How to set up a goldfish bowl

Updated March 23, 2017

Owning a goldfish in a bowl is often the first rite of passage for children wanting to keep a pet. It may surprise you to learn, however, that this type of fish is not kept in a bowl because it is well-suited for one, but rather because the goldfish is a very tolerant fish and can withstand a lot of neglect and abuse. While keeping a small goldfish in a bowl for a short period of time is acceptable, you may wish to consider a beta fish, white cloud mountain minnow fish, or African dwarf frogs as the inhabitants for your goldfish bowl instead.

Select a bowl for your goldfish. Goldfish bowls come in many different sizes and shapes. Choose one that is large enough to allow your goldfish, or other fish, plenty of room to swim around in. As a rule of thumb, you should have 1 gallon of water per 1 inch of fish. In other words; a 2-inch fish typically requires a 2-gallon bowl.

Set up an under-gravel filter system for your goldfish bowl. Read the manufacturer's instructions on the box for specific information on how to properly connect the pump, uplift tube and air tubing to the filter plate.

Rinse the gravel for the goldfish bowl. Place the gravel into a bucket and the bucket into the kitchen sink. Use the sprayer to rinse dust and debris from the gravel. Drain the water from the bucket.

Place 1/4 to 1/2 inch of gravel on the bottom of the goldfish bowl. The gravel should cover the filter plate.

Add two or three aquatic plants to the goldfish bowl. Aquatic plants not only add to the appearance of a goldfish bowl, but also assist in regulating the nitrate that builds up in the water. Anarcharis and Java moss are two common aquatic plants that do well in these types of bowls.

Fill the goldfish bowl with water. Use bottled spring water or add dechlorinator to tap water before filling the bowl.

Allow the water to cycle for two to three weeks before adding the fish to the bowl. Cycling is the process of preparing a tank or bowl for the fish to live in.

Buy the fish for your goldfish bowl. It will arrive home with you in a bag filled with water. Allow the unopened bag to float in the bowl for about 15 minutes.

Open the bag. Pour a 1/2 cup of water from the bowl into the bag. Wait 10 minutes. Continue to add water to the bag until the amount of water in the bag is double what you started with. Wait for 10 more minutes. You can now release the fish into its new home.


You can cycle a fish bowl faster by adding gravel or using a filter from an already established tank. There are also several commercial products that can be added to the water that will speed up the process and allow you to place your fish in the water sooner. If you purchase a small or oddly shaped bowl, it may be difficult or impossible to install a filter system. Goldfish bowls do not require filter systems; however, the lack of one means the bowl will require more maintenance on your part to keep the fish healthy.

Things You'll Need

  • Under gravel filter
  • Bucket
  • Gravel
  • Aquatic plants
  • Fish
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About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Casey Kennedy has been writing online content since 2009. She specializes in writing about small business, careers, real estate, and ecommerce. She also enjoys writing about a variety of other subjects, including home improvement, gardening, and pet care. She attended the Academy of Art online, studying interior architecture and design while pursuing commercial flight training at Aviation Atlanta in Georgia.