Selecting Aquarium Equipment: Filters, Heaters, and Other Important Items

Selecting the Right Tank and Equipment

Choosing the right equipment is very important to your success with keeping fish. We have already done a lot of the work for you, in that all of the products that we sell have been used, tested and selected by our staff, and what we offer for sale are what we consider to be the best products and values. There still are often many different options to choose from, and we are eager to help you out in making your selections.

The Filter

The filter that you select for your tank is a very important decision – and there are quite a few different ones to choose from. The filter performs three separate functions in keeping your tank clean and keeping the fish healthy and happy.

  • Mechanical filtration – the filter needs to remove particles that are floating in the water.
  • Chemical filtration – the filter (often activated carbon or other filter mediums) that deals with the water chemistry.
  • Biological filtration – the “good” bacteria that break down waste products in an aquarium need as much surface area as possible to live on.

Choices for a filter depend on the size of the tank and what kind of fish you are going to be keeping. The basic different filter types are:

  • Inside the tank sponge or box filters.
  • “Waterfall” type filters that sit on the side of the tank (outside), draw the water from the middle/bottom of the tank and return it over the side in a stream
  • Outside canister filters, that can either sit on the side of the tank, or below it attached to the tank with hoses
  • Large canister filters with large flow rates for tanks of 40 gallons or more

Rather than try and explain in detail here more about the various filtration options, we encourage you to discuss this with our fish room staff when you are putting together your aquarium setup.


If you are going to keep tropical, as opposed to goldfish and other cold-water fish, your aquarium will need a heater (and thermometer). We do not sell cheap heaters – although there are plenty of them out there. All of the heaters that we sell are top quality, and they differ in their features. If your aquarium is 30 gallons or larger, we recommend that you purchase two heaters, each of which is sized at half of the total wattage required. This is so that if a heater does fail, which may happen in time, the temperature of the tank will not go so high that the fish cook (if a single heater fails “on”), or that they get too cold (if a single heater fails “off”).


You will want to put some form of gravel on the floor of the tank, and we have a large variety for you to choose from. In general, fish look better on darker colored gravel, even black. Even the “natural” gravels that we offer are dark enough to make fish show their colors well against them. If you want to grow lots of plants in your tank you will want to use any of the special gravels/substrates that we sell that are specifically made to enhance plant growth. The special plant gravels have to be put in when the tank is dry, and they should not be washed, or you will wash away all the good things in them for the plants.


All tanks look better with a background on them, and these are best applied when the tank is dry. We have many different designs to choose from. When it comes to ornaments for the tank, the sky’s the limit. Everyone likes to decorate their tank(s) differently. All of the ornaments, rocks and driftwood that we sell are guaranteed to be perfectly safe for fish, and will not cause any problems in your tank.

Test Kits/Strips

This is as “technical” as we ever need to get – and, yes, it does involve numbers – but please bear with us – THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. Taking these measurements of your aquarium water is no more difficult than what millions of folks do all the time when they take readings on the water in their swimming pool. Just think of your aquarium as a very small swimming pool – for fish.

These four measurements of the aquarium water are:

  • pH – how acidic/alkaline your tank water is
  • Ammonia – the result of fish wastes, deadly to fish; ammonia is converted by some of the “good” bacteria of the Nitrogen Cycle into nitrite
  • Nitrite – also poisonous to fish (though not quite as deadly as ammonia); other bacteria of the Nitrogen Cycle convert nitrite into nitrate
  • Nitrate – the end result of the Nitrogen Cycle, used by plants and removed from the tank by water changes.

We sell inexpensive test kits or test strips for measuring these four water parameters, and we hope you will include these with you aquarium kit. You can always bring your tank water into the store where we will test it for you.

Before you put fish into your tank you need to know the pH of the water, since this is important in terms of what fish will do best in your tank. As your tank is maturing and getting the Nitrogen Cycle going you will want to test for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.

Supplies Checklist:

  • Fish Tank
  • Water conditioner
  • Full Hood with light
  • pH kit
  • Gravel
  • Fish foods
  • Heater
  • Decorations
  • Thermometer
  • Sand (optional)
  • Filter with cartridges
  • Books about fresh water tropical fishes