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A very Long and All you need to know guide before buying an Aquarium

(for Newbies)


Aqua Shack - My First Aquarium 101

For having an interest in owning a pet fish. It is probably one of the most rewarding and therapeutic feelings you can get without the mess of fur and vet. It can also be a bad first experience when jumping straight into buying your first fish without research and planning; you might end with spending more for fish cares and products or death of your favorite fish in a short time.

My First Aquarium 101 will guide you on all you need to know to start owning an Aquarium the right way with minimal risk of fish death and keeping your cost low so you can enjoy more watching your fish instead of worrying if your fish might jump or suddenly die!

The two most important thing to consider when starting, buying, and setting a new aquarium is Cost and Fish. Usually, people buy an aquarium first and do not plan exactly how many fish they will put and what type of fish to put in and end up with spending more than expected.

Step 1 – What Fish?
Knowing what type of fish you want first is the best advice for everyone to think before you buy so you know what size and setup of Aquarium Tank suitable with the type of fish, type of medicine to have, and type of food to feed. This article will focus more on common Freshwater Fish as this is what most people will start first before they become a hobbyist.

The most common Fresh Water Fish you can find in most Aquarium Shops in Malaysia for beginners are:
Goldfish and Koi
Betta Fighting Fish (Ikan Laga)

Additionally, (for the more enthusiast) you can find:

Every type of fish has its own specific ways to care and manage but all common freshwater fish have a few things in common and that is what we will focus on. So select what fish you want to start with; to know what you need to buy and prepare.

*We advise to buy Aquarium Tank and equipment first to set up the aquarium before you put any fish inside.

Step 2 – Aquarium
Once you know what fish you want to buy and own, you can then decide the aquarium size and setup that will suit the fish you want. There 3 important things to think when you set up an aquarium:

  1. Aquarium Size
  2. Filter
  3. Light

Aquarium Size
For small-sized fishes, I would recommend a minimum Aquarium size of at least 24cm Length. With this size, you can house 1-2 baby Goldfish, 5 or more Guppies / Neon Tetras / Mollys / Danios, or a perfect home for the beautiful Betta Fighting Fish. The size is good enough to put almost anywhere in your home without worrying about the weight of the aquarium tank and still have space for your fish to swim happily. 

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If you have a dedicated space for an Aquarium Tank, we will always recommend getting a 2ft Aquarium Tank at least as this will be plenty of space for a wide variety of fish and when you upgrade to a bigger tank, your 2ft tank can be used for Quarantine sick fish or as a breeding tank.

Every fish produces waste and we call this Ammonia (NH3). Ammonia is bad for fish and can kill fish if the Ammonia level is too high. An Aquarium Filter has 2 purposes. One to absorb dirt from the aquarium and the other is to process Amonnia and convert to Nitrite (NO2) and then to Nitrate (NO3). Having a filter will help your fish to live longer and healthy.

There are 6 common types of Filter available in Malaysia:

  • Sponge Filter
  • Top Filter
  • Hanging Filter
  • Internal Filter
  • Sump Filter
  • Canister Filter

Each type of filter has its benefits and in general, any of these filters will do a good job in processing fish waste and converting Ammonia to Nitrate. The key to selecting the right filter for your aquarium will depend on what fish you will keep and how many in the tank.

For general recommendation, we always recommend Top Filter with sponge media inside mainly because there is a good surface area and can modify to your preferred filter media (Sponge or Bio Media) and have the ability to filter more water compare to Internal and Hanging Filter.

Fish is just like humans where it needs Vitamin D. Therefore lighting is important to have in your aquarium for your fish health but also for you to enjoy watching. There are many color ranges available and there are specific color specs that will enhance the color of your fish and this is mostly for Hobbyist. The common colors are:

  • White
  • Pink
  • Blue

We recommend always get White light color mainly because it lights up the whole aquarium nicely and you can see your fish clearly in its original color. 

Step 3 – Set Up
Earlier we advised to buy the aquarium and equipment first and set up the tank before you buy any fish. This is because your filter has no bacteria to process Ammonia and if you add too many fish at one time, the risk of fish death and disease is very high. But in most cases, many owners are excited and would like to have a fish instantly in the aquarium. It is fine to buy a fish and aquarium on the same day, we advise you to buy one or two fish, to begin with, and slowly add more fish over time.

To set up your aquarium, you first rinse your aquarium tank with tap water and rinse all aquarium accessories including filter, gravel, and decorations to remove any debris and dust.

After the rinse, you can then decorate your tank first by inserting gravel (if any) and ornaments (if any) followed by installing your filter and light. 

Finally, you add Tap Water and Anti-Chlorine Water Conditioner. Malaysia has a high level of chlorine in our tap water and chlorine can cause chemical burns to fish as it absorbs into the bloodstream and stress. By adding Anti-Chlorine Water Conditioner, the chlorine will be diluted and removed to make the water safer for fish. 

You can also use Reverse Osmosis water from Coway / Cuckoo or other devices for your aquarium and this will be safer and healthy for your fish. Always do a chlorine test to make sure the amount of Chlorine in your Aquarium is minimal to zero.

Once you add water into the aquarium, you can turn on the filter to start filtering the water by removing small debris. 

Stage 4 – Cycling
At this stage, your aquarium has no good bacteria inside the filter to process any Ammonia. To start producing good bacteria in your filter, you can add 1 or 2 fish in the aquarium and let your aquarium go into a stage we call ‘cycling’ where fish starts to produce waste and your filter will start slowly growing good bacteria to process the waste. 

Alternatively, if you want to be safer, you can buy a bottle called Bacteria Booster that contains liquid bacteria where you can add into the aquarium to kick start the growth of good bacteria. 

During the cycling stage, your aquarium will experience cloudy water usually in a few days or in a few weeks. This is called Bacteria Bloom where good bacteria have overgrown so much that it is flying around your aquarium. This is normal and every new set up aquarium will face this sooner or later. 

What will happen is your filter and aquarium are looking for stability and eventually the excess bacteria will die off and your water will start to slowly clear again. This can take between 1 to 6 weeks. If it takes more than 6 weeks, there might be a stability issue between the amount of fish in the tank, capacity of filter media, amount of feeding, and water process (water filter flow). 

Stage 5 – DONE!
You are done! your aquarium is up and running and you can now enjoy watching and sharing your moment with your fish!

After your aquarium is up and running, all you need to do is to take care of your fish with a fixed routine.

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Care and Maintenance
Maintaining your fish and aquarium is not difficult. In fact, if you follow a fixed routine for maintenance, no overfeed, efficient filter, not overstocked with fish in a small tank, and a good food diet; your fish will not face any sickness and your maintenance cost can be kept very low. 

There are 3 things you need to do:

  1. Water Change
  2. Filter Maintenance
  3. Inspection

Water Change
A common word you will hear in the Aquarium community is water change. Earlier we talked about fish waste and Nitrate, Nitrate is the final stage of toxic that your fish can live with instead of Ammonia. But too high Nitrate concentration can kill your fish too and the common way to reduce Nitrate is by removing a certain percentage of water from your aquarium and replace with fresh tap water. 

As a general guide, we advise you to do a water change once a week and to remove 20-30% of the water. 

*Reminder to always add Anti-Chlorine Water Conditioner when you add new tap water.

If you have gravel in your tank, use a Syphon hose to suck any dirt that is stuck in between the gravel.

Filter Maintenance
A filter can be clogged and full over a certain time. It can be full of fish poo or food waste and this can reduce the performance of your filter and can cause risk of disease in the aquarium. In the first month, always inspect your filter weekly to see how much waste is inside the filter so you can judge and plan when to change or clean the filter.

If you have a sponge or wool filter, wash the filter using your tank water instead of tap water to avoid killing any good bacteria living inside. 

For wool material filter, it is a good practice to replace every 2-3 months.

For a sponge material filter, you can re-use the sponge for a very long time before replacing it.

For Bio Media such as Bio Ring, Ceramic Ring, and .etc, you do not need to touch or clean the media unless you see algae overgrown around the media or the media is dirty – use aquarium water to avoid killing any good bacteria living inside.

Every time you do a water change, always check the condition of your fish. Check their tail, body, fin, and mouth to see any unusual signs such as white spots, broken fins, or other symptoms so that you can treat them with the right medicine. 

List of things – Checklist
To make it easier for you, we have created a basic list of things you should have to make it convenient:


  • Aquarium Tank
  • Tank Cover (if not included)
  • Filter
  • Light
  • Filter Media (if not included) – Sponge / Wool and/or Bio Media

Optional Extras

  • Air Pump + Air Hose + Airstone (for bubbles in water)
  • Stone / Sand / Gravel
  • Ornaments (decorations)

Medicine and Care

  • Anti-Chlorine Water Conditioner
  • General Care Medicine
  • Aquarium Salt


  • Syphon Hose Cleaner
  • Fish Net

Don’t forget to add Fish and Fish food into the list

*Always consult with your local aquarium pet shop for the requirements and care for the specific fish.

We hope you enjoyed what we wrote and we wish you on a happy journey to owning a pet fish! It will be a rewarding feeling when you get it right the first time!

If you enjoyed this and find it useful or informative, please do share it with your friends and family who may find this useful for them as well. 

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