Clownfish is undoubtedly on everyone’s wish list as their first pet fish, and I understand why. Their vibrant and goofy nature is a perfect example of a pet. But before welcoming your little buddy, you need to make sure to give it a proper home.

Clownfish are saltwater fish, meaning you need to create a saltwater setup in your tank. They don’t require much space, but 20 gallons tank is the minimum requirement for them. Tank water should be seawater or tap water with a proportionate sea salt mix.

If you are a newbie in this aquatic world and don’t know where to start, you have landed on the perfect article. I am about to show you everything you need to know about setting up your tank for clownfish.

Why Do Clownfish Need Saltwater Tanks?

In the wild, clownfish can be found in the pacific ocean surroundings, making it a saltwater fish. Even if your clownfish is a captive breed, they need salt water to survive and thrive. What will happen if you put them in the freshwater? They will die within a few minutes in a very inhumane manner.

So, you know how important this is for clownfish to survive. As a beginner, you may struggle with maintaining a saltwater tank because it needs lots of skill, experience, and time management. So, do not get discouraged if you fail a few times before you perfect to upkeep a saltwater tank.

If you are a beginner, it is better to start with natural or premade saltwater that is available in a local store. As you grow experience and confidence, you can switch to homemade saltwater. You can find lots of salt mixes for your tank and you can choose according to your taste and budget. But always use a refractometer to measure and maintain the salinity level.

If the salinity level is unbalanced due to poor water parameter setup or evaporation, your fish will stress out and suffer.

What Should Be The Size Of The Tank?

The minimum requirement of tank size for clownfish is 20 gallons. However, it may increase depending on your preference, equipment, and the number of clownfish you want to put in the tank. Usually, with a 20 gallons tank, a pair of clownfish with a few decorations and equipment is good to go.

Nevertheless, some aquarist suggests conserving the clownfish in 30 gallons tank at least. Their reasons are not that superficial too. Clownfish by nature are very poor swimmers. That doesn’t mean they don’t know how to swim. It just means clownfish require a lot of energy to swim even a little bit and their mobility is not very calculated.

So, without a medium to a large tank, they will find it hard to swim freely without hitting the walls or decorations. Also, equipment, decorations, and filtration setup take up a significant amount of space blocking their residence. But even so, a pair of 4-inch clownfish don’t need more than 20 gallons tank.

But you need to consider what type of clownfish are you welcoming. Clownfish breeds like Clarkii, or maroon grow to 6-7 inches when they become adults. For them, 20 gallons tank will be too small to thrive. In that case, you need to shift from 20 gallons to 55+ gallons tanks. If you have e plan to add more clownfish to the tank, it is wise to opt for a bigger option in the first place.

Water Parameters Requirement

Since clownfish are saltwater fish, their water parameters requirement is certainly different from freshwater ones. Mixing a salt mix into the water is not the only duty to set up your tank for freshwater. You need to correctly level up other requirements before you welcome your pets home.


Clownfish thrive at temperatures between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (24-28 degrees Celsius). Consistent temperature maintenance can be compared to running a marathon. Don’t let the temperature fluctuate too quickly or wildly; it can stress the fish and weaken their immune system.

An aquarium heater with a built-in thermostat is an excellent tool for controlling the temperature.


In nature, clownfish live in the ocean where salinity levels are stable around 1.025 specific gravity. Hence, the salinity in your clownfish tank should mimic this. It’s like baking – a little variation can drastically affect the end product!

According to Dr. Ashley Emerson, a leading ichthyologist, “Maintaining proper salinity is essential as it influences the fish’s buoyancy, hydration, and overall health.”

pH Level

The pH level measures how acidic or alkaline the water is. Clownfish prefer slightly alkaline water, with a pH level between 8.1 and 8.4. It’s the Goldilocks of pH values – not too acidic, not too alkaline, just right!

A study published in the Journal of Marine Biology and Aquaculture revealed that maintaining optimal pH is critical to the wellbeing of clownfish as it impacts their metabolism, growth, and reproduction.

Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate Levels

Like a silent killer, high levels of ammonia and nitrites can be fatal to clownfish. These should always be kept at 0. For nitrates, aim for less than 20 ppm (parts per million). Nitrates are less toxic but high levels indicate poor water quality and can cause health issues.

Regular water changes and use of a good quality filter can help control these levels.

Calcium and Alkalinity

Calcium levels should be around 380-450 ppm and alkalinity between 8-12 dKH. These parameters are particularly important if you have corals in your tank, which clownfish are naturally drawn to.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology confirmed that clownfish tend to prefer habitats with healthy corals, which are dependent on these parameters.

Water ParameterIdeal RangeWhy It’s Important
Temperature75-82°F (24-28°C)Prevents stress, strengthens immunity
Salinity1.025 specific gravityAffects buoyancy, hydration, overall health
pH Level8.1-8.4Impacts metabolism, growth, reproduction
Ammonia & Nitrite0High levels can be fatal
Nitrate<20 ppmIndicates water quality
Calcium380-450 ppmCrucial for corals, which clownfish love
Alkalinity8-12 dKHHelps maintain stable pH, good for corals

To sum it up, monitoring these parameters and maintaining their balance is like orchestrating a symphony – every element must be in harmony to create a masterpiece. If done right, your tank will be a vibrant, healthy home for your clownfish!

Essential Equipment, Accessories, and Decorations

Starting your journey with a clownfish involves more than just purchasing a tank and the fish. It’s like setting up a stage for a magnificent play, with each piece of equipment and decoration playing its part. Let’s walk you through the process of creating the perfect stage for your clownfish!

Sea Salt Mix

Establishing a saltwater tank involves more than just adding salt to water. While you may choose to use pre-made or actual seawater, having a quality sea salt mix at hand is essential. Why? It’s like having a spice rack in your kitchen, ready for when you need to balance the flavors.

Dr. Marina Steller, a marine biologist, highlights the importance of maintaining the salinity balance, especially during evaporation. As she points out, “When water evaporates, the salt stays behind, increasing the water’s salinity. This makes sea salt mix crucial to restore the balance.” The general rule of thumb is to add one tablespoon of sea salt to every 5 gallons of water.

Aquarium Sand

While regular sand may seem like a convenient option, it’s as harmful to your clownfish as walking barefoot on rough gravel would be to you. Aquarium sand, available at local pet stores or online, is the best choice for your tank. If you absolutely have to use regular sand, rinse it thoroughly to minimize potential harm.

Filtration System

The filtration system in a saltwater tank is like a life-support system, not a luxury. Higher levels of dissolved oxygen and salinity in saltwater mean that ammonia and nitrates can become deadly quicker than in freshwater tanks. It’s an investment that should be given the same importance as buying a reliable car.

Live Rock

Live rock is like the underappreciated background actors in a play. It comes from the ocean, bearing fragments of old corals, and serves as a natural biological filter in your tank. According to the Reef Conservation Society, for every half-gallon of water, you should add approximately 1 kg of live rock.

Heating System

Temperature plays a lead role in your clownfish tank’s drama. Clownfish are extremely sensitive to temperature changes, much like a temperamental lead actor. Consistent heating is essential. Generally, for every 50 liters of water, your tank will require 100 watts of heating.

Lighting System

Sunlight and seawater aquariums are like oil and water; they just don’t mix. Your tank will need additional lighting. A well-lit tank is like a well-lit stage, bringing out the best in its occupants. If you choose acrylic tanks, they often come with built-in LED lights. Opt for lights with a timer to mimic the natural day-night cycle.

Additional Equipment for Your Clownfish Tank (Optional)

While we’ve covered the major accessories in the clownfish tank setup, there are a few more supporting characters that can help make your tank a masterpiece.

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer is like your tank’s garbage disposal. As aquatic expert Andrew Nelson puts it, “Skimmers remove organic compounds before they break down into nitrate and phosphate, reducing the chances of algal blooms.” It’s one of the most efficient ways to maintain water quality in your clownfish tank.

Aquarium Test Kits

If your tank were a car, aquarium test kits would be the dashboard indicators. They provide you with vital information on water parameters such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and salinity levels. Having this information at your fingertips allows you to take timely action, ensuring your clownfish continue to swim happily.

Quarantine Tank

You wouldn’t invite a stranger into your house without knowing anything about them, would you? A quarantine tank allows you to monitor new arrivals for potential diseases before introducing them to your main tank. It’s an effective way to avoid the rapid spread of diseases that can endanger your clownfish.

Sump Tank

A sump tank acts as a backstage area for your main tank, housing most of your equipment like heaters, protein skimmers, and some parts of your filtration system. This allows you to keep the main tank clutter-free and provides additional water volume, which helps stabilize water parameters.

Powerheads or Wavemakers

To ensure your clownfish get their much-needed exercise, you’ll need to create water currents. That’s where powerheads come in handy. They move the water in your tank, simulating the currents your clownfish would experience in the ocean.

Set Up The Tank: Step-by-step Guide

Ready to get your hands wet and build the dream home for your clownfish? Hold your seahorses because we’re diving right in! Remember, to keep your fish healthy and happy, it’s important to emulate their natural habitat as closely as possible. Here are the steps to set up your clownfish tank to perfection.

Step 1: Position the Tank

First things first, find the perfect spot for your tank. John A. Endler, a renowned biologist, suggests a quiet corner away from direct sunlight and loud noise, which can stress the clownfish. A sturdy stand will ensure your tank is at eye level, letting you admire your fish and spot any issues quickly. Also, keep the tank away from electronics like televisions to minimize radiation exposure.

Step 2: Clean Your Tank

Cleanliness is next to Fishliness! However, beware of chemical cleaning products, warns marine biologist Dr. Nicole LeBrasseur. “The residue can harm your clownfish,” she cautions. A good rinse with warm water should suffice to get rid of dust and debris.

Step 3: Add Water and Substrate

Lay a thick layer of 3-6 cm of aquarium sand on the bottom. After setting the sand, pour in the water. You can use aged tap water if you’re using a premade mix. If not, make sure to add the correct proportion of sea salt mix. Leave about 10 cm of space at the top to prevent any water overflow once the tank equipment is added.

Step 4: Install the Heater and Filter

Place your heater securely at the bottom of your tank. As Dr. Takuji Fujisawa, a marine expert, suggests, “Maintaining a stable temperature of 79°F is ideal for clownfish.” After setting the heater, it’s time for the filter. Fix it at the top and switch it on to start the filtration process.

Step 5: The Nitrogen Cycle

Before introducing your clownfish to their new home, you must cycle the tank to establish beneficial bacteria, says Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec, who has extensively researched aquarium nitrogen cycles. This process removes harmful substances like ammonia and nitrite from the water.

Start by measuring nitrate levels daily. For the first few days, it should be zero, then spike, and then gradually decrease over the next 1-4 weeks. Once the nitrate levels are back to zero, your tank is ready to welcome its new residents.

And there you have it! Your perfectly set-up clownfish tank awaits its new inhabitants. Remember, patience is key in this process, and the result is a safe, comfortable home for your clownfish.

Final Words

Welcoming a new pet fish into your home and life is always a matter of excitement. But you should ensure your little buddy has a warm and welcoming home to reside in and thrive. Follow the steps and build your clownfish the home it deserves.

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