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Are Tropical Fish Tanks Hard to Maintain? (No, and Here’s Why)

Have you ever wondered, are tropical fish tanks hard to maintain? After all, they are a common type of fish tank.

Tropical aquarium tanks are not challenging to maintain, especially compared to other, more difficult tanks like saltwater tanks. With some research and commitment, you can keep a tropical aquarium with little difficulty.

Read on to discover how you can maintain your tropical fish tank! 

I’m also going to share some useful tips from my personal experience to help you establish and maintain a tropical fish tank.

Are Tropical Fish Tanks Hard to Maintain? (No, and Here’s Why) image

What Goes into Maintaining a Tropical Tank?

betta fish

There are several different aspects of tank maintenance that need to be taken into consideration, both when setting up and maintaining your tropical tank.

Chemical Balance

The most important factor in maintaining your tank properly is the chemical balance. 

Put simply, there are a number of different parameters that your tank needs to meet on a regular basis to keep your fish healthy. 

An overabundance of any one chemical can cause harm to your fish, either directly or by introducing conditions that allow algae, pests, or other diseases to take root. 

Here’s a breakdown of a healthy tropical tank chemical profile.

Temperature72-82 F (22-28 C)
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrite0 ppm
General Hardness4-12 GH
Carbonate Hardness4-8 KH

Tank Cycling

It’s important to start your tank off on the right foot, and the best way you can do that is by cycling your tank properly

The nitrogen cycle is an ongoing process in your tank by which ammonia, a natural byproduct of organic processes, is converted to nitrite, then nitrate.

Ammonia and nitrite are both highly toxic to fish, and the end goal of cycling your tank is to prompt the growth of a bacterial colony in your filter media–the good bacteria, if you will–to keep up with the production of ammonia. 

I personally recommend API’s Test Kit to make sure the cycling process goes smoothly. 

Here’s a step-by-step process to cycling your tank:

  1. Set up your tank with hardscaping, substrate, filter, and live plants.
  2. Introduce leftover food, nitrifying bacteria, mature filter media, or a few fish to kickstart the nitrogen cycle
  3. Measure every day until you see nitrates emerging on your test kit (about 0.2 ppm), then dilute some of the water
  4. Keep testing until nitrates appear, at which point you can slowly begin introducing new fish over the course of the next couple of weeks to ensure that the filter can keep up with the new sources of waste.

This process generally takes 4-6 weeks but can be accelerated.

In a healthy tank, you should have 0 ppm ammonia and 0 ppm nitrite. 

Nitrates, too, are harmful to fish in high concentrations and need to be diluted occasionally via a water change. 

Your time schedule for water changing will look different depending on how stocked your tank is, the size of your tank, and other conditions.

In general, when your nitrate hits 40 ppm or above, dilute 50% of the water, making sure to add conditioner like Seachem Prime (my favorite brand) according to the instructions on the conditioner bottle to completely remove chlorine and chloramine. 

Diluting your tank and adding conditioner ensures that your biofilter will be able to keep up with ammonia production and that your fish aren’t suffering from an overabundance of ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates.

Other Chemical Factors

We’ve talked about ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in the above section on setting up your tank, but let’s go over some of the other factors involved in chemical balance. 

pH measures acidity and alkalinity. 7 is a neutral pH. Anything below is acidic, while anything above is alkaline. 

Some fish require a more precise pH range, while others can thrive in varying conditions.

Maintaining the right pH can reduce stress and help your fish withstand disease.

General hardness is a measure of the dissolved minerals in your water. Your tap water can be “hard” or “soft” depending on where you live.

Hardness needs vary between species of fish. Cichlids, for example, need hard water to survive. 

Consider looking into the general hardness needs for your fish and adjust as necessary. 

To increase hardness, add magnesium and calcium salts to the water progressively. To lower the hardness, peat moss, and aquarium soils are two potential solutions. 

You may also consider adding diluted or reverse osmosis deionized water, which is free from minerals and can help soften the water.

Carbonate hardness, denoted as KH, can be thought of as a “buffer” that prevents your pH from changing too quickly.

Fish Care

guppy fish

If you establish your tank properly and test your aquarium water regularly to make sure tank parameters are ideal, then you’ll have a much easier time caring for your fish. 

‘Good’ water keeps fish healthy, while imbalanced water can create conditions that weaken your tank inhabitants’ immune systems, allow algae to grow, or–worst of all–directly harm your fish through conditions like ammonia burn.

Your goal in maintaining your fish tank should be to provide everything your fish need in order to thrive.


One important factor in maintaining your tropical tank is ensuring that you’re feeding all of your fish the right food, and just the right amount of it. 

Some fish are carnivorous, while others are omnivorous, and still others are herbivorous.  

Some fish prefer to eat near the top, middle, or bottom of the tank, which is an important consideration to ensure that no one gets left out.

Most aquarists feed their fish a varied diet every few days. 

There are lots of great food options out there, but personally, I recommend any of New Life Spectrum’s pellets, since they have healthy, catered options for many different fish. 

Hikari offers lots of different live, dried, and wafer foods for tropical aquariums

I usually feed a mix of dried and live food to offer some variety, along with some algae wafers so that the bottom feeders get their fill during feeding time.

You need to put in the legwork before you choose your fish to make sure you provide them with the right diet for their needs. While most people might not think about it, what you feed your fish is an important part of tank maintenance because it keeps your fish healthy, happy, and enriched.


If your fish get sick, then an important aspect of tank maintenance with regard to fish care is treatment. 

First, a note on prevention. 

You should always quarantine new fish in a separate tank before introducing them into a community, just to give any parasites or diseases time to present themselves before they’re spread to your entire tank. 

Thoroughly clean any substrate, live plants, decorations, or other elements introduced to your tank beforehand to hopefully purge anything harmful.

If your tank does get sick, start by testing the water quality, since that’s usually the #1 cause of illness in fish. If something seems off, do some independent research to determine the underlying cause and address it.

If you notice any evidence of parasites, like ich, or dropsy, start an appropriate course of treatment right away through medication.



One additional factor that is an important part of tank maintenance is the temperature.

Fish in the wild are quite hardy and can withstand a wide range of temperatures, and the same is generally true of tropical aquariums. 

Tank conditions that are too hot or too cold are uncomfortable for your fish and can lead to disease. 

Generally, you want to keep your tank within the 72-82 F range, but keep in mind that some fish prefer to be on the colder end of the spectrum, while others prefer the warmer end. 

‘Cold’ and ‘warm’ fish should not be paired together, since they are not compatible temperature-wise.

To maintain the temperature throughout the year, you’ll need a heater. The word ‘need’ here is very important since unless you live in an extremely temperate climate that stays warm during winter, you will need to use a heater year-round. 

Choose one suited for the size of your tank and monitor tank conditions regularly. I’ve personally used the Via Aqua Heater with the built-in thermostat. It’s always worked wonderfully for maintaining temperatures.


Fish need oxygen just like we do, and an oxygen-rich environment is a good part of a healthy fish tank. As such, you need to put some effort into making sure that oxygen is being introduced to your tank environment.

This maintenance step shouldn’t scare you, since it’s extremely hands-free. An air pump is the best way to introduce some oxygen to your tank, as well as movement in the water column, which is good to avoid stagnation and algae growth.

Live plants are another good solution to add oxygen to your tank and maintain a healthy environment. Besides, live plants look amazing in most tanks and provide a safe place for your fish to hide.


Lastly, filtration is an extremely important part of tank maintenance, since your filter houses all the ‘good’ bacteria that keep your tank’s chemical profile stable. 

There are three general categories of filters to consider:

All of these are fine to choose for your fish tank; the most important thing is getting a filter large enough to handle your tank size. 

Canister filters are generally used for much larger tanks and need to be cycled themselves.

Sponge filters are wonderful and have been a staple in all my aquariums. They’re quiet and don’t have an aggressive water flow, something that’s more typical with a canister or hang-on back. 

What Fish Can You Keep in a Tropical Tank

betta fish

Here’s a breakdown of some common beginner tropical fish, their temperaments, their preferred tank conditions, and minimum tank size.

SpeciesTemperament and TypePreferred TemperatureMinimum Tank SizepHWater Hardness
GuppySchoolingAround 75 F10 gallons6.8-7.8 pH8-12 dGH
Neon TetraSchooling72-76 F10 gallons5.5-6.2 pHUnder 10 dGH
Betta FishTerritorial75-81 F5 gallons6.8-7.5 pH3-4 dGH
Tiger BarbSchooling70-81 F20 gallons6.0-8.0 pH5-19 dGH
Corydoras CatfishPeaceful bottomfeeder72-82 F10 gallons6.0-8.0 pH5-19 dGH
MollieSchooling71-85 F10 gallon7.5-8.5 pH15-30 dGH
Harlequin RasboraSchooling73-82 F10 gallon6.5-7.5 pH2-15 dGH
Bristlenose Plecostomus Peaceful bottomfeeder72-86 F20-30 gallons6.5-7.5 pHUp to 24dGH (prefer soft water)
Zebra DanioSchooling64-75 F10 gallons6.5-7.5 pH5-25 dGH (soft to medium preferable)

There’s a lot of individuality to each species of fish, so it’s very important that you conduct independent research on each species. 

Some fish prefer to be solitary, while others prefer to school in groups. Some are aggressive towards others of their species, while others are territorial.

It’s all a balancing act of finding the right compatible fish, so I strongly advise you to thoroughly research each type of fish you want to add, their recommended tank size, and what tankmates they are compatible with before you buy.



What Temperature Should My Tropical Tank Be?

Your tropical fish tank should ideally be between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, that’s 23-27.5 degrees Celsius. Some fish, like Goldfish, prefer to be on the colder end of this spectrum, while others, like Cichlids, prefer warmer temperatures.

Are Tropical Fish Difficult to Care for?

Some tropical fish can be difficult to care for due to their temperament and sensitivity to water parameters. Tropical fish, however, are almost always more resistant to change than saltwater fish, which require more fine-tuned water conditions.


Tropical fish tanks are generally considered to be beginner friendly, so if you’re new to the aquarium hobby, then this might be the perfect place to begin. 

Start by setting up and cycling your tank, then do some research to discover what tank conditions are ideal for the fish you want to keep.

With a little practice, you’ll have your tropical aquarium up and running smoothly in no time.

Be sure to check out the detailed guide above to see everything you should know about maintaining your tropical fish tank!

Photo of author
Prathmesh Gawai
He is the main author and editor at Aquagoodness.com. And he loves to share helpful information on aquarium and/or fishkeeping hobby. Prathmesh has over five years of aquarium and/or fishkeeping experience. Currently, he has a Betta fish tank. He has written hundreds of articles on various aquarium fish species and on fish tank maintenance over the last five years. Connect with him on YouTube here. Learn more about him here.

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