Setting Up A Goldfish Tank (Part 2) – Putting together the fish tank

I bet you have had a great shopping spree for your new goldfish tank, and you can’t wait to start. I hope at this point, you haven’t gotten any goldfish yet. Even after you have set it up, your tank will need some time to stabilize before it’s safe for your goldfish.

Now that you have gotten all the necessary equipment, this is part 2 on setting up a goldfish tank – Rinse, Arrange and Fill.

Before that…

I have to take a step back and ask you this – Have you figured out where you will place your goldfish tank?

You may want to take into considerations the following locations to avoid:

  • where it’ll get a lot of sunlight as this encourages algae growth as well as potentially heat up the tank
  • where it’ll get direct noise as the vibration to the tank will stress out the fish
  • where it’ll get a lot of activity such as people moving around as this will also stress out your fish

I want to come clean and say I did not follow the first. My goldfish tank is placed in a corner near a glass window and I had to do that for Fengshui reason. The consequence is more frequent maintenance required to remove the built-up algae.

My goldfish tank location


Okay, so what are the steps in putting together the tank?

Step 1: Rinse

No soap or detergentDO NOT use any household soap or detergent to clean the equipment. Although you will rinse them off, they may leave the residue which will leak into the water and poison your goldfish.

For most of the equipment, rinsing them with clean water or wiping with a clean wet cloth will do. I am assuming you know to leave the electrical equipment that is not meant to get wet such as your external lighting out of your rinsing frenzy.

Additional information specific to some of the equipment:

Tank: When I got my new tank, it had dust and packing debris in it. As it’s a 3 feet tank, I couldn’t move it (I’m a skinny guy) to a tap where I’ll be able to rinse it with water. So I used the vacuum cleaner to suck out the dust and debris, then wipe the tank clean with a piece of wet cloth.

If you want to be extra careful or if this is a used tank, you can opt to sanitize it.

Filter: If this is a brand new filter, it is OK to rinse it and the filter media with tap water. However, if the filter media came from an established tank, do not rinse it with tap water as this will remove those beneficial bacteria that are already there. Just leave it as it is.


Aqua soil

Look at the packaging for the substrate (sand, gravel, soil, etc) that you have bought. Some would state that no rinsing is required before use, like the white sand that I got for my tank. I believe those aqua soil will not need to be rinsed as well as it will turn muddy.

Anyway, for those that need to be rinsed, pour them into a clean bucket and fill it up with hot water to kill any potential unwanted micro-organisms. Unless you have a bionic arm, please use a stick or something to stir the substrate around in the bucket. Replace the water with clean tap water and repeat this until you see the water in the bucket gets less cloudy.

Rocks or Driftwoods as decorations: I would boil them to kill any unwanted micro-organisms if I can.

Step 2: Arrange

Next step is to put the substrate, decorations, filter and heater (if applicable) into your tank and arrange them. You should start with putting in the substrate, then level them according to your preference. However please note that goldfish will sift through the substrate and whatever fancy leveling that you have done will not be there for long. I set mine flat and thin.

Goldfish tank set up - Substrate

Next will be on arranging the decorations to create the layout that you want. This can take some time if you can’t make up your mind. Anyhow it’s your tank, you take all the time you need. I went for a minimalist natural look, so it was just river rocks for me.  After that is finally done, set up your filter, heater and lighting and place them accordingly.

Step 3: Fill

Now that you have done the first 2 steps, you can now fill up your tank with water. Please use the water conditioner on your tap water according to the recommended dosage.

Goldfish Tank Set up - Filling Water

Place something to break the force of water going in such as a bowl, plate or plastic/aluminum sheet on your tank’s layout before you start filling it up. This will prevent the incoming water from destroying your layout or stirring up the substrate.

I would recommend to fill the tank up leaving at least an inch from the top.

Setting up a goldfish tank

The pic above is my goldfish tank when I first set it up around 2 years ago. Now the same tank has fewer river rocks in it because I wanted it to be easier to maintain and more space for my goldfish to swim around.

So how to set up a goldfish tank? 3 steps – Rinse, Arrange and Fill.

Can I switch the sequence?

You may argue on why can’t it be Rinse, Fill and Arrange instead. Actually, you can do it in that sequence as well, just that it’ll be more troublesome.

Wet table

Imagine pouring the substrate in when the tank is filled with water. Whatever dust and debris from the moving substrate will turn the water cloudy real fast.  So you will need to do that extra careful, extra slow.

Imagine also when you need to keep changing the arrangement of the decorations in a tank that’s already filled with water because you didn’t like how it looked. Wouldn’t that be messy?

Can I put my goldfish in now?

So now the goldfish tank is all set up but with no goldfish. Don’t you feel a sense of incompletion?  Well in actual fact, we are not done yet. It’s still not the time to put your goldfish in… unless it’s a sacrificial one. We’ll need to cycle the tank first.. and more about this in the next post.


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12 Replies to “Setting Up A Goldfish Tank (Part 2) – Putting together the fish tank

  1. OMG I can’t believe I found your site! This is perfect! Everything I need to know in one place and your pictures and information is top notch! I’m definitely going to bookmark this site so I can find it later when I’m ready to get started. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Wenda for your comment. I will be very happy if my blog can help you in getting started with goldfish keeping.

  2. Your post is very clear and simple instruction on setting up a goldfish tank. I love to rear fish, but after on several attempts when the fishes all died due to the acidic water. I totally give up.

    1. Hi Jamin,
      Thanks for the visit. Yah..keeping fish can be challenging at times. Hopefully with better understanding and learning along the way, the fish we keep can continue to thrive.

  3. We are looking at setting up a fish tank next week for the kids and I didn’t know how much there was to do.

    Thanks Alex for putting out this guide to help us.

    Do different fish need different substrate?

    1. Hi Vince,
      Thanks for dropping by. Glad that this post is able to give you an idea on what to do for your tank setup.

      Yes, different fish do have different requirements in terms of water condition and substrate, depending on where they come from and their natural behavior. For instance, African lake cichlids prefer hard water, so substrate such as crushed corals that raise the water hardness and pH will be suitable. Some loaches like to burrow themselves, so substrate such as fine sand will be good for them.

  4. Thank you for your tutorial! I never thought that it will be important where I will place the tank. It makes sense what you said, but if I haven’t read your post the thought of where I will set up the fish tank probably wouldn’t occur to me. I am going to set up the fish tank! I hope I will be done in less than 3 hours 🙂 ! How much time did it take you to build it?

    1. Hi Andrei,
      Thanks for your comments. After getting all the required equipment, if I can recall correctly it took me around 3-4 hours to put the tank together. Then again, I took a lot of time rearranging my tank’s layout until I was happy with it.

      Anyway, all the best in setting up your fish tank.

  5. Great tutorial. I like fish because it can relieve stress. Is there any rule for how many fish I put on the fish tank? If my fish tank 60x30x50 (cm). Thanks for sharing

  6. Hi Henryan,
    Thanks for your comments. For keeping goldfish, the common rule in terms of stocking the tank is 20gallons for the first goldfish, and 10gallons each for subsequent goldfish. This is because goldfish can grow big and they produce a lot of wastes.

    Your tank measurements come up to around 20 gallons, so ideally only 1 goldfish. You can go up to 2 small goldfish but as they grow bigger, you may want to go for a bigger tank. Also make sure you have proper filtration system & do regular water changes. Hope this help. Thanks.

  7. Great information, thank you very much for taking the time to put this together.
    I am looking forward to getting some goldfish in the tank now. Not any sacrificial ones haha.

    1. Hi Samuel.
      Thanks for the comment. Make sure your tank is fully cycled first, else that goldfish will be the sacrificial one. 🙂

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