Goldfish Bowls" section.

Plastic aquariums are only practical in very small sizes, and are usually sold as part of cheap kits to children. So they are not really an option for Exotic Goldfish. So we will only deal with Acrylic (Plexiglass) and Glass tanks. I would not recommend using plastic bowls or plastic aquariums to house goldfish.

Glass aquariums are the most popular. They consist of panes of tempered glass glued to each other with silicone. The silicone is what holds the aquarium together and what makes it water tight. Glass aquariums have the advantage of being cheap and difficult to scratch, but are also heavy. Because glass is so rigid, a stand only needs to support it at the edges. Glass is much stronger than Acrylic, but is also a lot more brittle, so it will shatter if hit hard enough. Over a period of years, silicone will eventually weaken and the aquarium will leak until it is replaced. Many pet stores sell silicone for this purpose.

Plexiglass (acrylic) aquariums tend to be more expensive because they typically have no corner seams and are ultra clear. Though most modern aquariums (even cheap ones) use optically clear glass, Acrylic is still more clear than the best glass you can get. Assuming that the bottom is well supported, they are also more durable than glass aquariums, which can shatter if hit too hard. Plexiglass has the advantage of no vertical seams (the middle is all one piece), but the entire bottom must be supported by the stand instead of just the edges. Plexiglass aquariums consist of a 1-piece middle section fused to a bottom section. The "glue" is actually a kind of weld, and allows the bottom to become fused to the middle, so it will not weaken over time as silicone does. If not there will be stress along the sides of the bottom because the acrylic is not as strong as glass, and cannot support as much weight. The larger the aquarium, the more of an issue this will be. Acrylic's other main weakness is that it is basically a type of plastic, and so is vulnerable to scratches. Things like rocks or shells, which would not harm a glass aquarium, will leave small scratches in acrylic aquariums. Unlike glass, Acrylic changes chemically over time, and will eventually turn yellow after many years.

Most people prefer acrylic aquariums because they look better, but glass is more popular because it is cheaper. In the end it comes down to personal preference. There is no clear winner between the two.


Size is a matter of preference, space, and how much you want to spend. The best price/size ratio is at about 10 gallons. Any more or less than that and you will be paying more per gallon for the tank and peripherals. Tanks under 10 gallons are sold as novelties, but they are not typically cheaper than a 10 gallon aquarium. They share a lot of the same limitations as fish bowls, but are a better environment for goldfish than bowls. But a ten gallon aquarium should be considered the minimum, even for small goldfish.

In general, where aquariums are concerned, bigger is better. The bigger the environment, the less volitile it will be with regards to water quality, temperature, and maintenance. A larger tank requires less regular maintenance than a smaller tank, and will allow you to keep more (or larger) fish.

The size of your aquarium determines how many fish you can reliably keep in it. Normally, the rule for tropical aquariums is 1" of fish body length (not counting fins) per gallon of water. So a 10 gallon tank could reliably support ten 1" fish, or five 2" fish for example.

Since goldfish require more resources than most tropical fish (and produce more waste), this formula needs to be doubled. So a 10 gallon tank can reliably support five 1" goldfish, or two 2" goldish. This should be considered a minimum...with fish in general (and goldfish in particular) more water is always better.

Many people are skeptical about the limitations on tank size for Goldfish because they go to pet stores and see 20 fish crammed into a 10 gallon water volume. What they dont realize is that the actual water volume is a lot more than 10 gallons. A typical PetSmart chain store (for example) circulates water through all of their tanks from a central 3000 gallon tank...a common reservoir that is circulated through all of their display tanks. Unless you are doing the same in your home aquarium, you need to restrict the number of fish according to the size tank you have.

  Aquarium Stands

Most aquariums larger than ten gallons will probably require a stand. Most people do not understand how heavy water is. You have to be very careful about what you rest your aquarium on, and make sure it can reliably support the weight of the tank.

This table should give you a rough idea of how heavy your aquarium is once it is full:

Water Volume
Estimated Weight
5 Gallons
40 Lbs
10 Gallons
80 Lbs
29 Gallons
232 Lbs
55 Gallons
440 Lbs

Keep in mind, these wieghts are just  for the and rock are heavier than water. A complete 55 gallon aquarium (tank, water, rock, ect..) setup can weigh 600 lbs or more. Your end table or counter top may not be able to handle the aquarium once it is full. Make sure that whatever you are going to rest the aquarium on can handle the weight.

Although they may not look like it, Aquarium stands are designed to hold up this weight long term. Most of them are either wood or wrought iron. The iron ones are stronger and cheaper, but many people buy wooden stands because they look better. Either way, make sure your stand includes sufficient support across the bottom if you have a plexiglass aquarium. The larger the aquarium, the more important this is. Most cheaper stands to not include bottom supports.



To reduce the number of water changes in your aquarium, you need to have some kind of active filtration system. Filtration will make your aquarium look better by filtering out particles (both large and small) in the water, but also removes pollutants from it as well. Without active filtration, you would need to do water changes often to maintain the water quality of your tank, which is impractical for most people.

Active carbon traps pollutants in it's pores and crevices as water passes over it

  Activated Carbon

Most types of filtration will include activated carbon at some level. Carbon contains a special type of charcoal which has been processed in such as way as to make it extremely porous...this is called "activation". A single gram of activated carbon has a surface area equal to almost over tennis courts.

This allows it to trap small particles in the water that passes over it. Active carbon is the best way to make your water clear. The only downside is that it is consumable. Meaning that the more it is used, the less effectively it filters the water. So carbon needs to be replaced every four weeks or so to retain it's effectiveness. Fortunately, cabon cartridges for most filters are fairly cheap, and you can buy carbon in bulk. Activated carbon will remove medication the same way it removes pollutants, so if you are medicating your fish, you need to male sure to remove any activated carbon filters in your tank.

Activated carbon will not alter your water chemistry (other than removing pollutants), so more is better. But you need to make sure it is contained and not floating free in your aquarium. Fish should not be allowed to swallow it.

There are five basic types of filtration; Undergravel filters (the most common), Power filters, Sponge filters, Chemical filters, and your Biological filter. Everything else is a variation or a combination of these. What follows is a summary of some of the more common types of filters available:

Undergravel filters basically use the gravel itself as a filter

  Undergravel Filters

Undergravel filters used to be the most common type of filtration system in aquariums, but most people nowadays use Power Filters instead. Undergravel filters consist of a plastic plate with slits in it, which sits on top of the glass but under the gravel in your tank. One or more tubes rise from this plate in the back of the tank, up through the gravel to the surface. Air is pumped through the tube. As the bubbles rise, they carry water with them. This creates a vaccum under the plate, which in turn creates a gentle downward current in your entire tank (sucking water down through the gravel, and spitting it out of the tube in the back).

The idea is to pull debris out of the water and into the gravel, where it gets caught. This debris can then be removed by vaccuming with a water vac occasionally, or it can be eaten by snails or plants as it decomposes. The bacteria that make up your Biological Filter will colonize your gravel because there is a constant flow of water through it. The tubs often contains a carbon cartridge at the top, which further filters the water. The bubbles used to create the suction also agitate the surface, which helps augment gas exchange.

Most undergravel filters do NOT include the actual carbon cartidges that go into the top portion of the tubes. These are cartridges you need to buy separately. Carbon cartidges are disposable, and need to be replaced every few months to be effective. They tend to be fairly cheap though ($1.50 or less). Undergravel filters are often used in conjunction with power filters.

There is debate within the aquarium community as to whether undergravel filters are necessary at all. If you have a power filter that is rated 50% or more beyond what is needed for your tank, you can probably get away with not having an undergravel filter at all. If you plan on aquascaping (or using any fine substrate, like sand or soil), an undergravel filter isnt really an option (live plants rooted in the substrate dont like undergravel filters anyway, because it pulls water over their roots).

Some power filters (produced by Marineland/Penguin) use Biowheels, which provide an ideal home for the benign bacteria in your aquarium

  Power Filters

Power Filters are external filters that hang on the back of your tank (frequently referred to as HOBs - or "Hang on Back" - for short). They have an electric motor in them that actively pumps water out of your tank, filters it, and dumps it back in. Some power filters go inside the tank instead of hanging on the back, but they still work the same way.

The water passes through a removable filter pad (or through several layers of filters), then is dumped it back in to your tank. They are typically rated according to how much water they can process in an hour (GPH or "Gallons Per Hour"). More likely you will see them rated according to what sized tank they are capable of supporting. A "power filter 15" is capable of supporting a tank 15 gallons or less.

While a power filter rated for your tank size is adequet, it is a good idea to overestimate your tank by 50% when buying a power filter (especially with goldfish, which are messier than tropical fish). So if you have a 15 gallon tank, get a power filter rated for a 25 gallon or larger tank if possible. It is not absolutely necessary, but it will keep your tank a lot cleaner and cut down on the routine maintenance you do every month.

Power filters use replacable pads (the actual filter part of the device). You should normally replace these once every month or two as they will get clogged with debris and stop working. Be aware that when you throw them out however, you are also throwing out a portion of your Biological Filter (the benign bacteria that live in your tank) .They will recover, but it could take a couple weeks.

Most power filters will include filter media that is specifically designed not to be replaced. This media is intended to provide a permanent home for the benign bacteria that make up the Biological Filter. Bio-wheels used in Marineland products (Penguin filters also use them) are an example of such media.

  Chemical Filtration

This term is used to describe using chemicals to alter the water and neutralize pollutants in it. Zeolite is used to remove ammonia for example. For goldfish, it is probably better to stay away from chemicals unless it is an emergency and you have no choice. Chemical filtration is not a reliable long term solution for an aquarium.

  Canister Filters

These are completely self contained tanks that sit outside your aquarium. Similar to Power Filters, they will suck water out of your aquarium, thoroughly filter it as gravily pulls it down through the filter media, and pump it back in to the aquarium once it gets to the bottom. The main difference is in how they filter.

Because the water passes through many more filters than in a power filter (or at least, a much larger volume of filters), Canister Filters are considered far superior to Power Filters. The volume of material provides a much larger surface area on which the benign bacteria in your aquarium and live, which means more of the pollutants are filtered out of the water in every pass.

The bubbles in the tube create suction, which draws water through the sponge at the bottom

Canister systems are expensive, and typically only used in saltwater aquariums. Most people do not use them alone, but in conjunction with power filters.

  Sponge Filters

Sponge filters are the simplest kind of filtration device. It is just a normal (aquarium safe) sponge that has water continuously drawn through it via suction created by an air pumo. They work in a way similar tom an undergravel filter. Bubbles going up the tube provide suction, which pulls water in through the sponge.

The sponge will trap debris floating in the tank, but more importantly, it will provide a home for the benign bacteria that make up your Biological Filter. For this reason, they are sometimes used in addition to other forms of powered filtration. But sponge filters are useful in the absence of other forms of active filtration, and are sometimes used in aquariums where the fish are very small and/or sensitive to strong currents (breeding tanks with fry for example).

If you clean off sponge filters, be sure to use dechlorinated water. Chlorine will kill the bacteria colonies living in the sponge.

  Fludized Beds

These are a variation on the canister filter. They are flat tubes full of sand suspended in liquid (water) and work sort of like an undergravel filter in reverse. Fluidized beds are popular with planted aquariums, because they do not erode the CO2 in the aquarium as much.

Water is pumped from the aquarium into the bottom of the tube, and rises to the top, where it is pumped into a secondary filter (usually a standard power filter). In the process of rising to the top it passes through the sand/water combination. The sand provides an ideal home for the benign bacteria that make up the Bological Filter. The sand behaves in a similar fashion to a true liquid, and the water has access to the entire surface area of each grain of sand, so a Fluidized Bed acts like a biological filter on steroids.

This type of filter is relatively new and is becoming more popular. These are not intended to remove particulate matter from the tank, so you'll still need a power filter or sponge filter. And they are not cheap. They are relatively low maiuntenance, though the sand collumn needs to be replaced every year or other year to keep from going stagnant.

  Trickle (Wet/Dry) Filters

Sometimes referred to as bio-towers or (pejoratively) as nitrate factories. The water is processed in a similar way to a power filter (passing through filter pads and activated carbon). The filtered water trickles (drops down through air) down through bio-media similar to a canister filter. The trickle part heavily oxygenates the water as well. The clean trickled water collects in a bath (called a sump) and is pumped back into the aquarium at a rate matching the flow into the initial filter. The sump itself increases the total surface area of the water in the aquarium, further augmenting gas exchange (and therefore increasing oxygen).

Wet/dry filters are popular in Salt Water aquariums because they aggressively oxygenate the water, and oxygen is much more important in salt water environments. But they also tend to be fairly expensive, so are not used in freshwater aquariums much.


"Substrate" is the word used for any materal that lines the bottom of your aquarium. There are several types of substrate used in aquariums. They include Gravel, Sand, Soil, Crushed Coral, and Peat. Gravel is the most common substrate used in freshwater aquariums however.

Substrate is not absolutely required in a fish tank. You may notice that pictures of fish you see online (especially from breeders) typically feature bare tanks. Bare tanks are far easier to maintain, since debris can be easily removed. But substrate is asthetically pleasing and is necessary if you plan to use an undergravel filter.


Gravel is the most popular substrate, because it is easy to clean, can be terraced, and is cheap. Most colored aquarium gravel is made up of small rocks that have been covered in an aquarium-safe epoxy. It comes in many different colors and can be mixed and matched to taste. But natural looking un-coated gravel is available at pet stores as well.


Sand is another common substrate. While it looks better in many ways, there are some issues you should be aware of. It can be messy (especially in the beginning, before the air pockets have been worked out of it). It can ruin power filters (the sand grains get into the mechanical parts and clog them), and it does not terrace well (sand tends to want to settle into a uniform carpet on the bottom). Sand cannot be used with an undergravel filter, because the particles are so small that will fall into the slits of the filter plate and clog it up. It is difficult to vaccum it like you would with gravel, because the individual grains are so light they get sucked up with the debris.

But it comes in many colors, mostly natural colors (tan, black, white, ect..). Artificially colored sand is available as well. Sand will not usually alter water chemistry.

  Crushed Coral and Crushed Marble

While these two substrates are appealing for the same reason sand is appealing, they have a lot of the same problems as sand as well.

Because aquarium gravel is sealed in an epoxy coating, it doesnt alter your water chemistry. But "raw" types of substrate, such as crushed coral and marble, usually will. Both coral and marble contain calcium, and will dissolve in your tank over time increasing it's pH. This may be desirable if you live in an area with very soft (acidic) water, or if your fish nprefer a higher pH. But it is something you need to be aware of either way.

  Peat and Soil

These substrates are used for aquascaping...basically they allow you to make an underwater garden. They absorb waste products just like real soil does (and therefore act as fertilizer to plants that are embedded in them), so they dont need to be vacuumed. Some types of soil can be dangerous to your fish, so be sure to educate yourself well on aquascaping before using these substrates.

In general, until you know what you're doing, it is safest to use standard epoxy-coated aquarium gravel.

Typically, you need a minimum of 1/2 pound of gravel per gallon of water volume the tank can hold. There should be at least an inch of gravel covering the bottom. This is a minimum need for an undergravel filter to function. You can use more for asthetic reasons (such as terracing), but keep in mind it displaces water volume (and therefore the oxygen in that water) and is heavier than water.



You do not have to buy rocks from a pet store. Rocks bought from landscaping stores will work just fine. Although most dried rocks are most likely sterile, it is probably a good idea to boil any rocks you plan on putting into the tank, just to make sure. As with substrate, you need to make sure the rocks you are using will not alter you water chemistry.

That being said, it may be worth your while to buy rock from a pet store just because it will save you a lot of time. Below are a few of the most common types:


Also known as "volcanic rock". Chemically will not affect the pH of your tank. It is beneficial in the sense that it will help cultvate your biological filter by providing a home for benign bacteria. This rock tends to have sharp edges...dont use it with with delicate breeds (like Bubble Eye or Celestials), or breeds that bump into objects easily (like Telescopes). You can embed aquatic plants (like the Java Fern) into it which can mitigate it's sharp edges.

  Igneous Rocks

These include Obsidian, Granite and Gneiss. They are also chemically inert. Obsidian tends to have very sharp edges, so use with caution. Goldfish tend to bump into stuff a lot, so anything with sharp edges is bad.

  Petrified Wood

This rock is basically a tree fossil. Petrified wood is usually made up of silicate, like quartz. It is stable and should be aquarium safe. It is appealing because it has the organic shape of living wood (even to microscopic scales) and is often made up of many different types of rock, giving it a grain-like appearance similar to real wood. Because it is in high demand, it is much more expensive than other types of rock.


This is sedementary rock formed from many grains of Quartz or Feldspar that have been fused together. Sandstone may have a muddy smell to it, but is also stable and should not alter water chemistry.


Glass is basically melted sand, and will not alter water chemistry. Even colored glass is completely aquarium safe. Just make sure there are no sharp edges or points on any glass ornaments you use. Obviously, make sure the glass is not painted or coated with anything.


This is wood that has been adrift in water (usually the ocean) for long periods of time, becoming polished and smooth in the process. Driftwood sold at pet stores is sterile and safe for Aquariums. Be aware that it may float at first, but it will eventually become water logged and sink to the bottom on it's own. Fungus may grow on the wood over time (especially if your tank is warm) but it is usually harmless. Snails, suckerfish and crabs will eagerly eat this as a food source.

  Things to avoid

Never assume that a plastic object will be fine in your aquarium. The only plastic objects that should go in your aquarium are objects specifically sold for aquariums in pet stores.

Glass objects should not alter water chemistry at all, so long as they are not painted with anything (meaning you cant have mirrors in aquariums unless they are completely sealed...mirrors use reflective materials on the back that will dissolve in water and are toxic to your fish). Colored glass beads are often sold in pet stores, but these are perfectly safe.


Live Plant Links:

AquariumPlants.Com - This is an online vendor that sells plants by mail. They have a large database of pictures and descriptions as well.

Live Plant Substrate - A detailed guide to building the ideal substrate for your live plants.

Aquarium Hobbyist Plant Tips - 20 tips for planted aquariums.

AquaFish.Net - Good information site for Planted Tanks for beginners.

The Krib - Lots of information of plants and Aquascaping.

Aqua Botanic - Aquascapiong site that is friendly to beginners. Details on plants, substrate, and CO2 injection.


  15-Gallon Aquascaped - This is a 15-gallon long.

  Planted Tank - This is an example of what you could realistically do with a Planted Goldfish tank even as a beginner (No CO2 injection or fancy substrate). These are mostly Crupts and Swords.

  Another Planted Tank - Another example of a realistic planted goldfish tank.


Living plants do more than simply provide asthetic appeal...they help to filter your tank's water just like your aquarium's biological filter does. They will feed on Ammonia, Nitrites, and Nitrates and (unlike the bacteria in your biological filter) completely remove them from the tank...when you prune them, you are (in essence) removing the waste they consumed completely from the aquarium.

Like all plants they also feed on CO2, and will oxygenate the water as well. Living plants are less likely than plastic plants to injure delicate goldfish breeds like Bubble Eyes.

There are some downsides as well though. Plants require upkeep. Rotting leaves and roots will pollute your tank quickly, so remove them as soon as possible. Goldfish have a tendency to try to eat and bulldoze plants, so make sure their roots are inaccessible and they are secured to object the fish cant move. Many plants (including all the plants listed here) will grow fast enough to compensate for any grazing done by your goldfish (goldfish are omnivores after all, and will readily eat plants if they can), or are bitter and unappetizing to goldfish.

  Planted Tanks and Aquascaping

While you can keep plants in just about any aquarium, the term "planted tank" refers specifically to a tank with a permanent landscape. "Aquascaping" is used to describe the art of creating and maintaining a planned and permanent planted tank. It is sort of like Bonsai for the aquarium.

Aquascaping is complex enough to require an entire website all it's own (I've included several links to aquascaping sites in the sidebar of this page). Aquascaped tanks use actual soil (or soil-like) substrate just like a real riverbed. As such, they dont use undergravel filters, and the soil is never "vacuumed" like you would with common aquarium gravel. Plant and animal waste decomposes in the soil, and is absorbed by the plants like fertilizer. So there is never anything to clean out.

Most plants can be embedded in tank objects, like driftwood or rocks, but will grow in tank gravel or other substrate. Most aquatic plants do not need to be rooted in any substrate to grow...they will grow just fine floating free in the water. They can also be bought in miniature pots. Fishing line can be used to secure plants to tank objects. The following plants are most likely to survive in a goldfish tank:

Java fern is lush, relisiant, and unappetizing to goldfish

  Java Fern

Java Fern is very hardy, and does not require a lot of light (in fact, too much light can damage it). Goldfish dont seem to like the taste of it very much. It can tolerate salt water up to brackish levels, and can survive temperatures to almost freezing. So it will live anywhere goldfish can live.

Do not bury the roots, as they need access to the main water volume. The best way to plant it is to tie it to rocks or driftwood with fishing line. Eventually it's own roots will grow into the rock or wood to anchor it. They reproduce via buds on the older leaves, which can then be attached to new objects to grow as a separate plant. They take several months to get established, but will grow at a rapid pace after that. Java ferns seem to be popular with goldfish tanks because they are lush but hard to kill.

Java moss looks like a true moss but grows somewhat chaotically

  Java Moss

Like Java Ferns, it tastes bitter, so Goldfish wont eat it. But it is more fragile and easily torn up (which means floating pieces could clog your filter). Breeders use this because it can get fairly dense and goldfish like to spawn in it. It can tolerate the same temperature and salt extremes as Java Ferns.

It reproduces by root division; break off parts of the plant that have roots, and you have a new plant. So it is actually pretty difficult to kill it. Java moss grows rather chaotically however, and needs to be secured to something else to hold a shape or form.

Hornwort is lush and prolific and should grow faster than goldfish can eat it


Hornwort is probably the best plant for goldfish. It grows very enough to keep pace with Goldfish grazing. And goldfish will eat it. It has a dense fluffy appearance with new shoots, which spread out evergreen-like as they get older. When healthy, it has a lush green appearance.

It can be planted in gravel or allowed to float free, though it doesnt produce roots (which means goldfish will eventually bulldoze it out of the gravel). It aggressively consumes nitrates and ammonia. It prefers lower temperatures and isnt as tolerant of salt as Java Ferns. Hornwort produces dense foliage. This makes it a good plant for spawning since it allows fry places to hide. It reproduces by way of cutting; pieces that are severed from the main plant will continue growing as new plants. It does not require a lot of light, but can tolerate bright light. It doiesnt do very well in cold water (below 50F degrees). If dying hornwort can bounce back quickly if water conditions are corrected.

Be warned, Hornwort can be messier than other types of plants. The tiny fronds get dislodged and can cloud the tank, especially if they are decaying. A dead hornwort plant can be quite a mess. It's only a real problem when moving them or putting them in the tank the first time.

One of many species of Amazon Swords

  Amazon Sword

This is a large plant used for background foliage. There are several species that are referred to under this name. It has roots and must be planted in a substrate (like gravel). Since goldfish will probably dig it up, it is best to buy it potted. It requires medium or bright light (stronger light will stimulate it to grow faster). It reproduces by seed and root division, but the plants in aquariums are unlikely ever yo go to seed. This plant may require additional fertilizer to be added to the tank periodically (which you can get from any pet store). If allowed to grow to its potential, the plant should get 12 to 18 inches tall.

You will need to prune heavily to encourage growth in Amazon Swords. Cut off dead leaves, any non-white roots, and the tips of healthy roods to encourage new growth. Eventually the root base will start to grow apart from itself. At this point you can cut the plant in half and plant each half as a new plant.

Sowrds are fairly hardy but more sensitive to water conditions than Java Moss or Java Ferns. But except for digging them up, goldfish tend to leave them alone.

  Cryptocoryne (aka "Crypts")

This covers a group of plants with leaves varying from olive green to red. They require moderate to bright light (amount of light will affect the color). They grow in dense clumps, and reproduce via runners off the main plant. This plant requires a substrate like gravel but should probably be potted in a goldfish tank. They have temperature extremes similar to Amazon Swords. They can also tolerate the same degree of salt as goldfish.

Plants set in gravel will almost certainly be uprooted by goldfish, so it is usually a good idea to embed them in tank objects or in pots. Most aquatic plants can be re-planted after being dislodged with no harm done.

Live plants can be bought at most plant stores. Big chains like Petsmart have very broad selections. This is only a sampling of the most robust plants appropriate for a goldfish aquarium, but you can find more here and here.

  Fertilizer and Light

Be aware that you may need to buy fertilizer to supplement the nutrients that plants require. This is especially true if you have a new tank setup, and havnt had fish in it yet. Plants need iron to creat chlorophil (for example). Fertilizers should not affect your water pH, anitrate/nitrite/ammonia levels, or affect the fish in your tank if used as directed on the bottle. Fertilizer is typically only needed when first putting plants in the aquarium. Once cycled, the fish and bacteria will provide whatever nutrients the plants need.

The general rule of thumb is that plant need 2 watts of light per gallon of water volume. The deeper the water, the more light you will need. But some plants require more or less light than normal. Red plants require more light than green plants in general as well.

  CO2 Injection

Living plants generate oxygen as a waste product, which is great for your fish, but not so great for plants themselves. Plants can also consume so much Carbon Dioxide in the tank that they can starve themselves. If you have a lot of plants in your tank, you may eventually need to supplement their CO2. This is called "CO2 injection".

The most common method is via tablets that can be dropped in your aquarium and will dissolve. More advanced hobbyists use active injection systems with refillable compressed gas cylinders.

CO2 injection should not be undertaken lightly, as it is very easy to kill your fish by altering the gas balance of your tank too much. But a well maintained planted tank is gorgeous, and for a lot of people, well worth the extra effort.


Most people assume that goldfish can be kept just fine in bowls. Technically this is true, because goldfish are hardy coldwater fish, and can live in environments that would kill tropical fish. In fact, in China they were traditionally kept in bowls.

Many of these basins were elaborately carved from solid pieces of stone

But bowls are not the optimal environment for goldfish, and should not be used by beginners. Many people assume they require less upkeep than a tank, but really the opposite is true. Bowls will require a lot more hands-on maintenance than an aquarium, and may end up being just as (or more) expensive.

Keeping goldfish in bowls requires frequent water changes, because the surface area is often small and thw water is not agitated. The smaller water volume means that ammonia and oxygen can be a much more immediate concern than with a tank. You will need to do a 50% water change every day or every other day to keep goldfish reliably in bowls.

So bowls are only desirable from an ornamental point of view, and a lot of people buy them specifically for this purpose. But they are not really appropriate for beginners. If you are just starting out, start with a small (10 gallon) tank setup first. It will be cheaper, and probably result in a better experience for both you and the fish.

  The Bowl as an Aquarium

Water oxygenation and ammonia build up are the main concerns. It is a good idea not to keep more than one fish unless it is a very large bowl. You should make more allowance for water volume in a bowl than you would in an aquarium due to the limitations of a bowl environment; 3 Gallons water volume per inch of fish (not including fins) is realistic. Here are the issues facing you if you decide to go with a bowl set up:

An example a traditional Chinese ceramic fish bowl...modern versions are sometimes made of fiberglass

  Bowl Size

The larger the bowl, the better, for obvious reasons. Assume a minimum size of about 12" in diameter, and then only for small fish. You probably should not even consider a bowl that holds less than 3 gallons where goldfish are concerned (which means that only the largest bowls sold in most pet stores are acceptable). Smaller bowls are really only appropriate for fish with small demands (like Bettas, or maybe Guppies). Large fish bowls will get progressively more expensive, sometimes more expensive than a similar sized aquarium.

Bowls do not have to be traditional spherical types; large vases will work just fine as well. And not all bowls are made of glass. Pictured above is an example of a traditional Chinese bowl...these function more like miniature ponds than as fish tanks. If you get a non-glass bowl make sure whatever it is made of will not alter the chemisty of the water. Ceramic bowls would be acceptable, but metal bowls would not.

If you go with a vase, make sure the surface area at the waterline is sufficient for the fish you will keep in the bowl. The surface area will be much smaller at the neck of the vase than below it.

This octogonal fish bowl is about 17" high and 20" across

The surface area is just as important as the water volume, maybe moreso. A bowl with a large water volume, but small surface area, is still inadequet. A vase with a large water volume, but a surface area equal to a small bowl, should be treated as a small bowl as far as how many fish it will hold. The surface area is what determines how well the water can maintain it's oxygen.

You can buy filters specially designed for bowls at most major pet stores now. This is certainly better than nothing, but not nearly as effective as what you can get with a full aquarium set up. A filter system in a bowl is meant to augment your water changes, not replace them. A very well filtered and oxygenated bowl can tolerate as few as two water changes a week.

Filter systems take the form of a mini-sponge/undergravel filter that fits under the gravel at the bottom. It will develop it's own Biological Filter over time...a miniature version of a tank environment. Filters should be placed under the gravel for this reason. They do sell nano-power filters for goldfish bowl-sized environments now, but they dont fit a bowl's formfactor. So the undergravel variety is really the only option.

A glass vase can make a good fish bowl as long as it has a sufficient surface area and water volume

You can have a bowl environment for a fish without a filter, but it is not a good idea unless you really know what you're doing. The small water volume means there is really very little room for error. And if the water does become toxic, the fish will die quickly. So an unfiltered bowl will need to be changed every day (partial) or every other day (complete).

Live plants can be grown in bowls. They will help filter waste products, remove ammonia and nitrates, and oxygenate the water. But frequent (at least weekly) water changes will always be required for bowls, no matter what filtering system you use. Live plants and daily water changes (which is the way goldfish were traditionally kept in China) are acceptable in place of filters, but active filtration is always ideal.

For substrate, you should have 1-inch or more. Gravel is the only realistic substrate to use. Assume that you will need to clean it once a week or more. You can use the same type of gravel you would use in an actual aquarium.

Some pet stores sell small LED lights that can be attached to the edge of the bowl, or placed above it. LED lights should add no heat to the water. Be very careful that your lighting does not heat the water beyond what the goldfish can tolerate.

  Oxygenation in Bowls

If the fish is gulping for air, thats a really bad sign. You need to do a water change immediately, and find a way to oxygenate the water in the future. You can buy tablets at some pet stores that will dissolve in the water and provide more oxygen. They arent as good the surface agitation of a filter or water changes, but are better than nothing. These should be used as a temporary solution at best.

A long term solution is surface agitation. This is done via a pump and airstone (just like you would use in an aquarium), some kind of power filter, or both. Agitating the surface will increase gas exchange in the water, thereby oxygenating it.

Bio Orb aquariums look like fish bowls, but have all the features of a true aquarium

  Heaters in Bowls

Heaters are a bad idea for bowls. Cold water holds more oxygen, and oxygen is at a premium in a bowl environment. In addition, it is very very easy to overheat smaller bowls. Skip the heater and leave the bowl at room temperature or cooler. Never leave a glass fishbowl in direct sunlight. If the water temperature rises over 90 degress, it may kill your fish.

  Full Featured Bowls

There are several companies that manufacture fish bowls that are completely self-contained. The best known is the one from Bio Orb.

In reality, these are not fish bowls at all, but are basically full aquarium set ups that are shaped to look like fish bowls. They come with embedded lights, filtering systems, and heaters...everything you would need for a tank. You can treat these as you would any other true aquarium set up. They come in sizes of 4, 8 or 16 gallons. Most major pet store chains carry them. These are not as reliable as a conventional aquarium (so you should still use the more conservative 3 gallons of water per inch of body length rule as with bowls), but are still better than a regular fish bowl.

In conclusion, if you must have a fish bowl, make sure you know what you're getting into. If cost is an issue, you will probably be better off with a 10 gallon aquarium setup anyway.

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