Aquarium Safety and Checklist

Aquarium Safety and Checklist

Fish and shrimp are often regarded as simple and undemanding pets to have in a home. The reason for its popularity as easy pets is because they don’t require much care and attention. However, setting up an aquarium to house and keeping them safe from harm is where the problem lies.

They require a safe, secure, and proper environment to live, grow, and procreate. Setting up the right environment for your fish or shrimp and maintaining good health is not a simple duty. This can be quite tasking for beginners as most do not have appropriate knowledge about it.

Therefore, in this article, we will provide a complete essential aquarium checklist as well as proper safety guidelines for beginners in order to guarantee a successful fish or shrimp keeping.

Here is the essential aquarium checklist:

  • Aquarium and Stand
  • Lid and Light
  • Air pumps
  • Thermometer and Heater
  • Filtration and Filters
  • Plants and Substrate


In the process of setting up the aquarium, the choice of location and size of the tank is totally up to you. One can start with a 10-gallon tank (~ 40 liters) or even a slightly larger 20-gallon tank (~80 liters), both of them make for an excellent tank size. Here are some vital things you should note about choosing an appropriate tank size:

  1. There is a common misconception that larger tanks demand more work than smaller ones. The truth is that it is quite easier to keep water values / chemistry stable in larger tanks than smaller ones (the less water present, the more easily a small chemical change will cause a big change in relative concentration which might be harmful to fish).

Also, it will be appropriate to mention that maintenance work does not require twice the time for twice the size of the tank.

  1. The volume of the tank does not completely determine the number of fish it can safely hold, rather its shape does. For instance, some fish are bottom dwellers therefore doubling the height of the tank won’t make any significant difference.

Surface areas, especially for shrimp, is more essential than mere volume in determining how many fish or shrimp a tank can support successfully.

For example, Aqueon Aquarium (link to check the price on Amazon).

Aquarium and Stand

Aquarium and StandNow, your tank will need some kind of support: this is the role of a tank stand which is meant to support the weight of the tank.

The tank stand can either be customized or adapted from an existing piece of furniture. The chosen stand should be able to support the tank’s weight properly. If you are not certain about the stand, consult an expert or aquarium professional to help.

Stands should keep the tank level, the essence of this is to keep the weight distributed evenly. An unlevelled tank places stress in the wrong places which increases the chances of the tank breaking or leaking. Furthermore, placing a ¼ inch (~0.5 cm) sheet of styrofoam between the stand and the tank will help to distribute weight evenly on the stand.

Aquarium stands (link to check the price on Amazon)

Lid and light

Aquarium Lid and lightLid and lights are essential in any tank. The lid prevents fish from jumping out of the tank and reduces the rate of water evaporation. A good lid will seal the tank effectively. There are two lid styles: full and partial.

Full hoods combine the light and hood as a single unit.  The hood includes space for 1 or 2 (parallel) fluorescent light tubes which is suitable for tanks housing only fish, but not usually sufficient for growing plants.

The second style: Glass “canopies” covers the tank with two strips of glass joined by a plastic hinge, but doesn’t include lighting. A separate strip or lighting is required additionally.

Light serves two purposes in the aquarium: it highlights / shows off the fish colors, and helps plants grow. For the first purpose, a low wattage fluorescent bulb will help in displaying the fish’s true colors while the latter requires special fluorescent bulbs.


Filtration in aquarium consists of three types:

  • biological,
  • mechanical,
  • chemical.

Most filters in the aquarium hobby can do some or all types of filtration.

Mechanical filters: This is the simplest and basic filtration. In this case, filters trap particles such as floating detritus, and uneaten food amongst others. Hence, it allows for these particles to be removed from the tank before they decompose into toxic ammonia.

Biological filters: They decompose the toxic ammonia that fish, shrimp, snails, etc. produce as waste products. This is the most efficient and stable way to break down toxic ammonia. This breakdown process by the bacteria is also called the Nitrogen Cycle.

Chemical filters: These filters aid in getting rid of ammonia, dissolved organics, and heavy metals due to the absorption and exchange process. It is useful for dealing with short-term problems such as eliminating medications or purifying tap water.  A small and healthy tank does not require the use of this filter.


There are three main types of filters you can find on the market. When buying a filter, it will be better to get a filter that is more powerful than your tank actually requires. For example, if you have a 10-gallon aquarium, choose the filter, which is rated for at least 20 gallons. The difference in money is minimal but the benefit is huge!

  • Sponge filters (mechanical and biological filtration)

Sponge filter for breeding shrimpThese filters will do mechanical and once their sponges have beneficial bacterial colonies, they will biological filtration as well. Another bonus of these filters is that their mechanical filtration also assists in aerating the water.

Examples of Sponge filters (link to check the price on Amazon)

  • Hang on the Back filters (Depending on the filter they can perform: mechanical, biological, chemical filtration)

Hang on the back filter for breeding shrimpPersonally, I would only consider using a hang on the back filter if you have a 20 or 30-gallon tank. Anything bigger than that and I would recommend getting a canister filter.

Examples of Hang on the back filters (link to check the price on Amazon)

  • Canister filters (mechanical, biological, chemical filtration)

Cannister filter for breeding shrimpAlthough canister filters are more powerful than Hang on the back or sponge filters, they do require a bit more maintenance. They are more work to clean out because you have to turn off the filter, empty out the water, clean out all the media, and rinse out the whole inside of the filter.

Nonetheless, if you have a big tank, canister filters are the best options.

Examples of Canister filters (link to check the price on Amazon)

There is no such thing as self-maintenance for aquarium filters, so you should check the filters regularly. For instance, the accumulation of debris in a mechanical filter will result in ammonia decomposition which makes the tank unhealthy. Equally, a biological filter’s effectiveness will be impaired when it becomes clogged.

Note: I would like to point out that, in most cases, for shrimp keeping sponge filters (Matten filters) are more than enough. They are absolutely safe for baby shrimp or fish fry and you do not have to cover any intakes. They also provide lots of surface area for shrimplets and fry to graze on.

You can read more about it in my article “The Best Filtration System for Breeding Shrimp”.

Air pumps

Aquarium air pumpThe role of air pumps is to simply bubble air through the tank. This also ensures that the tank maintains an adequate concentration of oxygen.

An air pump is not necessary if your tank maintains adequate water movement together with surface agitation. Also, air pumps can be used to force water through a filter.

Thermometer + heater

Aquarium Thermometer and heaterA thermometer is used to monitor and control water temperature in a tank. This equipment will help you verify that your tank stays at a proper temperature which helps to maintain the good health of the fish/shrimp and plants in the tank.

Heaters should be a must-have if you plan on keeping tropical fish or shrimp species that prefer high temperatures (for example, Cardinal shrimp). A heater ensures that the appropriate water temperature is maintained to provide fishes with a comfortable habitat which mimics that of their natural habitat. For most tropical fish, a temperature of 78 °F (26 C) is optimal and perfect for their growth.

Aquarium heaters are classified into two: submersible and traditional. Submersible heaters stay completely underwater while the traditional type has a partially submerged glass tube that contains the heating coils (the controls stay above the water).

Submersible heaters are better off as they can be placed horizontally along the tank’s bottom. If you purchased the traditional heater, endeavor to unplug it before water changes. The reason for this is because if the heater is accidentally left on while the coil is above the water, the tube gets hot and may crack when you fill the tank back up with water.

To minimize potential problems and hazards, only choose the heater appropriate for your tank size. If the heater is larger than what your tank actually requires, it can lead to overheating and ultimately – the death of all your aquatic inhabitants.

Plants and Substrate

Top 5 Substrates For Planted Aquariums.Here, plants consist of two kinds: natural and plastic. Both serve as decoration and hiding places for fish or shrimp. Unarguably, plastic plants are easier to maintain but natural plants are the better choice as they make living conditions as natural as possible.

On the other hand, the substrate is needed for three main purposes. First, for aesthetics: it serves as decoration, making your tank look beautiful and more natural. Second, it serves as a filter media / natural filter. Third, it serves as a plant substrate.

Note: It is worthy to note that the dark substrate highlights fish or shrimp colors and even improves their coloration.

Read more about it in my article “Top 5 Substrates For Planted Aquariums”.  

Additional aquarium checklist:

Apart from the essential equipment needed to set up an aquarium, you will need additional maintenance supplies for cleaning and maintaining the fish tanks at regular intervals. The following are the necessary tools you should also have:

Additional aquarium checklistAlgae Scrubber: Most fish tanks are prone to algae growth. To remove algae, you need an algae scraper or scrubber sold in local fish stores. You can also utilize magnet cleaners for this purpose.

Fishnet: This is used for catching fish in the tank. You will need at least one fishnet, although having two is actually better;  it enables you to use one net to chase fish into the other net thereby making catching easier and less stressful.

Test kit: A test kit is used to measure and monitor the level of chlorine and ammonia concentrations. You can also use it to check water pH before or after water changes.

Siphon: Siphon helps in changing the tank water; pulling out water from the tank and replacing it with clean water. When removing water through siphoning, you could also clean or vacuum your gravel. You can obtain a gravel vacuum as it removes debris and dirt particles from the tank efficiently.

The listed supplies are all essential in setting up an aquarium and also maintaining the tank in order to provide a neat natural-esque environment for your fish as well as providing good living conditions.

Aquarium Safety Guidelines

We are going to have a look at some of the safety measures and precautions one should take when handling electrical aquarium products to forestall potential dangers and hazards.

Ground fault circuit interrupters

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet should be used for plugging in all your aquarium equipment. The GFCI outlet will sense any current that is going to ground (which could be through you) instead of completing the circuit normally and will immediately trip, cutting off the current.

The installation of this device could save your life. The use of GFCI outlet is a requirement for bathrooms, pool equipment, anywhere- like an aquarium- where electricity is used around water. This device is essential and everyone should make use of a GFCI outlet or one of those power strips with a GFCI built in. Also, there is an additional piece of equipment that adds to the safety of a GFCI breaker: a grounding probe.

Grounding probes

Aquarium water is easily grounded using a titanium probe that is wired to ground- usually the ground plug in an electric outlet. Why bother? Well, although a GFCI is capable of shutting off the electricity when it detects the current flowing out through your body, that only takes a fraction of a second, and that is definitely enough to sustain an injury in some cases.

By grounding the tank, you provide a constant ground should any equipment break or malfunction and send electrical current out into the water. The GFCI will sense the current leak through the ground probe and shut down the electricity long before you come into contact with the water.

An additional benefit is that sometimes this will prevent further damage to the equipment, and it lets you know there is a problem that needs attention, since you will find the power out on that circuit.


Always read the instruction manual of any equipment before using it, this is to guarantee your safety. The instructions for any aquarium heater will warn you that you must allow time for the heater’s thermostat to equilibrate to the water temperature before connecting it to the electrical supply or mains. Most manufacturers recommend a minimum of 15 minutes to achieve this.

Another safety measure you should observe is allowing at least 15 minutes after unplugging the heater for it to cool off before you remove it from the aquarium. Once you disregard this step, there is a high risk of your heater breaking or starting a fire, destroying the heater, and leaving you vulnerable to an electric shock or even much worse situations.

Drop loops

A drip loop is the section of the cord below an outlet that prevents water from traveling along the cord and coming in contact with the outlet. It is as easy as allowing your cord to loop down lower than the outlet and then back up to the outlet.

Many people skip drip loop even though it is a simple process. Imagine the potential danger if water gets splashed onto a cord and passes right into an outlet. Every piece of aquarium equipment should have a drip loop.

However, if your appliance is lower than the outlet and there is no risk of water running down the cord to the outlet, a drip loop is not necessary. For instance, you may have an air pump that sits lower than the outlet, but this also poses hazards that need to be addressed.

Air pump safety

In the instructions for most aquarium pumps, you will notice that most manufacturers recommend placing the pump higher than the tank level. The reason for this is because placing your pump above the tank will prevent it from back-siphoning into the pump, which could damage the pump or worst-case scenario – flooding the living room floor.

The practice of placing a pump above the tank level in the open is not that attractive nor may it be that practical or even possible to accomplish.

This often results in many hobbyists placing their air pumps below the tank level, perhaps hidden away in the aquarium cabinet. A check valve can be utilized to prevent the potential dangers that can be caused by water back-siphoning into the pump when the power goes off.

A check valve is an inexpensive device that allows the air from the pump to flow to the tank but will not allow water to flow back into the pump, thereby eliminating possible dangers. Everyone who uses an air pump should make use of check valves.

Tubing, connections, and valves.

You should make it a part of your regular routine to properly check all hose connections to ensure that they are secure and tight, use clamps whenever possible. Subsequently, make sure to check on the condition of the hoses, which can become brittle and lose their grip after some time.

When you discover that they are not in good condition, you can replace or repair them. Beware of hoses kinking on you, which might cut off the aeration or filtration to your tank and put the lives of your fish in danger.

Household pets and kids

Every hobbyist should make sure aquariums that pets and children have access to are securely covered. For those that opt for open-top aquariums, it is recommended that you keep them in a room where pets and little kids cannot access.

Also, ensure that you are using an appropriate tank stand that is level and secure, especially when you have kids and larger pets such as dogs & cats in the house. If the tank and its stand are not leveled and secure, these pets can cause it to topple when they bump into or jump on top of the tank stand.

Another point worthy of mentioning is pets that are chewers should be kept away from your aquarium, these kind of pets are capable of chewing wires or tubing from the aquarium equipment. Asides that, they are at risk of exposing themselves and aquarists to potential electrical shock or far worse. To further mitigate the risk of hazards to kids, you can implement the use of a child safety lock on your aquarium stand’s doors.

Observing specific safety precautions is paramount in guaranteeing your safety and that of your entire household as you engage in this fascinating hobby.

Have fun and be safe!

Related articles:

  1. Basic Shrimp Tank Setup for Neocaridina
  2. How to Set Up a Caridina Shrimp Tank
  3. 7 Things Every Shrimp Keeper Must Have!

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