whats the best size aquarium for beginners

What is the Best Aquarium Size for Beginners? Big or Small!

If you are starting out by wading into the wonderful world of fishkeeping, you are probably wondering which is the best aquarium size for beginners?

This is not an area where smaller is automatically better, and you shouldn’t just go for something little to get yourself started. There are so many option out there for you to start with and it can be very confusing.

In this article, we will look at all the options and give you more information before you purchase your first aquarium.

Whether it’s for yourself or a child that you know would love a rainbow parade of fish to brighten up their space, we’ve got some tips on how to get started.

Bigger Tanks are Easier and Less Stressful

A larger tank is a better place to start than with a smaller one, for a number of reasons.

Finding your way around building an environment for your little community of fish is going to take some mistakes in the process. These mistakes are easier to make in a bigger tank than they are with a smaller one.

When we talk about owning an aquarium we mean a community of fish, not just a lonely goldfish in a bowl.

If you are considering keeping fish then you want to learn properly and look after them the best you can. You also want to get the most benefit out of your investment, and you get this by putting in the effort and care your little community deserve.

Fish can survive in a smaller tank, but it doesn’t mean that they are happy or healthy. Their growth will be stunted and they will live shorter lives than in a more ideal environment.

If you see a fish in a small or starter tank in a pet shop it can be easy to think that this is all they will need. It makes the hobby more accessible to beginners, but isn’t good for the fish. Most fish in the pet shops are juveniles, and still need to grow bigger, and need more space to thrive.

fish tank water changes
Regular Water Changes And Maintenance Is All Part Of Being A Good Fish Keeper.

Maintaining Water Balance

The most important aspect of keeping an aquarium is maintaining the healthy balance of the water. Whatever fish you choose to keep, you will need to understand how to maintain water levels including temperature, and pH and ammonia levels.

You need to learn how to test the water and how to keep it clean and healthy. You need to set up a regular process of checking and cleaning the tank.

In a larger tank, it is easier to maintain the balance of parameters of the water. The larger the volume of water, the harder it is for the balance to become skewed. Your larger environment will provide a more stable balance for your fish.

If the ammonia in your tank is increasing, you will have longer to act before it spikes and put your fish into danger, than if you had a smaller tank.

As part of cleaning your tank, you will need to change the water regularly, and with a larger tank when you adjust part of the water you will maintain a more stable balance in what remains. It’s a basic maths game really.

The smaller the tank, the faster your water will become soiled by the fish waste, and the more often it will need to be cleaned and changed. The aquarium environment will be more constant and consistent in a larger tank, resulting in happier fish.

A more consistent and balanced tank is easier for beginners.

Keeping Your Fish Healthy

Like people, fish don’t just need physical health to thrive, they need to live stress-free lives. They flourish when their environment is stable and when they are given everything they need to be happy.

Fish need sufficient space to move around and interact with their cohabitants. They need exercise, as well as mental and social stimulation. They like to swim around (surprising, really…) and explore their space.

Quick Question: Do fish get tired of swimming? Click here to find out.

Fish that are less stressed live longer and look better, swimming happily around in your tank for a long and healthy life. If you are spending money getting into fishkeeping, happy, healthy, vibrant and long-living fish should be your ultimate goal.

Happy & Healthy Fish Will Show Of Their Colors. A Clear Indication Your Water Is Good.

Fish can succumb to a number of different kinds of illness, including those that are viral and parasitic. It can be difficult keeping your tank completely illness free.

If you think your fish is suffering or sick, then read our guide on Tropical Fish Disease. It may help you treat them faster.

The less stressed your fish are, the stronger their immune systems will be, meaning they can fight against illness and infection better. The larger the tank the hardier they will be, less vulnerable to illness and more likely to grow to their full size and strength, as well as live to their full life span.

Fish in smaller tanks will have stunted growth, which makes them more vulnerable to disease, but also makes them more prone to internal organ failure.

How long do fish live? We investigated this question and you’ll be suprised at the answers.

Thinking Long-Term-Size Matters!

A smaller tank requires more maintenance than a larger one, including more cleaning and changing of the water. Not only is this in increased maintenance time consuming for you as a fishkeeper – it increases the risks of throwing your water levels out of balance. You will spend more time balancing your tank than you will enjoying it.

It is difficult to put a number on it, because the types of fish you want to keep will greatly factor into the discussion, but in general terms, you should start with at least a 100 litre to 200 litre tank. Make sure that you do the research and study however to fully understand beforehand the type of fish you want to keep, as well as the size of the environment they will need.

There are hardier fish who will survive in a less balanced environment and may tolerate less fastidious care of the tank.

The type of fish you want to keep, including how many of them you will have, will play a large role in helping you decide what size tank to get.

Do you know the best fish for beginners? Click here to find out!

If you are considering getting a home aquarium, then you probably have some sort of idea what fish you want to keep, including how many of each variety.

Close your eyes and imagine what your ideal tank looks like. Stop to think about why you are getting into fishkeeping, and what benefits do you want to receive from this experience.

Once you have an established tank community and you get your water balanced and fish happy, it becomes quite difficult to transfer them to a larger tank.

We find that fish aficionados very often want a larger display and a more interactive and colourful community. If you start small on the idea that if you like it, you can just go bigger, you will run into trouble. It isn’t that easy to just go bigger – it is easier to start bigger.

Tiger Oscar Tank Mates
These cute Oscars will grow to around 12-14” within a couple of years.

It is also easier to start with the type of tank that you intend to continue with. It isn’t easier to start with a freshwater tank, thinking again that if you love it, you can easily transfer to a saltwater one.

Getting into fishkeeping requires some forethought and planning, and you need to figure out before you start how you would like to continue. Plan for the ideal aquarium community that you want, and aim for that, including the kinds of fish and style of tank.

How do you measure size of an aquarium?

Here’s how to measure a fish tank and calculate the water volume. You’ll need this information for buying the correct size filter and heater. Also to work out how many fish your aquarium can hold.

Using a tape measure, measure the length, width and height of your new fish tank. I prefer to measure the outside of the aquarium but you can also measure the inside if you like. Then subtract the width of the tank walls to determine the inside measurement.

Next, multiply the length, width and depth measurements in order to find the cubic volume in cubic inches. For example, if the measurements are 20 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches, the volume is 2,880 cubic inches.

Finally, divide the cubic volume in inches by 231, as a gallon is equal to 231 cubic inches. A 2,880 cubic-inch tank is 12.47 gallons

If you’re like me and your math isn’t very good you can use an online calculator. We use this one!

What Types of Fish?

Fish are social and temperamental, again like people. If you wish to have more than one fish in your tank, you need to have enough room for each one.

Some fish prefer their own private space, meaning that you need a bigger tank to accommodate them. Other fish prefer a certain number of friends, again meaning that you may benefit from the larger tank, so that you can acquire them in groups like guppies or neon tetras.

If you put too many fish in your tank then you are likely to have more aggressive fish, and those that will attack each other.

Fewer fish in the tank means that the waste created by them doesn’t build up as quickly, again meaning that your water levels will be more balanced and constant. An overpopulated tank puts stress on the fish and their environment.

Some fish look better in large schools and aquascaped aquariums are well-planted aquariums that form underwater scenes. These aquariums look amazing and with the right fish can be perfect for your next step up in the aquatic hobby. Read all about the best fish for aquascaping aquariums.

aquascaping
Aquascaped Aquariums Are The Next Level In Fish Keeping

Factors to Consider

How much do you have to spend?

You will need to consider your budget before getting an aquarium. The tank is just the beginning of what you will need, with filters, cleaning equipment, water chemicals, sand and plants as the basic kit needed for a cold, freshwater tank. If you are considering a heated or saltwater tank then your initial and ongoing outlay will be higher.

It is probably better to allow some leeway in your budget, as you will almost inevitably spend more than you think you will.

It can also be difficult to go into a store full of gorgeous fish and plants and resist buying some extra lovely things for your happy community!

How much does it cost to set up an aquarium? Find out here!

Where are you going to put the tank?

You need the largest tank that you can manage for the fish you would like. But you can’t just stick an aquarium anywhere, so you will also be guided somewhat by where you will put the tank.

Fish need a space that is:

  • Out of direct sunlight which can affect the water temperature as well as speed up growth of algae
  • In a room where the temperature can be maintained, especially where it won’t get too warm
  • In a space of low stress and noise for the fish

What fish do you want to keep?

You also need to figure out what fish you would like to keep. The type of fish will affect how many you get, and which different breeds you put into your community together. You should choose the largest tank you can for the numbers you are considering owning.

If you only want a smaller tank, then you should only get a few fish. You should also make sure that these fish still have enough room, and aren’t lonely if they are a social breed.

Like any pet, you shouldn’t get into this commitment if you can’t afford to care for the animals properly. If you don’t have enough in your budget to get the aquarium size your fish need, then you may need to keep saving, or reconsider your plans.

Buying new Fish Is The Best Part Of Fish Keeping!

Final Thoughts: Best Size Aquarium For Beginners

People fall in love with fish keeping and get rewards from it that they never predicted. If you decide to start your own aquarium you will likely be happier with a bigger tank and a more vibrant, healthier community of fish.

The right size tank depends on a number of factors, but generally when it comes to fish, bigger is better.

A larger tank is healthier and more stable, promoting happier and healthier fish. Fish will always thrive better in a larger space than in a smaller one, so if the wellbeing of your fish is your primary goal then you should get a larger tank.

It isn’t so much the right size of tank for beginners as the right size of tank for the fish a beginner wishes to keep.

Work out which fish you would like, and make sure that you give those fish the best possible conditions that you can. This means giving them the largest tank that you can afford and that you can fit in the space. If you can’t provide them a large enough environment, then you need to reconsider the type of fish you intend to get.

Get the largest tank you can because you will learn quicker with a larger tank. You will be a beginner for a far shorter period in a bigger tank, and you are more likely to hit the ground (or the water) running.

You will make fewer errors and the mistakes that you do make will be less detrimental for your fish. Try to avoid some of the 30 Fishkeeping Mistakes Beginners Make. You will save money in not having to replace your community if they flounder in a poorly balanced or maintained tank.

30 FishkeepingMistakes beginners make
Read the Top 30 Mistakes Beginners Make.

In a Nutshell: Benefits of the Right Size Tank

  • The water will be soiled less often, meaning less cleaning as well as more balanced water levels
  • As the water is more constant and balanced, you will make fewer mistakes maintaining the environment
  • Any unbalance in the water will affect a smaller percentage of the water overall, so will have a smaller effect on your fish
  • Your fish will be stronger, less stressed, happier and have better immune systems
  • Your fish will be less aggressive and live better as a community
  • Your fish will look better and live longer
  • You will spend less time and money maintaining the tank
  • If you love fishkeeping, it is easier to start big than to start small and try to transfer your community to a larger tank.

For more information read our COMPLETE GUIDE TO STARTING A FISH TANK

About the Author

Jacinta Lane

Hello, My names Jacinta and I hope you liked the article that you've just read as it's one of my articles. I have been keeping fish now for well over 15 years as a hobby but also work as a full-time aquatic writer and full-time mum of 2.