The Ten Gallon Tank: Perfect for Beginners?

By: Susan McClure

So you’re ready to dive into fish keeping. You’ve done your research, learned about the nitrogen cycle, researched tank maintenance and equipment, and now you’re ready to choose a tank. You go to the petstore, and the helpful attendant recommends starting with something easy-how about a ten gallon? Perfect beginner size. Or is it?

Ten gallon tanks are often recommended as a good size to start with because they seem to require less maintenance than a larger tank. But are they really less work? This article will take a look at the pros and cons of a ten gallon tank, and help you make that all important decision: which tank is right for you?



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The Positives:

Pro #1: Ten gallons are extremely versatile with regard to placement. They are not as heavy as larger tanks and can be placed just about anywhere. You could keep one on your desk at work, on your kitchen counter, or on a sturdy end table. You can buy a special stand for a 10 gallon and fit it nicely into the corner of a bathroom, study, or child’s room, without taking up large amounts of space. And of course, you don’t have to give as much thought to the undergirdings of your floor. Just about any floor will support the weight of a ten gallon.

Pro #2: You will save time. Once established, routine maintenance on a ten gallon, including water changes, will take about 20 minutes a week. Less time spent with your arm in the tank, and more time in your armchair, relaxing and watching your fish.

Pro #3: You will save money. Ten gallons are inexpensive. You can buy an all-inclusive kit for less than $50, and if you’re willing to buy all the components separately, you’ll spend even less. Ten gallon tanks can be purchased for a reasonable price almost anywhere that sells fish supplies-there’s no need to buy from a specialty store. You will also save on your water bill, since weekly water changes for a ten gallon will use only five gallons of water-less water than the average person drinks in a week. Since water changes are vital to the health of your tank and fish, you need to determine what is doable for you.


As you’ve probably guessed, though, it’s not all roses. There are some serious considerations to be aware of before you take the plunge.

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The Negatives:

Con #1: Ten gallons severely limits your stocking options. There are not many fish that will thrive in a ten gallon tank. The ones that will are sometimes expensive or difficult to find. Typical beginner fish (tetras, livebearers) will not thrive in such a small environment, so you will need to be very conscious of overstocking dangers. Most beginners want a tank full of a variety of the most colorful, active fish available. To make matters worse, pet store employees are notorious for recommending stocking options that include far more fish than are appropriate. Be aware that this “teeming tank syndrome” is the fastest way to failure for a ten gallon tank. If you are looking for a lot of variety in your stocking options, you will want to consider a larger tank that will accommodate your choices better.

Con #2: Ten gallon tanks are difficult to establish and keep balanced with regard to water quality. When you are working with such a small volume of water, the tiniest change can upset the balance, causing illness or death for the fish. You will need to monitor the water parameters much more closely and be meticulous about your tank maintenance. The time you save on your routine maintenance might be quickly eaten up with water tests and emergency water changes if an accidental overfeeding causes a rise in nitrates and/or ammonia. While a larger tank might be okay if you don’t do a water change one week, your ten gallon could quickly build up toxic levels of nitrates, causing stress and possible disease for its inhabitants.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when you are making a decision about a tank. If you are willing to put extra time and effort into your hobby, then a ten gallon may be for you. If you are looking for a tank that will need minimal maintenance while providing maximum enjoyment of a variety of fish, then you may want to purchase a twenty or twenty-nine gallon as your starter tank. Consider all of the pros and cons and make an informed decision based on the needs of the fish you want to keep and your willingness to perform the maintenance your tank needs.

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