How Do You Set up a Clownfish Tank Aquarium?

18 min read

Since ‘Finding Nemo’ came out, families everywhere have fallen in love with the adorable creature and his world.

This led to the clownfish becoming one of the most popular fish to have in an aquarium. Especially when there are so many kiddos pulling at their parents’ pant legs begging them for a Nemo fish.

You can have a finding Nemo fish at home, so let us answer the most frequently asked question about clownfish.

How do you set up a clownfish tank?

To set up a clownfish tank, follow the instructions for a normal saltwater tank setup. Cycle your tank for a few weeks and adjust the water parameters so the  PH is 8.0 to 8.4, specific gravity is 1.021 to 1.026, and stable at 29 to 35 ppt. Ammonia should be 0 with nitrates and nitrites less than .2 ppm.

Never fear! The only difference between a basic freshwater tank and a saltwater tank is with a saltwater tank, you have to measure the amount of salt in the water.

Here is a list of the steps:

  • Choosing the Best Location in Your Home
  • How Many Clownfish
  • What Type of Tank for Your Clownfish
  • Choosing a Filter or Filters for Your Clownfish Tank
  • Adding A Hood and Light
  • Add a Great Background
  • Heating Your Clownfish Tank
  • Use the Proper Substrate
  • Plants, Decorations, and Live Rock
  • Mixing Your Saltwater
  • Adding Your Saltwater
  • Prime Your Filter/Filters
  • Add Some Aquarium Additives
  • Cycling Your Tank
  • Check Your Water
  • Adding Your Clownfish

Choosing the Best Location

When you choose the best location for your clownfish you are trying to combine viewing pleasure with the best area to keep your clownfish safe. You also want to give yourself room to perform regular maintenance for your clownfish tank.

Most people will want their aquarium in the living room, den, or dining room or somewhere they are going to be able to relax while they watch their clownfish.

Make sure it isn’t in your child’s bedroom or playroom where toys will be bouncing off the glass.

Don’t put your clownfish tank in direct sunlight or in the path of a direct draft from your heater or air conditioner.

Remember to use a leveler to make sure your aquarium is level after it is setup and full. It helps to have a stand with adjustable legs or if your budget doesn’t allow, you may have to put something like a thin pamphlet or book under one of the legs to level it. Otherwise you can get shims from your pet store that you tap under an aquarium leg and then break the remaining shim. Never put the shim directly under your aquarium.

Enough Space to Do Maintenance

Make sure you choose a power outlet close to the water and where there’s enough room to plug and unplug the power equipment which you will learn about in a bit.

You also will have to do regular water changes so keep that in mind that when picking your spot as you might get a little moisture around your aquarium. You may even see some salt spots pop up around your aquarium from saltwater splashing and then evaporating.

It would be helpful if you can put your aquarium close to a water source. That way you won’t have to cart buckets of water through more than one room and around your expensive furniture. Sometimes the dining room is best since it is usually in between the living room and the kitchen.

How Many Clownfish and Other Aquatic Creatures Will You Have?

This is one of the most important decisions you can make before you get your clownfish. There are smaller clownfish tanks but if you want your clownfish to have enough room you should start out with a 20-gallon tank. If you are going to add more clownfish, other fish, or other creatures like shrimp, you should add another 10 gallons to the size of your tank per critter you are going to add.

20 Gallon Fish Tank

The importance of this decision is to figure out the measurements of your aquarium so that you can make sure there is enough room for it in the spot you have chosen in your home. For example, a standard-size 20-gallon tank is 24”x 12”x 16” and will weigh about 225 pounds when it is filled.

Make sure your floor can support the weight and use the measurements to make sure there will be enough room for the aquarium and for you to get behind it to plug and unplug to do maintenance.

What Type of Tank for Your Clownfish

The main choice here is acrylic or glass for aquariums:

Glass Aquariums

Glass is heavier but doesn’t scratch as easily as acrylic does. You can get plate glass or tempered glass. Plate glass is made not to shatter if you plan on drilling any holes for the aquarium equipment, otherwise tempered glass is stronger.

Acrylic Aquarium

Acrylic is usually one long piece with no seams so you can get some crazy-shaped aquariums. It is also lighter than glass but scratches a lot easier which is not good considering all the maintenance that needs to be done, especially scraping algae off the insides of your tank.

Putting Together a Filtration System for Your Clownfish Tank

All you need to know for now is when clownfish live in the ocean there is room for any type of waste to disperse naturally. An aquarium is a closed system, so there is nowhere for the waste to go. We’re talking about things like fish poop, uneaten food, etc.

When you set your tank on the stand make sure there is no dust from it sitting in the store or warehouse. If there is just use an unscented paper towel and dampen it with tap water from your sink. Never use any kind of chemical to clean your tank. You don’t want to get chemicals of any kind in your tank water — even a little could end up killing your clownfish or making them sick.

Now it’s time to choose your filter.

Choosing a Filter or Filters for Your Clownfish Tank

Okay, not to sell you short but the only thing you need to know is there are three types of filtration: mechanical, biological, and chemical. All three keep out different kinds of waste that you don’t want in your aquarium.

I’ll save you a lot of time and money here. Clownfish are very hardy saltwater fish. They are great for beginners who want a saltwater aquarium and great for those families that decide to buy them only because their entire family is crazy about Nemo.

Since clownfish are hardy, you can buy what is called a canister filter that has all three types of filtration inside the canister. This simply means that as the water is circulated through the canister, it runs through three different compartments that filter out the three main types of waste.

You should be able to get everything you need at your local pet store but here is the best bang for your buck canister filter:

Marineland Magniflow Canister Filter

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If you can spend more money, an even better canister filter is the:

Eheim Pro 4+

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Eheim is just a gold standard as far as aquarium brands go but the Marineland filter will work just fine.  Your filter will come with instructions on how to set up that specific type of filter and they are designed for ease of installation so don’t worry about it — just grab one and go.

The canister filter is a type of filter that you put below the aquarium so it goes well with an aquarium stand that has a cabinet beneath it. We like these canister filters because there is a lot more room in the canister for the filter materials. Their size may seem intimidating, but they are the best. You don’t hang them on the aquarium (they will be too heavy) the canister is also bigger so you can get a lot more filtration done.

Trust me these canister filters will save you a lot of time and research because you won’t have to choose a different kind of filter to filter each type of waste. Clownfish are very hardy fish. You would only have to get into the separate filters for a fish that is more sensitive to its surrounding environments like a sea horse.

Adding A Hood and Light

If you look at an existing aquarium you may notice that most of them have some type of cover on top of them. This cover is called the hood. Its purpose is to cover the water to prevent too much evaporation, keep fish from jumping out, and in this case to hold LED lights for your clownfish.

The LED lights are simple to mimic your clownfish’s natural world where they would get sunlight at some point.

Again, you should be able to get this at your local pet store where you buy your aquarium, or if you get them separately make sure the hood will fit on the aquarium you buy.

Here is a good bang for your buck aquarium hood from Amazon (it comes with an LED light):

Marineland LED Light Hood for Aquariums, Day & Night Light

IMG 0442 PetAquariums How Do You Set up a Clownfish Tank Aquarium?

I really don’t think you can gain much by investing a lot of money into your hood. The most important thing to invest most of your aquarium money in is the filter.

You should turn the light off at the same time every night. If you think you will forget, you can get a hood with a built-in timer that automatically shuts the light off at the same time every night. If not just set an alarm on your phone or a separate timer.

Add a Great Background

Aquarium Background

After you have your filter setup and hood chosen, this is a great time to add a background.

This can make your aquarium a lot more fun to set up for the entire family plus aquarium backgrounds don’t cost a lot of money, so I definitely recommend it. If you don’t put a background you will be able to see all of the cords behind the aquarium or just the blank wall. If it is a white wall and you can’t see any of the cords then it is not a big deal. Your fish may actually stand out more against the white wall.

Otherwise there are a lot of different colorful backgrounds you can use. There are even some ‘Finding Nemo’ backgrounds.

To put the background on, you can either use tape or a see-through adhesive, whatever your preference. There are a lot of great backgrounds to choose from online if your local pet store doesn’t have a great selection. Some backgrounds also have adhesive backs thus no need to purchase any additional adhesive tape.

Heating Your Clownfish Tank

Clownfish come from tropical waters which are warm waters, so you are more than likely going to need a heater regardless of where you live. Clownfish need the water to be 76 — 78 degrees so you can set it in that range and let it go.

You should get a submersible heater that goes inside your aquarium. Most of these have a suction cup to stick to the side or some sort of hanger that lets the heater hang down into the aquarium.

Your heater should have a built-in thermometer to let you keep track of the temp. Just make sure when you install it that the light which indicates the heater is on is facing you where you can see it. Also make sure the thermometer screen is facing you.

The golden grail for aquarium heaters is the Eheim Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater.

eheimheater PetAquariums How Do You Set up a Clownfish Tank Aquarium?

I highly recommend getting this heater even if you have to order it online. However, if you are desperate to get going and this heater is not available at your local pet store then any submersible heater will suffice.

You can always look up the heater you are buying on Amazon even if you are getting it in person just to see the reviews. A heater is important because if it fails your fish could get sick or die.

If you want to go the extra mile you can get a cheaper heater to use as a back up or keep two heaters in your aquarium at the same time in case one fails. However, this is what is so great about clownfish being a hardy fish. They are more likely to survive than less hardy fish if a bad situation arises.

Don’t forget to get a thermometer if your heater doesn’t come with one.

Use the Proper Substrate

The easiest substrate to add for your clownfish is natural live sand like CaribSea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Special Grade Reef Sand, Bimini Pink.

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This sand is a bit pricier, but it comes in liquid, so you don’t have to rinse it. It also comes with a lot of beneficial bacteria that are good for your aquarium. It is engineered to suppress ammonia so your aquarium should start cycling as soon as you start.

Sometimes with cheaper sands, it takes your aquarium longer to cycle all of the waste when you first start but more on that later.

Your canister filter will also have a bult in section that creates beneficial bacteria that is added to the water as it flows through. These beneficial bacteria actually consume bad things like fish waste and unhealthy food, so your aquarium water stays clean.

We recommend some type of live sand for your aquarium. If you get the live sand you shouldn’t rinse it before you put it in your aquarium. You would flush the beneficial bacteria out of it. However, if you get sand that isn’t live then you need to rinse it.

For dead sand, put it in a 5-gallon bucket over the top of a water hose. Turn you hose on and let the water run until the water runs out clear and not murky. To speed things up stir the sand every fifteen minutes or until the water runs out clear.

You should cover the bottom of your clownfish tank with 1 3/4 to 2 inches of sand. To get technical, when you are shopping for your sand, you will need 1.45 pounds of sand per gallon of your aquarium. You would need about 29 pounds of sand for a 20-gallon aquarium. You can use this calculation to keep from having to go back to your pet store or order more online.

This is not precise, you just want to get a thick enough layer of substrate on the bottom, so don’t sweat it!

Cut a corner of the bag and hold the opening close to the bottom of your aquarium so you don’t splash any of the sand onto the sides of your aquarium. Pour the sand into the center of your aquarium before you add your water and then slowly spread it from the middle towards the outsides, this will also help from getting any of it on the sides of your aquarium.

Plants, Decorations, and Live Rock


Live plants are more common in freshwater aquariums than in saltwater aquariums like your clownfish tank. You can however choose from a wide range of artificial plants to mix in with your clownfish. This is a matter of taste, but you should buy them from your local pet store or from a reputable dealer online.

These plants are made specifically for aquariums, so you don’t get any foreign contaminants into your tank. You should still rinse any artificial decorations in tap water before placing them in your aquarium.

Just bury the base of the fake plant in the sand so it doesn’t move around too much and float away from the sand.

When it comes to fake plants you will need to keep an eye on your clownfish to make sure they don’t chew on the leaves too much. Besides making the plants unattractive, the clownfish may swallow the plastic.

You can get silk plants as well but with different materials and follow the same steps as previously discussed.

If it becomes a problem, simply remove the plants.

Live Rock

Live rock is the best decoration you can put in your clownfish tank but some of it can be a bit pricey so be careful. If you have to, you can just put substrate and add plants, live rocks, and decorations a little at a time.

Live rock can be covered with many tiny things, but the most important is the beneficial bacteria it is covered in. There are many different types of live rock available from your local pet store or online.


Pretty much any aquarium decoration will do as long as you rinse it off in tap water. It is better to get these decorations from your local pet store or from a reputable dealer online. This is to ensure that they don’t have any unwanted chemicals that will leach into your aquarium water even after rinsing them.

Decorations are all a matter of taste so start perusing and enjoy!

Mixing Your Saltwater

If you absolutely despise the idea of doing this and you have the money, you can buy pre-mixed saltwater for aquariums that come in 4.4-5 gallon jugs, just check with your local pet store.

Otherwise here is what you will need:

  • A five-gallon bucket
  • Synthetic aquarium marine salt (don’t use any other salt!)
  • Hydrometer/Refractometer
  • Seachem prime water conditioner
  • Measuring Cups (never used for anything but your aquarium).
  • Submersible powerhead/pump to use as a mixer set of measuring cups (never used for anything but your aquarium and rinsed in tap water after buying)

Steps for Mixing Saltwater

  • Fill your five-gallon bucket with tap water and follow the water conditioner instructions.
  • Add the specified amount of water conditioner and stir it in with your aquarium net or something that hasn’t been used for anything but your aquarium.
  • You need to condition your water first to get chlorine and other things out of your tap water that are bad for your tap water.
  • Next, you will want 1.022 gravity or between 1.021 and 1.026 gravity of saltwater for your clownfish. Shoot for 1.022 when you measure the salt so you can always add a tiny bit of salt if the gravity is low when you measure (better than having too much).
  • Follow the directions that come with your synthetic marine salt. Use your measuring cups to measure the salt in your bucket of now-conditioned water to achieve this specific gravity.
  • Sprinkle the salt in slowly so that it dissolves and mixes in better. Stir it with your aquarium net or your designated stirring utensil.
  • I’ve seen online where some people use a little submersible electric powerhead/pump to sit in the bottom of their bucket and mix the saltwater.
  • You need to stir your saltwater for a few minutes.

After stirring rinse your hydrometer off in tap water whether it is new or has been used before. You don’t want anything leftover throwing off the reading. Follow the directions that come with the hydrometer. Otherwise, here is how we do it:

  1. Dip the hydrometer straight down into the saltwater until it fills with water. When it is full pull it to the top and tap it on the side of the bucket to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped.
  2. Place your hydrometer on a level surface and check the reading. If it is done right the gravity should be reading between 1.021 and 1.026.
  3. If the gravity is too high you will have to mix more salt and water in another bucket to add to your bucket. If the gravity is too low then simply add more salt.
  4. Try to remember your exact measurements so you can always add salt water with the same gravity every time you replace the water in your clownfish tank.
  5. After your saltwater has the proper measurement of gravity, you will either have to stir it for a few minutes with your net/stirring utensil or just set your submersible power head/pump in the bottom of the bucket and let it go for about 20 minutes.

Adding Your Saltwater to Your Aquarium

Time for one of the most exciting parts, adding the saltwater! Whether you mixed it yourself or you bought premixed saltwater, you can simply just pour it in slowly so that you don’t splash your sand or decorations everywhere. It’s pretty simple, just leave a tiny space at the top, maybe a half inch or so.

After your tank is full make sure your heater and filter components (such as inflow and outflow tubes) are suctioned well to the inside of your aquarium.

Prime Your Filter/Filters

Always read the instructions that come with your equipment. Luckily for us, if you followed my advice, we just have our big canister filter sitting underneath our aquarium. It probably has a giant red primer button that you can press a few times.

Priming just fills the pump with water before you turn it on, so no air is trapped. So, after you press the red priming button a few times, turn your pump on and you should see some bubbles starting to float to the top of your aquarium.

This is going to lower the water level in your aquarium a tiny bit, but you should have some leftover water to top it off after your pump is flowing. Your pump is built into your filter canister. It simply draws water out of your aquarium, pumps it through your filters, and back into your aquarium so wastewater is constantly circulating and being replaced by filtered water.

Add Some Aquarium Additives

Now that your aquarium is full, your water is probably murky, no matter what kind of sand you added. We recommend Seachem Clarity as a water clarifier. This will just cause all of the murky muck to stick together so your filter can grab it all as the water circulates.

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This will also add some beneficial bacteria to your water for your biological filter to grab. This gives you some beneficial bacteria right away, so you don’t have to wait for them to grow inside your biological filter.

After putting in your additives, let your tank circulate for 24 hours before you do anything else.

Cycling Your Tank

At this point, your tank is all setup and running with water circulating through your filters. The problem now is that there aren’t enough beneficial bacteria.

However, if you have live rock, and live sand and added your SeaChem Stability, it should only take three weeks of your tank cycling to let beneficial bacteria grow in your biological filter inside your canister filter.

You will also have more beneficial bacteria in your live sand and live rock. You should be ready to add fish, but you need to do one thing first.

Test Your Water

You will need some saltwater test strips from your local pet store or online. It is faster to get everything from your local pet store. There are several different brands available, but you should be safe if you get them from your local pet store or just check the reviews on Amazon if you are buying them online.

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If you don’t have any test strips you can still go shopping for clownfish, just take some of your aquarium water with you and have them test it at your pet store or wherever you are getting your clownfish, just call ahead to make sure they will do this for you. If the water tests are bad, just take some test strips home, let your tank keep cycling, and check it again every few days.

The test strips come with instructions and a little color-matching chart. Just dip the test strip into your aquarium and swirl it a little bit. Pull it out and hold it next to the color chart. If the colors match up then Voila! You are ready for the most exciting part of setting up your clownfish tank. Shopping for clownfish!

Buying and Adding Your Clownfish


One thing to note when shopping for clownfish, when you decided how many or if you were going to add other critters, you can actually find clownfish at pet shops that are already living there with other fish or critters like shrimp.

So, you can save yourself a headache later on and purchase one or two of the fish or critters they are already living with. You will most likely be assured that they will get along.

Once you get your clownfish home, they will probably be in a plastic see-through bag. You can just set the bag in one of your aquarium buckets or containers that will hold the bag up.

You’re going to want to cut the top off the bag and use one of your aquarium measuring cups (remember to only use your equipment that is set aside for aquarium use only) to slowly transfer a little bit of your aquarium water to your bag every five minutes for about fifteen minutes.

This is so your clownfish can slowly adjust to your aquarium water and won’t go into shock.

After 15 — 20 minutes, you can use a fine mesh fish net to transfer your clownfish from the bag to your aquarium.


Well, now that you know how to set up a clownfish tank and what you have to do, you are ready to have fun and start enjoying your aquarium experience.

Congratulations! Enjoy your clownfish!

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Pet Aquariums

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