Gone are the days of cramming fish into a bowl and sticking it on your desk. Serious hobbyists have since found the best nano aquariums to satisfy their small fish tank needs. Stylish, functional and easy to set up, these nano tanks provide the space small fish need without crowding the room.
There are a lot of options when you're picking out one of the best nano aquariums. Finding the perfect nano tank can depend on the size your looking for, equipment needed and overall design of the tank. Unique shapes are always a plus but ultimately we are looking for a balance of appearance, cost and functionality.
Many owners are looking for a plain, small square aquarium. Nano tanks have the ability to be so much more. The best nano aquarium can have:
That being said not every feature an "all in one reef tank" can come equipped with is worth the money. Here are a few examples of features with trade offs:
While I have gone over several nano tanks in my best Betta fish tank page there are still many different nano aquariums to consider. If none of these tanks suit all of your needs feel free to check those tanks as well.
Let's kick off our review with the tank I first used as a gift. The Marineland contour glass nano aquarium Brings a lot to the table. The components include an LED light fixture and three stage filtration system with pump. For colder houses you will need to add on your own heater.
This Marineland tank comes in both three and five gallon sizes, where the five gallon is four inches taller. The dimensions of the five are 12" x 12" x 17" with the back filter portion taking about 2.6". This gives your fish ample room to swim about while still including all the needed space for equipment.
As the back compartment takes 2.6 inches it has more than enough space to install some of the best aquarium heaters. I personally advise against using small circular Betta heaters as they may not have the power to heat this tank nor the temperature settings to prevent over heating in hot weather.
When purchasing a tank a big factor is how reliable the tank is. Sure lots of tanks come in at $20 but will break in only a year or two. Time after time people have complained to me how their fish died over night because of a leak or cracked glass. My first question to them is why they would use a cheap container for hundreds of dollars of fish. saving ten dollars at the cost of all my fish is not something I would ever consider and with this tank we have nothing to worry about. The glass is quite strong, lucky for me as i hit it into the doorknob, and has solid seals all along the tank. Perhaps their previous model flopped due to poor seals because the seals here actually seem over done. This is great for us however as these new tanks are fool proof and would have to be purposefully broken to leak.
A big note is one of every ones most common fears. With built in filtration many expect the tank to be able to suck in small or slow fish. This is not the case with this Marineland tank as the intake for the filter is fairly big. This spreads the suction over a larger area, making the pull of the filter soft enough for all fish. The filter itself comes with a rite-size z filter cartridge. This filters out the debris in your tank keeping the water crystal clear. Afterwards the water flows into the activated carbon which removes all odors and removes impurities from the water. The final step is the biological filtration. The water flows through the included Bio-Foam which grows and feeds beneficial bacteria. These bacteria are essential for the nitrogen cycle, which breaks down toxic ammonia and nitrites into manageable nitrates.
For those looking to take the filtration a little further add live plants or macro algae. These eat nitrates as they grow and will keep the water safe for an even longer period of time. When the plants grow too large you can remove a portion of them, I use fish tank only scissors. The removed plants will be carrying a fair amount of nitrates in them. This combined with water changes will keep your nitrate level exceedingly low and allow your fish to reach their full life expectancy. Remember some fish can live for quite a long time. Clownfish themselves can even break 50 years with the proper care!
Back to the plants. To grow any but the lowest light plants you will need a different light. As for salt water tanks, owners will often make clever use of reflectors to get light to the macro algae they keep hidden in the back compartment. This allows owners to keep Macro algae in the nano tank without having it spread all over the tank. Plant rant aside the light will display your fish perfectly and provide the even lighting we seek for the best nano aquarium environment. They draw minimal power and can last for years, which is pretty impressive at this price point. For higher light demanding tanks you should add on a different light as that is this tanks weak point.
The lid is a sliding glass canopy that either covers the tank or slides back to hover over the filter area. That being said the filter portion has it's own cover and does not need the canopy above it to reduce noise or evaporation. The sliding feature gives the owner a nice big opening to feed their fish/corals and clean or rearrange the tank. When closed the lid fits snuggly and keeps the temperature to the tank. Likewise evaporation is cut down with the secure fit and fish are unable to jump to their demise.
The back filter portion of the tank has enough space to add in a heater, which is typically needed for tropical fish. Located at the bottom of the tank is the stand. There isn't much to say about the stand but it does provide a nice looking base to the aquarium and lets you see the tank rather than the rim of a table or stand. The stand is high quality plastic and will last as long as the tank.
The Marineland contour glass aquarium has all the features needed for the best nano aquarium without going overboard. The price point is kept fairly low. Unfortunately the light is not the best and will need to be replaced for most plants and corals, but the filtration and circulation are perfect. The tank is durable, the lid is made of quality glass, giving the tank a high amount of appeal for a low cost.
The Tetra cube comes with a few components such as the filter, led light, stand and air pump. While they can do the job I recommend replacing at least the filter for a simple hang on back filter.
The tank is made of a strong plastic. The seals around the tank are solid, making the tank unlikely to leak. Those that do leak are often within the first week of ownership and are simply defective. Return these ASAP.
As listed above the plastic tank can be a bit reflective. This can be a hindrance when looking into the tank when the light is off, but with the provided LED light you will have no problem seeing into the tank. On the other hand when keeping aggressive fish such as Betta or Harematic males the reflection of plastic against a dark corner can cause them some stress. To counter act this I suggest placing the tank in a more open area and keeping the room it is in well lit while the fish are awake.
This is my biggest complain with the tank. Included is the Tetra 3i filter. The filter is known to be a bit more noisy than most filters and provides a low amount of flow. That being said the filter can be used if the fish are fed perfectly, no over feeding, and the room they are kept in is fairly noisy anyways. My house has a low noise level so the filter rings out far too loud for my tastes. At my LFS however there is a lot of humming and white noise, letting his filters noise go unnoticed.
For those with quiet homes I highly suggest replacing this filter with a small hang on back filter. These can easily fit into the tank, provide great filtration and maximize the space available to the fish in your tank. Remember if you do use a hang on back filter to keep the water level fairly high. When the water falls too low these filters can become rather noisy themselves. With high levels the water does not really fall and simply slides silently into the tank.
As for the 3i filter itself it measures at 2.5"l x 1.75"w x 4"h and uses an air pump to bubble filter your tank. The bubbles push the debris into the filter media thus cleaning the tank. The problem with this design is the debris can also float to the top of the tank and have bubble burst, splashing them onto the lid. Again I highly recommend changing this into a hang on back filter.
The light given with this tank is of fairly good quality. It can grow medium low light requiring plants and has a low cost of operation. For most freshwater tanks this will be more than enough lighting and will last quite awhile. Those in warm areas will be happy to hear that the light produces virtually no heat. Quite the nice add on to the tank.
Saltwater tanks however require powerful lights. Those looking into this likely know that already but just in case anyone wishes to buy their tank before reading their inhabitants requirements I'll let them know. This light will not be able to sustain any corals except for maybe mushrooms. A mushroom wall would look quite nice in this tank so the idea isn't a bad one. Just don't expect to grow anything like a frog spawn or polyps.
The lid that comes with the Tetra cube is a little thin, which is actually a positive if handled properly. The thin lid allows a lot of light into the tank and has a cut out portion in the back for the filter and its cord. That being said this does pose a jump risk. Those with skittish fish like hatchets should keep this portion of the tank covered with something else. Fortunately the hole is small so this risk is low.
Due to the plastic design of the tank the walls can be scratched more easily than glass tanks. To avoid this clean the glass gently with non abrasive materials. I personally use sponges meant for acrylic to prevent any scratching. Additionally these tanks are more suited to sand or bare bottom rather than a gravel substrate. The reasoning here is the gravel is likely to be kicked up when you are performing water changes. If you remember to add water gently then this will cause no problem, however if you stir up the gravel it may scratch the sides as it gets pushed around. The stand is very similar to the Marineland tank and won't break unless you try and break it.
The Fluval spec 5 offers a long swimming area, specially designed so the owner of the tank can see as much as possible while the tank itself remains small and convenient.
Like most Fluval products the spec 5 lasts well above the average life time of similar tanks. Frankly if you want a tank that wont quit on you then consider this your best nano aquarium.
Each component will last well over a year, with the light lasting over two years on average. The filter is powered by a circulation pump, meaning the filter itself cannot break. The pump shows no sign of wear even after the light has faded and been repaired(They did this for free when I called them). More on this part later.
The tank itself is made up of etched glass and is also sturdy enough to take some strong bumps. Many of you may have noticed but I don't like recommending flimsy tanks that can't take a hit or two. Accidents happen and moving decorations around inside the tank often cause some collision. The tougher glass helps put my mind at ease and I'm sure most would agree with me. Weak glass is out of the question.
The sealing is wonderful and even hidden by the aluminum trim. The trim helps hold the sealing together which reduces the stress put on the silicone. Unless you pour something like liquid concrete in here I don't see a leak as a possibility. At this price point that's to be expected and the spec 5 does not disappoint.
The filter is excellent as it sucks water in using the circulation pump, passes it through all the filter stages(activated carbon, filter media, Biological filtration) before returning the water to the tank. Even with the extra long dimensions of the tank the filter is able to pull in debris from quite the distance. That being said owners who use sinking flakes may still have food become trapped in the gravel if they over feed their fish. This isn't really a problem with this filter in particular but please be careful when over feeding anyways.
To explain my note on the tank not being frog/shrimp safe we will have to discuss the filters strength. As the filter must keep this fairly long tank clean, its suction must be more powerful than usual. Given how slow some shrimp can be and frogs long legs, the filter simply isn't safe for them. Frogs can get their legs stuck in the filter and drown where as small shrimp can be sucked in all together. Betta fish can get pulled as well but will usually have the strength to swim away. Still keep an eye on Betta so that sick ones who cannot swim at full strength are not trapped.
A somewhat annoying note about the filter is the circulation pump. If you see an established tank you will no doubt notice, or not notice, just how quiet it is. This however will not be the case upon set-up. As many others will tell you the circulation pump is a bit noisy on start up. While I have tried repositioning the pump and restarting it nothing seems to work. You pretty much just need to set the pump up and let it be noise for an hour or two. After that the pump begins to run more quietly until it eventually becomes silent. At first I thought the engine had broken but no, it just takes time to settle down.
As has become the standard the Fluval spec 5 has come with an LED light fixture that provides a strong light and evokes the colors of our fish. If you're upgrading from an old tank you might even think the light sprays paint on the fish with how much their color stands out.
As for the strength the light is easily capable of supporting medium light demanding plants and very low demanding corals. Again most salt water hobbyists will need to pick a stronger light but marine tanks are always more trouble. No real surprise there.
The lid is a simple cover all lid with an opening underneath the light fixture. This allows oxygen to reach the water as well as grants your tank maximum light exposure. This does make a small problem as the light is a little long. As such the evaporation of this tank is quicker than other tanks. However when keeping any nano aquarium I highly suggest keeping conditioned water on standby as the water parameters can change drastically in a short amount of time.
Those with jumping fish should not be too worried as the hole is so thin. In fact the hole actually leaves little room for feeding. This suits me fine as my fiance can no longer tease the fish by putting her hands right next to the water with food. If you do need your hands in the water the lid can easily be removed as it rests upon the top of the tank.
The etched glass of this tank makes it the best nano aquarium to avoid scratching. So long as you do not use highly abrasive materials such as pot scrubbers or kitchen knifes(Don't ask) your glass should remained unharmed and allow for an almost invisible barrier between you and the fish.
The tank easily has enough room to fit in a heater. When positioned near the circulation pump the tank will have no trouble holding a consistent temperature
As the tank is fairly long I make a personal note to use lighter substrate. While the filter will suck in next to all debris there will always be the stubborn waste that makes it to the floor. Using a light colored substrate highlights these wastes and allows me to remove them quickly before they contaminate the tank.
Last on our list is the Fluval View Oval Plastic Aquarium. The tank holds a nice 4 gallons, making it much bigger than the image suggests
Created by a hard plastic the tank will last as long as you allow it to. There are no silicone seals to worry about, meaning any leaks will be due to damage only. If the tank does leak it has to have been broken in which case you can have the tank replaced. That being said plastic is always easier to scratch than glass and will show signs of poor care fairly quickly. Always use soft materials to clean the sides such as a tank only sponge. Never use dirty sponges in your aquarium. The same can be said about all equipment but for cleaning this nano tank the idea rings even more true than usual. Dirty sponges and cloth can easily hold contaminates and harm your fish.
Simply put this tank will last forever. Just don't scratch it to the point you no longer water it and don't break the casing.
The filter and light both last an ok time, with the filter often giving out after about a year and a half or so. This wouldn't be a problem as i personally love switching out the filters to hang on back filters but the light is attached to the filter system. Simply put if one goes out you will need to replace both.
To continue on the filter, the power provided is more than enough to keep the water clean. In fact many owners report that the filter is too strong for Betta and must be reduced in power. If you're keeping a Betta you can follow their suggestions and cover the output with some sponge to reduce the flow. For fish who like a bit of current the high filtration will only serve to please. That being said the filter does not come with the best filter media. This isn't that big of a deal as filter media can be purchased in bulk for quite the low price. Heck I bought a roll of media last year for my three home tanks and I'm not even a third of the way through it.
The process of filtration is a simple one. Water is pulled in through the bottom of the tank, passes through the filter media and any added chemical treatment before falling back into the water. This water crashing into the surface creates enough agitation to provide the water with oxygen.
To start I will again mention how the lighting and filtration are attached to one another. This part really bugs me as you cannot set the light up with a timer, as the filter would also lose power. Instead you must shut the light off manually every night. Not too big a deal but still annoying.
The light itself is an 11 LED bulb setup, featuring 10 white bulbs and one blue bulb. This provides a strong light over the small and tall area to easily showcase the fish. With the tank being so tall however the light does not penetrate all the way to the bottom. Avoid using short plants in the tank unless you will be adding additional lighting.
The night mode is a simple blue that is a bit more dim than most other night mode lights. The day time on the other hand is quite bright, meaning the two modes have quite a contrast. Personally I switch the tank to night time while keeping my room light on so that the tank will not go from bright to dark moon at the flip of a switch.
Covering about 75% of the tank is a well fitted lid. The hole in the tank allows for easy fish feeding but comes with no cover of it's own. For jumpers please place a mesh net over this lid or your own plastic. I cut one of my old gerbil cage tops and put the mesh over this lid to keep fish in. Unlike the previous tank fish have a bit of an easier time jumping so I feel covering this hole when not in use is mandatory.
On the back and top of the tank is a small leaf decoration that is part of the tank. Many owners like this but it is actually a bit of a trouble maker. There is no simple way to remove the decoration but it really is just a nice leaf.
Being made of plastic the tank is fairly light. This is a big plus for those who want a desk top tank but are afraid that the added weight of a tank may make their desk collapse. I certainly wouldn't put a heavy 8 gallon above me and my computer.
Be gentle during water changes as stirred substrate can scratch the plastic. This also means do not "dig" in the tank to cover plants or light weight decorations. Rather than shoving the substrate around take a little extra time to lift and place it when you need to rearrange it.
I hope you've enjoyed this run down and that it helps you find the best nano aquarium to suite your exact needs. Remember that tanks need some time to cycle, so it is best to pick them up as soon as possible.