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Best Aquariums

Updated August 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 7 Models Considered
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 152 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best aquariums

    Last Updated August 2018

    If you want to bring more light and life to your home, an aquarium makes a unique, attractive way to add both. While fish aren’t cuddly, they certainly add vibrancy and movement. Plus, they’re a great way for kids to get their first taste of responsibility.

    However, first-time aquarium owners might not know where to begin. In fact, if you’ve owned an aquarium before, you might have found it more challenging than you anticipated. While maintaining an aquarium isn’t difficult, getting one set up the right way can be.

    If you’re wondering where to start, you’ve come to the right place. At BestReviews, we bring you the info and honest opinions you need to find the best of the best. We’ve created this shopping guide to help you decide which aquarium will work for you.

    Place your aquarium on a surface that won’t be damaged by water if it leaks or when you’re cleaning it.

    Types of Aquariums

    Saltwater

    Saltwater aquariums hold fish that live in saltwater, no surprise there. Saltwater aquariums are popular because tropical saltwater fish tend to be more colorful and showy than their freshwater cousins. You can add a lot of fun, exotic corals and animals like eels and shrimp to these aquariums. However, they are harder to take care of than freshwater aquariums, and they’ll need a heater and the right water chemistry for the fish to thrive.

    Freshwater

    Of all your options, freshwater aquariums are the easiest to maintain. You can fill one with tap water. However, most tap water has been treated with chlorine, so you’ll need to remove any harmful chemicals before putting it into your aquarium.

    Reef

    Reef aquariums use water chemistry and currents to recreate the environment of a shallow coral reef. These aquariums hold some of the most colorful plants and animals but take more equipment and care to maintain the right environment for the coral. Tropical fish can be added to these aquariums.

    Planted

    Planted aquariums use either saltwater or freshwater to grow aquatic plants. These aquariums have very specific lighting requirements for successful photosynthesis. Fish can be added, but they will need to be compatible with the plants, light, and chemical requirements of the aquarium.

    EXPERT TIP

    Wipe down your aquarium with a damp cloth before adding gravel, plants, or water. You don’t need to use any soap or detergent.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Aquarium features to consider

    Size and shape

    Many people want to start with a small aquarium, something under 5 gallons, but aquariums that hold 10 to 20 gallons of water can be easier to maintain. Toxins and waste build up quickly in small aquariums, making it difficult to maintain the right temperature and chemical balance.

    If you’re looking for something that’s easy to care for, aquariums that hold 20 gallons or more are simple for beginners. However, you’ll pay a higher price upfront.

    Material

    You’ve got two basic options when it comes to what aquariums are made of: glass or acrylic (plastic). Each has its pros and cons.

    Glass

    Pros:

    • Scratch resistant

    • Maintains clarity over time

    • Strong enough to support own weight (can have open top)

    • Doesn’t distort view

    • Less expensive
       

    Cons:

    • Heavy when full

    • Requires thick glass to hold large volume of water
       

    Acrylic

    Pros:

    • Lightweight

    • Easily repaired

    • Can be any shape

    • Relatively thin acrylic holds large volume of water

    • Can be drilled (for overflow system)

    • Doesn’t distort view
       

    Cons:

    • Scratches easily

    • Requires support at top and bottom

    Lighting

    Good lighting will illuminate your fish and bring out their natural colors. If you want to include live plants, you’ll also need the right kind of light to promote photosynthesis. Some lights come built into a hood that fits on top of the aquarium while others illuminate from beneath or behind. A word of caution: limit light to seven to ten hours per day to restrict algae growth.

    There are many lighting options available. The following are the most common:

    • Standard fluorescent: These lights use a single tube bulb and work great for fresh or saltwater aquariums. They’re energy efficient and work with a wide variety of bulb types. You could use everything from plant bulbs designed to promote plant growth to full-spectrum, daylight bulbs that emit all wavelengths. You can also find bulbs that simulate the light in deep water.

    • Compact fluorescent: Compact fluorescent lights have higher output and use dual or quad bulbs. These bulbs have all the benefits of standard fluorescent bulbs and are smaller.

    • Metal halide: Metal halide lighting is used for reef aquariums, very large aquariums, or deep aquariums where light from other lighting systems might not penetrate to the bottom.

    • LED: LEDs are relatively new to the aquarium world. Because of the unique way in which they emit light – energized subatomic particles passing through a semiconductor – you’ll need to make sure that the photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) value supports your species of fish or plant life. It can be hard to find the PAR value because not all manufacturers label it in the same way. Many aquariums come with built-in LED lights because these energy-efficient lights last a long time.

    Great viewing for the one-fish family

    This decorative one-gallon aquarium provides great viewing from any angle. You’ll easily be able to keep a single betta fish happy while creating a striking focal point for your room.

    Filtration

    There are many aquarium filters and filtration systems on the market. The most important thing to remember is to get a filter that fits the size, volume, and needs of your fish and plants. Some aquariums come with a built-in filtration system and others require you to buy a filter separately.

    Every aquarium needs three kinds of filtration: mechanical, chemical, and biological. For the health of your fish and plants, you’ll need to address all three filtration types.

    • Mechanical: Water passes through a filter that removes particles from the water.

    • Chemical: These filters remove chemicals like chlorine from the water. Depending on your water source, you might need to remove more than just chlorine.

    • Biological: Bacteria help break down nitrogen waste created by aquarium inhabitants. As long as there’s room in your aquarium, your helpful bacteria will keep the nitrogen cycle in check.

    Heater

    Some fish species, such as goldfish, might not need a heater, especially if you live in a mild climate. However, tropical fish usually need a water temperature between 77°F and 85°F to survive. There are two basic types of heaters: internal and external. Internal heaters have heating elements in the water while external models heat the water from the outside, such as by a mat under the aquarium.

    Your aquarium size will determine how many heaters you’ll need. A basic rule of thumb is 2.5 to 5 watts per gallon of water. Some large aquariums might have three or four heaters while small ones may only need a mini heater to maintain the correct temperature.

    Weight

    Just to give you an idea, a 15-gallon aquarium full of water weighs over 200 pounds. An aquarium that weighs that much should be kept on a stand rather than a counter or desk. Also keep in mind that glass aquariums are heavier than acrylic.

    Number/size of fish

    What kind of fish do you want to keep? If you have your eye on large fish, you’re going to need a large aquarium. Remember that some fish that start small don’t stay small. As a rule of thumb, you need one gallon of water for every one inch of fish.

    Before adding live or fake plants, rinse the plants thoroughly to prevent contamination from outside sources. Position plants toward the back of the aquarium so your fish have a clear swim area.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Aquarium prices

    You can expect to pay anywhere from less than $25 to $200 and up for an aquarium, depending on type and size.

    Inexpensive: For under $25, you’ll find 1- to 2-gallon aquariums meant for one or two fish. Most include lighting, though these aquariums are small enough that they don’t come with any kind of filtration.

    Mid-range: For $25 to $100, you’ll find 3- to 10-gallon cylindrical and rectangular aquariums, as well as horizontal and vertical options. Many of these aquariums come as part of a starter kit with filtration and lights.

    Expensive: Between $100 and $200 are 10- to 20-gallon aquariums that include filtration, lights, and heater. Many of these aquariums come with several lighting options and more than one heater.

    Premium: If you spend more than $200, you’ll find 20- to 55-gallon aquariums that may come as part of a kit that includes not only filter, heater, and water conditioners but also fishnets and fish food.

    CAUTION

    Don’t attempt to carry an aquarium by the rim. Always provide plenty of support for the bottom.

    Tips

    • Position the aquarium where it will maintain a constant temperature. Place your aquarium near an electrical outlet but away from heating or air conditioning vents. You want the water temperature to fluctuate as little as possible for the health of your fish and plant life.

    • Add water carefully. Pouring water directly into your aquarium will disturb the gravel bed. Instead, try placing a bowl over the gravel and pouring the water onto the bowl.

    • Fill your aquarium with room temperature water. Cold water causes condensation, which could look like a leak. Condensation can easily be wiped off with an absorbent cloth.
    To determine if your stand or counter can hold your aquarium, figure about ten pounds per gallon of water plus the weight of the aquarium.

    FAQ

    Q. How often do I need to clean my aquarium?

    A. In general, most aquariums need to be cleaned once every two weeks. A good cleaning includes siphoning the gravel to remove uneaten food and waste, changing 10% to 15% of the water, and checking that the heaters and filtration are working. However, you might need to clean your aquarium more or less often depending on the size of the aquarium and the number of fish.

    Q. How many fish can I put in my aquarium?

    A. The general rule is one inch of fish per gallon of water. If you put more fish per gallon than recommended, your aquarium might need to be cleaned more often or require a more powerful filtration system. Beginners might want to start with fewer fish to give yourself time to learn about maintaining an aquarium.

    Q. Are some fish species easier to care for than others?

    A. Some fish are notoriously hard to maintain, such as some species of cichlids, while others are simpler than many people expect, such as the danio or black molly. When deciding what species to buy, don’t just look at the appearance or size at the time of purchase. Some species will grow to fill the space available - or beyond. Others produce more waste than average, which means you’ll need to clean the water more often. Our advice is to do the research so you know what you’re getting into before you buy.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Samantha
      Samantha
      Writer
    • Stacey
      Stacey
      Writer