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Aquarium Water Chemistry for Goldfish

In many ways, the goldfish is the perfect aquatic pet.

Stephen G. Noble

If you survey a group of aquarists, certainly a large portion will testify that their introduction to our hobby was through the
amazing goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus). It is not unusual to find hobbyists who have gone 'full circle' by starting with
goldfish, transitioning to all aspects of the hobby, and later in life, returning to these magnificent members of the carp family.
In many ways, the goldfish is the perfect aquatic pet. They are easy to breed, nonaggressive schooling fish that become
quite friendly with their human care givers. With proper care and excellent water chemistry, goldfish can live for decades.
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Maintaining good water chemistry for goldfish is challenging given their constant grazing and reportedly, less efficient
digestive system than many tropical fishes. It is a fact, goldfish are messy eaters; the result being a higher demand on the
aquarium or pond's filtration system. In short, goldfish create a higher bioload that directly impacts water quality.
Goldfish might just be the perfect aquatic pet. Photo by Stephen G. Noble
Excellent water quality begins with proper housing. Unfortunately, with so much excellent care information available,
goldfish are still placed in tiny goldfish bowls. It is unconscionable for pet stores to sell those inhumane containers for
goldfish. Ideally, goldfish should be provided with a large tank or pond. It is not unusual for common goldfish to grow to
more than a foot in length. Larger goldfish should be housed in at least 20 or more gallons per fish.
A glass bowl specifically marketed for goldfish. This container is unsuitable for any size goldfish. Photo by Stephen G. Noble
Personally, I over-winter two large goldfish in a 90-gallon tank and find this is about the right size. A rectangular aquarium,
such as a 40-gallon breeder tank, is ideal for a few small goldfish. With its 36 inch length, 18 inch width and shallow 16 inch
depth, this tank offers plenty of swimming room and provides great surface area for gas exchange. Outdoors, a properly
filtered 300 gallon water garden is sufficient for a pair of large goldfish.Filtration
Besides being continuous, messy eaters, Goldfish defecate heavily and eliminate harmful substances through their gills.
They are very sensitive to their own waste and quickly succumb to the effects of ammonia and nitrite poisoning. Goldfish are
also sensitive to high levels of nitrates. Powerful biological filtration, circulation, aeration and frequent partial water
exchanges help overcome the deadly effects of toxic substances. I am a huge supporter of sponge filters and have at least
one in every aquarium. Few if any similar sized filters can compare to the biological filtration of a properly maintained
sponge filter. The ideal filtration system would consist of a sponge filter in addition to a hang-on-the-back (HOB) power or
canister filter. The HOB or canister filter provides excellent circulation and plenty of mechanical and biological filtration.
Veiltail goldfish. Photo by Bechstein/Wikipedia
Goldfish are cold water fish which means they are very happy in an unheated environment. Water temperature ranging from
55 to 80 Fahrenheit is tolerable, but 68 to 72 (F) is optimum especially for fancier goldfish. An aquarium heater is not
necessary or advised unless a rapid, extreme drop in temperature is anticipated. Bring pond goldfish indoors at the onset of
the fall season or provide the pond with a heater to keep a hole open in the ice for proper gas exchange. The Laguna
Power Heat Deicer is excellent for this purpose. Please see my review of this product on FishChannel.Substrate and
For some reason, there is a belief that goldfish should be kept in bare bottom, undecorated aquariums. Whether the belief
derives from hobbyists cramming a bunch of goldfish in small, inadequately filtered quarters resulting in a mess or from
simply observing five hundred feeder goldfish in a bare bottom pet shop tank, bare bottom tanks are definitely not

recommended. A properly maintained substrate greatly enhances their well being and water quality.

Many hobbyists begin with feeder goldfish. Note the lack of substrate and decorations. Photo by Stephen G. Noble
Substrate harbors huge quantities of beneficial bacteria that convert fish excretions to less toxic chemicals. Substrate also
provides the goldfish a place to conduct their incessant pecking in search of food. They can actually be observed playing
with the substrate. Goldfish love to swim around logs and large rocks. Such decorations not only make the tank more
realistic but no doubt, contribute to their quality of life.Plants
Given their nature for 'poking around,' goldfish have a much deserved reputation for uprooting and eating plants. But
keeping aquatic plants with goldfish is possible with prior planning. In fact, live plants can greatly enhance water quality by
reducing nitrates. If the water temperature is maintained within the optimal temperature zone of 68-72 (F), plants such as
Anubias, Microsorum pteropus (Java fern) and Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss) are an excellent choice. These plants can
be attached to logs or rocks helping to secure them in place when pecked by goldfish.
Microsorum pteropus attached to a log or secured to needlepoint mesh is an excellent plant for goldfish. Photo by Stephen
G. Noble
Ceratophyllum (Hornwort) and Egeria (Anacharis) are good choices because they can be weighted down or simply left
floating and goldfish tend to ignore them. The floating Lemna minor (Duckweed) is an excellent plant due to its fast growth
and nutritional benefits for goldfish. They simply devour duckweed. Another floating plant, Salvinia auriculata, does not
seem to be eaten by goldfish but they sure enjoy pecking in and around the plant searching for tidbits of food.
Salvinia is an easy to grow floating plant that goldfish generally do not eat. Photo by Stephen G. Noble
Goldfish can easily live in water with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 8.0 with a hardness of dH 5-19. In other words, unless your
water source is extremely outside of those values, don't worry about it. Just use water conditioner to remove chlorine and
chloramines. Goldfish are very undemanding, easy to care for fish. They are sure to enjoy a long life if you provide
excellent water quality through avoiding overcrowding, proper filtration and the conduct of regular partial water exchanges.
Enjoy your fish!
Stephen Noble has more than 35 years of experience propagating aquatic, marsh and terrestrial plants. His many planted
tanks range from natural to high-tech aquariums. You can reach him via Twitter @StephenGNoble.