Discover the Best Freshwater Fish To Make Your 10-Gallon Aquarium Pop!


Selecting the best fish for a 10-gallon tank is not as simple as it may sound.  Successfully stocking and maintaining a 10-gallon tank requires some important considerations like the fish species you select and how you set up the aquarium.

When selecting fish, it’s important to consider the species’ size, behaviors, and compatibility with other species.  As for tank maintenance, 10-gallon tanks have their unique challenges, but a properly stocked 10-gallon aquarium can bring much enjoyment to your home. 

fish tank on dresser

Why Choose a 10-Gallon Aquarium?

Keeping a 10-gallon aquarium can require more work than a larger aquarium.  The reason for this is largely due to maintaining the water quality.  In smaller tanks, it takes less time to accumulate ammonia, which is toxic to fish.  Despite this, a 10-gallon tank offers the following benefits:

·        It may be just the right size for you if you have limited space in your home.

·        It’s great as a beginner tank to gain experience keeping up an aquarium or to see if fishkeeping is the right hobby for you.

·        It’s budget-friendly.

Selecting a 10-Gallon Tank

When looking for a 10-gallon aquarium, you may want to consider the following:

Material Type

Aquariums come in either glass or acrylic materials, and each has its advantages and disadvantages:

GlassAcrylic
CostCheapExpensive
DurabilitySturdyImpact-resistant
ShapeLimited optionsVaried options
Clarity/ScratchingScratch-resistant
Will remain clear
Scratches easily
Yellows with age
WeightHeavyLight
InsulationCools quicklyRetains warmth

Available Space and Tank Shape

The amount of space you have at home may be a factor in whether you choose a vertical or horizontal tank. A vertical tank is an aquarium taller than its length, while a horizontal tank is longer than its height.   

If you have limited space, you may want to purchase a vertical 10-gallon aquarium, but  I would go for a horizontal tank if your space allows for it. The advantage of horizontal tanks is that they have a greater surface area, which allows for greater gas exchange between the water and the air.  Because of this, the water will be more oxygenated for your fish.

 A 10-gallon horizontal tank is also the preferred tank for fish species that are bottom dwellers as well as those who spend most of their time near the surface.

Aquarium Kit

Another thing to consider when you purchase your aquarium is whether to buy the aquarium and all the supplies separately or whether to buy an aquarium kit.  Several brands sell 10-gallon aquarium kits, including the aquarium and its accessories, such as lights and filters.  Generally, you will save money if you buy a kit.

Here are our favorite aquarium kits:

Marina LED Aquarium Kit

This aquarium includes everything you need to get your aquatic home started, including a clip-on filter with quick-change filter cartridges and natural daylight effect LED lighting module.

Aqueon NeoGlow LED Aquarium Kit

This aquarium features bright colors, a low profile hood with blue colored LED lights, and everything you could need to stock the tank, including 3 vibrant plants, multi-colored gravel, water conditioner, fish food, thermometer, fishnet and setup guide.

Tetra Complete LED Aquarium

This aquarium kit houses energy efficient white LEDs to create a natural underwater shimmer effect and everything you need to get started, including a power filter with filter cartridge, fishnet,  water conditioner sample, food sample and setup guide.

Setting Up the Fish Tank

Before you purchase your fish, your tank must be properly set up.  This section will guide you through the process.

fish swimming in tank full of plants and decor

The Substrate

A substrate is what you add to the bottom of the aquarium. The ideal substrate for your 10-gallon tank is aquarium gravel because it allows water to easily flow through it, preventing bacteria and amoeba buildup.  It’s important to thoroughly clean the gravel before adding it to the tank.  To do so, place it in a bucket and run water through it as you mix it up by hand.

Doing this will ensure that the gravel is rinsed from top to bottom.  Keep running the water until it runs clear. Then, add a thin layer of gravel (between 0.5-1 inches deep) to the aquarium bottom.

Adding Plants and Décor

The next step is to add your plants and decorations to the tank.  You want to do this before adding water because they and the gravel will impact how much water you can add to the tank without causing it to overflow.

Adding decorations and plants is important because they’ll give your fish a place to hide when they want to be alone.  Before adding the decorations, rinse them thoroughly with water to remove any dust particles.  Good decorations for your tank include:

·        Rocks

·        Caves

·        Driftwood

·        Novelty decorations

As for the plants, you can go with  artificial, or live plants.  Live plants may take a little more work, but they  have their benefits:

·        Live plants create a more natural-looking habitat.

·        Micro-organisms grow on living plants, an excellent food source for fish.

·        Live plants will oxygenate the water.

·        Live plants will use the nitrates in the water as fertilizer, and nitrates are what cause problems with water quality, as we’ll explore later.

·        Live plants will absorb carbon dioxide and ammonia, benefiting your fish.

Recommended plants to use in your 10-gallon-tank include:

·        Anubias

·        Java fern

·        Java moss

Add the Water

After you’ve added the gravel, decorations, and plants, it’s time to add the water.  You’ll want to add a dechlorinator, also known as a water conditioner, to remove any chlorine from the water, as it’s toxic to fish.

Filters and Heating

Now that you’ve added the water, it’s time to talk about filters and heating.  One of the challenges of keeping a 10-gallon tank is that nitrates and ammonia will accumulate faster than in a larger aquarium.

Both nitrates and ammonia are byproducts of the fish’s waste and leftover food.  For this reason, you must provide adequate filtration to your tank.  I recommend getting a filter with a minimum flow rate of 40 GPH.  GPH is a term that stands for Gallons Per Hour, so 40 GPH means your filter can pump 40 gallons per hour. To free up as much room inside the tank as possible, I recommend that you get a power filter that sits outside the tank.

Most species recommended for a 10-gallon tank are tropical, so you’ll also want to get a heater for the tank.

Cycling the Aquarium

Now that you’ve added the water, filter, and heater, there’s one final step that you need to take before you add your fish:  cycling the aquarium.  To understand what cycling the aquarium means, we must step forward into the future.

When you add your fish to the aquarium, they’ll produce waste, which contains ammonia, which is toxic to fish.  A population of good bacteria in the tank break down the ammonia into less toxic compounds known as nitrates, which prevent ammonia levels from rising. 

So, before you add fish to the tank, you need to make sure enough bacteria have accumulated so that they can handle the ammonia when the fish are introduced to the tank.  Cycling the tank is the process of growing these bacteria.

To do so, let the aquarium operate without the fish for a while. Purchase ammonia supplements from your aquarium shop and follow the label’s directions to increase the ammonia in the tank.

After that, there’s nothing left for you to do.  Let nature handle the rest.  Eventually, the bacteria will grow in the tank in response to the ammonia.  Cycling normally takes 2-8 weeks, depending on the aquarium.  You can purchase a water test at your aquarium shop to check the ammonia levels.

Stocking Your Aquarium with Fish

Once you’ve completed the steps described in the previous sections, you’re ready to stock your aquarium.  Before we get into the best fish for your 10-gallon tank, we must first answer some important questions.

How Many Fish Can I Keep In My 10-gallon Aquarium?

This question is not simple because different factors must be considered.  A commonly known rule is that there should be one inch of fish per gallon of water.

The problem is that this rule doesn’t account for things like the adult size of the species, as many fish purchased are juveniles.  It also doesn’t account for the amount of water the fish have to swim in, as plants, décor, and gravel will take up some of the swimming space.

A better approach is to use “the one-inch per gallon” rule as a general guideline but back it up by researching the different species you want for your tank.  When researching them,  check for their adult size information, compatibility with other species, and habits.  For example, you could keep eight ember tetras in a 10-gallon tank without any problem;  however, you could only keep one betta fish or dwarf gourami.  

Also, the “one-inch per gallon” rule is pretty accurate if you’re thinking of keeping schooling fish like guppies or neon tetras.  When using the “one-inch per gallon” rule, I’d go by the adult size of the species.

If you want even more fish (or room to grow), consider getting a 15+ gallon tank.

What Fish Can You Not Put in a 10-Gallon Tank?

The biggest fish you should keep in a 10-gallon aquarium is something like a betta or dwarf gourami.  In other words, any fish that reaches the size of more than 3 inches shouldn’t be kept in the tank. 

What can I stock a 10-gallon tank with?

The best fish for a 10-gallon fish tank is the small fish species and invertebrates with small bioloads.  Bioloads refer to the nitrogen demands placed on the filtration system by fish’s excrement, uneaten food,  and other forms of waste.  The next section will cover the species that fit in this category.

The Best Fish to Stock Your 10-Gallon Tank with

We’ve finally made it!  Let’s talk about the best fish for your 10-gallon tank.  The species were selected here because of their easy availability, small size, simple care requirements, and small bioload.

Betta Fish

betta fish

Maximum size (length): 2.25-2.5 inches

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarists

Water temperature: 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior: Aggressive temperament

Diet: Carnivorous

These strikingly colored fish are one of the pet trade’s most popular species of tropical fish.  While female bettas can be kept with other fish, males should be kept alone due to their very aggressive temperament.

 Bettas are carnivorous and eat freeze-dried and live foods, including bloodworms and brine shrimp.  You can also purchase betta pellets.  Betta fish can live for two to five years. 

Platy Fish

Maximum size (length): 1.5- 2.5 inches in length

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarists

Water temperature: 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior: Schooling species

Diet: Omnivorous

The platy fish is a small and colorful species that do well in a small tank.  These hardy species like to stay in groups, so you should buy a minimum of three in your tank.  They have a gentle temperament and do well in a community tank.

Platys eat both plant and animal matter, high-quality fish flakes, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and vegetables are eagerly eaten.  They’re ideal for and can live for three to four years. 

Fancy Guppy

fancy guppy

Maximum size (length): 0.6-2.4 inches in length

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarist

Water temperature: 74-82 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior: Schooling fish

Diet: Omnivores

The brilliantly colored fancy guppy is ideally suited for a 10-gallon tank.  The females of this species measure between 1.2-2.4 inches in length, while males are only 0.6-1.4 inches.  Guppies are a shoaling species, meaning found in schools.  For this reason, you should keep at least six in a group.

Guppies do well in a community tank due to their gentle temperament.  Guppies should be kept at a water temperature between.  They’re omnivores and do well on a diet of brine shrimp, high-quality fish flakes, and an occasional vegetable.  Fancy Guppies can live for two to three years.

Ghost Shrimp

ghost shrimp swimming in tanks with plants

Maximum size (length): 1-1.5 inches.

Fishkeeping experience level:  Novice aquarist

Water temperature: 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior:

Diet: Scavenger

Though the ghost shrimp is not a fish, this species does very well in a 10-gallon aquarium.  Named after their nearly transparent bodies, ghost shrimp should be kept in a species-only tank, meaning that they should be kept by themselves as they’re too tempting as a meal for fish.

This species is a scavenger; they’ll eat algae, dead fish, leftover fish, and decaying plants.  Ghost shrimp can live up to one year.

Sparkling Gourami

Maximum size (length): 1.5 inches in length

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarist

Water temperature: 71.5-80.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Behavior: Timid temperament

Diet: Omnivorous

With their shimmering appearance, the sparkling gourami is a great candidate for a 10-gallon tank.  This species prefers a well-planted tank that provides plenty of places to hide.

This fish has a timid temperament and requires a protein-rich diet.  Sparkling gourami will eat freeze-dried or live food, including tubifex worms, brine shrimp, and blood worms.  Being omnivorous, they’ll also eat plant matter.  Their water should be kept at Gouramis can live four to five years.

Ember Tetras

Maximum size (length): 0.8 inches

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarist

Water temperature: 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior: Schooling fish

Diet: Carnivorous

The ember tetra is another species ideal for small tanks, given their size.  This vibrantly orange-red colored fish only reaches a length of.  A schooling fish, the ember tetra should be kept in a group of six or more.

Because of their small size, you can keep them with ghost shrimp, guppies, and platys.  Ember tetras can be fed live or frozen tubifex worms, blood worms, or brine shrimp. Ember tetras can live for over ten years.

Neon Tetras

group of neon tetras

Maximum size (length): 1.5 inches in length. 

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarist

Water temperature: 70-81 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior: Schooling fish

Diet: Omnivorous.

With their vibrant blue, red, and white colors, the neon tetra stands out despite its small size.  Adults only reach Neon tetras are a very active species and a schooling fish.  Given this, along with their coloration, these fish will make your small tank stand out.

Keep them in a group of at least six fish, as with other schooling fish.  With their peaceful disposition, you can keep them with other species, including ghost shrimp and other invertebrates.

Neon tetras feed on frozen or live foods and are omnivorous and have been known to live for over ten years, though two to three years is more common in captivity. 

Dwarf Gourami

dwarf gourami swim

Maximum size (length): 2.5-3 inches in length

Fishkeeping experience level: Novice aquarist

Water temperature: 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit

Behavior: Lives in small groups.

Diet: Omnivorous

While saltwater fish are known for their brilliant coloration, you can get your 10-gallon freshwater aquarium to pop with this freshwater fish.  These fish come in three color versions: Neon blue, royal red, or powder blue. Females reach 3 inches in size while males are approximately 2.5 inches in length.  The females tend to be less brilliantly colored than the males.  

Though the dwarf gourami normally lives in small groups or pairs, a 10-gallon aquarium is large enough to house only one fish. Their diet should include high-quality fish flakes, live or frozen foods, or plant-based foods such as vegetable wafers.  They live an average of four to six years.

For more information about keeping tropical fish, here are a few more resources:

Keep your 10-gallon tank thriving

We hope that you enjoyed this article.  Stocking a 10-gallon tank can be a challenging but rewarding experience.  Remember, the main thing is not to overstock it.  With 10-gallon tanks, less is better.  Please share this article with your fish enthusiast friends, and leave us a comment or question below – we’d love to hear from you. 

Andrew Silver

Andrew Silver has a long background of caring for reptiles and fish. He has worked for the San Antonio and Phoenix Zoo, has been a middle school science teacher, and has maintained his own private collection of reptiles and fish.

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