Goldfish are one of the most popular fish kept in home aquariums, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s hard not to fall in love with their charming appearance and curious personality!
However, goldfish are often housed in appropriate tanks with the incorrect water conditions, which can take years off their lifespan, as well as cause stress and other serious health issues. That’s why it’s important you provide your goldfish with a suitable setup to keep them happy and healthy.
If you’re looking for goldfish tank setup ideas, you’re in the right place! I’ll be going over everything you need to know about the best goldfish tank setups.
Getting to Know the Goldfish
Before I jump into some goldfish setup ideas, let’s dive into a bit of history about this stunning fish.
Goldfish have been domesticated for more than a thousand years, having first been produced in China.
They were selectively bred from the crucian carp to produce their trademark orange color (the crucian carp is a bronze/brown color), but the modern goldfish now comes in a vast variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Wild goldfish are found in freshwater and slow-moving waters, particularly those that are murky. If you didn’t already know, wild goldfish are a brown-grey color, so dark waters help them stay hidden from predators.
Types of Goldfish
There are a wide variety (there are over 200 currently recognized!) of goldfish breeds, all of which have their quirks and charms. Not sure which type of goldfish to add to your new tank? Here are some of the most popular varieties of goldfish to help you narrow down your choices.
Slim Bodied Goldfish
Slim-bodied and streamlined goldfish such as the common, comet, and shubunkin are probably the most common (or easiest to find) varieties of this fish, sporting a long and slim body. This makes them fast and agile swimmers. Slim-bodied goldfish are often inexpensive and sold as feeder fish.
Fancy goldfish come in a massive range of colors, fin structures, and shapes. Most fancy goldfish have double fancy tails, a stocky and rounded body, and are slow swimmers. They are small goldfish compared to slim-bodied varieties.
Among the most popular fancy goldfish breeds are the oranda, pearlscale, ranchu, ryukin, butterfly, and telescope.
Setting Up Your Tank
Once you’ve decided on the type of goldfish you want, you’ll now need to setup a goldfish tank for your new fish. This includes cycling your aquarium to allow for beneficial bacteria to colonize to consume deadly ammonia and nitrites.
Ammonia is produced by fish waste, leftover food, and through your fish’s gills. A fully cycled aquarium will have enough beneficial bacteria to eat the ammonia, convert it into nitrites, and then into nitrates, the latter of which is removed through water changes.
To keep an eye on your ammonia levels in your tank setup, use an ammonia test kit.
You can also test the nitrite, nitrate, pH, etc with an aquarium testing kit like API Freshwater Master Kit.
Goldfish Tank Choice
There are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing a goldfish tank, such as size and material, as well as the location of the aquarium once you’ve bought it.
When it comes to goldfish, bigger tanks are always better, so opt for the largest fish tank you can afford. Goldfish produce a lot of waste and need ample swimming space, especially when kept in pairs or with other fish.
Opting for larger tanks over smaller tanks also means you won’t need to do as frequent water changes as the bigger volume of water will help dilute waste products. Fancy goldfish need a minimum of 20 gallons, with an extra 10 gallons for each additional goldfish.
Slim-bodied goldfish such as the common goldfish and comet goldfish need at least a 40-gallon size tank, ideally a 50 to 60 gallon tank as they can grow up to 10 inches long.
You can read our article on how big do goldfish get, so you can come up with an estimate on what tank size you need.
Using Goldfish Bowls
Goldfish bowls should never be used for this fish as they lack space and water volume. Goldfish can grow relatively large and will become stunted or deformed if housed in a goldfish bowl.
It’s a myth that fish only grow to the size of their aquarium so avoid a small tank at all costs!
Aquariums come in two materials: glass and acrylic.
Acrylic tanks are usually pricier than glass tanks, but they are more lightweight and impact resistant.
However, acrylic tanks often yellow with age and are easily scratched.
In contrast, glass aquariums maintain clarity with age and will not scratch easily. The type of material you opt for depends on personal preference and your budget. Personally, I use glass tanks for my goldfish as I think they are more aesthetically pleasing!
While you can use a strong and study surface to place your goldfish on, you can also use a special tank stand.
An aquarium stand can be placed anywhere, allowing you to pick the perfect spot for your goldfish aquarium.
Tank stands come in various designs and shapes, but a cabinet-style stand is particularly great as it provides you with storage space so you can keep your aquarium supplies tidy and out of view.
Make sure you check the dimensions of your tank and aquarium stand as, otherwise, you could end up with a stand that is too small for your tank (and vice versa!).
Choosing the right location for your goldfish tank is vital for preventing any accidents or issues like algae buildup. Ideally, the location should be away from indirect and direct sunlight to limit algae growth.
Floors are usually the strongest in the corners or around the edges of the wall, so placing your goldfish aquarium in one of these spots is a great idea, particularly if your tank is large.
Make sure the location is relatively close to a power outlet so you can plug in your aquarium equipment, but not so close that it becomes a fire hazard!
The area should also be able to tolerate water spillages, which are inevitable when owning fish! Lastly, make sure the surface is level to prevent strain on the bottom of the aquarium.
Proper Filtration System
Goldfish are messy fish and create a lot of waste, so a powerful filter is necessary for keeping water chemistry stable and preventing rises in ammonia and nitrite levels. There are a few types of aquarium filters, including undergravel filters, power filters, internal filters, and canister filters.
As long as the filter has a suitable water flow rate for your aquarium, any type will do. I personally use a power filter in my goldfish tank, but canister filters are an excellent choice for aquariums over 100 gallons due to their efficiency and robustness.
Ideally, your filter should be capable of turning over your aquarium volume 4 times every hour. For example, if you have a 40-gallon fish tank, your filter should have a water flow rate of 160 GPH (gallons per hour).
Alongside a good-quality aquarium filter, your goldfish tank needs filter media (to inside your filtration system!). There are 3 types of filter media: biological media, mechanical media, and chemical media.
Biological fish tank filter media provides beneficial bacteria in your tank with an area to colonize, whereas mechanical filter media traps floating particles in the tank water.
Lastly, chemical filter media helps remove substances in your water and improves its quality.
Both biological and mechanical filter media are most important in your goldfish tank.
Ideal Water Conditions
Goldfish require specific water conditions to ensure they grow to their full potential and continue to live healthily. Below are the ideal water conditions for a goldfish aquarium.
Goldfish are coldwater fish as they can survive in cooler water temperatures. In contrast, tropical fish need warm water to live in! An aquarium heater isn’t necessary for keeping goldfish unless you live in a cold climate.
Oranda goldfish do best when kept in a tank with a temperature between 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, while comets, subukin, and similar species thrive in temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Goldfish love alkaline water, so a pH level between 7.2 to 7.6 is preferred for keeping this species. Goldfish can live happily enough in both soft and hard water, but preferably between 200 to 400 ppm (parts per million).
Like with all species of fish, ammonia and nitrite levels in your aquarium water should be zero. Nitrate levels should be below 20 ppm.
The Right Substrate
Gravel and planted substrates can be used in your goldfish tank, or you can even opt for a bare bottom aquarium (no substrate). However, goldfish love foraging through substrate to search for food, offering enrichment for your pet.
If using gravel, make sure the pebbles are smooth to prevent your goldfish from injuring themselves while they are foraging.
While aquarium sand or play sand (available at toy stores) are safe for most fish, sandy substrates may not be the best option for goldfish.
Not only do goldfish like to dig (this can cause a huge mess in sand!), but there have also been cases of goldfish consuming sand, putting them at risk of an intestinal blockage.
To be on the safe side, use gravel, planted substrates, or no substrate in your goldfish aquarium.
Lighting plays an important role in goldfish tanks as it helps provide a natural habitat for your fish by replicating a day and night cycle. Wild goldfish live in cool rivers, streams, and lakes that receive a lot of natural light, so this should be replicated in the home aquarium.
Aim for between 12 to 13 hours of bright light each day. You don’t need a fancy lighting setup for goldfish unless you have a planted tank – any aquarium light will do the trick.
There are few types of aquarium lights you can use for your new tank, including an LED light, fluorescent light, and metal halide light. Each has their pros and cons, so it’s mostly down to personal preference.
If you want to keep live plants, you might want to consider using fish tank lights designed for planted aquariums to ensure optimal growth and color.
Your Dream Tank
Now that you know the basics of what you’ll need for a full goldfish tank, you can begin planning your dream tank. Your goldfish tank shouldn’t just provide a healthy habitat for your fish, it should also look aesthetically pleasing!
Here are some ideas and tips to help you make your fantasy aquarium come to life…
Decorations / Ornaments
Decorations and ornaments are a great way to add some interest and color to your goldfish tank, whether that’s vibrant artificial plants, caves, stones, rocks, statues, wood pieces, ships, airstones, and ruins.
You should be able to find fish tank decorations and ornaments at your local fish store or online.
You can really let your creativity flow when designing your goldfish tank set, so try out multiple options to see which style you like best. You could opt for themes like an underwater jungle, spooky shipwreck, tranquil zen garden, or abandoned ruins.
Silk plants are preferable to plastic ones as they are softer and gentle on your goldfish’s delicate fins.
Live Aquatic Plants
If you want to create a more natural-looking goldfish tank, aquatic plants are a great way to do so.
Real plants also act as natural filtration by helping absorb harmful substances and increasing oxygen levels.
That said, a little care needs to be taken when choosing species of live plants for goldfish as these fish are notorious for snacking on and digging up aquatic plants.
Ideal Live Aquatic Plants
Try to select hardy species of plants that can tolerate being uprooted or munched on like java moss, crypts, annubia, pothos, and java fern.
I’ve written a more extensive guide on goldfish-safe aquatic live plants here if you want a more in-depth list.
Goldfish are generally peaceful and will usually get along with other tank mates with similar water requirements (remember, goldfish are cold water fish!). However, your goldfish’s tank mates should be around the same size as your goldfish or at least bigger than your goldfish’s mouth.
Avoid aggressive or boisterous fish as they could bully your goldfish. Good tankmates for goldfish include the bristlenose pleco, rubbernose pleco, and white cloud mountain minnows.
Some aquarists even keep goldfish and betta together in the same tank. This, however, does come with several caveats.
Before adding more fish to your aquarium, ensure your tank is a big enough size to support both your goldfish and other residents.
There are a huge variety of aquascaping options for goldfish tanks, all of which can look breathtaking if done properly.
Some of the most common aquascaping choices (and my personal favorites!) include Dutch, Natural, Iwagumi, Taiwanese, Biotope, and the Walstad method.
A successful goldfish tank shouldn’t just look good, it should run properly too. To do this, you’ll need to adhere to a regular tank maintenance routine, which includes water changes, testing water parameters, checking the functionality of aquarium equipment, and vacuuming the substrate (if you have it).
As mentioned earlier, goldfish are extremely messy fish, so you’ll need to stay on top of water changes to ensure the quality of your tank water doesn’t drop.
Most goldfish owners change 50% of their tank water every week, but you may get away with changing less water in a larger tank.
A smaller goldfish tank setup may require more frequent water changes to maintain water quality.
Tap Water Dechlorinator/Water Conditioner
Tap water contains heavy metals, chlorine, and other harmful chemicals that can kill your goldfish, so you can’t add it directly to your fish tank without dechlorinating it first.
To make your tap water aquarium-safe, use a water conditioner (you can pick this up at your local pet store).
The treated water will then be safe to add to your new tank!
Here’s more info on why tap water isn’t safe for your goldfish tank.
Goldfish Cleaning Supplies
To clean your goldfish tank properly, you’ll need aquarium supplies like a net, gravel vacuum or siphon, bucket, and water conditioner.
Aquarium Hood Cover
Goldfish are prone to jumping out of their aquarium, especially if their tank setup or water conditions aren’t ideal. Using an aquarium hood or lid will prevent tragedy from striking by keeping your fish safely inside their enclosure.
I hope I helped you learn about how to set up your goldfish aquarium and some decorative tips to help you achieve your dream tank!
If you know any other aquarists, whether they’re beginner or experienced goldfish keepers, be sure to share this guide about goldfish tank setup ideas to help them style or setup a goldfish tank. And if you’re after more advice on goldfish care, check out my other articles like how to identify goldfish gender.