Barb Fish Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Jul. 20, 2023
Tiger barb fish

In This Article


Barb Fish Overview

Barbs are a type of freshwater schooling fish known for their colorful scales and high energy. This care sheet outlines basic care needs for a variety of barb species, including: 

  • Tin foil barb 

  • Green tiger barb 

  • Tiger barb 

  • Chinese gold barb 

  • Cherry barb 

  • Rosy barb 

  • Checker barb 

  • Arulius barb 

  • Odessa barb 

  • Denison barb 

  • Gold barb 

  • Gold clown barb 

Barb Fish Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

Up to 15 years with proper care, depending on species 

Average Adult Size 

1½ to 14+ inches long, depending on species 



Minimum Habitat Size 

10+ gallons, depending on species 

Water Temperature 

72–82 F 



Barb Fish Supply Checklist

To keep a barb happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriate size aquarium 

  • Appropriate food 

  • Décor 

  • Water conditioner 

  • Filter 

  • Water test kit 

  • Net 

  • Thermometer 

  • Freshwater substrate 

  • Heater 

  • Refractometer or hydrometer 

  • Siphon vacuum 

  • Freshwater salt 

  • Plants (live or artificial) 

Barb Fish Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

For smaller barb species, a 10-gallon aquarium is the minimum recommended size for a single adult fish. Adults from a larger barb species, such as the tinfoil barb, need a tank with at least a 70-gallon capacity to swim and explore comfortably. Long tanks with large bottom surface area (or “footprint”) are ideal for providing extensive swimming space. Tanks should be secured with a fitted lid to prevent the fish from jumping out and injuring itself. 

Recommended Products: 

  • Aquariums for Smaller Barb Species (10+ gallons) 

You should increase the size of their aquarium depending on the total number of fish housed in the same tank and always provide the largest habitat possible. 

Setting Up Your Habitat  

Selecting Tankmates 

Barbs are highly active schooling fish, so it’s best to keep them in groups of five or more from the same species. Ideally, barbs should be kept in odd numbers, as they can become aggressive if they form pairs or are left alone.  

While most barb species can live harmoniously with other types of fish in a community aquarium, pet parents should monitor their barbs for aggressive behavior, like fin nipping. Barbs should not be housed in the same aquarium as slow-moving fish with long, flowing fins, such as fancy Angelfish and betta fish. Barbs are usually compatible with: 

  • Danios 

New tank mates must be introduced to the aquarium gradually, and pet parents should keep in mind that their tank’s ammonia, pH, and nitrate levels will change when a new fish is introduced so it is important to test the water weekly for two months after new additions. Barbs should not be kept in overcrowded aquariums, as these conditions often lead to stress and disease in the tank. 


A filter system is an essential addition to any aquatic habitat. Aside from keeping tanks looking clean, filters remove harmful toxins like ammonia from the aquarium's water and add oxygen to the water so fish can breathe.

An aquarium’s filter should be powerful enough to process all the water in the tank at least four times an hour. For example, a 10-gallon tank needs an aquarium filter with a flow rate that’s at least 40 gallons per hour (GPH). If only a 30 or 50 GPH filter is available, pet parents should purchase the 50 GPH option.  

Power filters (also known as “hang-on-back" filters) and external canister filters are recommended because they offer effective mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration and do not take up any space inside an aquarium.  

Most barb species prefer slow to moderate water circulation in their habitat, so you should look for a filter with an adjustable flow rate to slow current speeds as needed. 

Recommended Products: 

Water Health & Salt Content 

Pet parents should test their barb’s tank water weekly for the first two months and then monthly to ensure its pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels are stable and within a safe range. An aquarium test kit, like the API 5 in 1 Freshwater & Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips, can be used to measure key water parameters quickly and accurately. 

Many barb species benefit from the addition of freshwater salt to their aquarium. The water’s specific gravity should be kept at 1.004 and should not change more than +/- 0.001 in 24 hours. If freshwater salt is added to the habitat, a hydrometer or refractometer (salt level tester) should be used to measure the salt concentration and specific gravity of an aquarium’s water. 

Recommended Products: 

  • Freshwater Aquarium Salt 

  • Refractometers/Hydrometers 


Barbs should be kept in warm waters between 72–82 degrees F. An aquatic heater should be installed in the tank to ensure that water temperatures stay within an ideal range and do not fluctuate more than +/- 2 degrees in a single day. Heaters should be paired with a thermostat to regulate the aquarium’s temperature and prevent the water from rising above the ideal range. Many modern heaters have built-in thermostats. 

The wattage needed for the aquarium heater depends on the enclosure’s size. As a rule of thumb, aquarium heaters should have between 2.5 and 5 watts of power for every gallon of water in a tank. This means that a 10-gallon tank needs a 25- to 50-watt heater. Larger aquariums with a tank volume over 50 gallons may need two small heaters, placed on opposite sides of the tank, to prevent cold spots. 

Recommended Products: 

Pet parents must check the water temperature of their barb’s tank daily using an aquarium thermometer. 

Recommended Products: 

Décor & Accessories 

Substrate: Pet parents can line the bottom of their barb’s tank with a fine gravel or sandy substrate. Be sure that the substrate is appropriate for freshwater aquariums. 

Aquariums need about 1 ½-pounds of substrate for each gallon of water in the tank. For example, a 10-gallon tank will require about 15 pounds of substrate to create a 1- to 2-inch layer. Be sure to rinse the substrate with clean, running water before adding it to the tank. 

Recommended Products: 

Plants and rocks: A barb’s aquarium should be furnished with multiple plants and rocks to create hiding places within the habitat. 

Barbs need plenty of open swimming space to explore and school, so make sure that their tanks aren’t overly cluttered or crowded with décor. 

Submerged plants should be well-secured in the tank’s substrate to prevent them from topping over and injuring the fish.   

All décor should be rinsed thoroughly before being added to the tank. 

Recommended Products: 

Barb Fish Tank Cleaning & Maintenance

Pet parents can maintain the condition of their barb’s tank by performing routine water changes (no more than 10–25% of the aquarium’s total water volume) every 2–4 weeks. Draining and replacing the aquarium's entire water volume should be avoided, as doing so will remove the beneficial bacteria in the tank that keep the habitat’s ecosystem healthy.  

Most freshwater fish tanks will need a full cleaning once a month, depending on the number of fish in the tank. To fully clean a freshwater fish tank, take these steps: 

  1. Before cleaning or performing any maintenance on an aquarium, hands should be rinsed and washed thoroughly, ensuring no trace residue of lotions, perfumes, or other toxic chemicals that can harm fish. Do not remove the fish from the aquarium because it will stress them out and possibly injure them. 

  1. Use a soft sponge or scrubber to scrape the inside walls of the aquarium. To prevent unsightly scrapes and scratches, acrylic tanks should only be cleaned with specialized cleaning tools designed for acrylic aquariums, such as the API Extra Long Algae Scraper for Acrylic Aquariums or API Algae Pad for Acrylic Aquariums

  1. Remove the aquarium’s accessories and any artificial plants that have significant algae growth. Use an algae pad and hot water to scrub any build-up or debris.  

  1. If the décor is still visibly dirty after being scrubbed, use a 3% bleach solution to remove the stubborn build-up. Accessories should soak in the diluted bleach solution for 15 minutes before being rinsed thoroughly with running water until there are no residual smells from the bleach. After cleaning, leave the accessories to air-dry fully. 

  1. Inspect the aquarium’s filter to ensure it’s working properly and doesn’t have any algae buildup. If the filter needs to be cleaned, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

  1. Use a siphon vacuum to remove waste or old food from the bottom of the tank. This step will also drain water from the tank and prepare the aquarium for a water change. 

  1. Once the aquarium’s gravel is vacuumed, check on the cleaned décor to ensure that all furnishings are fully dried and do not have a bleachy smell before adding them back to the tank. 

  1. Add new, dechlorinated water to the tank to replace the water that was siphoned out. The new water must be detoxified with a water conditioner to remove toxic chemicals like chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals, and the added water should be at the same temperature as the existing water in the tank. 

  1. Use an aquarium-safe cleaner to clean the outer walls of the aquarium. Household cleaners should be avoided, as they often have ammonia and other chemicals toxic to fish. 

Barb Fish Diet & Nutrition

Barbs are omnivorous and thrive on high-quality commercial fish food, including pellets, flakes, freeze-dried, and frozen diets. Treats, including frozen/thawed blood worms and brine shrimp, can be fed occasionally. Depending on the size and species, barbs should be fed in small amounts, 1–2 times each day. At each feeding session, the fish should be able to consume all the food added to its tank within 1–2 minutes. 

A nutritious and well-balanced diet for a barb consists of: 

A high-quality commercial fish food formulated for omnivorous fish; the food form can be pellets, flakes, frozen/thawed, or freeze-dried. 

Frozen foods must be thawed before feeding. 

Pet parents should vary the type of food they offer to their barb to ensure the fish’s diet is nutritionally balanced. 

Recommended Products: 

Treats, including frozen/thawed or live blood worms or brine shrimp, offered in limited quantities. 

Recommended Products: 

Barb Fish Veterinary Care

Annual Care

In a properly maintained tank of appropriate size, in which you perform your own water quality tests and water changes weekly, it is okay to only utilize a veterinarian if there is a problem with your barb. It is recommended to have your barbs and your setup assessed by a veterinarian within a week of establishing them at your home. Find an aquatics veterinarian who will make house calls, as transport is a major stress event for fish.

Signs of a Healthy Barb

  • Clear eyes

  • Full range of motion of fin movement

  • Intact fins all the way to the edges with no discoloration

  • Regular and active swim pattern

  • Large appetite

  • Swims at the top of the water column

When to Call a Vet

  • Changes to the barb’s coloration–particularly becoming dull, focal spots of change, stripes or bands of color change

  • Lethargic swimming potentially with an abnormal pattern such as circling, listing to the side, staying on the bottom of the tank, etc.

  • Receding fin edges with or without discoloration at the edges

  • Decreased appetite for more than a day

  • Itching

  • Rapid breathing potentially with flared gills

  • Gill color changes

  • Presence of lumps/bumps/masses

  • White growths/spots of any kind

  • Cloudy or bulging eye(s)

  • Elevated scales

  • Weight loss

  • Bloating

Common Illnesses in Barb Fish

  • Fin/tail rot

  • Dropsy (fluid filled coelomic cavity)

  • Parasites

  • Bacterial infections

  • Cancer

  • Ich

  • Pop eye

  • Fungal oral or skin infections

  • Swim bladder disorders

Barb Fish FAQs

Are barbs beginner fish?

Yes, definitely. These are a great fish choice for first-time fish keepers.

What is the temperament of a barb fish?

Barbs are active, curious little fish.

What size tank do barb fish need?

The minimum tank size for small barb species is 10 gallons. Larger tank sizes are needed for larger barbs or when keeping multiple fish in the tank.

What do barbs like in their tank?

Barbs like live plants through the water column and at the top, and rocks or wood that create hiding spaces, while still maintaining plenty of open water for them to swim through too.

How many barbs should be kept together?

The number of barbs you should keep together is dependent on tank size. Depending on the setup, often it is best to keep at least six barbs together as a minimum.

Can barbs live with other fish?

Yes, but they are nippy fish with teeth and boisterous personalities. Shy, docile fish or those with long fins don’t usually do well living with barbs.

Featured Image:

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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