Last update: November 3, 2022

Trust me, you need a bucket for your aquarium. Here’s why!

Oh wow, buckets! How exciting, right?

Don’t worry, I had the exact same thought when I was told to create a guide on aquarium buckets. It’s perhaps the most boring topic I can think of.

So boring, in fact, that the humble bucket is often overlooked by beginners setting up their first aquarium.

Today, I am going to show you why you need a bucket and how to choose the right one for your aquarium.

Why do you need an aquarium bucket?

Don’t think you’ll ever need a bucket for your tank? Think again! Below are four popular aquarium uses for buckets.

1. Water changes

When water change time rolls around, you’ll be thankful you have a bucket on hand.

You’ll be using your bucket to:

  • Carry water to and from your sink
  • Catch the water you siphon out with your gravel vac
  • Rinse your dirty filter media
  • Prepare your water with water conditioner or salt mix

2. Storage

This is the number one use for my bucket.

Once I have finished feeding my corals, I place my gloves, coral feeder and anything else that is dripping wet in my bucket until I have a chance to dry them.

It sure beats dripping water all over my counter and floor. In fact, I pretty much keep all my most commonly used aquarium equipment in a bucket inside my aquarium stand.

3. Transporting fish

If you have a sick or injured fish, and your hospital tank is in another room, a bucket can be used to transport your fish from one tank to the other.

4 Soaking driftwood

If you place wood inside your tank, it will release tannins – making your fish tank look like tea.

Soaking your driftwood before placing it in your aquarium is a great way to remove the tannins. You know what makes a great driftwood soaker? That’s right, your bucket!

Whenever you need an oversized container, a bucket is there for you. Trust me, it will be used more often than you think.

A warning on aquarium buckets

Red bucket with aquarium identification tag

When it comes to buckets and aquariums, there is one rule you should always follow:

Your bucket should only be used for your aquarium and nothing else.

Following this rule can save the lives of your fish. Allow me to explain…

Last week, James, a member of my local aquarium club, told the tale of how he accidentally killed his first fish with a bucket.

Well, it wasn’t just the bucket.

You see, when James performed his water change, he used the same bucket that he filled with soapy water to wash his car.

Bucket filled with soapy water to wash car

While James couldn’t see it, there was a soapy residue left at the bottom of the bucket. And when he used the bucket for his water change, the leftover soap was added to his aquarium.

It wasn’t much, but this leftover soap was all it took to kill the beneficial bacteria in his tank, which lead to an ammonia spike that killed his fish.

Don’t make the same mistake. Never use your bucket for anything but your aquarium!

Which is the best bucket for your aquarium?

Different-sized buckets on the shelf of local store

I’ll be the first to admit that I love to do detailed reviews of products. If you are new to, check out my detailed automatic fish feeder review, and you’ll see what I mean.

But for this article, I felt that was unnecessary. I mean, it’s a bucket. If it holds water, then it’s functioning as intended. Even the cheap buckets that you pick up from your local Walmart for a couple of dollars work well enough.

In fact, there’s pretty much only one thing you need to take into consideration when choosing the right bucket for your aquarium…

Capacity – How much water it can hold!

Let’s say that you remove three gallons of water each time you change the water in your aquarium. Well, a two-gallon bucket is going to be too small. I mean, who wants to make two trips? Not me.

Similarly, a three-gallon bucket is going to be too small too. Sure, you can fill it to the brim, but the moment you carry it through your house, you are going to spill it everywhere. Wet socks and wet carpet? No, thank you!

It is for this reason that I suggest buying a bucket that holds at least one gallon more than you need. If you want a bucket to hold three gallons of water, buy a four-gallon bucket.

This way, you’ll be able to carry your bucket through your home without making a mess.

Typically a five-gallon bucket will be good for aquariums up to 29 gallons.

Incidentally, a five-gallon bucket is the limit of what I recommend. When full, it weighs close to 41 pounds. Could you confidently carry that through your house without spilling a drop? I couldn’t.

For tanks that are larger than 29 gallons, using a bucket for water changes isn’t practical and will require multiple trips. You would be better served by using a water changer, essentially a giant gravel vac that runs from your sink to your tank.

That’s not to say that larger tanks don’t need a bucket, because they do… Just not for water changes.

Important: The bucket you use with your aquarium should be purchased brand new. You never know what chemicals have been used in a second-hand bucket. Why risk adding them to your tank?

What’s better than one bucket?

Woman holding two aquarium buckets in her hands

Two buckets!

Once you find the perfect bucket for your aquarium, I highly recommend buying a second one. Doing so makes changing the water in your aquarium a much simpler task.

With two buckets side by side, you can easily match the amount of water taken out with the bucket of water replacing it just by eyesight – refill the perfect amount each and every time.

As an added bonus, a second bucket allows you to multitask. Treat your water with water conditioner or add your salt mix in one bucket while your tank is draining into the other.

And finally, buckets break. Don’t get me wrong, a properly cared for bucket will last years and years. But nothing lasts forever, and if your bucket breaks in the middle of a water change, you’ll have a spare ready to take over – beats rushing out to the store to buy a new one!

Before you use your aquarium bucket for the first time

Rinsing out brand new bucket to be used in aquarium

Wash it!

Your brand new bucket might look clean and ready for action, but I’ll bet that it isn’t.

In fact, it’s likely coated in all sorts of nasty stuff including dust from sitting on the store shelf or oils and other gunk that is left over from the manufacturing process. Not exactly something you want in your aquarium, right?

Fortunately, you can remove this unwanted gunk with next to no effort. Simply give the bucket a quick scrub with mild dish soap. To avoid making a mess, I do this in the shower – that way I can easily rinse it off when I’m finished.

Keep rinsing the bucket until the soap smell is gone and then some. You can never rinse it too much.

Finally, fill the bucket with tap water and add your dechlorinator or water conditioner of choice. This removes any chlorine/chloramine leftover from the tap water. Alternatively, rinse with deionized water.

Tip the bucket out, and let it to air dry.

Your brand new bucket is now ready for use. I make sure I label mine “Aquarium Use Only” because it stops my family members from stealing it.


You can never go wrong with a bucket on hand. Whether you just use it for storage or for hauling water through your home, you will always find a use for a bucket.

Don’t make the same mistake as other beginners and skip over it. It may not be as exciting as other aquarium equipment, but you’ll thank me when you need it!

How do you use your aquarium bucket? Let me know in the comments below!

Ian Sterling

Ian Sterling, founder of, began his aquarium journey over 30 years ago, driven by a deep fascination for fish and their diverse personalities. His website,, is dedicated to making fishkeeping accessible and enjoyable, offering beginner-friendly guidance, expert insights, and a community for aquarists to connect and share experiences.

Comments (16)

I just stumbled cross your blogs, and I am enjoying reading your reviews and suggestions. I have two things to suggest. First, you can use more than one bucket for draining water from your tank. I use two 5 gallon pickle buckets that I got from a deli to do water changes in 55, 38, and 29 gallon tanks at work, and a 38 gallon at home. Drain water until one bucket is about 2/3 full, put your finger over the end of the hose, and transfer it to the other bucket.

Second, I had a shoulder injury a couple of years ago that made lifting a bucket high enough to pour water into a tank painful. I keep seven 1.5 gallon plastic watering cans at home for conditioned water to return to the tank. They’re easier for me to pick up, and they have a nice spout for pouring. They’re a little bulky to store, but I run a bungee cord through the handles and hang them in a storage closet when not in use. (At work we have an old AV cart, 5 gallon carboys, and an in house reverse osmosis system, all of which make water changes easy!)

Hi Pam,

Thanks for sharing your amazing advice.

I really like the use of more than one bucket, it makes the emptying process seamless, especially for multiple tanks that would otherwise be too small to use a water changer system with.

As for your idea of using a watering can – genius. Especially for smaller tanks! The nozzle will ensure that water is returned to the tank gently too. I’m definitely going to share this with anyone who will listen.

I bought two buckets from Lowes (they were the cheapist), then I noticed a flaw. When I drip acclimate my fish, it’s difficult to see them in a dark blue bucket without a light Solved it by finding a white bucket at my local hardware store.

Hi Richard,

That’s a very interesting point. Thanks for sharing, I hope your experience helps out other readers!

How do you carry the bucket filled with water back and forth to the tank? My husband carries his water filled bucket by the handle. I carry mine with 2 hands under the lip of the bucket. He insists this is the wrong way and it’s bad for my back. I tried carrying his way,by the handle and it is more difficult to walk an feels like it’s straining my back in a different way. What is the proper way?

Hi Angela,

I am much less an expert on human posture than I am on aquariums. If you are upright with a straight spine, without straining, then that is ideal, however you carry it. If the bucket is too heavy, and forcing you to walk hunched over, or you require multiple trips, I highly recommend checking out an aquarium water change system – it beats carrying a bucket any day!

I would use white vinegar to cleanse the bucket as well as other fish stuff, it is safer than soap and sterilizes, rinse well. I’ve been keeping aquariumso for 50 years, yep that long lol

Hi Charlene,

Wow, you are a real veteran when it comes to fish keeping. Isn’t vinegar a wonderful cleaner? I love how well it performs at ridding bad smells.

Hi Ian, brand new tank owner here.
My daughter and I just came across your blog and are reading basically everything and learning a lot.

One thing you’ve mentioned a few times is washing your hands before putting them in the water, or washing tools like the bucket prior to use. I’ve heard that you should never use any kind of soap on your tools, and you should only scrub your hands with water thoroughly prior to putting them in the water.

Can you comment on this? Is it okay to use certain types of soap? Or is it rinsing thoroughly that makes it okay?


Hi Mike,

The answer you get here will entirely depend on who you speak too. Some people skip washing altogether, others use a mild, unscented soap. Because some people have oilier skin than other, absent mindedly touch greasy or dirty objects or use lotion, I always recommend people use soap.

In my opinion, it’s less the soap that matters and more about how thoroughly you rinse. Anecdotally, My wife has been buying many different brands, types and scents of hand soap over the years I have been keeping fish. While I prefer unscented, I don’t have much say in the matter. I have my hands in a tank at least once a day and have never stopped to examine what soap has been purchased. If my hand is going commando, I wash as high up my arm as I will reach in.

I vigorously rinse with warm water (if you think there is still soap on there, keep rinsing) You can never rinse too much.

Perhaps more important is washing your hands after. Your aquarium is a bacteria pit. Oh, and never stick your hands in your tank if you have a cut, scratch or graze.

I’m wanting to get back into raising fish about a 30 gal tank (fresh water ) what kind of recommendations could you give me I’m intermediate level .I will be purchasing a tank on your recommendation. I even had two different kinds of ciclildes reproduce twice .

Hi Lorie,

Unfortunately, I don’t give personal recommendations on this blog. Any rectangular 30 gallon tank will do. If you can wait, I recommend holding off until your local petco does their next dollar per gallon sale. You can generally pick up a 29 gallon tank (aqueon) for $29 – it’s the cheapest you’ll find one. Otherwise, it’s just glass and silicone. The shape matters far more than the brand.

Hi Gabriel,

I know of many people that let it sit in plastic bottles for up to a week. Are you talking about rain water or tap water?

When doing a water change, can I pure the old water in the sink from the siphon or do I have to put them in a bucket?

Hi Sadeem,

If you are doing a water change and have no use for the water, or it is being used to water a garden then you can simply put it in a sink. I would not use this water for fish or human purposes, as the sink will likely have soap residue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *